A fresh look at missions and local leadership responsibility.

- Jonathan Shibley

"We're sending a team down from our church (in the U.S.) to paint the Sunday school rooms and build some shelves and lead a VBS."  These were the words from a well -meaning missions pastor to me as we conversed over dinner in a Central American country.  He's a smart guy and represents a church of loving, good-intentioned people who want to do something for missions.  The only problem is that we from the U.S. have been doing the work for too long that local, indigenous people could and should be doing themselves!

Are there not capable people within that Central American local church or community that can paint the walls of the Sunday school rooms?  Are there not local carpenters that would gladly render their services to build those shelves?  Are there not emerging leaders within the church that can arise and take the opportunity to lead the VBS?  

The answer is yes there are.  And this brings us to a fundamental shift in how missions work should be done: Through collaborative efforts that always promote local ownership of the vision, local initiative and local leadership.  

When outsiders do all the work that locals could and should be doing it robs the locals of dignity, purpose and greater vision.  

Those from the U.S. who participate in cross-cultural mission should always view themselves as the junior partner.  At the end of the day locals must be the ones to carry out the vision and move things forward.  Otherwise it will always be a relationship of dependency.  

Those from the outside should aim for mutuality, understanding the local leader’s vision and assist with the vision only after local resources have been exhausted.

That's why I'm such a firm believer in leadership development of local nationals within the Church and the marketplace.  It's the only way to go.  This is not meant to bag on those that have done traditional missions trips of service.  My goal is for all of us to think about how we can promote local initiative, ownership and true indigenous leadership. 


Tell me what you think!


Jonathan Shibley serves as president of Global Advance, a ministry that equips national pastors and marketplace leaders to fulfill the great commission.