Leadership in Church Planting Movements

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Early in my missionary career, I investigated an emerging Church Planting Movement in West Africa. By the time I was able to interview one of the missionaries at the heart of the movement, the movement itself had already collapsed.

“What happened?” I asked.

“A lack of leadership,” he replied. “I was training new leaders as quickly as I could, but the more the movement grew, the farther behind I fell. When I finally went on furlough, the training came to a halt. When I returned to the field, there were only a few churches and leaders still active.”

Because leaders are so indispensable to Church Planting Movements, leadership development that cannot keep up with the movement’s exponential growth is certain to lead to its collapse.

There is not one, single, model for leadership development in Church Planting Movements. But there are some basic elements within these movements that make every leadership training effort much more likely to succeed. These elements include:

· Small, more easily-led house churches,

· Shared participatory leadership,

· Self-feeding from the Bible.

When these core elements are in place, leadership becomes bite-si zed and manageable, producing a growing number of new leaders for the movement. Once those conditions are met, all kinds of leadership training can accelerate growth. Here are a few that I’ve come across:

· Shadow pastoring – in which a missionary or movement overseer meets privately to offer on-the-job training for emerging church pastors to help answer the questions they face on a weekly basis.

· Shared leadership – in many CPMs, churches share leadership to make the task more manageable and to instill mutual accountability and support within the leadership team.

· Intensive training programs – Cambodia’s movement grew out of transitory “RLTPs” or “Rural Leadership Training Programs.” These mobile training programs would take training to the villages where new churches were emerging. Intensive training would last for a few days and then return a few months later with new lessons.

· Training chains – one India movement cascaded leadership training from a leader to about 20 trainers who then trained a dozen pastors each with the result that 240 church leaders received training on a weekly basis.

· Peer learning – in parts of China, churches would meet on alternating days so that church leaders could attend other churches to learn from their peers.

· Training weekends – movement overseers, typically non-missionary local leaders, in India and China sometimes scheduled monthly or bi-monthly meetings with all of the key house church leaders for a day or a weekend to hear their challenges and offer them just-in-time training.

· Annual training conferences – in India’s Karnataka and Bhojpuri movements, missionaries sponsored annual events for the training of emerging leaders and church planters.

· Pastor Study Bibles – missionaries have supplemented other leadership development efforts by importing Pastor Study Bibles that are practically seminaries-in-a-book.

· Distance-based training – along with traditional radio and postal correspondence courses, the Internet has increased options for distance-based leadership training particularly in the restricted-access world.

Perhaps you’re getting the idea. Church Planting Movements require an ever-growing number of leaders, and there are many ways to meet this challenge.

The best CPM leaders are those who have manageable sized tasks (i.e. house churches as opposed to mega-churches), mutually accountable co-laborers (as opposed to stand alone leaders), and self-feeding capabilities (as opposed to dependency on outsiders for answers).

The best way to raise-up these leaders is to include these ingredients into the nature of the movement itself through:

· Small, more easily-led house churches,

· Shared participatory leadership structures,

· Self-feeding from the Bible.

With these core ingredients in the recipe of the movement, all the other training resources we can provide become icing on the cake. Without these core elements, though, the movement, like a poorly-made cake, will likely collapse.