Sunday, April 13

In a missionary culture a person does not look to the central hub for direction

In the previous post of Reggie McNeal quotes, one that stands out to me personally is...

In a missionary culture a person does not look to the central hub for direction.

This one really intrigues--and convicts me. What this statement says to me is that in a missionary culture like our own, people are so freed and empowered that there is little need for our missionary presence. This would be the realization of our dreams if it were true on a wide-scale basis!

The truth is that our presence is still largely felt. People continue to look to el misionero for all sorts of help, advise, affirmation, "permission", materials, and approval. While all of us need to some degree these things in our lives, they become unhealthy when long term we continue in the role of being that "central hub."

Curtis Sergeant and CPM methodology speak of the MAWL training cycle (model, assist, watch, leave) as the basis of our missionary presence.

It is likened to teaching a child to ride a bicycle...

1) provides a model by riding the bicycle,
2) provides assistance to the child by holding the bicycle as they learn to ride,
3) then watches while the child rides the bicycle by themselves,
4) and finally leaving the child to ride on his own.

The secret to achieving a missionary culture where people do not look to the central hub for direction is in understanding and applying the MAWL training cycle.

My own tendency is to stay in the first two stages of modeling and assisting. It is hard to stand back and just watch, not to mention leaving! It takes a special kind of parent to resist jumping in to rescue the child every time they know he/she is about to mess things up.

I am personally not very good, nor do I really understand the "watch" stage very well. It is here that 2 out of every 3 new church plants dissolve, sink, disband--whatever you want to call it. It is very hard to stand by and watch something fall apart. My tendency is to want to jump in and fix it.

Yet as I reflect on the house churches that have survived over the years, they are all--without exception--groups that we have indeed "watched" and yes, "left" to survive on their own.

Some make it, some don't. I have never been able to quite figure it all out.

Jesus says in Matthew, "I will build my church..." We are actually never really told to plant churches, we are told to make disciples. Making disciples consists in modeling, assisting, watching, and yes--leaving.

The churches that no longer look to the "central hub" for direction are the ones that have survived.

Does any of this remind you of raising children? What do you think is the secret to achieving a missionary culture where people do not look to the central hub for direction?


jeff w said...


I guess I have a lot of questions - As I understand the statement by McNeal, it is that people should not be dependent on the missionary. Why is the missionary there in the first place? How do you impact the spread of the gospel without having influence? Is it possible to have influence without causing some level of dependency? Isn’t the dependency caused by the missionary supplying something that the local population supposedly doesn’t have – such as education, opportunity, vision, plan, etc.? While people often come to the missionary for all those things you mention in your post (“help, advise, affirmation, ‘permission’, materials, and approval”), my experience in Africa was that, a lot of times, money seemed to be a reason people sought the missionary and a primary cause of dependence – though this may have been a result of working in a very poor area.

I whole-heartedly agree that dependence on a person, organization, or another church is detrimental in the long term to any church. How do we avoid dependence? The simple solution is to never begin providing anything that would allow the church to become dependent on us. But if this is so, why be there in the first place?

My understanding from hearing Curtis Sergeant at MLC is that he went into an area where there was very little prior work – therefore, he could start it, mentor, assist, watch and plan to leave. My memory of what he said was that it seemed like his approach was to work with the leaders. I would need to dig out his materials again, but did he intentionally limit who he worked with? Did he have limits on what he would provide or how long he would provide it? I have seen some very arbitrary rules put into force on the field at times – things that just didn’t make sense to me.

Is the issue of dependency different in areas of the world where poverty is rampant? It would seem that where the missionary has more education and money that the issue of dependency is much harder to deal with. Along with dependency in Africa, came friction and resentment.

The issues of dependency take on a whole new level in the US. With the perceived need for fulltime, seminary trained professionals and owned (or mortgaged) facilities, the average US congregation consumes a lot of money just opening the doors each week. For a new church start to survive in this model, an enormous amount must be poured into it. I could tell you several stories about the problems this has caused that I have witnessed. The solution in the US seems to be to change the model – but where is the will power to do that?


John said...

These posts have been very helpful to me.

The little church that I helped start on the streets of Dallas - and it is little is about 15 months old.

During that time, we really focused on taking that group and making disciples.

In the last couple of weeks, I believe the Lord has directed me to teach a couple of more things, then I'm to begin to fade into the background, and eventually out of it all together.

I spent a little time this week talking to the guys about this. I just explained that we're shifting and God wants them to start stepping up to the plate.

I made a big mistake early on letting them become too dependent on me. I've been trying to correct that. But I don't know if it is enough.

I've wrestled with the fact that this group may not make it. But, I'm sure that I've heard God.

Regardless, I have to remind myself that I have to be obedient. The church has served a purpose, even if it collapses tomorrow, there was real spiritual growth that took place and God will connect them somewhere else or use them to start something else, which is what I've been after all along. Dallas Street Church belongs to Jesus not to John.

But this isn't easy. I've found that no matter how much I tried not to let it happen, my identity has become tied up in this little expression of the church. But now it's time to untie the knot.

