We look for bridges
Going into a community as outsiders without any point of contact will oDen lead to a very slow process of church planting. Therefore we are looking for bridges into communiCes to people who already have shown some interest in the Gospel. We recognize that in most cases, these bridges will be family lines.
Some of the bridges we are looking for are:
- Isaan believers from districts without churches who are living elsewhere
- Isaan believers living in districts without churches who became believers elsewhere.
- Isaan believers in neighboring districts.
- People who responded to ChrisCan radio or other large-scale evangelism.
Bridges are especially promising when people already have come to the Lord. For there is no guarantee that an interested person or family will come to a saving faith and become an active member of the church. Where possible some preparatory ministry (eg medical clinics, broad evangelism etc) will be done in a new district before new missionaries will be placed. Migrant work is so much a part of Isaan culture that in our experience so far we have encountered people in every district who had had significant Gospel exposure before in other locaCons. So it seems that ready-made bridges are already in place in many places.
Because bridges are so important, we are willing to travel. After choosing a place for ministry, we stay committed to traveling. We are living in districts with around 100 villages each. We need to go to the villages to proclaim the Gospel. Through our ministry we may get in touch with people who have contacts in other areas. Especially when this is in unreached districts or sub districts, we investigate whether there is interest in the Gospel and potential for planting a church.
We start house groups
The core of our strategy is starting house groups in as many places as possible. We do not mainly invite people to central events, but try to get invitations to come to their homes. In this way, the Gospel message reaches whole households rather than individuals. In the house groups, we teach the Bible in a way to ensure that people get a firm foundation and understand the nature of God, the seriousness of sin, the provision for sin that God gave in his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who enables this ministry. House groups are also a good sekng where people can explore what it means to be a Christian in the Isaan context. We try to use Isaan language and culture as much as possible to avoid unnecessary barriers to the Gospel.
As missionaries, we are passers-by. From the beginning, the members in the churches we plant need to know we are not there to stay. We work according the the Model, Assist, Watch, Leave (MAWL) principle. First, we model ministry. Second, we assist the new believers in ministry. Third, we watch the believers do ministry. We are only present in a consulCng role. Fourth, we leave the area. That does not mean we abandon the church. We keep in touch.
If the square represents all ministry to be done, the area under the diagonal line is the ministry by the missionary, and the area over the line is the ministry done by local believers. During the MAWL process, the responsibilities of the missionary in and for the church gradually diminish until he can leave. It is important to us that the Model, Assist, Watch, Leave process is not limited to one church. It also takes place in the church multiplication process.
Ideally, when we move from the modeling to the assisting stage in the church we plant, a daughter church is planted from that church. In that daughter church the Model, Assist, Watch, Leave sequence is started afresh, with the Isaan ChrisCans being the ones who model (while we assist them). We watch the third generaCon church being planted, while the church we planted assists the daughter church to plant a granddaughter church.
This is an aspirational goal. So far, we have seen church planting and churches being able to function on their own taking place. But we have not yet seen churches multiply. In the years to come, we will continue to work towards that goal. We will continually evaluate whether our approach facilitates or hinders multiplication. We will study cases of church multiplication in Thailand and other countries to learn from.
When we say ‘we leave’ we do not use a fixed time frame. Normally, we expect missionaries to be in a district for about five years. Depending on the circumstances this can be shorter or longer. We would like to see the following in a church before we phase out:
- Stable leadership
- Capable to evangelize and make disciples
- Sound biblical teaching
- Financially independent
- Found its place in a wider network of churches
- Ideally, capable to plant daughter churches
Some of the consideraCons for the Cming of leaving include:
- When missionaries have committed Christians with leadership potential from the beginning (those are the situations we are looking for), it is often possible for a church to stand on its own within about four years. When leadership has to be built up from scratch, oDen at least six years will be needed.
- If the church can stand on its own but no multiplication has taken place, and there is no very real possibility of it taking place in the immediate future, the missionary leaves If the church can stand on its own and multiplication has taken place so robustly that it will continue without missionary input, the missionary leaves.
- If the church can stand on its own, and church multiplication is taking place but so tentatively that withdrawal of the missionary will most likely end or severely disrupt the movement, the missionary stays.
- When at any point of time, after faithful and consistent Gospel sowing, it becomes clear that there is no opening for the Gospel, or no realistic hope that a church comes into being that can stand on its own, the missionary leaves for a more promising place of ministry. Disruption of life and costs of relocation are not enough reason to continue where there is no fruit.
Our experience in Isaan has shown that it is very hard to plant churches in villages that function independently. Groups tend to be small, and the potential for leadership is low. A pure MAWL approach expects too much of these nascent churches. Therefore we modify the MAWL approach by expecting an ongoing role for the central church in the district in the nurturing of the village groups and churches.