[Apology in advance: This is a fairly long blog post, but the Lord did so much during this last training that I can’t imagine leaving anything out! I hope you’ll take the time to read this and rejoice with us about how Jesus is building and refining his church in Togo.]

One of the greatest obstacles to Christ-centered ministry in Togo is what we call the “patron (French word for boss) mentality” which is so pervasive in churches here. It seems to come from the social and religious order in the traditional culture, in which both chief and witchdoctor are considered authorities in their respective fields who are to be submitted to without question. Coupled with Western Christianity’s importation of hierarchical church leadership, this has had disastrous results in the church in Togo. So by default many pastors here believe that their position and title automatically gain them the right to be served by their church members, to dictate every detail of their church members’ lives, to demand a salary whether they truly earn it or not, and to take it easy while the church does all their work for them.

As you can imagine, we have been teaching something entirely and radically different in the Oikos School! While we have made huge progress with the students, but we have noticed that there are still remnants of this mentality, simply because they don’t know any other way. However, I believe that we took another huge leap forward at the very end of this month’s training when the Lord decided to go “off script” and initiate a spontaneous teaching session. But I’m getting ahead of myself. More on that later…

The training started out with a couple lessons which concluded our ongoing series about spiritual warfare, which I believe was incredibly helpful for the students since this is something they deal with on an almost daily basis. They are truly the ones who are on the front lines of a spiritual battle, and they face outright attacks and subtle deception constantly. Since receiving this teaching, many of the students have been emboldened to engage in this spiritual battle in ways they never would have before. A great example of this is one particular student named Eric.

EricA couple months ago, Eric was counseling a couple in his village and the husband was extremely concerned about his wife, who had been acting very strangely. She was randomly leaving her kids at the house and wandering off into the forest for hours at a time and exhibiting other bizarre behavior. When Eric asked him if his wife had been exposed to any fetish rituals or visited a witchdoctor of any sort, he revealed that his wife had seen a marabout who did some kind of ritual in which he gave her what could only be described as a large ball of various fabrics with all kinds of random ceremonial objects attached and tied up inside it. Eric told me that prior to his training at Oikos, he would have been extremely fearful of this object and probably would not have pursued helping the woman any further. Instead, he had them get the ball and give it to him. He prayed in Jesus’ name and broke any curses or other evil power attached to it, and then he burned it. The woman has been acting completely normal since then, she and her husband have believed on Christ, and they have been coming to Eric’s church every week.

Just a couple days before September’s training, Eric said that a man who was known to be mentally insane and violent was brought to him by a guy who had been told that Eric may be able to help him. When the man saw how Eric genuinely cared about him and loved him, he literally clung to Eric and would not leave his side no matter what. Eric spent hours with him, praying for him and involving other believers in praying for him as well. After one full day, the man is now completely delivered and acting normally. People saw such a dramatic difference in him that the man’s own brother called Eric and asked him to come to his house in Kanté to help him destroy all his fetishes and turn to Jesus!

Following the teaching about spiritual warfare, we spent a few hours going over what I would consider “basic” Bible stories which every believer would likely know. However, I was surprised to discover that many of the students, even some who have been pastors for years, were not familiar with the stories themselves or certain elements in the stories. It does make sense, however, considering that most of these guys are first-generation Christians who don’t have an Old Testament in their own language and who have received very little basic Bible education. One highlight in this time was when we went outside and measured the length, width, and height of Noah’s ark, followed by my showing them pictures of some of the full-scale replicas that have been made.

One particular session that Tchéou did was quite engaging. He broke up the class into four groups and had them play out the scene from Acts 15, in which Paul and others report to the Jerusalem church about the Gentiles being made part of the body of Christ. Following the theme of putting extra conditions on someone before accepting them into the church, Tchéou had the four groups (the religious, the authorities, the intellectuals, and the traditionalists) discuss amongst themselves the reasons why they would not want to let new people into their group. Tchéou then categorized and summarized all of these reasons on the chalkboard. It was interesting to see common themes among all the groups even though they were not talking with one another. He then took it a step further and showed how we often have the exact same mentality when “welcoming” new believers into our churches. We put all kinds of conditions and obstacles in their way, which causes them to find heavy burdens at church instead of the freedom Jesus offers. This was illuminating for many of the guys, considering that some of them come from denominations which have a long history of putting lots of manmade conditions on people before they can be “made acceptable.”

