(This is an edited reprint from FEBInternational’s publication “Focal Point”)
“There are too few trained leaders!” This statement jumped out at me from my browser one morning a short while ago. Although the Operation World web page was referring to Burkina Faso, this statement describes many countries with thousands of young Christians who lack the guidance and teaching of mature Christian leaders. People movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America have brought many to faith in Christ, but the development of godly, trained servants of God has not kept up with the demand for leadership. In many places in Africa one pastor may be responsible for a number of churches and it is reported that less than 20% of African pastors have any kind of significant leadership training. (West Africa Theological Seminary home page: http://www.watsonline.org/ accessed March 14 2007). FEBInternational is addressing this critical need in a number of countries; leadership development is one of our core values. Northwest Baptist Seminary is partnering with FEBI to accelerate the process.
Redundancy as a goal
It has been often stated that the goal of missionaries is to work themselves out of a job. This goal may be better phrased as a need for missionaries to become redundant: the job doesn’t end, but the baton is passed on. All the roles that contribute to the healthy, stable growth of the church within a particular culture, from evangelists to mentors and trainers of pastoral leaders, need to be competently filled by national leaders.
At the same time, it is important to realize that the agenda for leadership development is not set by the cross-cultural worker. The objective is not to teach people the jobs missionaries are currently doing; that merely perpetuates the vision established by the foreign workers. Instead leadership development begins by identifying and supporting those godly, committed people God has raised up who have their own vision and passion for their people. The role of the leadership developer is to come alongside and provide emerging national leaders the skill sets and biblical guidance they require to see that vision come to life. Cross-cultural missionaries who successfully transition to leadership development are those who surrender their projects so that success can be ensured for the ministry passion of their national brothers and sisters.
God chooses the leaders
During our ministry in Pakistan, one of the believers, Nathaniel (not his real name) surprised me one day by asking, “Do you know what my favorite chapters in the Bible are?” I prompted him to tell me and he gave me some expected references: Psa. 23, 1 Cor. 13, Rom. 8, etc. But then he said, “Gen. 7.” I was taken aback and had to think. “Isn’t that when God destroys the world with a flood?” I asked, somewhat concerned by the implications. “Why is that a favorite chapter?” Nathaniel smiled, “Just as God chose Noah to save his family, so he has chosen me to save mine.”
I had not considered Nathaniel a leader. I was busy with my own vision trying to gather together a number of believers to form a church. That church did not materialize, but Nathaniel’s vision lives on. He continues to persevere in his faith with 3 generations of his family coming to Christ: his mother, his siblings and now his children. Nathaniel received guidance and support from FEBI missionaries involved in leadership development and it is his vision that God has blessed.