7 Questions with Jim Whelchel
Name: Jim Whelchel
Current title: Missions Director
Current organisation: Christ's Commission Fellowship (Manila, Philippines)
Dr. Jim and his wife Dr. Lui Whelchel have been equipping and mobilizing leaders through Cru in the Philippines since 1981. Jim was a professor for over 20 years at the International Graduate School of Leadership, where he also served as Executive Director.
Jim helped develop Foundations for Christian Leadership, a certificate program of IGSL which has equipped over 10,000 pastors and lay leaders from 15 countries. More recently he helped develop a training process called MC2 that is being used by Cru and its partners to plant tens of thousands of multiplying house churches and fellowships in over 120 countries worldwide.
Jim is presently an Elder, Area Pastor and Missions Director of Christ's Commission Fellowship, overseeing CCF’s ministries outside of the Philippines. CCF has over 100 satellites in the Philippines and abroad with around 75,000 weekly attenders prior to Covid, and over 10,000 discipleship groups. Post-Covid, it has over 200,000 weekly online worshippers.
Drs. Jim and Lui have two children, Michael who with his wife Angel have a social media marketing business here in Manila, and Sharon who completed her doctorate in physical therapy and lives with her husband Josh in Southern California. They are still waiting for grandchildren.
1. What have you found most challenging as a church leader?
Balancing growing organizational scope and personal discipleship ministry. We are committed to a discipleship model of ministry, where the expansion of the church is a consequence of more people making disciples who then disciple others. This means that we too must continually be involved in the lives of those we are discipling so that we can model the discipleship process, not just lead and manage from the top. As our responsibilities and opportunities have grown, the tension between organizational leadership and our own discipleship ministry has been tough to navigate. We cannot sacrifice personally being involved in the lives of those we disciple in order to expand the organization. But as the organization grows, the requirements of leadership grow. That is our biggest challenge.
2. How did you become a church leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I joined Campus Crusade (Cru) with the goal of training leaders for ministry in Asia, beginning with campus ministry, but later through our seminary, the International Graduate School of Leadership.
God has always put on my heart the importance of involvement and leadership in a local church. And being part of a seminary, it was important to understand and be involved in what we were preparing our students to lead.
When we moved the school to Manila in 1990, my wife and I became involved with our church, Christ's Commission Fellowship. At first I helped lead an evangelism and discipleship training in the church. We also formed our own couples discipleship group. Later I was asked by the leadership of the church to participate in elders meetings. Eventually in 1998 I was asked to be an elder. I also volunteered to lead the training department of the church, and later in 2007 the missions department.
Throughout this time we continued to disciple those in our group, and helped them disciple others who discipled others. Our direct discipleship chain involved around 1000 people in groups under us.
In 2010 I was asked to be part of Cru's Global Church Movements team, which was tasked to develop strategies to help establish multiplying churches in partnerships with churches and organizations globally. I helped develop a CPM training for Cru that is seeing significant results -- tens of thousands of new churches established. It was satisfying to see the results, but I felt too distant from the field, and preferred to be more involved directly in doing training and helping start church movements on the ground.
The Lord also blessed CCF's missions efforts, especially in South Asia where we began to see thousands of house churches planted and multiplying. So I asked to be seconded to CCF to continue to develop our missions programs. I have been doing that since 2013. To date, our partners and our satellites have a total of 35,000 house churches and small groups in around 20 countries globally, many among hostile or limited access communities.
This year Covid opened a new opportunity: to help CCF as a whole to pivot to online outreach and discipleship. Aside from our 10,000+ small groups being forced to meet online, we began a new online version of our church multiplication training called GoViral. We have now trained around 10,000 people and started several thousand new small groups, almost all from among non-christians. This year we will extend that initiative to help establish a house church movement alongside our multi-site satellite structure.
I started with a heart to be involved in making disciples within local churches. God led us to a church where discipleship is the core ministry of the church. I would never have imagined that volunteering to do evangelism and discipleship training in CCF would lead to the scope of our involvement, and the extent of God's amazing work through the church. He has graciously allowed me to be part of movements both in the Philippines and around the world to help multiply discipleship groups, house churches and CCF satellites. To HIm be the glory!
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Covid has disrupted our schedule significantly. But in general, I try to wake up around 7:30, walk 3-4 times a week for an hour while listening to worship and spending time in prayer. I usually don't eat breakfast, and begin meetings by 10 am. Typically have Zoom meetings with team, team members, ManCom, pastors, sub team working with CPM, GoViral steering committee and individuals for specific ongoing followup. I try to limit myself to 3-4 meetings per day to leave space for correspondence, message and training preparation, etc. Often have at least two or three recordings of messages each week. Most meetings are done by 6. Evenings are more free, so I spend time with my wife after dinner. I normally do Bible reading and prayer around 11 pm and sleep by 12 mn.
