Jul, Woohan and I had begun bringing our three house groups together for worship once a quarter. The locals liked this so much that they suggested doing it each month. And then it became an every week event, melding the three groups into a single congregation.
Following this development, God spoke separately to the three of us leaders about using small groups to further develop the church. So, uniting our efforts, we did some reading together, and then began to talk about small groups with those who were potential leaders.
We divided the fellowship up into geographical groups; each one had young and old, newer and older believers, so each so was a cross section of life.
For each group we selected a “shepherd” and an “assistant” from among the potential local leaders. We also assigned two workers to each group. When we explained all this to the prospective local leaders, they objected that they were not ready for such responsibility. So, we held a sample small group meeting with just them.
There was an icebreaker–not a game like in our western society, but some kind of sharing–then a singing/worship time, followed by an inductive Bible study, and last, a prayer time. Then we had tea together.
When we were done, several said, “Oh, we can do this! But we want to have a foreigner with us, too.” We assured them that this would be so, and that we would prepare the inductive study for them. They just had to lead it.
After nine months of these small group meetings, I went with a number of them to a one-week family camp for believers. Each night a different city’s fellowship was responsible for the evening service. In every one, the foreigner preached the sermon.
We were scheduled for Thursday night. The local brothers came to me and asked, “What are you going to speak on?”
“I’m not going to speak,” I replied, “You are!”
“On, we can’t do that! We’re not ready for such leadership!”
“Of course you are,” I countered. “You can each give a short testimony. Or some of you can do a little summary of one of the inductive Bible studies we’ve done. With the Lord’s help you are well capable of doing the whole service!”
They reluctantly agreed to try it–and did a great job. It was a real confidence builder that took them to the next level of leadership.
To train and then empower people moves them along in maturity—but we have to be willing to step back and let go, to give up the fulfilling roles that we have enjoyed so they have room to grow.
One final aspect of finishing the church planting process and “letting it go,” was having some kind of a constitution. We got a rather extensive one to use as an example and went through it step by step with the leaders. We pointed out different difficulties that can arise and how to anticipate them by inserting provisions in the constitution.
In the end they voted to accept just one small section, consisting of the most basic aspects, and it served them well for the next couple of years.
There was one last important element essential for full local leadership: at least one stronger, visionary leader. Those we had in leadership positions were good men, but none were strong leaders. They were all on equal footing; no one stood out as having the necessary qualities.
The Lord knew this and He brought along the exact person we needed. One Sunday Ivan showed up with a new fellow in tow. This newcomer, Alex, hung in the background, but my wife struck up a conversation with him.
It turned out that he had been a lone believer for several years in anotheer city, coming out of a Communist background. After moving to the capital, he had met Ivan and was glad to find a fellowship to attend.
Alex was an educated fellow from a higher-class family and was supporting himself by translating films from English into the local language. He was not one of those who came to Christ at minus twenty-two, but had come at about zero level, and was now at a plus ten.
He was an eager learner and became a regular attender, soon joining in with the leadership group. He led his fiancé to the Lord, and I performed the marriage ceremony for their church wedding. When we left that church plant in 1993, Alex was among the six shepherds appointed to the leadership core.
Picture: the fellowship in 1993 with some of the local leaders. Abraham is on the far left, Alex in the middle back