Go into all the World, and … “Facilitate”?

The Facilitation Missions Model:
What are the concerns, and does it fit every situation?

There is a growing emphasis in missions to “facilitate” evangelism and church planting by indigenous workers in their people groups, and to do less direct ministry and church planting by missionaries. The logic seems reasonable. The indigenous workers already know their language and culture better than missionaries. It costs less Kingdom money per worker. More church planting can be done. There is not the struggle that sometimes takes place when missionaries leave and the work transitions to fully indigenous leadership and self-support. Also, we can sometimes support indigenous church planting in “closed countries” where we cannot send missionaries.

Send Money, not Missionaries

Some churches are supporting and sending fewer missionaries as they increasingly focus on facilitating indigenous church planters by supporting them directly. This support is often via their missionaries who support, coach, mentor, train, and generally facilitate indigenous evangelists and church planters. Those with this philosophy in the extreme sometimes stop sending missionaries completely and only support indigenous workers directly.

Those with this philosophy in the extreme sometimes stop sending missionaries completely and only support indigenous workers directly.

Is this growing facilitation trend good, and Biblical? Are there concerns? Does it fit everywhere?

For the record, I am for facilitation. In a sense, Scripture is calling us to facilitate when it says “equip the saints” to minister (Eph 4:11ff). Jethro, in effect, told Moses to facilitate (Ex. 18:17ff). D. L. Moody wisely said, “Don’t do the work of a thousand men. Put a thousand men to work!” We must be equipping increasing numbers of workers to multiply churches and reach the world.

I daily experience the strengths and weaknesses of both direct and facilitative church planting. I “facilitate” some indigenous Japanese workers by serving, supporting, and coaching from a distance while concurrently doing so-called “old paradigm” direct church planting as a missionary-pastor working toward a Church Planting Movement (CPM) together with three younger Japanese co-pastors.

Being both a missionary “facilitator” in Japan and an observer of this growing missions emphasis worldwide, I have concerns as do experienced mission leaders like Ralph Winter, Robertson McQuilkin, Bruce Young, and others (see for articles written by these men). Concerns include dependency and depth issues, as well as concern for the health of a church that does not send its own sons and daughters to the nations in obedience to Christ’s command. I will address some other concerns here.

Facilitation possible today because of foundations laid yesterday

Praise God that facilitation in missions is increasingly possible. God promised to raise up indigenous “Gentile Levite” church planters (Isa. 66:21), and is doing so worldwide. Christ is building His Church. There are increasing numbers of healthy churches with whom we can partner, serve and facilitate as we pursue Biblical, indigenous CPMs.

Facilitation is possible today from Brazil to Bangladesh because of foundations laid by missionaries through more direct evangelism and church planting in previous generations. In many places, however, those foundations are lacking. The national church is weak or nearly non-existent. There are not scores of indigenous church planters waiting to be facilitated. The Philippines, with over 12% professing evangelical, will be very different from Japan with only 0.4% evangelical, and a statistical scarcity of qualified indigenous partners. Evangelism and church planting by cross-cultural missionaries is still needed so that someday, by God’s grace, there will be indigenous movements with whom we can partner.

Paul’s heart: Laying NEW foundations

Missionary Paul’s heart was not building on already-laid foundations, but rather initiating new work, preaching Christ where “His Name was not yet named” (Rom 15:20). This reflects the heart of the Good Shepherd, who leaves the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep (Luke 15:4ff). Jesus says that angels rejoice over just one who repents. Reflecting God’s heart, we must seek the lost sheep in the more unreached places, where there may be none or few indigenous partners. Jesus’ clear command was to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19), not only manage and facilitate the making of disciples where things are already moving forward. A missionary leading one person to Christ where there is no one else to tell the gospel is precious to God. A missionary is doing Biblical missions to start a church in a city where there is no church, especially if there is no one else to start it.

Jesus’ clear command was to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19), not only manage and facilitate the making of disciples where things are already moving forward.

The Joshua Project lists people groups under 2% evangelical as “unreached” because they do not yet have the strength to reach their own people. Missionaries are needed to directly evangelize and church plant.

We need both facilitation and direct mission work around the world. The emphasis will depend on the indigenous church’s strength and the missionary’s call, gifts, and experience.

Distant mentoring, or life-on-life discipleship

Mentoring from a distance is good. Periodic training and short-term “experts” from abroad are helpful. The best way, however, to raise up godly, well-trained leaders is daily, life-on-life discipleship. What kind of churches and movements will we leave in 10 or 20 years with a “distant mentoring” approach as opposed to a daily discipleship model? I can have influence in many places as a disburser of mission funds. They will let me speak through the interpreter on my periodic visits. But Jesus’ model of mission is the Deuteronomy 6:6ff model, walking together daily, hearing each other preach, modeling a fellow-struggler seeking to love his wife and disciple his children in the midst of busy ministry and one’s own sinful tendencies. Incarnationally walking with those indigenous leaders we seek to raise up, having family worship in each other’s homes, solving church problems together, and modeling leadership as chief repenter will generally bring about better leadership development. This was how Jesus modeled ministry with lasting impact. Men were His method, and He was “with” them (Mark 3:14).

