One of the most effective postures of cross-cultural missions is that of partnering with the national church. Partnering assumes God has already established strengths within the national church that need to be recognized, honored, and preserved. Partnering also assumes there are areas that need to be built up, to the point of creating an additional area of strength.
The idea parallels the illustration of the change from giving a needy person fish to eat or teaching him how to catch fish so that he can feed himself. But in cross-cultural church ministry, what is the “fish” and what does “catching fish” look like? If we are not clear on defining what the “fish” is, we won’t have very good or measurable results with our effort at partnership.
Our organization’s mission is to assist the national church by equipping leaders to train others. It is all about equipping church leaders not only to become effective pastors, but to somehow equip them to train up the next generation of pastors.
In practical terms, this means teachers must be local, experienced pastors who are at least effective, if not gifted, at teaching. But partnership goes further because these local teachers need something to teach. They need something that they are confident with and motivated to teach. In the end, partnership is for a limited time as the national church learns to tap into previously unnoticed local resources. A successful partnership takes time and trust.
Our story of partnership is not finished yet, but we have had significant milestones marking measurable progress. One important area was to coach our national staff team to eventually write, edit, format, field-test, and publish their own, original pastor-training material. They are presently creating a new course on the book of Nehemiah. The process of training them to create their own pastoral training courses began more than a decade ago, with tiny, but intentional, incremental steps.
Our national team is made up of active pastors and evangelists. They serve with us part-time, so that they can remain in active ministry in their home turf. This helps give them credibility as teachers, because they can speak from fresh experiences as active pastors.
We passed a milestone when nearly all our training events were taught by our national team. As they returned to an area to teach a new course, they gained a reputation of being helpful and practical in addressing local church problems. They discovered that wherever they traveled to teach, they were facing many of the same church problems. We were lacking the kind of course material that consolidated these problems and offered biblical guidelines to help resolve them.
At a team gathering including our national trainers and our curriculum staff, we identified 12 common church problems they had repeatedly been asked to address. Together, we agreed this could become a new 12-chapter course. We confirmed that most of them had already spoken to some of these issues in a preaching format. The next step seemed natural, and our curriculum team asked them, “Can you put in writing 12 chapters to address these issues?” The resistance was strong and firm. It wouldn’t happen. Not one of them dared to offer to help write these lessons. Thus began a compromise and the start of a long journey leading to the development of a national curriculum team that writes, edits, and publishes all new courses. In short, we defined what “catching fish” needed to look like in this partnership effort.
Healthy partnership starts with existing strengths and builds from there. Our national team consists of experienced pastors who commonly preach multiple times each week. They confirmed, “Yes, we have preached on all of these ‘church problem’ topics.” Thus began our experiment of “You Preach, I Write” (YPIW), as a process of addressing these common church problems and putting it into a teachable book format. YPIW has had many iterations over the past decade. The general stages follow something like this:
- The chapter content and a general outline to each chapter is agreed upon
- Each person is assigned to preach a sermon on a chapter topic, using the outline
- The sermon is preached to the team and discussed. Is the topic addressed properly? Is there solid biblical support for this issue? Are the illustrations supportive or are there better illustrations?
- The sermon and all discussion is recorded and then transcribed to form a succinct written chapter
- The chapter is reviewed by those who will be teaching it, in order to clean up missing, incomplete, or confusing sections or paragraphs. This completes the first draft.
- Each chapter draft is formatted, and teaching tips are added
- At the completion of all 12 draft chapters, a teaching field-test is arranged and feedback is collected to be used for the final draft.
- The full course is proof-read by someone outside our team
- After the final edits, it is ready to publish and to be taught.
At the beginning, YPIW meant our national team contributed the preaching part, while our curriculum staff did the heavy lifting of transcribing, editing, formatting, overseeing the field test, and preparing the material to be taught, i.e., the actual writing of the course. For the first YPIW course, our national team contributed 20% of the total effort, while the curriculum team handled the rest. It was the beginning of a progressive partnership with an end in sight.
We were not prepared for the raucous celebration when our curriculum team presented the newly bound version of the first YPIW course to our national staff. They held in their hands their course—the one they created from their own preaching. They never dreamed they could contribute new course materials for their fellow pastors. The fire was lit, and discussion turned toward the next course they wanted to help create. Partnership had momentum.
The critical ingredients were shared partnership and shared ownership. They began to see the significance of their own experiences as a resource for helping build up the national church.
Our next hurdle was to identify a national whom our curriculum team could coach as a transcriber and then editor. We experimented with several people before we found a good fit. We needed someone not only with the skill set, but who would relate well and work well with our national staff. The wife of one of our national trainers was the perfect fit. She was a seasoned church worker and loved the detail of working with words. After using YPIW on two more 12-chapter books, the national team was carrying more than half the workload.
Passing the Baton
Today our national team has formed their own curriculum team. They have invited our seasoned curriculum staff to sit in and observe their work, discussions, and written content on the newest course. We have transitioned from “You Preach, I Write” to “You Preach, You Write” (YPYW). The “you” of course is our national team now doing all the heavy lifted of creating a new course.
You may wonder what has been the time frame for this kind of process? It took three and a half years to finish our first course on Practical Church Management. Our second course of YPIW took two and a half years. The last one on the book of James took about two years. In 2021 we implemented YPYW. We hope this next course will be ready for use in early 2023.
This partnership process has not followed an orderly path and it is littered with frustrations, disappointments, and unrealistic expectations. But these are not wasted if they become new learning points. Before long the tables will be turned and it will be our seasoned curriculum team that erupts in a raucous celebration when they are presented with the first course written, edited, and published by our national curriculum team.
Bill Schmidlap (pseudonym) is a co-founder and former CEO of a pastoral training ministry in East Asia. The organization has created more than 30 pastoral training manuals and biblical teaching texts in the language of their primary training audience. This ministry embraces the conviction that writing in the original language …View Full Bio
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