Chapter 13 - In Most Church Planting Movements

Chapter 13 from David Garrison, Church Planting Movements (WIG Take Resources, 2003)

NOW THAT WE'VE sifted through the biblical record regarding Church Planting Movements let's return to the characteristics that describe Church Planting Movements and their environment. We've already identified 10 elements that appear to be universal to every Church Planting Movement. What other factors contribute to these movements?

This question surfaced from our panel of practitioners as we found our whiteboards graffitied with several factors that were present in most, though not all, Church Planting Movements. We could not honestly call these universal elements, but to leave them out of our descriptive profile would greatly diminish our understanding of how God was at work in these movements.

The missionary church planter has influence over some of these factors, but others are beyond his control. Let's take a look at the 10 factors frequently involved in Church Planting Move­ments.

In Most Church Planting Movements

  1. A Climate of Uncertainty in Society
  2. Insulation from Outsiders
  3. A High Cost for Following Christ
  4. Bold Fearless Faith
  5. Family-Based Conversion Patterns
  6. Rapid Incorporation of New Believers
  7. Worship in the Heart Language
  8. Divine Signs and Wonders
  9. On-the-Job Leadership Training
  10. Missionaries Suffered

Let's examine each of these factors more closely.

1. Climate of Uncertainty in Society

Whether it's the waning days of Communism, the aftermath of a dictator's passing, or the unsettling chaos of an ancient tradition modernizing. Church Planting Movements seem to flourish in a state of societal transition, turmoil, or uncertainty. Cambodia's CPM followed the Khmer Rouge reign of terror. In Central Asia it was the collapse of Soviet Communism. In Latin America it was the realization that the old socialist ideology was no longer holding up against global market forces.

Sometimes the climate of social unrest is a longstanding condition. Such is the case with the grinding poverty of India's Bihar state where societal chaos has been the norm for decades. For centuries, Europe's Gypsies lived as social pariahs until God welcomed them into his own family through a Church Planting Movement.

For peoples like the Maasai of East Africa, the threat of modernity itself creates uneasiness and a quest for something permanent and true. Modernity has yet to encroach on many peoples in the interiors of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, but as it does it will topple old value systems and create openness to a more meaningful solution.

There are more than 14,000,000 refugees in the world today and an even larger number of internally displaced peoples fleeing oppression and economic hardship. As we've already seen in the refugee settlement camps of Holland, these displaced peoples are looking for a new reference point for their lives. In Christ they may find what they're seeking.

Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Great social stability tends to lull people into a false sense of security. They forget that life is short and that one must prepare for eternity. This creates an obstacle for affluent Western Europe, Japan, and the United States where unparalleled economic health has fostered unparal­leled spiritual malaise.

However, if social unrest is a precursor to a Church Planting Movement, the world of the 21st century offers many candidates—Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East—all quaking with uncertainty, reeling with change, and ripe for Church Planting Movements.

2. Insulation from Outsiders

Each of the panelists wanted to avoid this. After all, they too were outsiders. But we kept running into the factor again and again. Reviewing the list of Church Planting Movements unfolding around the world, the evidence mounted that most of them were insulated from contact with the outside world.

Finally someone asked, "Is it true that Church Planting Movements only occur in places that are difficult for Americans to reach?"

Cambodia, Mongolia, China, Maasai-land, Central Asia, Bihar, and Orissa States in India—these are all places that are insulated from outsiders.

Is this insulation coincidental or instrumental in the unfolding of Church Planting Movements? Perhaps it's a little of both. By definition Church Planting Movements are going to happen in places where lost people are coming to Christ. Since the world's greatest concentrations of lostness are, almost by definition, insulated from the world's greatest concentrations of Christians, we shouldn't be surprised that most of the world's Church Planting Movements are occurring in isolated locations.

An exception might appear to be the Gypsies of western Europe whose CPM has blossomed in several unfettered countries of Europe. However, even among the Gypsies, out­siders have not paid undue attention to the movement. On the contrary, most of the missionaries working in western Europe have avoided Gypsy ministry in favor of work among the majority population in their country.

Most Church Planting Movements do occur in insulated locations and there does appear to be a causal relationship. Easy access to evangelical resources can quickly lead to a dependency on the outsiders who offer them. When this happens the attention of the local church leaders turns from the lost in their own country and the resources within the harvest to the resource pool offered by foreigners.

This is not to deride the vital role that outsiders can and must play in the life of a Church Planting Movement. After all, the gospel has to come from somewhere. Every CPM can be traced back to some outsider who penetrated the difficult barriers surrounding unreached people group to introduce to them the gospel.

3. A High Cost for Following Christ

In most Church Planting Movements there is a tremendous price to pay to be a Christian. This trail of blood links today's martyrs with those of the early church who, like their suffering Savior, were obedient even to the death.

Persecution refines the church, guaranteeing the legitimacy of its life and witness. Persecution also filters out casual believers. In Church Planting Movements this happens every day.

In a coffee shop in North Africa, two Algerian men were lost in conversation. One of them, named Mohammed, has made his choice. He wears a cross and has a New Testament in his pocket. His friend, Ismail is still undecided. He's been reading the New Testament, believes in Jesus, but is unwilling to break with his Muslim beliefs.

Suddenly three plain clothes policemen burst through the door, grab the two men and place them in the back of an unmarked police van. For the next three days, Ismail and Mohammed were detained by the Ministry of Internal Security.

