The Changing Role of Missionaries as Locals Take on More of the Work

This paper introduces a number of processes that individual missionaries and organizations may need to work through as they find different ways to serve the church at different points in its life, particularly when the missionary becomes less and less essential as local leadership develops

Andy Smith

Andy has served with OMF International in the Philippines since 1989. For several years, he planted churches before he served in field leadership and training roles. He is currently OMF’s International Coordinator for Evangelization. He has completed an MA in missions at Columbia International University.


The Changing Role of Missionaries as Locals Take on More of the Work

Mission Round Table Vol. 16 No. 2 (May-August 2021): 33-42

Reasons for this paper

For several years, Patrick Fung—OMF International’s General Director—has consistently urged us to get local people involved in our activities and to work towards turning our efforts over to them. We should trust God to see local believers, churches, and organizations raised up and equipped to lead and do the tasks which we foreign missionaries are doing.

Many of our colleagues are following his counsel. As a result, new questions are arising: What should we do now? Are there still appropriate roles for us? Should we move to a less developed work? Should we end our service and return to our passport country?

During a recent consultation, one of our field leaders shared a lesson that she is learning: “Indigenization does not mean that we stop working, but that our role changes.”

I applaud her statement. Missionaries like me, who have served in the Philippines for several decades, have witnessed a remarkable work of God. We have watched the church grow and mature relatively quickly. As a result, we have been forced to adjust our roles in significant ways again and again. When I tell others what we have learned, they often ask if anyone has written down these lessons. This paper is my attempt to satisfy their request.

Understanding processes

Some missionaries seem to be unaware that their role should change over time. I have noticed or sensed several reasons why this is the case.

  • Historically, the work in certain places or among certain peoples developed very slowly so that the role of missionaries did not seem to need to change.
  • The need for our roles to change over time does not get discussed often enough.
  • Some missionaries tend not to think in terms of processes.
  • Some of the peoples we serve tend not to think in terms of processes.
  • Some missionaries want to keep on doing what they are doing until they retire or until a natural break—such as a scheduled home assignment or a transition in the education of a child—takes place.
  • Some of the peoples we serve are happy for us to keep on leading them even though they should now be leading certain aspects or all of the work.
  • After learning a language, adapting to a culture, building relationships, and developing a ministry, we struggle to turn our work over to others and leave.
  • Occasionally, field leaders may think that we should not engage in a less direct form of work.
  • We may find it hard to justify the need for a less direct form of work to our supporters.
  • Some of us recognize that our role should change over time. However, we realize that the transitions that such changes require are difficult. They sometimes lead to misunderstandings and to people getting hurt. As a result, we ignore the need for change in order to avoid the hard task of working through a transition.

J. Richard Hackman, who teaches social and organizational psychology at Harvard University, warns about the consequences that reasons like these can spawn:

Reliance on established habitual routines is highly efficient because members do not have to actively deliberate anew about how to proceed with each piece of work. But such routines also invite significant process losses, especially when members are so focused on executing them that they fail to notice that the task or situation has changed.[1]

Faithful missionaries notice the developments in their ministry situations. They then adjust their roles and tasks accordingly. In this paper, I will describe six tools that can help us understand processes and work through transitions better. Examples of how each one was used in a specific ministry context will be given. Hopefully, these tools and examples will illustrate the kinds of changes that are often needed—and which can sometimes be planned—in missionary roles as local believers, churches, and organizations take on more of the work.

As we begin, I want to emphasize our need to depend on the Holy Spirit. He will lead us to change our roles which will result in our doing things we have never done before or in our greatly changing the way we do things. Our hearts and minds must be constantly aligned with his will.

Personal experience

While church planting in the Philippines, I worked under or alongside wonderful local Christians. Because my relationship with each one was healthy, we learned from each other. Perhaps the biggest thing they learned from me was to apply process thinking to ministry. Formerly, some of them saw matters as being at either point A or B. I helped them see that there might be several sub-points between the two.

For example, I knew that OMF would eventually complete our on-the-ground work in Albay province. So, a few years before it happened, I began preparing the leaders of the ABCCOP[2] churches for the change. I explained that the work would shift from being partly led by OMF to being fully led by them. The change would not happen instantly. Instead, it would take place over a handful of years. I made charts to help them visualize the steps in the process. Each diagram represented a point along the line from point A when OMF was partly leading the work in Albay to point B when local leaders would be directing the entire work. The diagrams made the change much clearer and the transition much smoother.

Tool 1: The MAWL reproduction cycle

The first tool is the MAWL cycle. MAWL stands for Model, Assist, Watch, and Leave. It was designed to guide people towards spiritual multiplication. OMF wants to see church movements among and mission movements from each East Asian people. This tool describes a process that, Lord willing, can help us contribute to such movements.