We especially desire to impart a grace-based Christian life and ministry model. Veteran missionary Bruce Young has observed how difficult it is to teach gospel-centeredness in a culture or established national denomination where non-grace-based thinking is prevalent. I know my ongoing struggles as a recovering Pharisee, 16 years after taking Sonship from Jack Miller himself! Gospel-centeredness in life, family, and preaching rarely comes easily. The Spirit generally brings deep, lasting gospel transformation as we are discipled in relationships.

Nissan’s CEO is French

Cultures are different. Foreigners will have a more difficult time doing direct ministry in some, but will have advantages in others. The two biggest, fastest growing churches in Tokyo are led by foreigners, an Australian and a Hawaiian. The Aussie-led church has about 500 Japanese worshipers in just six years. They are raising up many Japanese workers in the best way, in daily relationship in a dynamic engine church which is now starting daughter churches. Though it seems counter-intuitive, the Australian pastor has a growing church of 500, while Tokyo churches planted by experienced Japanese pastors average fewer than 50 worshipers even after 20 years.

But this fits our world of globalization. Nissan’s CEO is French. Sony’s is also European. Japan’s national soccer team is coached by a Brazilian. In recent years, some top, championship baseball coaches in Japan have been Americans. The man is more important than his passport. A foreigner may generate interest that a national cannot. Fuji Television, one of Japan’s major networks, aired a program nationwide about our family, not a Japanese pastor’s family.

There are still legions of cross-cultural evangelists and church planters around the world contributing to Kingdom advancement by the churches they start, and by the indigenous leaders they mentor. The best place to grow up indigenous leaders is in a vital local church.

Direct church planting by missionaries is often messy, and transitions are difficult. But facilitation is messy, too. Ministry is messy! Christ has used cross-cultural evangelism and missionary church planting to build His Church for 2000 years. We expect Him to continue, delighting to use weak vessels who follow His incarnational model as they lay down their lives for a people group.

While being American may be an asset to ministry in some places, it may be a detriment in others. To get the task done in the latter locations, we must primarily facilitate, keeping ex-pats at a distance. In some countries, Christian leaders are eager to be facilitated, taught, and helped by outsiders. Socioeconomic level may influence how open national leaders are to being helped, taught, and facilitated by foreigners. I observed a new missionary in a poorer country who was able to facilitate and even supervise church planters more experienced than himself. That would be impossible in rich, educated Japan.

We cannot be locked into one church planting ideology and use it exclusively in every culture. We must be flexible, and open to use all Biblical means as we labor for our goal of Biblical, indigenous CPMs around the world. Context matters.

The missionary’s call

One’s call, gifts, passion, experience, and age affect a missionary seeking to serve by facilitating. Not every missionary is like my friend Paul Taylor who, because of experience, age and gifting, can find, mobilize and facilitate indigenous church planters and movement leaders concurrently on multiple continents, while also mentoring and supporting more direct church planters like me and others around Asia. Most newer missionaries are unable to do this kind of facilitation like a gifted, experienced missionary can. They need to learn their new language and culture as they serve, evangelize, disciple and/or church plant. Many will eventually grow into competent facilitators of nationals. Some may never be effective mentors of nationals, but will be good servant facilitators, effective evangelists, or effective in other ways to support pursuit of indigenous CPM.

“Woe is me if I do not… facilitate”?

Missionary evangelists across the ages declare passionately with Paul, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (I Cor. 9:16). Some folks are hard-wired by God to be missionary evangelists and church planters. Many will die on the vine or be part of missionary attrition statistics if they only manage developing CPMs by email and periodic visits while raising and disbursing funds to nationals. Which method tends to raise missionaries willing to give their lives for the people group they serve? How is our recruiting affected by the facilitation emphasis? I am convinced that for most missionaries, a call to preach Jesus to those who have no one else to tell them, and to be directly involved daily in starting a church where none exists, grabs the heart.

If we only emphasize facilitation, I fear we will not attract and keep in our missionary force the needed evangelists, disciplers, church planters, preachers, and pioneer leader types.

Redeemer NYC: Would facilitation have been better?

We are thankful Tim Keller did not only facilitate church planting in New York City. There were many ministries he could have partnered with, using his gifts to teach and facilitate. Though relatively unreached for the USA, New York City had some gospel foundations on which to build and do facilitative church planting. Thankfully, God led him to initiate, to start a church, to preach Christ-centered messages weekly, and to model gospel-centered, outward-focused leadership.

Facilitation or direct evangelism/church planting? We should continue to do BOTH, as God leads, to varying degrees, depending on the context and the missionary.

**Note: A more abbreviated version of this article and others about missions facilitation can be found in the May 2008 issue of MTW’s “InVision” on-line magazine at www.mtw.org. Articles on this subject by Ralph Winter, Robertson McQuilkin, and Bruce Young may be found at www.iversonjapan.com.

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