Thanks for posting this information. It is helping me navigate this process.

GuyMuse said...


Some great questions that illustrate the tension created by dependency issues. While I hear what you are saying, ultimately if a movement (any kind of genuine movement) is going to take off, it has to be propelled by those on the field, and not from a central command hub making things happen. To get to the point of where a movement takes off on its own and no longer dependent upon the hub for "help, advise, permission, materials, etc." is what I was referring to in my own discomfort of the watch/leave phases of MAWL. As we begin to empower others and they begin to take off on their own, some flourish, while others seem to 'crash and burn'.

For many years now I have thought our role as missionaries is more a catalytic role. We are here to be that ingredient that sparks, initiates, and empowers others. This process takes time. My feeling is that in too many cases missionaries pull out prematurely before things are really firmly rooted in the hearts of the people they seek to empower to carry on the work. Of course, the other problem is that missionaries stay way too long and thus create dependency issues. Dependency does more harm than can be imagined and sets the work back years.

As long as the missionary is the "hub" everyone looks to them. But in a true missionary culture, people look to Jesus for direction, help, finances, wisdom, answers, healing, etc.

This is my take on the matter. Thanks for your observations that add to the dialog.

GuyMuse said...


Boy can I identify with your words, But this isn't easy. I've found that no matter how much I tried not to let it happen, my identity has become tied up in this little expression of the church. But now it's time to untie the knot.

This is what has happened many times with us. Some of the groups struggle and then take off flying, while others struggle and die off. Every time a group dies out I tend to take it personally as if it is a personal failure. Somehow I didn't teach, train, mentor, explain, pray hard enough, walk beside long that the new church takes root.

All I know to do is persevere and start again. We have been at this now for eight years. There have been some incredibly exciting things happen, lives changed, leaders who have emerged, churches planted, etc. But at the same time there seems to be an equal number of disappointments, failures, embarrassments, and frustrations.

Allow the Lord to lead you. Trust Him. Know that this is not your church, but His. It is his responsibility to 'build his church'. Ours is to make disciples. If you have done your part, He will certainly do his.

Anonymous said...

Something that has helped me is to realize that in the Greek the verb is "disciple", not "make". God makes the disciple and he invites us into the process of discipling. The end result is his responsibility, not ours.

We have such a limited vision of what he is doing and I learn more from my failures than my successes. Maybe we are to disciple some folks so they can "fail" but in the process learn more than we could ever teach them. Then we are not around to see how God picks up the pieces and puts them back together.

Some plant, some water, some harvest. Our role is to take those whom God gives us and do our best discipling them while they are with us and then trust them to God. We can't "make" a disciple, but we can join God in discipling a brother or sister for a while.

Hershel Adams

GuyMuse said...


Thanks for your good observations. I agree with what you say. So many times those "failures" are only temporary setbacks that end up only to strengthen the disciple for greater service. We need to stop seeing everything from our own limited perspective, and trust that God is in control of all that is happening around us. He is the potter, we are the clay.

Ken said...


A good post with a lot of elements. I will be brief with just a couple of observations.

First, missionaries sometimes forget that we to can create an emotional dependency with those whom we work. This fosters a, "I can't do it without you mentality." Growing and multiplying churches do not have this characteristic.

Second, I do not wish to disparage our national partners, but there are times that the desire not to let go on their part is because of the resources we bring to our work. I remember hearing at a national convention in one of our countries that the closer you are to a missionary, the greater the likelihood of you garnering more resources than if you are not close to a missionary.

The tension here is one that we should recognize that we may fail in as often as we get it right.

GuyMuse said...


As usual, some good observations. What you share are things we too are aware of. Our team here is made up of only two IMB M's and ten nationals. Sometimes the tensions arise. I have been criticized heavily for being able to find money for those things I think are important, but not for those things they want to do. The good thing about our team is that we tend to be very transparent and honest with one another. When these tensions arise, we talk about them openly in our team meetings. I have found that this kind of honesty is essential to the well being of our work. We also try to share equally and allow the team to have a say in how all finances are spent. I know there will always be these dependency tensions there, but we are trying to make the best of a difficult situation by remaining open to everyone's input.

bryan riley said...

I like this, word picture and all. Yes, it does remind me of raising children, and, I realize more and more every day that I'm not good at letting go of control. For me that is the central issue and stronghold.

For some reason thought of Paul's letter to Philemon. He no longer was telling Philemon what to do, but he did still spell it out for him. I wonder if he wasn't quite to the watching phase there?

GuyMuse said...


I have heard many say that if Paul the Apostle were alive today, he would be turned down by every mission agency out there! He certainly did not fit the standards set for missionaries today!

Yes, a lot of this is a lot harder to live out than to read about in books and missiological case study papers.

Just today, I was confronted by a national brother who gently rebuked me for a condescending attitude that I had shown towards him. I hadn't even realized how I was coming across, but after he reminded me what I had said and the way I said it, he was exactly right. It is so very hard to not be controlling and dominating--even in the little things like this brother pointed out to me.