This is an article from the September-October 2015 issue: Setting the Scriptures Free in a Digital Age

Ownership—It’s What Makes Ministry Happen

From the Editor

Ownership—It’s What Makes Ministry Happen

What is the one thing that is most deadly to the spread of the gospel to every tribe and tongue? Many would say the lack of money, manpower or vision. I believe it can be safely argued that dependency and the passivity it breeds is the most deadly problem for the spread of the gospel. Whether it is dependence upon foreign missionaries and foreign funds or even our own dependence upon the pastor of our local church, dependency is a ministry killer. It burns out the people and ministries that people are dependent upon and it prevents God’s people from realizing their full potential in fulfilling the mission that God has given to each one of us to make disciples. We have talked about this problem for years in MF with columns by Glenn Schwartz and others. See our latest column by Chris Little here

Dependency prevents the one thing that is essential to all ministry success—ownership—ownership of the gospel and the Great Commission call to disciple all peoples. As we go to reach people for Christ, if we do not engender in those we reach an ownership of the process of ministry and discipleship, then they will not reproduce their faith in the lives of others. The God-designed organic reproductive nature of the gospel is snuffed out when dependency is created and ownership of ministry is not developed.

We are ordained by God to be a kingdom of priests, not to be dependent on just a few priests or pastors or missionaries to do the work of ministry for us as we passively sit and listen. We are all called to spread the gospel to others. The vital essence of every Church-Planting Movement growing around the world is that people quickly take personal ownership and responsibility for the work of ministry. By definition dependency cannot exist in a Church-Planting Movement. The missionaries who are catalyzing these movements are not doing the ministry for people but are equipping them to do it themselves.

The biggest mistake that missionaries have often made is staying too long and doing too much for the people they seek to reach. In their landmark, must-read book, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself, authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert state forcefully, “Never do for others what they can or should do for themselves.” Like others studying this problem, these authors have learned that dependency keeps people from lifting themselves out of poverty or taking full ownership for the work of ministry. There is tremendous power released when average believers are empowered to take ownership of the ministry of the church. The power of ownership is now beginning to be released in peoples around the world through new technologies and methods of Bible translation.

Setting the Scriptures Free

In this issue of MF we feature the tremendous power of God’s people to speed the completion of desperately needed Bible translations when average Jesus followers are empowered to take ownership in the process of Bible translation. The spread of digital technology along with crowdsourcing Bible translation methods within a people opens the door of hope that we could actually see a Bible translation in the language of every people group that needs one in just the next 10 years. It is being referred to as Bible Translation 3.0 and it is explained in our lead article here. This convergence of digital technology and crowdsourcing in Bible translation has earth shaking potential because the word of God is the essential element in the growth of the church within every people. Likewise, the current lack of Scriptures in many peoples is hindering the spread of the church and the gospel.

The truth is that the process of Bible translation in the recent past has taken too long and has cost too much. As a result, thousands of people groups still lack a New Testament translation in their language and many of the language groups that do have a translation desperately need it revised. A little known fact to many outside of Bible translation circles is that too many New Testament translations sit on the shelves, largely unused, after their completion. One reason is that the very people who are meant to use the translation were not actively involved enough in its development. The translation was done for them, but not really with them. The people became dependent upon outsiders for their translation and a lack of ownership of that translation was the result. In their minds, they did not create it, it doesn’t really read the way they speak, so it is not really theirs.

But indigenous churches around the world that lack adequate Scriptures in their languages are starting to take matters into their own hands—empowered by new digital tools like MAST (here) and Sovee (here). They are refusing to be dependent upon outsiders to find the time to get around to them and are taking ownership of the translation process.

In most cases where a Bible translation does exist, the church that uses it does not have control over it. They do not own the translation of the Scriptures in their own language. Someone else does. The results of this can be disastrous.  Here is just one of the tragic stories that results when indigenous churches do not have ownership of their own language’s Bible translation. See the sidebar (here) for more of these tragic and unacceptable stories.

“For many years, a people group in Africa has had a huge demand for a second print run of the translation of the Bible in their language. The Bible society that owns the Bible in that language has not been able to pay for the minimum run but they have not permitted the use of lower-cost options like print-on-demand. Churches are now, once again, reading in the national language and doing on-the-fly oral translations, just as though the Bible had never been translated in the first place.”

This people group was dependent on an outside organization in order to do ministry. That dependency was keeping them from the Word of God in their own language. They did not have ownership of the process of translating the Bible in their language and they did not have ownership of the final product. As a result they could not use it or revise it. They were cut off from the Word in their own language because of that dependency. Unfortunately, this is not a unique situation. 