We initially model for a people or population segment what a group of followers of Jesus looks like. We show them what a church is and does. If the Holy Spirit moves, a first generation of communities of faith is established. They then begin to serve others. We assist them in showing others what a church looks like. If the Holy Spirit moves, a second generation of communities of faith comes into being. Next, we watch the first-generation churches assist the second-generation ones to serve still others. We encourage generation one to assist generation two in showing others what a church looks like. If the Holy Spirit continues to move, a third generation of communities of faith comes into being. We continue to watch until several generations of churches are working through the MAWL cycle with the churches they have started.

We can also work through the MAWL cycle with individuals, leading to, Lord willing, disciple making movements. Either way, I find that this cycle focuses nicely on both people and the task.

Some missionaries struggle with the concept of leaving. We work hard to develop the kind of relationship with locals that allows us to engage in deep ministry to, with, and through them. It is not easy to end such relationships. A second factor is that we sometimes fall short in honoring missionaries who complete the MAWL cycle.

This should not be the case. Schnabel reminds us that, “when we define missionary work, intentionality and geographical movement are legitimate elements of such a definition.[3] It is right to intentionally work through processes that, Lord willing, will lead to church and mission movements. It is also right to relocate when we have completed a work. And as I will mention later in the paper, there are situations in which it is right for us to continue relating to those we have left.

Singaporean government

Singapore’s development can be partly attributed to the use of this process. Its founding Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, is praised for his efforts in developing the island state. Siong Guan Lim, who worked closely with the founding Prime Minister for many years while also teaching on leadership and change management, wrote the following about effective leadership:

Leading from the front, then moving to leading from the side, and then leading from behind are the stages involved in establishing oneself as a worthy leader and growing the next generation, but the ultimate goal in generating leaders is to be “leading from within.” This means that the leader has so successfully implanted values and generated capability, capacity, confidence, attitudes, and ways of thinking that the leader has developed the next generation of leaders that would be best able to lead the organisation in the future. This process of leading from the front, to leading from the side, to leading from behind, to leading from within, can perhaps be more simply visualized as the process of moving from “I do, you watch” to “We do” to “You do, I watch” to “You do.” It is the ultimate gift the leader can offer his people.[4]

Tool 2: Three phases in establishing churches [5]

The establishing of churches can be divided into phases, such as laying a foundation and building on the foundation (1 Cor 3:10). As a result, while serving in Albay province, I started applying this concept to the ABCCOP work in which I was involved. Both OMF and local workers there and elsewhere have found it helpful to think about their work in terms of these phases.

Phase 1: Planting

The Apostle Paul exemplifies this phase, for he “planted” the gospel seed (1 Cor 3:6). His ambition was to preach Christ where he had not already been named (Rom 15:20). He and his team entered a city and proclaimed the good news. The fruit of their visit was often a group of new believers that began to meet together.

In many contexts, OMF colleagues engage in this phase. We enter churchless communities and proclaim and demonstrate the gospel. Our desire, however, is that the fruit of our efforts will replace us in sharing the good news and laboring to see new congregations established. We want to see them doing such work both among their own people and among others.

Phase 2: Watering

Apollos and Timothy illustrate this phase. Apollos “greatly helped those who through grace had believed” (Acts 18:27). While Paul, the pioneer, “planted, Apollos watered” (1 Cor 3:6). Paul occasionally sent Timothy back to places where they had done initial evangelism and gathering of believers. He urged the young man to remain in certain places in order to remind the believers of what he had taught them and also gave him additional instructions to carry out or teach.

In many contexts, OMF colleagues engage in this phase, too. We carefully build on the foundation of Jesus Christ that has been laid. Our efforts include discipling, training, and helps ministries. As in the first phase, our desire is that the churches will replace us in doing these ministries and so greatly help those who have believed.

Phase 3: Sustaining

Although Paul did not include this phase in his descriptions, we found it appropriate and helpful. We drew partial inspiration for it from Titus whom Paul left in Crete “so that [he] might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as [Paul] directed [him]” (Tit 1:5).

In many modern contexts, this phase includes leadership training, theological education, and addressing the unique challenges that congregations face. In some cases, it involves doing extra-biblical tasks that a denomination or government requires for a church to be registered, such as drafting a constitution and by-laws and incorporating the congregation.

In many contexts, OMF colleagues engage in this phase, too. We continue to build on the foundation. Our efforts include deeper levels of discipling and training. As in the other two phases, our desire is that the churches will replace us in doing these ministries to sustain themselves.