Spontaneous juggling lessonOK, so now I had better get on with what I meant in the title by “Juggling in the Spirit.” We reserve the very last session of each month for a question and answer time where the students can ask anything related to that month’s teaching or other questions about things they are encountering in their efforts to make disciples and plant churches. Well, just before this session was supposed to begin, a crowd of kids had gathered outside the classroom, I suppose just to check out what was going on. One of them had apparently seen me juggle in the past, because he made a juggling motion with his hands as if to ask me to do it again. So I grabbed a few bocce balls we have laying around, went outside, and entertained the kids for a couple minutes. I’m sure it was the first time many of them had ever seen somebody juggle. Realizing that it was time to start the session, I walked in the classroom but continued juggling, just for fun. I jokingly said to the students, “and now I’m going to teach you all how to juggle!” As I was just about to put the balls down and get on with things, the Holy Spirit did what I can only describe as a “spontaneous download” and gave me the perfect object lesson for something we have been trying to emphasize since the beginning of the school.

“You know,” I said, “there’s a great lesson to be learned here.” The students looked at me very puzzled. I began tossing one ball and said, “I can handle one church or discipling relationship, no problem.” I added a second ball, “I can handle two.” Then a third, “I can even handle three pretty easily. But if I try to manage four at a time…” at which point I started juggling four, but soon after dropped one, “…I will eventually be maxed out and one will fall. So what do I need to do in order to manage more?” They continued to look at me puzzled for a minute, but soon one student said, “Well, you would need to pass some off to another person and teach him how to do it.”

“Exactly! So come up here and help me.” I handed a ball to him, which he began juggling while I did three. I then asked if he could handle another, to which he responded that he could. But when I gave him a third (giving us a total of six), he quickly dropped one, at which point I asked him, “OK, so what do you need to do?”

“Train somebody else!” at which point he chose another student to come up and help us. This continued like this until we had four people juggling a total of nine balls.

“Imagine how many balls we could be juggling if each of us simply did how many we can handle, then engaged somebody else to do the same,” I said. And then I got to the heart of what I was trying to communicate. “Each of us has a limit to how many disciples and churches we can handle. If we continue to act with a patron mentality, insisting that we must maintain all the control of every church we plant and disciple we make, we will quickly reach our limit and something will fall apart. It could be a church that ceases to mature, our health failing, a disciple that falls by the wayside, or our wife & kids who end up despising the ministry because we love it more than them.”

I then drew an illustration on the board showing how our goal ought to be to make and mentor disciples in quality—not necessarily in large quantity—who are capable of making and mentoring disciples of their own. This creates a pattern of multiplication rather than mere addition. It was at this point, though, that a student asked a question which revealed that they were still thinking with a patron mentality. The question basically came down to this: “In a system like this, who is in charge? If a disciple of your disciple has a problem, who does he go to? You or the person under you?”

It always amazes me how, in moments like these, the Holy Spirit can bring to mind some obscure, random thing we heard years ago and then develop it into a cohesive thought, communicating exactly what the other person or people need to hear. That’s exactly what happened as I responded to his question and wrote this on the board:

  1. Positional authority
  2. Relational authority

I said, “There are two types of authority in this world, positional and relational. Positional authority would be me demanding that you respect and submit to me because of my position or title within a social group, a business, or a church. I outrank you, so therefore you must submit and do what I say. Relational authority, on the contrary, is never assumed but is earned through love, sacrifice, and service. It is the result of a relationship in which trust is built and respect is given to one who has earned it.”

Positional authority is respect demanded by the one who believes he deserves it. Relational authority is respect given by those who recognize the one who is worthy of receiving it.

I then gave the example of Andrew and me. Even though we are white, which, according to the Togolese culture, automatically puts us in a position of authority, we have never once told one of our disciples that they must do something because we said so. I verified this with a few of the students with whom we have worked for a long time. Then I asked them, “So why do you respect us and listen to our advice and counsel even if we have no official position over you?” They pointed to the fact that we have spent many hours with them teaching them and learning from them, listening to them, praying together, and helping one another when in need.

Then the Lord brought to mind this passage from Matthew 20:25-28, which I shared with them:

You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.

We continued to talk for a while about what Jesus was teaching his disciples and how it applies to us today. All of this was quite an eye-opening experience for these men who have only known, from their childhood until now, one form or another of positional authority. They have been bossed around by those over them, and they assume that this is the way things must be. I think, however, that because of what the Lord taught them this past week, they have discovered a new way—a Christ-centered way—of viewing authority and leadership. Please pray for them as they seek to be servant-leaders as Christ was.

We are so privileged and humbled to be a small part of what Jesus is doing in the lives of these disciple makers, and we thank you for continuing to pray for them and for us as we work together to see the kingdom of God increase and grow in northern Togo!