MR #5: Missionaries: Pastors or Apostles? (Part 2)

In a previous Monthly Missiological Reflection I described the apostolic nature of missionary ministry. Ideally, missionaries are church planters who so “believe that new converts will soon become church leaders” that a multi-church movement develops (April 2000). Missionary strategist David Garrison1, author of the Church Planting Movements, amplifies and broadens this reproductive thinking when he says that the goal of missions should not be planting churches but the “beginning and nurturing of Church Planting Movements among all people.”

Garrison defines a Church Planting Movement as “a rapid and exponential increase of indigenous churches planting churches within a given people group or population segment”2. Church Planting Movements do not result merely because churches are being planted either by effective cross-cultural missionaries or by national leaders. They occur because the typical convert understands the meaning of lostness and accepts the call to evangelize their friends, relatives, and work mates and organize them into new congregations. Laity involvement provides the necessary personnel and momentum to create Church Planting Movements. Garrison believes that missionary movements must “quickly become indigenous so that initiative and drive” come from the people rather than from outsiders. Missionaries frequently are too dominant and overt in their work and do not adequately empower local leaders, especially lay leaders, in ministry.

Garrison describes in some detail Church Planting Movements in four areas of the world. For example, Southern Baptists began missionary work in a certain Latin American country over a century ago. For the first 75 years missionaries planted churches, trained leaders, and organized a Baptist union consisting of about 3000 members. Soon after a military coup, however, all missionaries were imprisoned and then expelled, and almost all the national church leaders and half the church fled the country. Church members were persecuted, tortured and imprisoned, but in the midst of opposition the church flourished. Since 1989 the Baptist church in this country has grown from 129 to 1,918 churches in the Southern Union and from 96 to 1,340 in the Northern Union.

These real-life illustrations demonstrate ten universal elements for developing Church Planting Movements: (1) vibrant prayer; (2) abundant gospel sowing; (3) intentional church planting; (4) scriptural authority; (5) local leadership; (6) lay leadership; (7) cell or house churches; (8) churches planting churches; (9) rapid reproduction; and (10) healthy churches who carry out the purposes of worship, evangelistic and missionary outreach, education and discipleship, ministry, and fellowship. Of special interest is his perception toward the indispensability of lay leadership. He writes, “Church Planting Movements are driven by lay leaders. These leaders are typically bivocational and come from the general profiles of the people group being reached” (1999, 35). Hierarchical church structures hinder grass-roots decision-making and thus impede the development of a missionary movement. Thus most Church Planting Movements occur when churches are organized in small groups or cells. The vast majority of rapidly growing movements is 10-30 member cell or house churches. He differentiates between cell churches and house churches. Cell churches are “linked to one another in some type of structured network” and are easier to organize and nurture theologically. House churches, on the other hand, are self-contained units lacking any type of unifying structure and are ideal when there is hostile government suppression. (1999, 35). Finally, rapid growth is understood to be “vital to the movement itself . . . . When reproduction rates slow down, the Church Planting Movement falters. Rapid reproduction communicates the urgency and importance of coming to faith in Christ.

Church Planting Movements, according to Garrison, also share ten common (but not universal) factors: (1) worship in the heart language; (2) communal implications of evangelism; (3) rapid incorporation of new converts into the life and ministry of the church, (4) passion and fearlessness, (5) a price to pay to become a Christian, (6) perceived leadership crisis or spiritual vacuum in society; (7) on-the-job training for church leadership; (8) decentralized leadership authority, (9) low profile of cultural outsiders, and (10) suffering of missionaries. Opposition by the dominant culture is seen in a number of these factors. Persecution serves the double purpose of ensuring a dedicated leadership and screening out the uncommitted (1999, 39). Also of importance is Garrison’s description of church structure: “Denominations and church structures that impose a hierarchy of authority or require bureaucratic decision-making are ill-suited to handle the dynamism of a Church Planting Movement” (1999, 40). Finally, missionaries serve significant functions of training and nurturing but work behind the scenes (1999, 40).

Ten practical handles to developing Church Planting Movements are also given. These are (1) pursue a Church Planting Movement orientation from the very beginning; (2) develop and implement comprehensive strategies; (3) evaluate everything to achieve the end-vision; (4) employ precision harvesting; (5) prepare believers for persecution; (6) “gather them, then win them”; (7) try a POUCH methodology; (8) develop multiple leaders within each cell church; (9) use on-the-job training; and (10) “model, assist, watch, and leave”. According to Garrison, churches in a Church Planting Movement focus on modeling “evangelism, discipleship and multiplication training within a cell-group model” (1999, 41). An effective strategy coordinator is a pragmatist. He “is ruthless in evaluating all he or she does in light of the end-vision—a Church Planting Movement—discarding those things that do not or will not lead to it” (1999, 42). The POUCH methodology, used among the Yanyin people of China contains elements that, according to Garrison, are applicable to every church-planting context. “A POUCH church utilizes Participative Bible study and worship groups, affirms Obedience to the Bible as the sole measure of success, uses Unpaid and non-hierarchical leadership and meets in Cell groups or House churches” (1999, 43).

This concisely written, sixty-page book, because it expresses a broadening vision of the task of missions, is indispensable for mission teachers and practitioners. It can be ordered through the International Missions Board of the Southern Baptist Convention by telephone (1-800-866-3621), email (resource.center@imb.org), or on the web (www.imb.org/resources).

Postscript:
Recently I received a comment on this missiological reflection that I thought was incisive. The author critiqued my evaluation of Church Planting Movements by saying,
From your other missiological reflections it is obvious that mission strategy must be built upon theology. You provide a clear example of this in contrasting “Missional” and “church growth” approaches with a helpful chart (http://www.missiology.org/mmr/mmr34.htm). Yet you seem to have no critique of Dr. Garrison’s book. This book, as far as I understand it, is in the very center of the “church growth” stream. It fits well into every category as outlined in your chart under that head. It is a book about “what works” and there is little, if any, theological reflection either in the beginning or at the end. That would be fine if it were an anthropological or sociological or even historical study or report. However, this has become a strategy textbook.
I think that this is an incisive critique. Like most Church Growth literature, Church Planting Movements assumes theology and focuses on strategy as if the two are unrelated.

[1] David Garrison is known in missions circles for his book The Non-Residential Missionary (MARC 1990), describing what was then a new approach for reaching unbelievers in limited access countries.

[2] My first contact with the phrase Church Planting Movements came from an article written by Erich Bridges in The Commission. He defines the phase as “the rapid multiplication of churches among a people group that enables them to reach their entire people–then to reach out to other peoples” (1999, 7).

Sources Cited

Bridges, Erich. 1999. Whatever it takes. The Commission. (February):6-7.

Garrison, David. 1999. Church Planting Movements. Richmond, VA: International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Garrison, David. 1990. The Nonresidential Missionary. Monrovia, CA: MARC.

Van Rheenen, Gailyn. 2000. Missionaries: Pastors or Apostles? Monthly Missiological Reflection.

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