ABCCOP work in Albay province

In the 1990s and early 2000s, up to five OMF missionaries were engaged in ABCCOP-related ministry in Albay province at any given time. During that period, the number of Filipinos involved in the same work steadily increased, eventually reaching fifteen.

  Several of the ABCCOP and OMF workers in Albay and Sorsogon provinces in 1998.


We worked together in establishing a district of churches. While doing so, we got to know each other well. It became clear that certain workers were especially gifted in planting. Others were more gifted in watering. A few excelled at sustaining.

This knowledge began to influence decisions about ministry designations. Bacon refers to this as the stewardship of gifts: “Stewardship of our primary gifts and calling should play a major role in deciding both when to undertake an assignment as well as when our part may be finished.”[6]

In our ABCCOP-related ministry, OMF and the district leaders first gauged the phase of a work. Then, we considered which workers were best suited to serve at that point. Workers started to thrive. This was because they were being placed in ministries at the phase in which they could make a significant contribution and because they were encouraged to move on once they had made that contribution. None felt like a square peg in a round hole. As a result, this tool helped locals happily take on more of the work.

The first two tools can be helpful in the short- and medium-term. Both can be used to guide individual workers. The following tools can be helpful in the medium- and long-term. All of them can guide organizations.

Tool 3: Six stages of a work

The above section leads to an important conclusion: If we want the right people to become engaged in a work at the appropriate point, then we need to evaluate each work well so that we can discern the kinds of missionaries who will likely be needed in it in the coming years.

We did significant thinking about evaluating our evangelization efforts before and during the 2016 Evangelization Consultation. The first thing we acknowledged was that our efforts are in a variety of stages. As a result, we knew we would not find or be able to create a single tool that can be used for all of them. Instead, we needed to create something that describes what we hope our work will look like in each stage. We decided to look at our work in six stages. We then developed a document that describes these stages.

The stages build on each other. They describe the process of moving from our having no work among a people or in a place to our contributing to a mission movement from that people or place. A given work may be in more than one stage at a time. Some of our works will not go through all of the stages. For example, we might be invited to join a local ministry that is already at one of the higher stages.

The titles of the stages and a short description of each are presented below.

Stage 1: Pray about a possibility

A church or ministry in either the sending or the receiving context has asked us to partner with them in starting a work among an East Asian people or population segment, or we are praying about starting a work among one.

Stage 2: Learn enough to decide

We further research the people or population segment’s context, including visiting them. We make observations and gather information. We seek to understand what the government and community will allow among them. We may learn that the situation is more open or more restricted than official statements indicate.

We also seek to find churches and ministries with whom we could partner in the context. We make initial decisions about whether or not to begin this work and, if so, which partnership(s) to pursue.

We also develop partnerships with churches and ministries in sending contexts that already serve this people or population segment or desire to do so.

Stage 3: Engage in ministry activities

We enter the country and take up longer-term residence. Through regular, natural interaction with the people or population segment, we develop quality relationships with them. However, in some contexts, we are required to spend much of our time with other people. In our discretionary time, we find ways to be with the desired people or population segment to develop quality relationships with them.

We continue to partner with the churches and ministries on the ground and/or in sending contexts discovered in earlier stages. If additional partners are needed, we look for potential ones.

Stage 4: Share the good news

We serve with integrity in the manner through which we gained entry, establishing an identity that local people welcome. We honor the work and visa commitments we have made. We begin to share the good news of Jesus Christ in all its fullness in the context of our occupation and/or our discretionary time.

We earn the people’s respect. As a result, they open additional doors to us. We are able to send more workers to the same area or send workers to other areas, peoples, or population segments.

We continue to partner with the churches and ministries on the ground and/or in sending contexts discovered in earlier stages. If additional partners are needed, we look for potential ones.

Stage 5: Contribute to an indigenous biblical church movement

When members of the people or population segment repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ, we ensure that groups of new believers begin to meet regularly, are discipled, and are helped to develop into reproducing communities of faith. In some cases, we do these tasks. In others, we point the new believers to those who can do some or all of these tasks.

We continue to partner with the churches and ministries on the ground and/or in sending contexts discovered in earlier stages. If additional partnerships are needed for this stage, then we look for and develop them.

Stage 6: Contribute to an indigenous mission movement

We ensure that communities of faith are encouraged to share the good news of Jesus Christ among other people groups and are trained and coached to do so. In some cases, we do these tasks. In others, we point the communities of faith to those who can do some or all of these tasks.

We continue to partner with the churches and ministries on the ground and/or in sending contexts discovered in earlier stages. If additional partnerships are needed for this stage, then we look for and develop them.

