Over nearly two decades in ministry in Cambodia we have tried to keep our ministries, church planting and even children’s centers sustainable. I have found that in order to be sustainable, the ministry must be sustainable from the beginning. Many ministries cannot grow, because their strategies are not sustainable. The cost of staff salaries, buildings and administration limit growth. In order to have multiplication in ministry, your growth must not be linked with dollars, but rather based on passionate people. We have found five key points in our sustainability strategy which are as follows:
- Always work Directly Involving Local Church Leadership
Separating from local churches and working independently breaks down chances of sustainability. Build up, promote and utilize local leadership. Only local leaders will remain permanently. Start from the very beginning with local people in control of the ministry. Being “incarnational” (physically among the people) not only follows the model of Jesus Christ, but is the only way to effectively minister to church leaders. Never come into a new area with a “cowboy mentality” to “do it yourself”. Seek out local believers and get behind their vision and leadership. Submit to them and partner together based on friendship. Be a Kingdom minded partner instead of looking for your own benefit. Demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit among partners.
- Long-term Relationships are a Priority
Genuine partnership and accountability requires local leaders working together for the Kingdom of God. Most organizations are working on 3-4 years budgets and plans. Build to last and plan for permanence rather than only planning short-term projects. Partner as a husband and wife are committed to their relationship; until Jesus calls them home.
- Making a Real and Measurable Investment
Providing capacity building, resources, equipment and funding to training centers. Matthew 28:18-20 says that we are to disciple believers and “teach everything” that Jesus commanded. Provide opportunities, training and improvement so that the local believers can attain the same opportunities, capabilities and training which were provided to you. Results should be measurable. An objective of “encouraging local believers” is not measurable, nor possible to evaluate the partnership. Ask yourself, “What quantifiable assistance have I provided?”
- Building Solid Infrastructure and Capacity Among Trainers
Strong churches and leaders will ensure sustainability. Leaders with personal calling, passion and dedication will survive any troubles and “storms” which come their way. “Hirelings” will vanish in times of trouble. Provide opportunities for additional training and projects which build up and expand the capacity of local believers and leaders in their ministry. Assist local leaders in leadership development and learning how to solve their own problems with their own assets and resources. Never create dependencies, but build trusting partnerships.
- Avoid and Excessive Administrative Structure and Capital Investment
Too many assets leads to too many maintenance bills, less training and less fruit in ministry. Buildings normally do not foster growth, but often leads to stagnation. Don’t rush to meet perceived “needs” of local believers, but allow them the opportunity to grow in faith and depend on God to be their provider. In order for a ministry to be sustainable, it must be built in a sustainable way. Building a $20,000 church building for a congregation which only has a monthly offering of $100 is not sustainable and develops permanent dependencies and long-term weakness. Help in developing long-term planning which requires local commitments and assets. If building be done, it should be done in accordance with the standards of the local community.
I am certain that these five points in our sustainability strategy are certainly lacking and incomplete. They do, however, provide a reminder and a point of discussion in order to better growing ministries. The result of these points has allowed us to growth to a ministry which trained 70 leaders a year to a ministry which trains 4,000 leaders a year because our multiplication is not dependent upon unsustainable dependencies, construction projects, staff salaries or donor support.