Strategic Paradigm Shift
In 1962 Thomas Kuhn, in his book entitled the “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” introduced the term "paradigm shift." The term is used to describe a radically different way of approaching a discipline, eg. the move from Newtonian to Einstein physics. Paradigm shifts are revolutionary because we look at a concept from a totally different perspective. What we are proposing is a way of doing church planting that is radically different from the traditional strategy.
The traditional model used in planting churches is one in which a missionary church planter surveys an area to determine the feasibility of the proposed church plant, develops a team (usually consisting of another missionary couple), and then proceeds to plant that church through various evangelistic efforts. The average time (in the South African context) it takes to plant a church according to this model is about ten to twelve years. During this time, the church planter mentors or recruits a trainee pastor who will eventually assume leadership of the church.
There are pros and cons to this approach. The church planting missionary has both the time and the resources to devote to planting a church. In the absence of saved and trained leadership, he may be the only person who is available.
The cons appear to significant. First the process is slow. It takes ten to fifteen years for the church planter to acquire the linguistic and cultural skills to minister effectively and to complete the church plant. Even after acquiring these skills, it is difficult to plant a biblical and yet contextualized church. We think that this is part of the reason why it takes so long to plant a church and why it grows so slowly. Churches planted by South Africans generally grow faster than those planted by missionaries.
Second, one normally encounters significant obstacles when the church is ready to be "handed over" to South African leadership. People are very often attracted to a ministry because of the leadership that is in place. Once that leadership transitions out, they struggle to accept the new leadership. The South African trainee pastor who assumes leadership of the church does not have the same resources at his disposal that the missionary had. The church has become accustomed to experienced leadership and now they must settle for someone who has just completed his theological training.
Third, the traditional model does not fully utilize a vital resource, South African church planters. The best church planters in the South African community are South Africans. They understand the culture, know the language intuitively, and are able to contextualize the Word of God. Much research has been done in the area of “church planting movements” globally and this research points to the importance of local buy in from the start if a movement is to generate momentum. We know and understand that the process of planting a healthy, vibrant and theologically sound church is a complex one and it does take time. However, we believe that the DNA of the church plant must be derived from indigenous sources from the very beginning to maximize long term stability and effectiveness. The bottom line is that South Africans must of necessity assume ownership of church planting initiatives.
So what are we proposing? We are proposing that we shift from the traditional paradigm to one in which we are able to both expedite the church planting process and develop a church planting movement. We need to plant churches exponentially! We need to deepen the pool of potential church planters.
We must dispel the perception that church planting is accomplished primarily by church planters from overseas. We are not sure that South Africans have caught the church planting vision as much as they need to. Those training for ministry must not necessarily assume that they will be recruited as part of the exit strategy of a church planter. This thinking is very restrictive for both church planters and South Africans preparing for ministry. If we can only plant as many churches as there are missionaries, then we will never establish a movement of spiritually vibrant churches. We must recast the vision of church planting before established churches so that they can reproduce themselves.
A large part of re-thinking the paradigm is to think of a church planting movement as an organic system. Its strength is a bottom-wide approach rather than a top-down approach that is commonly utilized. This means that the movement is engineered to be led by the Lord’s blessing and direction for each phase, rather than “finding a fit” for a missionary who has already arrived. In a sense this is a relinquishing of control to allow the organism to grow as it needs to rather than driving it into a preconceived direction. This does not negate the need or importance of strategy, it simply allows for continuous assessment of strategic initiatives to determine their ongoing relevance.
We think that the best way to accomplish this is by refocusing the efforts of missionary personnel to that of the theological education, training, and supervision of South African church planters. Church planting will still be at the core of our vision. That won’t change. We will plant churches indirectly by educating, mentoring, and training South African church planters. We need to refocus our efforts at the point where we and those who support us will gain the greatest return on that investment.
We must pray for, recruit, educate, and train South Africans to plant churches. Our church planting efforts must become strategically focused and team centered. We need to mentor South African church planting teams that are strategically empowered to establish vibrant churches. The synergy that is created by such teams, supported by prayer and fasting, experiencing the “good hand of God,” and working in community, has great potential.
We are suggesting a four-pronged model consisting of spiritual formation, theological education, community development, and church planting. Please refer to the links above entitled "making disciples," "mentoring church planters," and "mobilizing resources" to see how this paradigm will work out.
The focus of this model is upon knowing Christ (as pictured below). It is at the core of all our ministry initiatives. We hope to develop a fifty-acre campsite where we can target children, teenagers, and young adults with various leadership, teamwork, and skills-building related activities for the purpose of sharing the gospel and discipling those who have embraced Christ as Lord and Saviour.
The one-year intensive spiritual formation "bootcamp" is the on-campus program that we will invite selected individuals to participate in. It is a focused time of knowing Christ balanced with leadership and team building experiences. These individuals will provide the counselor base for our camping ministries described in the previous paragraph.
We believe that the Lord will call some of the individuals involved in the one-year intensive spiritual formation "bootcamp" to stay for the church planter's course of study (an additional two to three years). The goal of this program is the mentoring and training of church planters and church-planting pastors.
Emanating from this "knowing Christ" focus and the church planter's course of study are the various "making Christ known" ministries balanced with community development resulting in the planting of local churches.