The Ministry Mind-Shift Desperately Needed in Latin American Churches

Trellis-and-Vine-in-Latin-America

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In the 2000s, a well-known mega church did a study to measure how their church was cultivating spiritual growth in their attendees. They went in with the assumption that the more a person participated in church activities, the more spiritual growth they would experience.

They were wrong.

The results of the study actually suggested that the church’s efforts to grow people through programs left many mature believers unsatisfied and hungering for more. The more mature a person was in Christ–the more dissatisfied they were with the church’s efforts.

How do you measure success in your church? Increased attendance, successful programs, money in the offering plate, or a greater growth in the gospel?

The answer to that question depends on what you consider the goal of ministry. Does Christ desire more seats to be filled in your church, for successful programs to be run, or for disciples to be grown in the gospel to full maturity in Christ?

Paul’s ministry manifesto gives us the answer: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Does this mean that programs are bad? No, assuming the fact that the programs foster what really matters: the growth of disciples in the gospel by encountering God through His Living Word.

Striking the Right Balance Between Programs and the Growth of Disciples

A helpful illustration comes from the book The Trellis & The Vine by Tony Payne and Colin Marshall. A trellis (which symbolizes the structure within a church) is a wooden structure that exists to support and guide the growth of a vine. The vine symbolizes the spiritual life imparted to disciples as God’s Word is driven home to a disciple’s heart by the Spirit. Just like a trellis is good if it supports the growth of the vine, programs and structure within a church are good if they are causing disciples to grow. If a gardener focuses on building a huge trellis and neglects the growth of the vine, they forget the trellis’s real purpose: to support vine growth.

In a similar way, we can build programs at church in which hundreds of people come but are not growing as disciples. Several big ministries have sadly come to the realization that their ministry efforts were constructing gargantuan trellises and had little vine growth to show for their efforts.

Part of the difficulty in thinking this way is because it is easier to count regular attenders of a program than perceive how your people are growing in the gospel. You can’t easily put a number on how someone is growing more like Christ–it is messier and more of a long-term approach than merely counting tallies.

How do pastors fight this? There are several ways that Marshall and Payne describe to develop a ministry mindset focused on disciple making applied to churches. Here are a few thoughts applied to Latin America:

Developing the Trellis and Vine Mindset in Latin America

1. Put people before programs.

When thinking of a specific person, ask yourself what would be the most helpful for this person at their current level of maturity to grow in the gospel. It may not be the best thing for a person to direct them to a one-sized-fits-all program simply because of their age. Maybe sitting and reading the Bible together would be the most helpful, or maybe meeting one-to-one with an older saint.

Putting people before programs means to build ministry around people. Get to know those you minister to and ask them what they are interested in and would most help them grow.

This idea may be foreign to many churches in Latin America who have invested years into beautiful looking ministry structures. Make sure that your program efforts are cultivating vibrant spiritual life by having Word-centered approaches for ministry that allows the speaking of the Word of God by the Spirit of God, and put people before programs.

2. Consider the Pastor as Trainer.

In many churches in Latin America, the pastoral role is seen as one of power; which may cause pastors to wince at the thought of decentralizing their authority by empowering others for ministry. Failing to train others fails to understand God’s desire for pastoral ministry.

God gave pastors and teachers to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). God has gifted each individual believer for ministry and their gifts need to be cultivated.

We want pastors to train people to multiply the ministry being done both inside and outside of the church. The more Word-saturated, Spirit-filled disciples of Christ that take the gospel to their communities and workplaces, the better.

The Great Commission is directed at all believers, not just pastors.

The Pastor-as-Trainer model is what Paul charged Timothy to do in 2 Timothy 2:2 and is the basis of Leadership Resources’ Training National Trainers program–we train pastors for a ministry of the Word who then equip others for the same work.

3. Spread faithful exposition from the pulpit to the pews.

God saves people by His Spirit carrying the message of the gospel to our hearts. That often happens in a powerful way from the pulpit–but can also happen in everyday conversation for every believer. Equip your people to read the Word for themselves and explain it to others.

Cultivate a culture in your congregation that loves reading the Bible with each other and with unsaved friends. As your congregation becomes more Word-centered, they will grow in righteousness and grow in their ministry capacity (2 Timothy 3:16-17). This may be especially helpful for your people as they talk with Catholic friends and relatives–instead of debating theology, they can hear from God directly through His Word.

One of the reasons the Reformation changed the world was that it challenged believers to read the Word for themselves and not solely rely on the clergy’s explanation of the Word. Equipping your people to faithfully study the Word will transform their view of God and your church.

Developing this mindset focused on gospel growth in your church does not happen overnight. You will have to work hard and possibly avoid certain ministry shortcuts that could make your life easier.

God knows this, and the apostle Paul knew this. But we have tremendous reason for hope. After he said Colossians 1:28, he followed with 1:29: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” God will energize you in your efforts and work powerfully within you.

May God work powerfully within us as we make disciples!

Author: Kevin Halloran

These are just a few ideas applied from The Trellis and The Vine (available through Matthias Media). If you need equipping in the Word of God, our Fellowship of the Word (US) or Training National Trainers program can equip you to faithfully minister God’s Word with God’s heart and teach others to do so as well.

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Kevin Halloran

Servant of the Word. Husband. Blogs weekly at Anchored in Christ. Content Strategist/Trainer in Latin America with Leadership Resources International.