An OMF experience

Our field leaders found the Stages of a Work document very helpful. One took it with him when visiting teams engaged in evangelization. After explaining it to them, he asked them to diagnose themselves: in which stage(s) is their work? Then he read the more detailed description of that stage or those stages to them. The more detailed version of the document includes sample goals for typical key results in each stage.

As the teams listened, they evaluated their work. Have we accomplished that goal? Are we seeing that key result in our work?

The teams were able to identify which stage their work had reached. Some of them also acknowledged that they had accomplished the goals and were seeing the key results in their work for that stage. As a result, they realized that it was time for them to move on to the next stage.

Tool 4: Harold Fuller’s four stages of mission-church relations [7]

Another helpful tool for mission organizations is Fuller’s four stages of development. It describes how the relationship of a foreign mission organization to those they are serving should shift from (1) Pioneer to (2) Parent to (3) Partner to (4) Participant.

In the pioneering stage, the missionaries lead and do the work. In the parenting stage, the missionaries establish the church and equip it to do some of the work. In the partnering stage, the mission organization and the maturing church lead and do the work together. In the participant stage, the mature church leads and does most of the work while the remaining missionaries focus on church strengthening ministries.

The second chapter of Richard Schlitt’s doctoral dissertation describes church/mission relationship models. In it, he states that “Fuller’s model is particularly helpful when looking at a large mission work among a large people group.”[8]

OMF Philippines and ABCCOP

In 1953, OMF missionaries began serving the indigenous peoples of Mindoro island. Their ministry followed a cycle, working for a period in the mountains and then returning to their base house. When at the latter, they noticed that no one was spreading the good news of Jesus among their Tagalog folk-Catholic neighbors. So, they accepted the responsibility to reach these people. They entered the pioneering stage.

By 1956, OMF missionaries were doing similar pioneering work among Tagalog folk-Catholics in Batangas province. Workers of Far Eastern Gospel Crusade (FEGC is now known as SEND International) were already doing the same thing in the eastern part of the province. Although missionaries from both organizations found the work slow and difficult, people came to faith and churches were established.

As a result, both moved into the stage of being like parents to the new churches and believers. Imitating the Apostle Paul, they “were gentle among [them], like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thess 2:7), and “like a father with his children, [they] exhorted each one of [them] and encouraged [them] and charged [them] to walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thess 2:11–12).

Harrison reported that, in Batangas, “the Christian Bible Church Fellowship (a regional fellowship of churches from both mission organizations) began to emerge as churches were established.”[9] The purpose of this body was “to provide mutual fellowship as well as to help one another in certain areas of ministry. … Regional fellowship boards were elected and organization structures were set up.”[10] A welcome result of such fellowships was that they “proved beneficial in providing experience in leadership as well as experience in working together.”[11] In other words, these new local ministry structures accelerated the development of wider leadership skills in some of the local believers.

  An ABCCOP church plantiting team in Quezon that included both foreign and local workers (1987).

In 1972, these regional fellowships joined together and founded the Association of Bible Churches of the Philippines (ABCOP was later renamed ABCCOP: Alliance of Bible Christian Communities of the Philippines). OMF and FEGC entered into an official relationship with it. Both believed strongly that the local body should take the lead in the relationship.[12] The three became ministry partners, with the local partner in leadership. The mission-church relation entered stage three.

OMF started to move into the participant stage with ABCCOP in the 2000s. Our workers served on teams led by ABCCOP missionaries. Some facilitated training courses at the request of ABCCOP leadership. This move to stage four did not happen all at once but took place at different times, depending on the location.[13]

Tool 5: Development of an indigenous ministry organization—Based on Henry Mintzberg’s thoughts about organizational structure [14]

An earlier version of one of OMF’s international training courses introduced participants to the five parts that Mintzberg believes organizations need:[15]

1.   Strategic Apex: Full-time people who direct (supervise) the work

2.   Middle Line: Hierarchy of authority between operating core and apex

3.   Operating Core: People who do the work to accomplish the organization’s mission

4.   Techno-structure: Those who standardize the work (input skills, work processes, and outputs)

5.   Support Staff: Provide indirect services (mailroom, MK education, mission/holiday homes, etc.)

Mintzberg also explained that an organization’s type and environment influence the size and strength of each part. For example, some kinds of organizations need a larger techno-structure than others.

Developing a local ministry organization

In the descriptions of the five parts above, the developers of the training course applied Mintzberg’s ideas to mission organizations. Since then, I have found it helpful to think about the turning over of all five parts from missionaries to local people. When we begin doing initial evangelism among a people or community, we are the ministry organization in that place. Although we may not need all five parts, we carry out the parts that are needed. As the work develops, it often reaches the point where all five parts are needed. However, at the same time, local people are coming to faith. Churches are being established. Additional programs and projects are undertaken to develop and strengthen the work.

