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Four Stages of Missions Development

I attended a Perspectives course last night and learned a lot. One of the discussion points that the teacher shared was on the major eras of the modern missions movement. He also told us about the four stages of missions development, which I found very simple, but also compelling and a little convicting.

The four stages of missions development are:

1) Pioneer Stage: This when you make first contact with a people group that is otherwise unreached.

2) Paternal Stage (Parent Stage): In this stage, you engage that people group for first time, introduce them to the Gospel, and win people to Christ. Also in this stage, missionaries begin training indigenous leadership.

3) Partnership Stage: This stage moves you beyond the "parent-child" relationship (which is a terribly pejorative analogy, I know). In this stage, indigenous leaders begin working as equals with the missionaries who first brought them the Gospel. In prior stages, missionaries have been training the locals, but now both parties are working side-by-side of each other.

4) Participatory Stage: In this fourth and final stage of missions development, missionaries only participate in indigenous churches when they are invited. That is, they are no longer needed; the indigenous leadership has full and complete authority and sovereignty.

Now, here's the rub: The goal of all missions should be to get to the final stage as quickly as possible. In much of the missions movement that has come out of the West, we've unfortunately stayed way too long in the beginning stages (particularly Stage 1 and Stage 2).

This is not only unfortunate; it's a tragedy. We've propagated paternalism and dependency in unhealthy, codependent ways. What's interesting about this class that I attended last night was that many in the missions world are recognizing a shift away from the West as the dominant force in global missions. Since 2005, there are now more non-western, cross-cultural missionaries than western ones.

It's undeniable that something is changing with the world. And yet, we in the West still have a strategic part to play in fulfilling the Great Commission.

If we are to be successful, those of us who are called to personally participate in world missions must learn to do the following:

1) Model.
2) Equip.
3) Watch.
4) Leave.

Those are some pretty simple steps that I don't think I need to go into, but they are extremely relevant for all Christians and churches. As we make disciples, we need to remember that the end is not codependency, but rather empowerment.

The last step (i.e. leaving) is always the hardest. But we need to remember that it doesn't have to take years for each step or stage. In fact, in the most successful streams of modern church-planting, people are moving through each of these stages quite rapidly.

Again, I will reiterate: If we are to be successful disciples, missionaries, and church-planters, it is essential that we learn how to leave. It is just as important as the going in the first place.

Think about your ministry or mission work or even a local Bible study or discipeship relationship. What does "leaving" look like for you? How can you do so responsibly and in a way that empowers?