Spontaneous Multiplication

Rapid and spontaneous multiplication of the church.  That is our goal.  That is the mission we join God in.  Did you know that more people have come to know Jesus in the last 100 years than the previous 1900 combined?  God is at work.  We’ve moved from a time when the growth rate of the church was less than the birth rate.  At today’s rate of 7.5%, half of the world would be Christian within 25 years.  Today, 65% of the Church is from races other than Caucasian.  Truly, Christianity is now genuinely an international family of faith.

The type of rapid and spontaneous multiplication we’re talking about is dubbed a church planting movement.  Has anyone ever thought to ask what “church” really is?  Our definitions would probably include many things a church does.  Neil Cole defined it as “the presence of Jesus among His people called out as a spiritual family to pursue His mission on this planet.”  Reproduction of the church means multiplying, not just adding.  These churches are born out of indigenous cultural settings and will reproduce best along ethnolinguistic lines.  It becomes a movement when, like a dam finally breaking, there is no stopping or controlling it.  I’m not sure we really know what that looks like in America.  Our western style of doing church—with its big structures, lots of staff, multiple programs—is not rapidly reproducible.

Why is our focus on church planting?  Indeed, it is the biblical pattern we find in Scripture.  It ensures that the fruits of our labors are preserved.  It gives us a place to nurture multi-generational believers.  It is how we’ll reach the unreached and lay a foundation for discipling entire nations.  And it very practically gives us a measure of the completion of the task.  Listen, this is not just a short-term project we can take on.  We’re talking about a task that is much bigger than any one church can accomplish on its own.  We need God; we need the united Church.  The effort must be covered in prayer.  It requires accurate information and research.  And it is a long term process, not an event that has a beginning and end.

The focus is on discipleship.  This is no small statement.  To not just grow but multiply, a church must be obedient to Christ.  Not just hearers of the Word, but doers.  After all, that’s the Scriptural imperative: make disciples.  The problem is we’ve made teaching, baptizing, preaching, and all sorts of other things the imperative.  Those things are important, but the mandate is clear: make disciples.  This is going to require a lifestyle change for all of us!  We’re too busy to make disciples.  We’re too reliant upon pre-packaged programs and messages that make us feel better about how we’re living.  We’ve watered down the gospel and made the blood of Christ like kool-aid.  If a person will just pray a prayer and come to church once a while, we declare them fit for heaven.  They are top of the class if they even give some money.  The reality is praying a prayer is just the beginning.  You’ve just been introduced!  The focus must be on the discipleship that follows.

This is completely my own side-note, but I want to point out where I think our own discipleship must begin.  We don’t take sin near seriously enough.  We must absolutely repent of it.  Not just pray for forgiveness, but also truly turn away.  Repentance is the beginning of discipleship.  James 4:9, in regards to sin in our lives, says we must “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.”  Not because we got caught or because it had certain negative effects, but because it separates us from God.  The Bible instructs us to run away from sin as fast as we can.  Do not allow temptations to fester and pull you away from your fellowship with God.  It warns us the dangers of miring our lives in it over and over.  In doing so, we make the cross work of Christ as nothing!  Does that notion not break your heart as it does mine?  Hebrews 10:26, 29: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?”  Whatever it is we’re facing that we maybe think God just doesn’t understand or is simply too much for us to resist, remember what Hebrews 12:3-4 says.  “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”  What we’re faced with is nothing compared to what Christ endured on the cross, and He did so without sinning.  So run the race, flee from sin, crucify yourself daily, and follow Him.

Why do I digress into that?  Just remember, we cannot teach what we do not know.

A second requirement of multiplication is the development of leadership who are encouraged and trained in the Word.  Jesus focused on a few men and sent them out.  That should be our model too.  The huge rally strategy isn’t going to work.  A new church must be built up through its leadership.  Teaching them obedience to Christ is essential.  And it is important to distinguish between commandments, biblical practices, and human customs.  Allow the Holy Spirit to work through any cultural issues.  We must trust His guidance toward the people and the people’s ability to follow the Holy Spirit’s direction.  We’re not calling people to extract themselves from their cultural identity.  Remember, we’re there to help them become like Christ, not like us!  Another warning involves providing funds to support the leadership.  New indigenous believers need the opportunity to learn about generosity and stewardship.  Throwing money will create dependency, which will always freeze multiplication.  We should focus our efforts on a single people group to multiply churches, providing contextualization, avoiding syncretism, encouraging group decisions, and emphasizing community.

The cycle for rapid and spontaneous multiplication of the church begins with envisioning the task.  Then you mobilize through prayer and begin equipping those persons whom God has revealed as leaders.  A church is planted and leadership development takes place with an emphasis on obedience to Christ.  Those leaders then envision their role in the task and the cycle begins anew.  So where do we begin?  Dr. Bobby Gupta, President of the Hindustan Bible Institute, which has been responsible for planting thousands of churches in India, stated that the best place to start is by asking a simple but loaded question.  It’s one that I want each of you to ask yourself and what your role is for it:  what does it look like when the task is complete?