You can understand why church leaders around the world are eager to use the new digital translation technologies that hold such great promise for providing them with the Scriptures and involving them in the translation process at the same time. It is time for us who care about getting the Scriptures into the hands of every people group to start recognizing and tearing down the barriers to Bible access as soon as possible. It can be done and it must be done, now, within the next 10 years.

Taking Some Time to Recover

On July 1st, I was working on this issue of MF when a lightning bolt hit my house and started a fire. We all got out safely but the fire and the fire fighters did significant damage to the roof and attic area of my house. The repair and recovery efforts are going to take a significant amount of my time over the next couple months so I have arranged for a guest editor to fill in for me for the next issue of MF. I anticipate that I will return for the Jan-Feb 2016 issue of MF. See you back here then.


Thank you for naming dependency. I call it perpetual dependency. I was hoping you would name the features of church in America that display and foster dependency. I will do it.
1. Believers need a weekly Bible lecture by a professional where one man speaks the whole time in one way communication. We have been told that that this lecture is “equipping” the saints. We all know that Biblical literacy, readiness to give out the gospel, and willingness to serve fellow believers every week is at very low levels. This is even after believers have heard 1000 lectures.  This is not the believers fault or the preachers fault. No one alive today invented this system. We have just accepted it as truth and perpetuate it as holy function. “Preach the word…” can in no way be exposited to mean lecture the word by one man for the whole time every week. “Feed my sheep” can in no way be exposited to mean lecture my sheep. All the experts accept these fallacious practices. This is the foundation of perpetual dependency. No hired preacher will “fully train” his students to “be like him” as Jesus instructed. Luke 6:40. After 20 years of “faithful Bible lecturing” and the pastor leaves, no one is “fully trained” to do anything he did. A new man must be hired to do everything the previous “equipper” was paid to do. I would suggest lecturing the Bible for 30-45 minutes is not reproducible, nor requested in the Word for believer’s spiritual diet. The “word of Christ” will “dwell in us richly” as we “teach and admonish one another…” Col 3:16 and many more references.
2. Believers need a separate building to gather in large enough to host this weekly Bible lecture. A small gathering in a home, park, conference room, etc will not work at all ( in believers dependency view). Meeting in a small group would demand a much higher level of mutuality and prepared participation by ALL believers. This is exactly what God asked for in Heb 10:19-25 as the culmination of the 3 steps of the “new and living way” opened up for us by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. On this “new and living way” there is no perpetual dependency, just inter-dependency on “one another” and on Jesus. Inter-dependency produces reproductivity rather than passivity.

These two false perpetual dependencies force believers to consume 84% of their “giving” on average to pay for this perpetual dependency cycle. Only 16% is available to be released for reaching all nations and serving the poor. This is horrible!

There - I named the foundation of the perpetual dependency. Does anyone have any spiritual fortitude to respond with substantive interaction? This dependency is deeply imbedded in most believers soul. Most leaders think this is the heart of their holy calling. They think the Bible actually means “lecture the word, in season and out of season by one man for the whole time in perpetual dependency. The saints are mostly dumb sheep. That is how they are treated in this habit pattern. I gave scripture here. Can you respond to it?

You do a wonderful job of pointing out the problem of dependency in the church and the failure of the church to equip God’s people for the work of ministry. This is why movements of discipleship most often originate outside of the church starting with newly saved people who have not been trained to be passive by our current church culture.

A complete shift in mindset is needed. The solutions to this problem have been presented in multiple issues of Mission Frontiers. I do not know how many are listening but we need to focus on making disciples who disciple others, not on gathering people into a very expensive building to hear a lecture once a week.

Thanks again Tim for your very important contribution.


Thanks Rick. I don’t need to know how many are listening. I only need to speak the truth in love and leave the rest to God. I speak to people as God brings them across my path. Some make it clear they don’t want to hear. Some do the flattery routine and say they agree, but as I question their flattery it’s clear they don’t get it yet. Some are eager to be faithful to Christ but their soul is chained to ceremonialized faith gatherings. I understand because I have been both a pulpit lecturer and a pew listener. Both places are a trap of dependency that inoculate most believers from making disciples both at home and around the world. Here is a link to a a Pastors web site where he confronts the people of his church for thinking that church is for just showing up each Sunday. He gives many scriptures that call for their participation in “one another” orientation. I responded by urging him to consider that he is training them to just show up on Sunday when he dominates the main gathering with one-way communication week after year after decade. He posted my question and even responded. His reply shows how he had no ability to recognized how the saints could do what he wants them to do while he continues to lecture them. He could not grasp that he needed to either stop the lectures or reduce them severely. He is the hindrance to believers doing what he wants them to do. I did a followup posting but it is still “waiting for approval.” He may be done with the dialogue. This demonstrates how deep the deception is in the hearts of the leaders, much less the rest of God’s people.

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