Two situations may exist that drive the answers to this question.
1. You have just arrived on the field where a national church already exists. If this is your case, seek to work with and even through the already-existing national church to the fullest extent possible. To dismiss or bypass the existing national church is disrespectful at least, and potentially very harmful to your ministry at worst. Keep in mind that the national church will likely outlast your time in this location. As such, consult national church leaders and discover how you can help that church prosper. Seek to keep your organization in the background as much as possible, and focus your efforts on helping or complementing the national church’s local mission. When possible, give the credit of ministry advances to nationals and their church. Help make the national church and its leaders so helpful and effective in the local community that even if the government seeks to shut it down, locals—even nonbelievers—will insist that it be protected because of its value to the community.
In some cases, nationals and their church may be so doctrinally aberrant, or have so little vision for impacting its area for Christ that a partnership is not possible. Even in such cases, work to live at peace with such people and churches.
2. A national local church had never existed in your location until now, when God is granting your team fruit in the form of nationals coming to Christ. From the very beginning, your goal is to work more as a coach and mentor behind the scenes rather than as an up-front leader on whom the church is dependent. Disciple nationals and remain in the background as much as possible. Early discipleship should train all new believers to reproduce themselves spiritually. Those gifted for leadership should be developed to assume leadership roles sooner rather than later.
In short, our question should not be “How can we involve nationals with our plans,” but rather “How can we empower nationals to play as great a role as possible, and to drive the vision for the ministry?”
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