Five Things that Destroy Multiplication

Jean Johnson’s excellent illustration of how well intentioned missionaries can do the very thing that hinders multiplication:

Picture this scenario: After six months of learning the language, Josiah, a missionary from North America, decides it is time to launch a church plant. Josiah takes a walk in the community to think through his strategy. He considers intently the question, “What do I have to offer these people so I can build relationships with them?” As Josiah looks up, he sees several colorful signs posted on a fence that read, “English classes.” His heart beats faster, and he says under his breath, “This is it! I will start an English training center and include teaching the Bible in English.” Within hours, Josiah enthusiastically connects with his supporting churches in North America to request that they send as many English books as possible. Josiah and his wife, Theresa, find the perfect location to rent a building for the English training center—right next to a popular restaurant for expats. “Perhaps the students can practice their English with expats at the restaurant,” says Theresa. Josiah’s wife, who is quite artistic, paints the walls with English idioms to create a fun atmosphere for learning. Josiah busies himself with attaching whiteboards and preparing shelves for the books to add to the learning environment. With each improvement, Josiah and Theresa are filled with anticipation. Upon the first day of English classes, twelve young people arrive, anxious to learn English from Americans free of charge. During the evening—as Josiah and Theresa unwind from a long day—Josiah says, “They even stayed to learn English from the Bible. I think our idea is working.”

There are five elements within the first scenario that makes reproducibility impossible, which I call “the Five Es”: Extraction, Expertise, Expensive, Extraneous (coming from outside the culture), and Exclusive (creating an “us and them” dichotomy). Josiah and Theresa created a ministry atmosphere that was comfortable for them and invited (extracted) people into their cultural frame of reference. This missionary couple relied on their expert skills in English to conduct their evangelism ministry. They spent a significant amount of money and solicited funds from abroad to implement their expensive practices. The setting and activities were centered on the English language and North American culture. (In fact, using English as a medium to introduce people to God may have compounded the local belief that Jesus is the god of the foreigners.) Lastly, their free English classes drew people from existing English classes through which locals were trying to earn a living, exacerbating the “us-and-them” dichotomy.

When the locals who have come to know Christ through the English training center are ready to launch a church plant, they will reflect on what was modeled to them. Questions will begin to bombard their minds: “How will we obtain funds to develop an English center? Who knows enough English to serve as teachers? Will people be drawn to us like they are to the missionaries?” After reflecting on such questions, the local church planters will most likely resolve, “We can’t do this! We will have to ask Josiah and Theresa to assist us.”

from We Are Not The Hero

by Jean Johnson