Mission, Measurement, and Interconnectedness - Part I

by Juan Sarmiento

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
— 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

“They are the very heart of all we do at our presbytery!” In an unequivocal way, Rev. Emmanuel Martey, chairperson of the Upper Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, described the importance of the 169 catechists and caretakers that endeavor to support congregations without pastors in their region, which is close to the borders with Burkina Faso, Togo and Ivory Coast. Under the name “Apollo’s Project” they try to visit the often remote locations and preach, teach and lend their support to the people of God gathering in those places. They do this out of a sense of call for being supportive to the congregations that are formed through the joyful, evangelistic efforts of Presbyterians in their ethnically and religiously diverse communities. Often times the catechists travel on bicycles or public transportation without receiving a salary or being reimbursed for their expenses. While the Gospel continues to be planted, the presbytery has identified the “watering” of those churches as what they need to concentrate their energy and attention on.

A couple of weeks later, when one of the attendees of the National Gathering of the 1001 New Worshiping Communities asked a panel that I was part of about the “metrics” of the movement, I could not help but think back on my recent interaction with Emmanuel and another leader in a very different part of the great African continent that I also met recently (about whom I will share in my next blog post). All of us do well in trying to determine the best way of quantifying the results of our efforts. I believe that as we do, we can learn from fellow Presbyterians in Ghana. 

Sharing the Gospel among its religiously diverse communities comes naturally to the people of the Upper Presbytery. Honestly I found it surprising that the strengthening of churches, rather than the development of new ones, would be identified at its heart. But after having visited some of its churches and ministries I realized that their evangelistic efforts, far from decreasing, have actually been enhanced by their emphasis on strengthening the churches: 

  • Pastors and lay leaders have created a collaborative hub to ensure that the Christian education and leadership development resources are translated into the dozens of languages spoken in the area. 
  • A youth event that we attended faced difficult issues “head on” such as how to be faithful in living out our faith by building relationships with people that are violent towards Christians. 
  • One of the most important Christian education resources is a handbook that gives people ideas on how to share the Gospel with their friends and neighbors. 
  • A workshop on “waging peace” is co-sponsored by the presbytery in order to help its leaders develop roadmaps for going beyond religious co-existence into the creation of cohesive communities that seek their common good.

During the less than seven years since it was created, the Upper Presbytery has seen its churches grow by more than nine thousand members. They are a reminder to me of the fact that we do not need to sacrifice quality for the sake of quantity. Both planting and watering are important elements in the healthy growth of the church. 

As Puerto Rican Missiologist Orlando Costas put it

“…while it is impossible to underestimate the importance of the numerical, it is equally true that the role of reflective thought must not be relegated to a place of secondary importance in the life of the church, that is, by disassociating it from mission or by consigning it to a privileged few.”
Christ Outside the Gate: Mission Beyond Christendom,
page 47

Teaching was an intrinsic part of the commandment to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), the life of the first communities of followers of Christ in Jerusalem (Acts 2:42) and its mission endeavors. Along those lines, we read Paul writing to the newly established church in Colossae:

It is he [Christ] whom we proclaim, warning everyone and "teaching" everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (1:27-28, emphasis added)
  • What would you consider to be at the heart of the mission of your church? 
  • How do your ongoing Christian education and leadership formation activities equip people in your church for ongoing witness to those without faith in Christ? 
  • Do you think that it is possible for our churches to prioritize the teaching of their current members without neglecting the important practice of engaging the unchurched? If so, how?

In my next post, I will share other significant dimensions of how interconnectedness may serve our witness well.

Juan Sarmiento
Associate Director for Mission