This article was written by my pastor, Austin Gardner, several years ago. As a church-planting missionary, this article has some very important truths for me and other missionaries to consider. God greatly used my pastor when He went to Peru as a missionary, and I think that following this method had a lot to do with it.
Most missionaries are able to start and leave very few indigenous churches during their missionary career. The majority will have to leave their work with a North American missionary when they return to the states on furlough. They can get the people together and have everything that looks like a church but be unable to have trained leadership to carry on the work. It is completely essential to consider the contrast between training leaders and being a regular church planter. Most missionaries go with a pastor mentality instead of a missionary mentality. They want to reproduce what they had in the states but do not know how to go from there to having a national pastor to take the work.
Consider a church planter that can plant a church every year. That means knocking on doors, winning enough souls, getting a place to meet, training the people to be faithful, tithe, pray, preach, and all the other things that make up a church, plus find a pastor and leave in 365 days or one year. He would be doing a better job than most any living missionary today. If he could consistently continue this ministry and take care of his family at the same time he would be able to start and leave a total of only 32 churches in a typical missionary lifetime. That means he started planting churches at the age of 25 and continued until 65 taking a furlough every 5 years (4 years on the field and then one on furlough). Consider that–32 churches. If they really become self supporting, self governing, and self propagating he will have been used far beyond what most modern missionaries do. Almost anyone that has any experience on the mission field will realize that this is near to impossible if not totally impossible. For those of you that live in the states show me any church planter in North America that has ever been able to accomplish a similar feat in the States with all the advantages that the North American church has.
Now consider something far more within the realm of reason. What if a missionary could start a church doing all of the above mentioned and leave it with a national pastor every 4 years just before going on furlough. That would mean that he could start 8 churches in the same time period. In a short period of investigation you will find that few men have been able to consistently carry forth this ministry either.
Finally consider the missionary who approaches the ministry with the mentality of training leaders as mentioned in the article above. He too will begin to plant a church but instead of getting bogged down in the day to day operation of pastoring a church he will search out and prayerfully train leaders. What he can accomplish will be unlimited because the difficult part of planting churches is not the getting people together etc but leaving a trained leader that can carry the ministry forward. It only makes sense to train leaders. II Timothy 2:2.
Before leaving this subject consider the greatest missionary who ever lived. Most consider Paul the greatest missionary and without a doubt he was the second greatest but Jesus Christ obviously has to be rated as the greatest. He spent 3.5 years preaching, healing, teaching, ministering, and doing the work and yet when he left his ministry there were only 120 members in His church and that was the first time they had to count the women to get a good attendance. He failed in the big church planting ministry if numbers are your goal but he certainly won out when you consider that he gave his time to the training of 11 men who would shake the entire world in their lifetime. What was his goal–to rapidly plant churches or to train men who could train others to plant churches. You decide 32 churches, 8 churches, 1 church or train 11 men or as many as you can to reach the greatest unlimited number of churches and souls possible.
Read more helpful articles at bcwe.org.