The goal of our ministry is a mature, indigenous church in the Kovol people group. What even is a mature church though? How do you measure that? When do you know if you’re done? What steps do we need to take to reach the goal?

These are great questions and New Tribes Mission has developed what they call a “mature church model”, that is a set of 4 perspectives by which to measure a church’s maturity.

The mature church model

  1. God’s word for the church
  2. The life of the church
  3. Discipleship in the church
  4. Identity of the church

Let’s look at each in turn.

God’s Word for the Church refers to God’s word entering and engaging a culture. God’s word enters a culture through mature believers modelling the Christian life, a faithful translation of the scriptures, and teaching the scripture. This allows a culture to engage with God’s word – that is to see it, to hear it, and respond to it in faith.

That brief definition already has an influence on how we do missions in a new culture. Living among the people we want to reach, Bible translation, and teaching are key components of our work.

Goals for God’s word for the church

  1. The believers will treasure God’s Word as His communication of Truth, and therefore as their complete, final and absolute authority. The believers will have available in their “heart-language” a consultant-checked New Testament (along with a some Old Testament portions used for Bible teaching).
  2. All believers – regardless of age, social status, or gender – will have the opportunity to become literate and then improve their proficiency so that they are able to read God’s Word and take an active role in those aspects of church life which require literacy skills.
  3. The church will have access to a Bible “curriculum” consisting of high quality, printed copies of all that has been taught. (The curriculum would include Chronological Bible teaching and any other materials, including topical lessons, which have been taught by the church planters.)
  4. Some within the church will be able to continue adding to the Bible curriculum by developing further materials themselves.
  5. The church will have access to a body of Truth which has been taught systematically (chronologically) in their language and in a culturally relevant way. They will have the willingness and capacity to correctly interpret and apply this body of truth within their own cultural context; so as to encourage, to correct and to stand against error.
  6. The church will have an avenue to obtain printed copies of Bible lessons, literacy materials and translated Scripture, as the need arises, whether the materials are developed by them or by the original church planters.

The goal then, is that a mature church will have certain resources (like a New Testament and curriculum) in their language, but will also have a certain attitude towards those materials – they need to use and value them. As missionaries we realize that at this point it’s out of our hands, this is God’s work! We can translate, teach and encourage but ultimately a mature church is God’s work within a people group.

The Life of the Church is about its form and function. A mature church needs to originate and sustain a set of forms (how church services are done) that develop out of its own life. How the church looks will then be entirely suited to its surrounding culture as believers function under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is different from simply telling people “you have to do church like this, using these materials and with this name”.
As we think about Papua New Guinea, in particular, we see a lot of forms that have been passed on that are followed by rote. We don’t want a church doing things a certain way just because that’s what the missionaries said, or that’s what we’ve always done. That doesn’t show a mature church (and neither on the flip side does a church that changes everything just because it needs to be new!).

Goals for the life of the church

  1. The church will exhibit clear signs of spiritual maturity and stability, while at the same time, showing a desire for continued growth in all areas of the Christian life. The motivation and basis for growth will be a solid understanding of God’s grace and the believer’s position in Christ.
  2. The church will know how to apply Scriptural principles in order to respond in a socially appropriate way to any major cultural dilemmas they face as God’s children living in that society.
  3. The believers will show tangible evidence of love and generosity among themselves and to others. (There will be some process for the church to look after anyone in genuine need, including those who require help because of commitments to God’s work.)
  4. The church will gather together at both planned and informal times. (There will be ongoing evaluation regarding where to meet, how often and for what purpose. Adjustments will be made to fit the cultural situation at any given time or location, while also promoting unity, communal worship and the teaching of God’s Word.)
  5. There will be a second generation of believers showing real signs of spiritual life and growth, and there will be the desire and ability to pass on the truth to others as they become old enough to understand.
  6. The church will evidence a sense of responsibility and a knowledge of how to reach out in evangelism and church planting. New church planting efforts will happen as a result of the church sensing the need, and with its support and oversight.

Discipleship in the Church is about how a church takes God’s word and applies it both formally and informally in the context of relationships. We want each individual in the Church to be functioning to the benefit of the church using their God-given gifts. A significant part of this is also the training of leaders who are able to disciple others.

Goals for discipleship for the church

  1. Discipleship will increasingly be part of the fabric of church life, and will be possible because of two different groups in the church; those who desire to be helped, and those who, having gone before in the walk of faith, are willing to help the ones coming behind.
  2. Although much of the discipleship will take place informally, Bible teachers and leaders will be discipled along an established “path” to ensure that they receive the specific training and equipping in how to teach and lead.
  3. The church will have recognized leaders. They will have the desire and gifts to: teach and shepherd the believers in their care, recognize and deal with any residual areas of syncretism, contend with sin in the church (with the ultimate goal of restoration), disciple, and then recognize others in their areas of gifting (including church leadership).

The Identity of the Church is about both how a church views itself and how it is viewed from without. How a church views itself from within is about believers understanding who they are in Christ and who they are together as a body of believers. From without concerns how society views the Church, what it is, why it exists and how it is seen to be different.

Goals for the identity as a church

  1. The church will be gaining a balanced view of its identity founded on an understanding of God’s character and the believer’s position in Christ. The believers will have a functional understanding of the things which make the church a distinct entity in their society and in the world.
  2. The believers will evidence a measure of understanding about the privilege they have to be part of a body of believers, and of the protection and spiritual sustenance that is to be found within that body.
  3. The believers will be making whatever steps are possible to clarify their position within the society – to communicate who they are, what the church is for, and to address areas of misconception in that regard.
  4. Foundations will be established for the church to learn how to handle relationships:
    -Among themselves as local bodies of believers
    -With NTM, as the original church planting agency
    -With other tribal churches (planted by NTM or others)
    -With national/urban churches – evangelical & otherwise
    -With different levels of government authorities
  5. The believers will have a growing realization of the part they can play in fulfilling the Great Commission, and they will show a willingness to continue taking steps of faith beyond what might be assumed as the limits of their responsibility.

From these 4 perspectives we build a picture of what a mature Church looks like and what steps we need to follow to arrive there with God’s help.

What this means for the Kovol work

For the missionary team, and for the Kovol people, this entails:

  • Learning the Kovol language to a high standard
  • Teaching literacy in the Kovol language
  • Translating scripture into the Kovol language
  • Teaching the scripture in the Kovol language
  • Focusing on training and discipling faithful men and women who can pass on what they learn
  • Walking with the Kovol people through the process of forming and continuing a church
  • Appointing trained elders who are qualified and fit for that work

Writing about these things is easier and cleaner than actually doing them, but it is possible.

To get a bird’s eye view of how this process looked in another language group in PNG have a look at the following video: