Avoiding Relationship Pitfalls

By Philip Hunt A pastor friend of mine here in Zambia is writing the dissertation for his PhD on the subject “The sensitive handover of missions work from pioneer missionaries to indigenous leaders.”  He emailed with some questions, stating that what God has done in the ministry here is “the best example I have seen of a seamless handover from a missionary to an indigenous pastor.”  Well, if that is so, then it is only because of the goodness of God and by His grace.

The questions my friend asked stimulated much thinking on my part.  Over the course of a couple posts, I will share some of those thoughts. 

Question:  Was there anything in your past experience or reading that helped you to avoid the pitfalls of missionary/natives relationships?

Answer:  I had observed as a young missionary what seemed to me to be a "colonial missionary" mentality in dealing with churches, ministries and men.  It seemed to me that all too often the final chapter in these relationships are filled with hurt feelings, mistrust, ungodly takeovers, unrighteous responses on both sides.  Our confidence was that it did not have to be that way, in fact should not be that way.  The missionary must honestly believe in God's work of grace in the lives of the disciple. He must genuinely see his brother as an equal, one to work side by side with and for.  To embrace the joy of submitting to his brother as the Lord raises him to a position of leadership.

It has been my experience that in the discipleship process of training and empowering godly leaders there is a definable cycle that takes place.  Initially the new convert is learning everything from the mentor, asking questions, soaking things up.  As the process of spiritual growth takes place the relationship becomes more of a two way street.  Eventually, the relationship develops where the mentor is now going to the disciple with questions, seeking counsel and advice.  It is in this third stage that true friendship in ministry is established.  This is based upon mutual respect, acknowledgment of God's work of grace, a humility that recognises that counsel is needed and can be found within the relationship.  The goal is transparency in the context of genuine respect and mutual appreciation.

A pitfall that must be avoided involves the issue of ownership.  If the missionary feels ownership because he has done all of the work, invested all of the money etc. then it will be very difficult for him to hand off.  It will also be more difficult for the one being handed to.  Somehow the missionary must walk through an intentional process of handing off ownership of the ministry to the godly men and women being discipled so that when the actual transition takes place the church and the new leader continue to do what they have already been doing.  So often we from the west want to ensure that things are done in a certain way or at a certain standard, so we keep taking over from those young disciples who are trying to lead.  We must allow them to make decisions, sometimes they will fail, and sometimes they will succeed extraordinarily, but if we never give our disciples opportunity for increased responsibility and leadership then we are setting them up for failure.