We are trying to be irresponsible missionaries. Yes, you read that right.
One of the struggles that we, and I think probably all missionaries face is not making the native people, in our case the Brazilians, too dependent on us. In our experience, when we arrived here and started our work, there was a kind of a compulsion to make sure that everything was taken care of. When I say everything, I mean worship services, teaching, preaching, women's ministry, men's ministry, retreats, youth ministry, small groups - all those things that we think a church "has" to have in order to be successful. So, as missionaries, we did all of those things. In some cases, we tried to turn these ministries over to Brazilians, but more often than not, we were disappointed with the results. Changing our "setup" to house churches hasn't really solved this problem. So what do we do?
When Bryan and Jacqueline Bost were visiting us for a seminar in June, we asked them about this. They just frankly told us that they were very irresponsible. They work with several house churches in Sâo Paulo, and for example, if they are going to be out of town one Sunday, they just tell the group "We won't be here". The end. They don't try to plan what, if anything, is going to happen in their absence. Maybe the group will meet, maybe they won't. But whatever happens, it will be the Brazilians' responsibility to make it happen. We have tremendous respect for the Bosts. They speak with wisdom gained from many years of experience working here in Brazil with all kinds of churches - not just house churches. So we started thinking - "Do we need to be more irresponsible?"
What if we just don't do everything. What if we don't lead the Bible study? What if we don't make sure the ladies' retreat gets planned? What if we don't plan the entire celebration service? Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe it won't be that great. I think we are coming to realize that that is OK. You see, if we do everything, or make sure that everything is done the way we want it to be done, the Brazilians will not have a chance to try, make mistakes, and grow. Maybe some ministries won't exist anymore - but were they really essential anyway? Maybe not right now.
We have several church members who have been Christians for 20 years or more. They have seen missionaries come and go. Sadly, most of them are scared to take on responsibility. They think they need special training. Why is that? Maybe the missionaries "did their job" so well, that the Brazilians always felt incapable of doing it when the missionary left. Wow. We don't want that to happen.
One idea that we thought about a lot when we were changing to house churches was that if we leave a nice church building here, but weak Christians, it won't be worth much. But if we leave strong Christians who don't have a building - they will find a way to make it work. Think about the strong Christians that you know. Would moving to an area where there was no church building keep them from being a church? Along that same train of thought, if we leave a bunch of great "ministries" with no strong Christians to lead them, what good are they? How about leaving strong Christians, who as they mature decide that they want to start a ministry? It may not be a ministry we would have started or be done the way we would have done it. So what.
So does that mean that we are just sitting around doing nothing? No. Our focus has shifted to using the gifts that God has given us to help grow and mature these church members - as well as always be open to new people, new opportunities to share Christ. For each of us missionaries, that means different things - because God has gifted us in different ways.
Here is a practical way that this is working out with our house church.
One day we were having a conversation with our brother Garigran about bringing friends to get to know the church. He suggested that we have some kind of bring a friend day once a month. We could have a lunch together after worship and it would be just an "excuse" or better yet, an opportunity, to invite a friend. What a great idea. So last Sunday, that is what we did.
We were going to meet at our house, because it is nice, cozy and welcoming. But I am hugely pregnant, and so the women in the group (me included) decided that we would meet at the CASA - a resource house that our church rents. It is not as cozy, or spacious. But, we are not trying to attract people by the beauty of our surroundings - but rather by the richness of our fellowship.
Who would plan the service? Guess what. Kevin and I didn't do anything. The Brazilians did it all. Even Garigran led the Bible study and it was the first time ever for him to do that. Was it the most enlightening, well-planned out study ever? No. But it didn't need to be. We all read, talked and learned. And it turned out great. After church we had a lunch planned by Silvio, of grilled sausage and bread. Everyone brought a salad, dessert, and soft drink. It rained like crazy, but it's OK. It went great.
Here are some photos:
By the way, 10 new people visited our house church last Sunday. Everyone had a great time.