Saturdays and Sundays are discipleship groups meetings (we lead three groups.). Because we work with volunteers around the world, occasionally we have meetings on weekends but that is not common. Other than that weekends are more free for family and rest on weekends.
4. What's one book apart from the Bible that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Three books come to mind. Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership by McIntosh and Rima is really good to remind us as leaders how attention to our inner lives is crucial to finishing well. Good to Great has been extremely helpful to make us focus on the core of what we are good at and what is important, and how to maximize impact by maintaining focus. But I think for church leadership the most significant book has been Simple Church by Thom Rainer et. It actually is very complementary with Good to Great because it emphasizes how important it is for every church to have a clear, well communicated and repeatable path to help people grow to maturity. That path for us includes reproduction.
I think the lessons we have learned from that as a church are simple: having more programs is not better. And if people don't know what is expected of them, and will not lead them to maturity and growth, programs just keep people busy. It has caused us to cut many things, and be very cautious about adding programs. It has kept us focused on the one thing God has called us to do as a church: to make Christ-like disciples who make other Christ-like disciples. Anything that doesn't help us accomplish that is extraneous.
It also is crucial that the members know the simple steps to growth that are expected of them. Even if it is clear to the leaders, if the average member doesn't know the steps, it is worthless. So we have created a "discipleship journey" that is easily followed and remembered. It is something we do not deviate from. And it has helped us see consistent growth.
5. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Zoom fatigue is real, so we need to find ways to maintain good relationships and relieve the stress on our teams to keep people engaged, motivated and emotionally healthy.
6. How do you develop a healthy leadership pipeline in a church?
That is a constant challenge for any growing church. One of the obstacles is that existing positions are by nature already filled, so opportunities to develop through experience of hands-on leadership roles are limited. Only so much can be done by providing training programs and mentoring opportunities. Leaders are developed best by leading.
That being said, we have found that opening new satellites, and initiating in new areas of ministry and opening space for new leaders to exercise leadership is the most effective process of keeping a leadership pipeline from clogging.
In our church the natural leadership pipeline comes from discipleship groups in which new people begin to disciple others who then disciple others. We see leadership capacity because they faithfully share Christ with and disciple others who then do the same with subsequent generations. Since discipleship is our core ministry, we focus more on the development of effective disciplers than gifted speakers or organizational leaders.
For developing leaders, we have an internal training program called Global Leadership Center. It focuses on developing multiplying disciplers. For organizational leaders, we have a mentoring program for young leaders, and a seminary program for those we are seeking to develop. But again, without having potential positions for leadership, those programs can get clogged with potential leaders with nowhere to go.
That is why opening new satellites, and expanding new ministries in which new leaders have potential upward growth, is crucial to not allowing the pipeline to get clogged.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a church leader so far?
Dexterity and the ability to pivot quickly seem to be qualities that Covid has brought to the fore in leadership this year. But the leading of the Holy Spirit still seems more powerful than even those qualities in a pandemic (or any leadership environment for that matter.)
In August 2019 during an elders leadership planning meeting we looked at the pattern of growth that seemed to be slowing across our satellites, and the reality that while multiplying discipleship has an unlimited potential for growth, the lack of facilities many of our satellites faced was becoming an upper lid to that growth. We generally have had centers in high density and higher end urban centers as part of our core strategy to expand the church. But by the end of 2019, many (perhaps most) of our satellites were at or above 80% capacity, which is pretty much the limit to future growth in those facilities among our demographic.
During that elders planning meeting we discussed what the Lord was doing through our partnerships outside of the Philippines, where we have seen tens of thousands of house churches established. We realized, I believe through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we need to return to that Acts 2:41-47 model of house churches to continue the growth of the church.
Of course, creating space for a new structure in a multi-site mega church is not easy. We thought we would need a couple years to develop training, conduct pilots and then seek to roll out the full strategy in 2022. But when Covid hit, and we were forced to eliminate the role of facilities in our ministry altogether, it became obvious that the Lord had prepared us in advance. We were able to quickly roll out an online version of our house church multiplication training, and equip over 10,000 people who have already seen thousands of new online groups form.
Dexterity and the ability to pivot are obviously critical skills in the midst of a pandemic But the leading of the Holy Spirit before Covid hit was even more crucial, and prepared us for unexpected growth during the pandemic.