Suppose you had a dream to plant 300 churches, to lead at least 1 million people to Christ, and to raise up 100,000 mature, well-discipled converts for Christ.
For Oscar Muriu, pastor of Nairobi Chapel in Kenya’s largest city, the pathway to that dream is through partnerships with other churches—not just in Nairobi or even Africa, but other countries as well, including the United States.
One type of partnership involves staff exchanges, where someone from Nairobi Chapel comes to a U.S. church to serve on its staff, and in turn that church sends one of its staff members to Nairobi Chapel. Muriu has been involved in orchestrating these exchanges for 10 years, some for a few months and others running as long as a year.
“We want to grow church leadership that has a global perspective and is able to work through global challenges,” he explains. “The best way is to send people out of our context to places where they learn and bring back ideas that will help us navigate our future.”
Why not do this more simply through a conference or a short visit? “If you go a few weeks, you come back with a romanticized view of the other church, but if you stay long enough, you come back with new tools and insights,” he says. Over the years Muriu has also found that as his staff becomes more bicultural through these exchanges, it also becomes more effective in the multicultural environment of Nairobi Chapel’s many campuses and daughter churches.
Kristine Ndirangu recently finished a three-month assignment at Summit Church in Orlando, Fla. Back in Kenya, she is assistant communications director, working on everything from the church’s graphics to its information technology needs. She came to Summit Church to work in that same capacity. Plus, she volunteered in other roles, from serving on the First Impressions team on Sundays to sitting in on staff-wide leadership training events.
“We constantly compare what Summit Church does with what we do back at Nairobi Chapel,” she says. Both churches produce a magazine and both churches have a very strong communications department. The timing of her stay was very intentional so that she could be part of an entire magazine issue, from beginning to end—and one that focuses on the church’s global partnership initiatives at that.
Ndirangu remained as an ongoing employee with Nairobi Chapel, and the host church took care of lodging and food—typically in the home of a church staff member—as well as local transportation. During her stay she also Skyped regularly with her boyfriend back home, a staff member at Nairobi Chapel, who had previously done a five-month exchange assignment at Calvary Chapel in Valparaiso, Ind.
“The main intention is to get a different point of view from a different culture,” Ndirangu affirms. “To me, this has been a life-transforming journey!”
Summit Church had previously sent Nathan Boyett over to Nairobi Chapel for about three months. His work at Summit is in missions and church planting. The invitation “seemed like a great opportunity, a significant way I could be helpful with Summit’s ministry of global partnerships,” he says. “It was a huge period of learning for me.” He stayed with one of the missions pastors there, working for a month with their social justice department, and another month with their missions department. He got to help launch a new church in Nairobi, everything from setting up chairs to running cameras. More importantly, in getting to know his counterparts, he learned about their roles and their approach to missions. Upon returning home he became the church’s global partnerships coordinator, where the relationships with Nairobi Chapel “have already proved invaluable,” he says.
It Starts With Relationships
How do these partnerships develop? The initial connection for these two churches came through a missionary to Kenya who was impressed with Nairobi Chapel’s leadership. When he returned to the States to accept a teaching assignment, he became a layperson at Summit Church. As he volunteered in the church’s missionary efforts, he was able to introduce the two churches to each other. Relationships developed and deepened, eventually involving the senior pastors as well.
John Parker, Summit’s lead pastor, envisions more staff exchanges ahead. “When people can see God work in an entirely new context, their view of God gets bigger,” he says. “As we begin staff exchanges with Nairobi Chapel, we want our best leaders—and theirs—to have the benefit of these experiences, and then to bring the shaping of those experiences to our entire staff culture.”
Being the Body of Christ—Globally
Wanjiru Gicheche, another staff member from Nairobi Chapel, is currently serving a 12-month assignment at Mariners Church in Irvine, Calif. Her main responsibility is in the global outreach department supporting the department pastor as Africa Coordinator. That pastor is Kenyan, previously serving one of the daughter churches of Nairobi Chapel.
Her role represents Mariners’ staffing model for these kinds of positions. “I am one of four residencies from other countries this year,” she explains. “I get to work with all Mariners Africa partners.” For example she currently works with volunteers from Mariners to engage them in over 15 projects in Kenya, Uganda, Congo and Egypt via Mariners partner churches. “I bring my insight and also get to learn from them while honing my cross-cultural communication skills,” she says.
Gicheche sees many benefits of traveling thousands of miles to work at Mariners. “You can learn only so much by staying in your own culture,” she observes. “Partnerships are all about relationships. It’s all about being the body of Christ; we offer part and they offer part.”
NAIROBI CHAPEL AT A GLANCE
Senior Pastor: Oscar Muriu (since 1991)
Affiliation: Nondenominational (Plymouth Brethren roots)
Plants Other Churches? Yes, 60 so far
2014 Average Weekend Attendance: 3,200
Warren Bird, an Outreach magazine contributing editor, is research director for Leadership Network and author or co-author of 27 books for church leaders. Bird oversees Leadership Network’s list of global megachurches at LeadNet.org/world.