When we learn about people groups around the world, we find some already have established networks of Christians and churches while others are still seeing the first converts won and the first churches planted. Therefore, World Partners missionaries must adjust their strategies to fit the circumstances of each group. Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit's guidance and flexibility in the midst of changing circumstances are very important to the discipling of a people group. It is a dynamic process in which change, that comes from growth, is expected to take place.
The changes that occur between the missionaries, the people group and the emerging national church usually follow three general patterns of relationship. These patterns will be encountered by the local Missionary Church as it explores which people group to adopt and might be important in the decision of which group a church will select.
The first pattern which appears is the essence of the pioneer stage of discipleship. Because a church planting movement has not yet emerged, World Partners missionaries do the "front line" evangelism and discipleship among the people group. The direct contact the missionaries have with the church planting process allows them to report very specific and fresh prayer requests to adopting churches. Finances given will be centered around the personal support needs of missionaries and ministry projects that are approved by the World Partners Board.
This pattern of World Partners missionary work is found among the people groups in the countries of China, Cyprus, Ecuador, France, Guinea, Indonesia, the Middle East, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Thailand and Vietnam.
It is important to remember there will be missionaries on the church planting team who may not be directly involved in evangelism and discipleship. These are the missionaries serving in support roles such as business managers, house parents or teachers. They are just as strategic to the work of church planting as those on the "front lines", making the work of evangelists possible through their sacrificial service.
The second pattern of relationship a church might discover is where the missionaries are working in the background to provide training, education and motivation for national church planters who are doing the actual work of evangelism and discipleship. This pattern of missionary work is found among people groups in Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
Missionaries on the scene can still provide adopting churches with current prayer requests and information about the church planting process among their adopted people. Finances for the support of missionaries are still needed, but care must be taken in the support of church planting projects initiated by national church planters. To insure the initiative and personal ownership of the national church is not damaged, it is wise for project funds of an adopting church to be carefully channeled through World Partners under the discerning eye of the World Partners director.
At this stage of growth, theological training is one of the important ways missionaries influence the progress of church planting. World Partners is involved in advanced theological training through institutions such as the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology in Jamaica and the United Missionary Theological College in Nigeria.
If a church adopts a people group in the Church Multiplication or Mission Mobilization stage of discipleship, it will likely be supporting advanced theological education in some way. The congregation's assistance may be to send qualified professors on short term assignments or help develop much needed libraries with new or used books. Remember again that support staff are always needed in these situations and often missionaries serve in important roles which are clearly "in the background."
As a local church considers adopting a people group, the third type of relationship pattern to be found is one where there are no World Partner missionaries living among the people at all. This is true among the people groups in Haiti and India. In each of these countries, World Partner missionaries used to be present and were involved in church planting ministries. Today the established churches are in full control of church planting and missionary outreach to other peoples. World Partners maintains regular contact with these national churches to provide support and encouragement to the church leadership.
The vision for discipling a people group now rests with our "sister" Missionary Church and an adopting church can help them fulfill their vision through strategic prayer. National church leadership and lay people in the national churches will be the primary source for prayer information. Once again, finances for church planting and missionary outreach to a people group must be handled carefully with the discerning wisdom of the Mission Ministries director to guide you.
We realize that when we divide missionary work into three different patterns this is an over simplification. These patterns are not "air-tight compartments." Relationship patterns emerge slowly and two patterns might be present at the same time. For instance, missionaries may be planting churches among the Ecuadorians in one location while in another location, nationals are doing the church planting and missionaries are involved in "behind the scenes" training. Thus two relationship patterns of ministry are present among the same people group.
We hope these patterns are helpful in understanding the complexity of missionary work and evaluating how the relationship of our missionaries to a people group will affect the adoption by a local church.