Spontaneous Multiplication

Building Bridges of Love

I’ve combined several lesson into this post.  Many of them were academic in nature and involved a great deal of story-telling about social and cultural action.  Much of this recap comes from our reading.  Although the lectures had good content, they weren’t the most dynamic of lectures and I didn’t take many notes.  So I did the best I could turning these lessons around into my (mostly) my own words.

I’ve introduced the barriers—language and culture—which can hinder the spread of the gospel.  For culture, we know that we need to contextualize the message; in other words, present it in culturally relevant ways, while guarding against syncretism.  One of the most important cultural distinctions we must be ready for is the idea of community decision-making.  In America, we are very individualistic.  Our society teaches us to live for ourselves and do and believe in what is good for you.  We’re independent thinkers!  Therefore our efforts at local evangelization are geared toward individuals.  But we cannot take this model overseas.  There, community is most important.  Many missionaries have been blocked in their efforts when trying to convince a single person to follow Christ.  Doing so can result in alienation and ostracism from their people.  Convince a family unit or tribe of the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit sink the truth into them, you have completely different results.  Remember “Ee-Taow”?  To have this kind of influence requires us to build a bridge between the cultural divide.  In doing so, we must not become authorities or builders, but servants who walk along beside.  Take a look at Paul’s response to the Thessalonians:

So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.  For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thess. 2:8-12)

Language is something that can be magnificently difficult to break through.  One expert in linguistics said “There is no such thing as a word in one language that has a perfect equivalent in other language.”  Just look at our own.  Take a simple word like “world”.  It can have multiple meanings in context.  In Scripture, we see “God so loved the world”, “Love not the world”, “The world was created by Him”, and “If the world hates you, it hated me before it hated you”.  In each case, it means something different.  Every language has its figures of speech or idioms, and rarely do they transfer without serious distortion.  The Bible is full of figures of speech!  You couple this with cultural interpretation of a story, and you can easily see the monumental task missionaries have in accurately conveying the true intent of a biblical passage.  Yet taking the time to learn the language of the people is so crucial because they will not see Christianity as theirs until God (in His Word) can speak to them in their language.  Today there are still 2,000 languages that do not have a biblical translation.

So when we go, are we going to meet a physical need or a spiritual need?  The 10/40 Window represents the greatest degree of non-Christian peoples.  But is also includes over 80% of the poorest in the world (living on less than $500 per year) and over 80% of those with the lowest quality of life (in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy, etc).  The problem is, we dehumanize the situation.  It becomes overwhelming and abstract.  It no longer seems like a real problem.  And we end up thinking the “poor” are anyone who has less than us.  In America, you can own a home, car, cell phone, and have a job and still be considered poor.  But that’s relative poverty, which is based on standards of living.  What we’re talking about are the blind, the lame, those who can’t read, victims of war and injustice, and slum dwellers.  That’s absolute poverty, a situation where people have insufficient resources to meet basic needs.  The disparity is great and we cannot be okay with it.  In America we have freedom of religion, but in most of the developing world, they are chained by religious restrictions.  Here, 86% identify themselves as Christian; there, 83% have never heard the gospel.  We have 300,000 seminary-trained ministers while there is roughly only 1 pastor for every 50 congregations overseas.  It has been shown that a church spends $10,000 for every person who comes to know Christ in evangelistic outreach; the equivalent for the 10/40 window is 10 cents.

History has shown us that we tend to swing like a pendulum in our global campaigns to care for physical and spiritual needs.  In other words, we seem to be grappling with the question of which one is more important, “social action” or “evangelism”.  But they are one and the same.  Where a physical need is greatest, we should meet it, thereby opening a door to the spiritual.  And where truth needs to reign primarily, then we need to address the spiritual need, which ultimately will address the physical.  We absolutely must take a holistic mission approach.  Isaiah 61:1-4 says,

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
 because the Lord has anointed me 
to bring good news to the poor; 
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, 
to proclaim liberty to the captives, 
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
 and the day of vengeance of our God…that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
 the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.  They shall build up the ancient ruins; 
they shall raise up the former devastations;
 they shall repair the ruined cities, 
the devastations of many generations.

You see, those who have been captives and brokenhearted become “the planting of the Lord”.  They will restore the devastation.  Practically speaking, this means that we shouldn’t just throw our money at problems or think that clicking “like” on Facebook to increase awareness will do anything.  (Sorry, side rant there.)  When a local people mobilize local resources to take ownership of their needs, guided by our knowledge and experience, which in turn are rooted in the values of the Kingdom of God, the effect is much more long-term and actual change is produced, rather than just passive impact.

Honestly, it really isn’t that complicated, though the details are many and varied for each culture.  But the bottom line is summarized nicely by Dr. Ron Blue.  Live among the people and win their friendship.  Then at the earliest possible moment, get them into intimate contact with the Bible.  This will get to the root of the needs in the world.