Initially, the young churches may appear to belong to our organization. Local believers appear to be part of our Operating Core. As some of them move into ministry leadership, they appear to move into our Middle Line. Some might even seem to be part of our Strategic Apex. If we want them to become healthy indigenous churches, we will ensure that a second organization develops. Over time, this new association of local churches will become more and more separate from our organization, which we will encourage. It will increase in size and complexity while ours decreases.

Eventually, only a few of our colleagues will remain. Most likely, they will serve in the techno-structure and/or support staff parts of the local organization, doing ministries such as Bible translation and theological education. We sometimes reach the point where a few others serve from a distance as non-resident advisors.

It is right to celebrate a work that reaches this point, for the raising up of new sets of leaders is one of the most significant contributions that can be made in kingdom work.

Tribal church association

OMF founded a tribal church association in the southern Philippines. The association grew and developed to the extent that our Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with it became out-of-date. The time had come for the association to lead much more of the work. However, such a change would be impossible to make while the long-time leading missionary was around. Wisely, that person asked Mark Chapman—who was involved in that ministry and later became Field Director—and me—then serving as Deputy Field Director—to do this task while he was on home assignment.

In 2006 and 2007, Mark and I held two meetings with the association leaders. During the first, I explained the previous sub-section of this paper (“Developing a local ministry organization”) to them using a series of drawings. They understood it and its implications right away. As a result, we had substantial conversations that led to a new MOA that named them as the leader of most areas of the ministry. It also expressed their desire for some of our colleagues to remain in the techno-structure and to do specialist work.

Thus, Mintzberg’s concepts helped spark a significant step forward in the development of the association. They showed the local leaders that their leadership role should increase. They also suggested appropriate roles for our workers and helped maintain a healthy relationship between the two organizations.

  Some of the leaders of the Manobo Bible Church Associatition of Mindanao in 2005.

Tool 6: Three generations of disciples

We want to see local believers, churches, and organizations raised up and equipped to lead and do the tasks that we foreign missionaries are doing. The tools described so far can help us contribute to making this a reality.

However, in some situations, certain kinds of missionaries should continue serving a mature church. A conversation I had with Elly van der Linden in the early 1990s explained why. A veteran missionary when I arrived in the Philippines, she served long and well among the Hanunoo people of Mindoro. Fortunately, I had two opportunities to engage in extended conversations with her.

She told me that it will be important for OMF to serve among previously non-Christian peoples for three generations, meaning organic—not spiritual—generations. She explained that the first generation of believers among such a people usually swings too far and rejects much of their culture, often in a legalistic way. Their children, the second generation, swing too far back and fall into syncretism. It is the third generation, the grandchildren of the first believers, that figures out how to be faithful communities of faith within their culture, using aspects of their culture in ways that please God.

Several years later, I found similar thinking in a book by Andrew F. Walls:

Discipling a nation involves Christ’s entry into the nation’s thought, the patterns of relationship within that nation, the way the society hangs together, the way decisions are made. This has several implications. For one thing it means that discipling is a long process—it takes generations. Christian proclamation is for the children and grandchildren of the people who hear it.[16]

More recently, Alan Hirsch taught that “Discipleship is the process of assimilating the gospel, done over a whole lifetime, into the whole of our lives.”[17] When this process is applied to the church among an entire people or population segment, it is easy to understand why something like seventy years can pass before the gospel makes a deep impact.

Early generation leaders

I am thankful for the significant growth of the church in the Philippines since the early 1970s. It has been a privilege to be part of this work of God. I am also thankful for the fine leaders that God has raised up for it.

Some of the church leaders and local missionaries I have worked with are first- and second-generation believers. The gospel has reshaped aspects of their lives but not others. They are often unaware that some parts of their lives still need to be transformed by the good news. In one context, a church association leader told me that some of their churches still carry out a certain animistic practice. He asked me what I thought about the practice. Then he sought my advice on how to discuss it constructively with the leaders of those churches.

In such contexts, it may be appropriate for foreign missionaries to journey with the church over three generations. Workers with different gifts and skills, as described in other sections of this paper, will be needed at various times.

ABCCOP-related work in the Philippines

Before I summarize the six tools and suggest ways to use them, I will further describe how roles in our ABCCOP-related work changed as local believers took over more of the work. The description will illustrate how some of these tools helped us make appropriate changes.

Individual ABCCOP leaders and members

Although many of us did not learn about Tool 1: The MAWL Reproduction Cycle until the early 2000s, we practiced it before then. For instance, many churches in the Philippines start their worship service with thirty minutes of worshiping God through songs. In order to do so, they need to have members who can lead these times of singing. They need to have one or more singers and one or more instrumentalists.

