Oscar Muriu

A few more lessons from Africa

A few more lessons from Oscar Muriu on growing leaders for a church planting movement. . .

Take bold steps. Breaking up a vibrant, healthy church into five separate churches could be a recipe for disaster. Not if you've intentionally growing leaders and team members for every ministry of the church who are ready for the challenge. This was a bold step but it took years of preparation.

Set impossible goals. Oscar and his leaders worked out what they could reasonably achieve then added room for God to do the impossible. If they thought they could plant sixty churches in Kenya, they added the challenge of planting elsewhere in Africa. Then they threw in the challenge of planting churches off the continent of Africa. Their faith inspired plans that stretched their faith, and built their faith when those plans were achieved.

Ask. Oscar doesn't wait until someone volunteers. He goes after people. The right people. David Githugu was thinking about a career as a corporate lawyer when he was tapped on the shoulder. Now he's planted a church that is growing leaders and planting churches.

Begin with the end in mind. Oscar started his ministry at Nairobi Chapel with the intention of planting churches. He started with the need not what was possible. Once the goal was clear he discovered ways to achieve it.

Spin that flywheel. Oscar could have just a grown a big church bigger. He could have spun off new congregations dependent on his ministry. But that's addition, not multiplication. Instead he chose to grow leaders who could plant churches that grow leaders and plant churches. As the founder, Oscar is not in direct control. He's given room for the leaders he's developed to step up. I wonder which model is closer to the ministry of Jesus?

Use them or lose them. Oscar saw the frustration building as the number of leaders increased at Nairobi. Frustration could easily turn to criticism. Left unchecked, he knew he would eventually lose key leaders who were under-challenged. Church planting provided a healthy outlet for leaders with energy and drive to pioneer something new.

Learning from Africa

I was talking to a group of church leaders about what Oscar Muriu has taught me about growing leaders for a church planting movement.

One of them challenged me with, "How do we know this works in Australia?"

He's right. There are some things that don't translate across cultures. Or even within cultures. That's why I always look for principles not programs to replicate.

Here's a few principles on growing leaders that are just as true for Australians (equals westerners) as they are for Africans. . .

1. Start with a leader who gets it. You can't start with a good program. You start with a leader who sees the need. A leader who sees the opportunities. One who sees the leaders of the future all around them. The future he sees is just as real as the present and so he has no hesitation in the growing the leaders of tomorrow today.

2. Limit your ministry. Who ever heard of a great preacher who limits himself to preaching just half the time? Not only does he let his novices preach, now he has to devote his time to training them. Because you want to grow more preachers. Why limit the number of terms that elders can serve, then send them away on church planting teams? Because you want to grow more elders.

3. Go after youth. Oscar led a friendly takeover of the predominantly expatriate Nairobi Chapel. He intentionally went after young, university educated Africans. He reached them. He gave them leadership tasks and then recruited them to serve with him as church planters.

4. Back winners. Oscar invested both time and money in leaders who proved themselves. He gladly paid their way through Theological College if they first proved themselves and if they committed to serving for at least five years beyond their studies.

5. Train swimmers in the pool. In Oscar's leadership farm, you begin as a disciple, you become an apprentice, you are given limited responsibility, then you are trusted to lead a ministry team or plant a church. Oscar trains his swimmers in the pool, not the classroom. He takes many small risks with many people and creates environments where they can grow in knowledge, skills and character.

More to come. . .

Oscar's sons and daughters

Oscarmuriu Mentoring Intern One reason for Oscar Muriu's success in growing leaders for a church planting movement is that he didn't know what he was doing. He was young enough not to know it couldn't be done and smart enough to copy from the best. This what he told me. . . All I do is I copy.

You don't have to be clever to copy. And the best place to copy is Scripture. They call that obedience and it works.

In the internship we just copy. We asked ˜What does Jesus do with his twelve?' We came up with five things.

1. Jesus spends time teaching them. After the parable of the seed he takes the disciples aside and tells them to you is granted the privilege of knowing the meaning of this but the others never get to be told what the meaning of the parable is. And so there are times when you can see Jesus (such as Matt 24 about the kingdom) reflecting theologically with his disciples.

2. He puts them into teams. Jesus doesn't actually do one on one discipleship. He does team discipleship. And these guys are good for one another, they have their arguments, they disagree, they are jostling for position, etc and it's actually healthy for them because it helps them, he deals with these things. It brings to the surface real relationship.

3. He sends them out into ministry. Where he is not present with them and they go out in twos and they do what he did. That's why we send them out on our short-term mission where they go and do what they have learned and they come back and report and we sit down and process together.

