I made a point to visit at least a couple churches in each region to get reconnected with our church leaders (currently there are 20 Christian churches). We tried to deal with a few small disagreements and nagging issues that developed during our family's time out of the country. Following various meetings, including the appointment of the national leadership for the next three years, a spirit of unity and common vision was restored. Our Meningitis vaccination campaign had a lot to do with healing the sense of abandonment. We are looking forward to following God's leading among us.
A few changes came out of these meetings that will help us long-term. We have moved from a top-heavy leadership structure to a greater focus on groups of churches collaborating in local ministry. Decisions will be made according to the felt needs of the community instead of those at the top, who are removed from their situation.
The old structure, during times of crisis, handicapped the local churches which considered themselves dependent upon the national leaders. When the national leaders had difficulty visiting and communicating with one another and the various churches, the churches often waited to hear from them. When they didn't, they quickly became discouraged. While we have tried to establish autonomous churches with local leadership, the reality is there exists a real need for them to be networked and working together to accomplish the Lord's work. The question before us was how to keep churches connected, have a national identity (which is also important to them) and yet have the decision-making and the ministry more focused on the local level.
We retained the basic national leadership structure and these leaders will be focused on helping discover a common vision for our churches and overseeing the larger projects (i.e. the church planting project in the Beoumi region, national convention). We are hosting a leaders retreat, lead by the Association leaders, where we will devote our time studying God's word and praying together, seeking His will for our lives and His church in Ivory Coast. During the retreat, church leaders living in the smaller regions (also called church clusters) will meet to discuss how the Spirit of God is leading them within their regions. We want the work to be focused on God leading us individually and yet collectively. We desire our plans to be Spirit-driven and Bible-based applied both locally and nationally. We hope to grow within while reaching out into new areas.
The hope is that these church clusters will help fulfill the need for connection and shared responsibility while giving a greater sense of ownership for the decisions being made. These decisions will come more directly from felt needs and God's leading on how to minister to those needs. The Association will help organize the various activities whether they be CHE based (Community Health Evangelism), leadership training or evangelism. Our goal is to simplify things and have people follow God's leading instead of someone else's plan.
So I would ask you all to be praying for the following requests:
-Our Leaders Retreat taking place this month March 14-16. Pray that God's Spirit and His word would move in us and guide us in our decisions.
-Nestor and I as he adjusts to his new position and the small modifications being made to improve the leadership training program.
-Good collaboration among the church clusters in their planning and organization.