In a few of the churches I helped establish, I initially led these times of singing and offered music lessons. I trained a handful of people in each to play instruments. In one, a young man showed great aptitude for the guitar, so I turned my attention to him. The two of us began practicing together and playing together during worship services. After a few months, we continued to practice together, but he alone played during our services. I also asked him to begin training others as I had trained him. Within six months, several members could play the guitar well enough to help lead our times of singing. At that point, I no longer needed to play guitar or train guitarists for this congregation.

I also used the MAWL Cycle to equip believers in other ministry skills. I used it to equip leaders in skills such as facilitating Bible discussion groups, giving messages, and chairing meetings. I found it an effective way to raise up local believers to take over our work.

Individual ABCCOP churches

In the early 1990s, around forty OMF colleagues were engaged in establishing ABCCOP churches. Most served on teams consisting of a handful of foreign missionaries and one or two ABCCOP missionaries. An expat led each team. We were guided by Tool 2: Three Phases in Establishing Churches.

As a result, some of the teams began to be led by ABCCOP missionaries. Eventually, most of the teams were led by ABCCOP workers and consisted of a handful of ABCCOP missionaries and one or two OMF missionaries.

Teams worked hard to lead people to faith, disciple them, and gather them into churches. They spent extra time and energy with those who showed leadership potential. Their goal was to leave behind a stable church with two or more members functioning as leaders. Once they reached this goal, they left the church and moved elsewhere.

  The last ABCCOP church planting team in Albay that included both foreign and local workers (2001).

However, a few times during my service in the Philippines, ABCCOP leaders told me that we left young churches too soon. They wished we had stayed longer, further strengthened each one, helped each grow in number and financial capacity, and put each in better order before pulling out. Referring back to Tool 2: Three Phases in Establishing Churches, it could be said that we did well in phase 1—planting—but only okay in phase 2—watering. In most cases, we took only the initial steps in phase 3—sustaining.

The analysis of these ABCCOP leaders suggests that we did not keep the agreement made in the 1992 TROAS Relationship Paper on Mission District Administration.[18] Foreign mission agencies, including OMF, agreed to press on in a church plant in a population center until it achieved the following criteria:

1.   100 active baptized believers, including at least ten family units;

2.   Two full-time national pastors/leaders;

3.   Twelve biblically qualified and trained lay leaders, including elders, deacons, and a trained treasurer or financial officer;

4.   An adequate meeting place and self-sufficiency in finance, taking care of their own salaries, building/rent payments, and evangelistic outreach;

5.   An ABCCOP member;

6.   An ongoing discipleship process in effect and a planned Christian education and leadership training program, including education/training for children, lay leaders, and potential full-time workers;

7.   The church should be responsive to human needs both in and out of the church family with a social conscience and involvement, an annual evangelistic training/outreach, and annual conversion growth with a planned daughter church outreach.

Since my arrival in 1989, if I am not mistaken, we have left every one of our ABCCOP church plants before it reached the above criteria. We left many of them with fifty members and a handful of trained lay leaders. We left nearly all of them with too small a financial capacity to support a full-time worker.

A few reasons for our falling short come to mind. The expectations were too high. We did not have enough of the right kinds of workers to develop churches to the desired point. I think that a significant one was a difference of vision—ABCCOP leaders wanted to see an alliance of strong churches, whereas we wanted to see a church in every community. Our founder’s passion compelled us. Lyall explained that Hudson Taylor

believed that the C.I.M. must be “always advancing.” Under his leadership, offensives were repeatedly launched just when the situation seemed most hopeless. A church or mission which has lost the initiative and the urge to advance, content merely to consolidate the ground already won, is certain to suffer spiritual loss.[19]

Still, we could have done better at phase 2—watering—and much better at phase 3—sustaining. We might have not reached all of the above criteria in every new church, but we could have pressed on until a few more of them were reached.

ABCCOP district communities

We not only helped to establish individual ABCCOP churches, but also sought to establish an ABCCOP community of churches in each province. This required us to change roles at another level and to develop local believers for this wider level of leadership. In these efforts, we were guided by Tool 4: Fuller’s Four Stages of Mission-Church Relations.

The 1992 TROAS Relationship Paper explained that, to become a District Community, a work needs to have a minimum of seven growing churches with at least 500 active baptized adult members, and the churches must show the ability to carry on the responsibility of evangelization, church planting, and development. Works that have not yet reached this point are called Mission Districts.

The same document assigned to OMF the responsibility of developing a District Community in Central Quezon, Albay/Sorsogon, and Davao. By that point, we had already helped develop a District Community in a few other places.

