restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


Can We Please Do Church Planting Cooperatively?

 David Alan Black  

I’ve often talked about the work that the Holy Spirit is doing to accomplish the evangelization of the tribes in Ethiopia. (For detailed reports, see our Ethiopia Files.) The most effective church planting ministries in Ethiopia are those carried out by nationals. Everyone who works in Ethiopia can, I believe, attest to that fact.

Now, I realize that many U.S. missionary organizations send personnel to plant churches in Ethiopia. I am not against American missionaries serving in Ethiopia. But this practice does raise a question in my mind. It is a fundamental question that I have been pondering for some time now. And the question is this:

How can we justify sending our well-paid church planters to Ethiopia when Ethiopian evangelists and church planters are eager to do the work themselves at a fraction of the cost?

Becky and I meet these evangelists and church planters wherever we travel in Ethiopia, whether it is in Gondar in the far north, or Alaba in central Ethiopia, or Burji near the Kenyan border. Many of these faithful servants of the Lord are weak, sick, and emaciated. Some are just skin and bones!

What a contrast with your typical American missionary. Everything in American society is geared toward ease and comfort. Not only physical comfort, but the comfort of a “normal” family life. Even becoming fulltime professional missionaries involves little sacrifice and suffering when compared to what a typical Ethiopian evangelist experiences. It is not living unashamedly for another world when we drive the latest model Land Cruisers or live in luxurious compounds while foreign nationals suffer.

Here’s my suggestion:

If we, as the church in America, would learn to invest our money more wisely, it could be used to empower and equip Ethiopian nationals to evangelize their own people.

Think about it. They speak the language. They know the culture inside and out (and believe me, Ethiopian culture is not easy to understand). They are used to going without. They do not need to be pampered.

How many dozens of Ethiopian evangelists are ready to begin their work if they only had the means to do so? Amharas are ready to reach Amharas. Siltes are ready to reach Siltes. Burjis are ready to reach Burjis. Tigrais are ready to reach Tigrais. Can you imagine what would happen if Christians in America were the grasp the principle of cooperation? Within a few short years, national missionaries would have preached the Gospel in every lost village in Ethiopia.

In my new book Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? I encourage my readers to view modern missions as “a global, cooperative movement,” a partnership, if you will, between local churches in America and local churches in other nations.

Unfortunately [I continue], many U.S. mission teams fail to coordinate their efforts with the churches of host locations. Recently a student of mine mentioned that his local church was going to plant a new church in China. I asked him, “Have you ever considered simply going to China and asking the existing churches how you can come alongside them and help?” Failing to understand and connect with God’s already-at-work global purpose is one of the greatest mistakes we can make as churches. More and more local churches in America are forging effective partnerships with local churches in foreign nations, asking how they can best serve the needs in those countries. When done well, everybody benefits through this kind of beautiful partnership, and Christ is honored as His people submit to one another in love.

Once we understand that we have only one King and one kingdom, we should be able to begin working cooperatively, side by side with foreign nationals, to get the job done. Once we see this principle, it is the most liberating revelation. We will find ourselves working intentionally with national churches as each one of us does our part to finish the task before night falls.

Of course, I fully realize that this issue tends to divide modern missionaries. Reared in a culture that has sent out church planters to Ethiopia for generations, we argue that we cannot leave the work to nationals on the assumption that we are indispensable. In my new book I contest this belief. Slowly and patiently, God is working to create a spirit of cooperation among His church. My prayer is that God will help free us from the tendency to work as though the church in Ethiopia does not exist. My hope is that we will become increasingly aware that He is very much at work in the hearts of Ethiopians who desire, more than even we do, that Christ’s kingdom be established in their nation. 

May God help us to see the need to work with the existing churches in Ethiopia to reach that great nation for Christ. Yes, let us send missionaries to Ethiopia. Yes, let us go ourselves. But let our goal be to come alongside the courageous Body of Christ there and humbly ask, “How can we best help you?” If we say this, and mean it, I believe the effect on the church in Ethiopia will be immensely beneficial.

February 20, 2012

David Alan Black is the editor of

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