Building Bridges of Love

How Shall They Hear

What is culture?  What is at its roots?  How does it affect how people view the world?  All good questions.  And all must be answered if we are to effectively carry the message of the gospel to the world.  Culture is how a group of people deal with the world around them.  It consists of patterns we learn and products we produce to help us live based on our view of reality.

At the surface, people model behavior.  Behavior includes the actions, words, and deeds of a people.  It is based on a person’s values, or in other words, their view of what is good or best.  Values are based on a person’s beliefs, which stem from answering the question “what is true”.  And one’s beliefs are grounded in one’s worldview, which asks the question “what is real”.

As an example:  Our Christian worldview is that God is Creator and created reality.  That gives rise to our belief that God is sovereign.  We value our faith and the idea of living worry-free because God is in control.  And therefore, we exhibit a behavior of living generously as a people saved by grace.

At the heart of culture is worldview.  It is how we view the world based on assumptions that we hold either consciously or subconsciously.  Worldview is seen through a series of filters comprised of what we believe, experience, and analyze.  This becomes our view of reality.

What we must guard against is ethnocentrism, or viewing my own set of behaviors—which are based on my beliefs, values, and worldview—as the best way possible.  This is obviously very harmful in the pursuit of spreading the gospel.  But in reality, we do it every day.  Our media always shows us the bad sides of a culture.  And we end up judging what we consider a culture’s bad behaviors relative to what we consider our best values.

At the same time, when entering an unknown culture, disorientation can often result.  This is what we call culture shock.  It is the result of trying to accept a culture’s behavior without understanding their underlying beliefs, values, and worldview.  And what we’ll end up with is withdrawal and criticism, rather than love.

How then shall we proceed into cultures that are different that our own and not experience ethnocentrism or shock?  We’ve got to make our message culturally relevant.  That means we need to contextualize it.  In other words, we need to present the gospel in regard to the culture we’re in.  We need to adapt ourselves and our presentation.  But there are two problems.  The first is syncretism, which is a fancy word that means foreign religious practices have blended with Christian ideals resulting in non-biblical Christianity.  In our efforts to make the gospel relevant, we must guard against going too far so that practices that are not biblical are not kept.  Yet we can’t just go in and say “your practices or gods are bad; ours are good”.  We’ll be shut out.  We must trust and allow the Holy Spirit to work, and show them loving obedience through the Word.

The second major problem is the message being perceived as a threat to the culture.  Our ability to be effective for the gospel has greatly diminished in foreign settings.  Westerners are often frowned upon because people believe we are coming in to make them like us.  And for a long time, we have been.  They also perceive all Westerners to be “Christian”, so when the media portrays corruption, we’re all cast under the same poor light, even though a true Christ-follower may not have been shown.  We are regarded as unclean for the things we eat or do, or maybe even don’t do.  The point is, we need to be aware of this barrier and adjust our strategy as needed to maintain effectiveness.

A major missionary paper once included the statement that contextualizing the message requires an “active, loving engagement with the local people, thinking in their thought patterns, understanding their worldview, listening to their questions, and feeling their burdens”.  One of the major points of dissatisfaction I personally have with the American Church is reliance upon programs and buildings.  If we have more and more programs and bigger buildings, we’ll stay relevant and get people to come.  We end up relying on our programs and productions more than the power of Christ.  We can’t take this model overseas.  We’ve got to invest the time and effort and pain and setbacks of understanding and appreciating a culture.  There is no pre-packaged set of plans to help.  The gospel is a seed that must be planted and cultivated, not a potted plant to transport.

There are three encounters that take place when communicating the gospel.  First, a truth encounter is one in which a person is taught and comes to an understanding of truth.  It’s based on knowledge and experience, and is actually rooted in the other two encounters.  The second is an allegiance encounter.  Here the person must choose to commit and obey.  It’s driven by our witness and where conversion takes place.  The third is a power encounter, and is one few of us have probably experienced.  This is the realm of spiritual warfare, resulting in the freedom from Satan’s captivity.  These are the kinds of stories we have a hard time believing because of our skeptical culture.  But spiritual warfare is real and the types of encounters you read in the Bible are still going on today.  Our instructor told us stories of casting out demons and how a medicine man called upon a spirit, effectively talking bullets out of a young man who had been shot.

Ever wonder why we don’t hear stories about this kind of warfare in America?  So that I don’t belabor the point, I’ll just say that I believe we’ve drowned out God’s ability to work miraculously like this.  We’re too busy.  We depend on too many other things.  So God works, but He does so silently.

When we take the gospel to other cultures, we do so with Acts 26:18 in mind: “’to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’”  Just maybe it’s our worldview that needs changing, not theirs.  In a very real sense we’ve got it backwards:  we’ve been inviting Jesus into our kingdoms, when God is really saying that He’s inviting us into His.

How Shall They Hear