From 1989 to 2002, the Luzon Superintendent—later renamed Luzon Regional Director—exercised leadership over the Mission Districts in Albay and Central Quezon. Based in Manila, he travelled to each place once a quarter. However, he did not exercise sole leadership over these growing works. Instead, he was assisted by both a Regional Council that consisted of fellow OMF missionaries and a Mission District Council that functioned in each province.

These Mission District Councils consisted of five or more members. In the early years, roles included chair, secretary, treasurer, and members. As the work in a province grew, additional roles, such as Christian education director, evangelism director, and youth camp director, were added. Initially, most of the members of these councils were OMF missionaries, usually the leader of each church planting team. Local believers were added as soon as possible. As each congregation developed, one of its leaders replaced the OMF missionary on the council. As soon as appropriate, local believers took over the leadership roles of these councils.

It caused much joy when three of the churches in Albay decided to send their pastor to Sorsogon to open ABCCOP work there in 1998. Although OMF had accepted responsibility for such work, God had not opened a door for us to do so. It was wonderful that the churches in Albay caught our vision for it and sacrificially made it happen. This new work belonged to the Albay Mission District and was supervised by its council for the first eight years.

In October 2002, OMF Philippines changed its structure. We did this for several reasons: the role of Regional Director had become too difficult; we wanted teams to be able to respond more quickly to ministry opportunities; and we wanted to more fully acknowledge growing groups of churches by being more intentional in turning over responsibility for those works to them.

The role of Regional Director ended. We appointed a Strategy Coordinator (SC) for each kind of church planting that we were doing. Where local people were already the primary leaders in a group of churches, we appointed a Ministry Coordinator (MC). We also acknowledged that, as works developed, some of our SCs would become MCs. At that time, Peter McKibbin became the MC of the work in Central Quezon; I became the SC of the newer work in Sorsogon.

Richard Schlitt—then Field Director—handing over complete administratition of the ABCCOP work in Albay to local leaders in 2005.

On 27 November 2005, OMF Philippines turned over complete administration of the ABCCOP work in Albay to local leaders and it became a District Community. We estimated that OMF missionaries had served a total of 112 years in the province; ABCCOP workers from other provinces, 64 years; and local ABCCOP workers, 203 years. On the same day, the work in Sorsogon was separated from that in Albay. A council was appointed to oversee it as a new Mission District.

By 2012, the ABCCOP work in both Central Quezon and Sorsogon had expanded, mostly as the result of local workers. Peter and I found ourselves stretched in serving all the churches, church plants, and missionaries. So, we suggested to the ABCCOP national office that a Mission District Oversight Committee (MDOC) be formed. This committee, consisting of three ABCCOP leaders and two OMF leaders, would together oversee the work in Central Quezon and Sorsogon. It would also eventually oversee other new works where OMF was involved. In December 2012, the MDOC was established. It continues to function and oversees personnel, workers’ support levels, church planting plans, church planting progress, and more. It occasionally establishes a policy for the ABCCOP workers. When a special financial gift is made, it discusses what to do with the funds. This committee has been a blessing to both ABCCOP and OMF.

My roles

Below is a list of the roles I held for our ABCCOP-related work in Albay and Sorsogon provinces. It illustrates the changing nature of the roles that other OMF missionaries and I had in such places.

1991: Director of evangelism for an established church in Albay and church planting co-worker of an ABCCOP missionary in Albay.

1992: Last remaining missionary in a specific church plant in Albay.

1994: Teacher in the ABCCOP Theological Education by Extension program in Albay.

1994–96: Deputy Luzon Superintendent and temporary overseer of the Albay Mission District.

1996–98, 2000–02: Church planting co-worker of an ABCCOP missionary in Albay.

1997–98, 2000–02: Advisor of the ABCCOP team that opened the work in Sorsogon province.

2000–05: Strategy Coordinator of the work in Albay.

2000–12: Strategy Coordinator of the work in Sorsogon.

2000–14: Occasional leadership trainer in Albay and Sorsogon.

2003: I moved to Manila and continued some of the above roles on a non-residential basis.

2006–12: Ministry Coordinator of the work in Albay.

2012–present: Member of the ABCCOP Mission District Oversight Committee.

2013–17: Ministry Coordinator of the work in Sorsogon.

2018–present: Non-residential advisor of the work in Sorsogon.

Traits of latter phase missionaries

The Bishop of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches and the Bishop of ABCCOP have occasionally told me that the church in the Philippines still needs certain kinds of missionaries. Based on their comments, I have listed the traits of those who might serve well in the latter phases of ministry among a group of churches.