4. He demonstrates and calls them to a devotional life. Teaches them how to pray, he himself goes and spends time apart. So they're learning how to do devotionals and how to live devotionally.

5. Jesus builds a succession plan into the system. He tells them "I'm going to be leaving you." And so Oscar tells the interns that their last three months are about succession. When you exit this position as an intern, will your ministry collapse because there's no leadership? Or will your ministry continue because you've prepared well.

Oscar says, We are copying what we are seeing in Scripture. Sometimes you copy well and sometimes you don't copy as well. But love covers over a multitude of sins.

Oscar has a saying, You don't plant churches you plant "sons" and some of Oscar's best "sons" are daughters!

More on how Oscar Muriu grows leaders

Nairobi Chapel Interns

How challenging does an internship it need to be?

They need to have enough responsibility on their shoulders that they are having sleepless nights. That they are on their knees pleading with the Lord to give them wisdom and strength. Because if they don't have that then they are not challenged...

Somebody once told me one of my interns, one of my best pastors now, told me your leadership development is throwing people off the deep end. We had a good laugh about that, but I told them, yes but if I see you drowning I'll throw you a life line. But I won't let you drown.

Young people they love the challenge, and if they don't have a challenge they get bored very quickly and so we require the pastors to also care for interns and I oversee the care of the interns so that I'm sure the interns are challenged.

What does that look like?

One of the things we ask our interns to do is we teach them short term missions, but we require them to organize from scratch with no help at all from us, an international short term mission trip. We do short term missions in Kenya with them, but we require them to go off the continent of Africa on a short term mission.

They have to organize it; they have to do the communication, the fundraising. The idea is the one big last challenge, where they bring all the gifts and skills that they have used through the year; mobilizing people, and visioning, fundraising, planning, strategic thinking.

We want it to be a big enough challenge and assessed. Many of them have not been off the continent and so it's a first for them. And they'll go to India, or they'll go to some other place. They have to organize everything. We had one team that went to Albania and they forgot to get visas. So they got to the airport and they were turned down and sent back. ‘Okay guys that's a learning experience.'

How many leaders have gone through the internship?

ChapelworkdayAbout 150. Some ended up as missionaries to other countries. Others ended up in Christian organizations, some ended up back in a secular career but with mission in mind. But quite a number are with us in our church plants.

But now we are multiplying interns, since the churches have divided up and set up their own internship programs.

With the churches divided out, we have probably ten interns at the chapel and each of these churches have between five and ten. So altogether now we probably have about 40-50 interns per year collectively. So the whole thing has scaled up by having multiple sites.

It's not centrally organized?

No. Each of the churches do their own thing. Occasionally they'll say, “I hear you are teaching on missions, can my interns come?” and so sure, they synchronize their timetables. We have days when we gather together. They have a session once a month, where all the interns come together and just share their stories and encourage one another.

There are a couple of policies: that is one and another is that we should never do anything alone. We should always have one of these younger people with you, even if it's just driving to a speaking engagement. Never minister alone, if you're going out on a pastoral visit, go with an intern, unless it's very confidential. Have them sit there with you even if they keep quiet and never say anything they learn just by hearing how the conversation is conducted.

What percentage of males and females are in the internship program?

It tends to flip flop. One year we have many women and few men and then the next year we have many men and few women.
On average its about 50/50, it evens out. Right now we're talking about diversifying the internship. We're now offering foreign opportunities for people from outside they can come.

Secondly, we have said that the internship we created was created really for university graduates and we expect them to engage mentally at that level. I just took the theological lessons I did, and I teach them.

But there are gaps in our educational system where people hang around with nowhere to go. One is immediately after university. The second is after High School. There's a gap there and so we're talking about having a teen internship, whose main objective would be evangelism and short term missions. Just go out and do it, you're not trying to teach them leadership skills, you're not trying to teach them how to run a church, you're just really exposing them.

Like YWAM or Operation Moblization?

Exactly. Shaping them, growing them, and developing convictions. Knowing that one day it will provide church planters when they are ready to determine their future.

There's another level where we're seeing, there are many married couples who would like to do this but they can't give up their jobs because they have to provide for their family. And so we're trying to slow down the internship and extend long enough that you get the equivalent of a year say over a four year period.

Kibala Slum-2What about in the slums with people who have very little education, have you thought at all about leaders that come out of that environment?

Definitely. I think we have about fourteen slum churches. Their leaders have been grown up from an internship that was run in the slums by one of the slum churches.

They basically have taken the same thing and located it in the slums. They go out and share the gospel with unemployed young men hanging around. They require those who come to faith to move into a dorm setting with a team leader and for a year they're discipled in that setting. They are also being taught ministry. After a year they're sent back into the slums now to do evangelism and make disciples. Out of that system their leaders are percolated to the top and now they're the church pastors of the churches planted there.

Oscar this is too good to be true. Are you making it all up?

Yeah of course!

How many interns do you have?

Oscars Leaders While Albert barbecued the goat, I chatted to David Githugu about his experience as an intern and church planter with Nairobi Chapel under Oscar Muriu's leadership.

David first came into contact with Nairobi Chapel as a university student. In 2002 he left a lucrative legal career and took a big paycut to become a pastor. In 2005 he planted Covenant Church, one of the five new churches that came out of Nairobi Chapel.

I thought I'd test him out. I know Oscar can grow leaders. But can his leaders grow leaders?

So I asked David, How many interns do you have this year?

Ten. he replied.

How growing leaders became a reality

Nairobi Chapel LeadersHere's a photo I took of a just a handful of the church planters, pastors and interns who have been trained by Oscar and Beatrice Muriu.

Many church leaders say they want to grow leaders. Few actually do. I asked Oscar Muriu how he turns good intentions into reality. This is his reply. . . We came up with a system where I am only allowed to preach half the time, and I must train up others to preach the other half. The worship leader is only allowed to lead half and must train up worship leaders. The children's teachers can only teach half. The elders must mentor younger men to take over from them after their term is over.

What began to happen is that we began to have too many leaders and leaders if they're not occupied become a pain. They begin to criticise, you can sense leadership energy that has nowhere to go and so it begins going in all the wrong places. The energy comes out as criticism. So we began to have too many leaders in the system and not enough opportunities and it was that that made us begin thinking create some outlets, and the outlets would be church planting.

The good thing about church planting is that your older leaders can go. With the elders, we had a policy then that an elder could only serve for two terms of three years each. So what do you do with an elder who has served two terms and their time is over? So we required those elders whose term was over, to go with a new church plant. And they could begin a new term as elders there. It also meant that they carried history, they carried authority, and they carried experience into the new church.

The church planters tend to be around 26 years old. But the elders were 35 plus. So it didn't matter that our leaders were so young, because we had other people around them to compliment their leadership with some experience.

Now the internship was producing pastors for us, the eldership was producing elders, but all the other levels; worship leaders, preachers, Sunday school teachers were being produced at the other levels. And they could now go and form a unit that will plant a church.

Also as people came into authority they have no choice but to look after interns. If you become a pastor of a church you were required to invest in developing interns. So the worship leader is now responsible for all the interns in worship. The preaching pastor was responsible for all the interns who are learning preaching.

We started putting energy into the leaders having to train other leaders. All the people I have mentored must have interns and do what I do.

Just two days ago I asked all the pastors to give me the job description of their interns and what I do is I look at them; are they balanced, does this intern have sufficient engagement, do they have challenges?

The difference Oscar made

a young Oscar MuriuI've just returned from a visit to Kenya where I met with Oscar Muriu and interviewed him and a number of the leaders who are the fruit of his ministry. It's an amazing storty. Over the next week or two I'll be featuring the story of Oscar Muriu and the Nairobi Chapel with a focus on how they grow leaders for a church planting movement. Here is the story of how it began with a struggling congregation of whites who turned to a young African leader named Oscar Muriu.

In the 1950s, while Kenya was still a British colony, a group of white expatriates started a church. Since they were from free church backgrounds they called it Nairobi Chapel. The church was located near the Governor's house, within a secured area where Africans were not allowed. The church had no African members.

After the Mau-Mau Uprising, as whites left Kenya for Rhodesia and South Africa or returned to Britain, the church dwindled. In the meantime, the University of Nairobi began growing and occupying the land around the Chapel. But until 1989, the church had no university students, and only one African family among the remaining twenty members in the congregation.

After six months of prayer, the church felt God was calling them to ask for help from an African-led church. They had a dream for the rebirth of Nairobi chapel as an African congregation reaching out to the surrounding communities, especially the nearby expanding University of Nairobi.

In November 1989 Nairobi Baptist sent a young, 27 year-old graduate student named Oscar Muriu to take over.

Over the next decade, the Chapel grew to seven services of 3000 adults and 800 children. The Chapel launched an internship program to develop the next generation of leaders. In 2005 they divided the main church up into five different congregations. Oscar is pastoring one of the new church plants that's meeting in a tent.

Today the church has planted 25 congregations in Nairobi, with thousands of members, and is planning to plant churches in Asia, America, and Europe.