  • Christian maturity, including a firm understanding of Scripture and a prayerful spirit.
  • Solid missiology, including a grasp of general best practices and the awareness that each context is unique.
  • A quality relationship with the leaders of the group of churches.
  • Fluency in the language of the group of churches.
  • A deep understanding of the culture of the group of churches.
  • Knowledge of the history of the work.
  • The ability to serve in a way that supports the group’s leaders and even extends their leadership.
  • A commitment to point people with requests and questions to the group’s leaders.
  • A willingness to help the group raise the resources it needs for its work.

This list sets a high standard. It suggests that only certain veteran workers will qualify to serve in the latter phases of ministry among a group of churches. In many contexts, they indeed will be the most appropriate.

However, I also believe that some new workers could develop these traits over their first decade of service. After completing their initial learning of language and culture, they could serve under a Filipino leader in a church, church plant, or training ministry. By humbly serving and learning in this way, they might gain the knowledge and build the relationships needed to make a significant contribution in the latter phases of ministry among a group of churches.

Summary of the tools

Table 1 summarizes the six tools I have described above. In the following section, I will suggest a way for missionaries to apply them to specific efforts.

Suggested application

Below are several questions to guide you in the use of  Table 1. Hopefully, they will help you discern how you can better prepare locals to take on the work and how your role should change as they replace you in more and more of it.

Review the Mission Activities in the table. In which activities are you engaged?

Review the Tools for those Mission Activities. Which of them describes a process which might be helpful in your context?

Review the Description for that tool. Which of its phases describes you or those you serve?

What needs to be done for you or those you serve to reach the next phase in the Description of that tool? Specifically, what changes should be made in the roles of missionaries and in the roles of the people being served?

Review the Missionary Roles for that tool. Who else should be aware of that tool and how to use it? How might you introduce them to the tool and the process it describes?

How might you introduce your supporters to this tool so that they both understand the value of less direct forms of work and also know how to better pray for those engaged in them?

Table 1. The six tools

[1] J. Richard Hackman, Collaborative Intelligence: Using Teams to Solve Hard Problems (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2011), Nook 51.

[2] Alliance of Bible Christian Communities of the Philippines.

[3] Eckhard J. Schnabel, Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008), 27. Italics in the original.

[4] Siong Guan Lim with Joanne H. Lim, The Leader, the Teacher and You: Leadership Through the Third Generation (Singapore: World Scientific, 2014), 249.

[5] This section is similar to a section of the unpublished paper I presented at the April 2013 Mission Research Consultation titled “Contextualizing the Church: A Case Study from Southern Luzon, Philippines, with Special Reference to Stages of Development from Pioneering to the Present.”

[6] Daniel Bacon, “Discerning When We Have Completed What God Has Assigned to Us,” 1 July 2008, Missio Nexus, (accessed 2 August 2021).

[7] Harold W. Fuller, Mission-Church Dynamics (Pasadena: William Carey, 1980).

[8] Richard E. Schlitt, Final Stage Transitions from Mission to National Church: An OMF/ABCCOP Case Study (unpublished PhD dissertation, AGST, 2001), 23.

[9] Myron S. Harrison, Developing Multinational Teams: A Study of Factors Involved for the Development of Multinational Team Ministry within the Association of Bible Churches of the Philippines (Singapore: OMF, 1984), 23.

[10] Harrison, Developing Multinational Teams, 23.

[11] Harrison, Developing Multinational Teams, 23–24.

[12] For a helpful description of these developments, see Franklin W. Allen, Breaking the Barriers: A History of Church/Mission Relationships in the Philippines (Singapore: OMF, 1990).

[13] Later in this paper, in a section titled “ABCCOP-Related Work in the Philippines,” the process and the impact it had on the roles filled by OMF missionaries will be further described. Harrison’s Developing Multinational Teams contains additional material on the development of ABCCOP in the 1970s and early 1980s and the impact it had on the roles of OMF missionaries in the Philippines during that period.

[14] Henry Mintzberg, Structure in Fives: Designing Effective Organizations (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1983).

[15]The short descriptions and the diagram are taken from the “Designing Learning Organizations” section of the unpublished workbook for Project Timothy Session 4: The Leader and the Organization, which was held in Manila from 19–21 September 2002. This portion of the workbook does not have page numbers.

[16] Andrew F. Walls, The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1996), 51.

[17] Alan Hirsch, Disciplism: Reimagining Evangelism Through the Lens of Discipleship (N.p.: Exponential Resources, 2014), Nook 60.

[18] TROAS stood for TEAM, RBMU, OMF, ABCCOP, and SEND International, the members of the partnership.

[19] Leslie T. Lyall, A Passion for the Impossible: The Continuing Story of the Mission Hudson Taylor Began (London: OMF, 1965), 98.

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