Four days later, Ismail surfaced again and reported what happened. "Mohammed and I were separated. I was alone in a room with two men from the Ministry of the Interior.

'So you are a Christian?' they asked.

I told them that I was a Muslim like them.

'Then why do you carry a New Testament? '

I remained silent.

'Tell us. Who is right? Mohammed or Jesus?'

I hesitated and then said, 'They are both right...'

Then one of them struck me on the face, knocking me to the floor. ‘No,' he said, 'Both cannot be right. One of them is right and one is wrong. Which do you believe? '

Ismail said, ‘I looked up at him and knew the answer,'

'Jesus.' I said. 'Jesus is right.’

A few days later, Ismail was released, but his friend Mohammed was never seen again.

What happened to Ismail in 1996 happens in Church Planting Movements every day. Believers have lost jobs, families, been imprisoned, even murdered. But they stay true to their commit­ment even unto death. While persecution knocks some seekers from uncertainty to faith, for others like Ismail's friend Mohammed, the persecution claims their very lives.

4. Bold Fearless Faith

Most Western Christians will never know the terror that surrounds believers who live in persecution environments. Under Islamic law, a Muslim who converts from Islam merits the death penalty. The majority of Muslim countries today have signed the United Nation's Declaration of Human Rights guaranteeing freedom of conscience and freedom to convert, but this means little in a Muslim village.

An Egyptian friend who had converted from Islam explained it this way. "Under Islamic law," he said, "my blood is not for­bidden."

He could see by my puzzled expression that I didn't understand so he continued, "Islam forbids the shedding of blood, but not the blood of an apostate."

For secret believers living in hostile environments, fear can take on an almost tangible quality. It grows beyond reason and stifles the Christian's ability to share his faith or even proclaim publicly his allegiance to Christ. If fear succeeds, a Church Planting Movement fails. However, when new believers choose bold witness in the face of persecution, they create an atmos­phere that sustains a Church Planting Movement.

Visiting the emerging Maasai Church Planting Movement in 1999, I was asked to speak to a gathering of Maasai Christians who had come for a week of church planter training in the bush training school.

"The Maasai have never experienced persecution," the missionary said. "They've always been the persecutors rather than the ones being persecuted. But if they are going to follow Christ, they need to be ready to face persecution. Could you share with them some of what the Christians face in the Muslim world?"

I was glad to help, but a little intimidated by these silent, muscled warriors who had leaned their spears against the only door as they entered and now sat in rows between that same door and me. With feigned calmness, I stood before them and for the next hour told them of Muslim friends who had given their lives to Christ, and consequently lost their jobs, their families, even their personal security. I told them how each of these believers had emerged from their torment more committed to Christ than ever because he had given his life for them and was now living in their hearts.

After I finished, I sat down and waited for the next teacher to begin.

Before the next speaker could start, the Maasai began murmuring among themselves. Then one of them, visibly agita­ted, stood up, and then another. I nervously asked the missionary what was happening.

He told me, "They are calling for an invitation. Anyone who is willing to follow Jesus and be persecuted is invited to come forward." Within a few minutes, four Maasai men who had not yet decided about Jesus came forward to say, "If this is what it means to be a Christian, we will stand with Jesus."

With a reputation for being one of the most fearless people on earth, the Maasai are at the top of the food chain. But their boldness places them squarely in the company of new believers in Church Planting Movements everywhere.

5. Family-Based Conversion Patterns

The extent to which conversions follow family lines may vary from culture to culture, but in most Church Planting Movements the gospel flows through webs of family relationships. This pattern is as important as it is difficult for Western Christians to grasp. In the West, we have a strong tradition of individualism. Life changing decisions such as marriage, education choices and profession are all regarded as personal decisions. In fact, if a parent or other family member tries to influence the decision too strongly, the family member is seen as unreasonable and overbearing.

The rest of the world doesn't work that way. Those who are willing to make decisions without considering their community's counsel are generally individuals who are already on the edges of society and looking to escape. Too often individualistic Western missionaries have gravitated toward these marginal individuals and succeeded in leading them to Christ only to find that the gospel never moves beyond them to the broader community.

Historically, this tendency has led to the exodus of scores of marginalized Christian converts fleeing their society for a new life in the West. Missionaries today have become more deliberate about trying to avoid this sort of extraction of converts but continue to search for ways to penetrate the cultural center of the people group rather than plant a church of marginalized persons on the fringes.

In Church Planting Movements, new believers seize the initiative, taking the gospel to their family first, even in the face of severe persecution. One sees this among Muslim background believers in West Africa, among the evangelical Gypsies of Spain, and throughout Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Meeting in homes has greatly accelerated this family-based conversion pattern often leading to an entire clan's conversion to the faith.

In Pakistan, a missionary named Mark told the story of an extended family from Afghanistan who had come to faith in Christ all on the same day. Several Christians had befriended the clan, each one faithfully witnessing to each member of the family. The Christians made it a point to always share something God had taught them from the Bible that day. Over time. it was a natural occurrence to give a copy of the Bible to each member of the family.

One morning. Ali, the father of the Afghan family came to the missionary with great joy. "Mr. Mark, Mr. Mark, last night I had a dream."

Mark replied, "Tell me about your dream, Ali."

Ali said, "Last night before I went to sleep 1 put the Bible you gave me under my pillow. During the night a 'Being of Light' came into my room. He took the Bible from under my pillow and placed it on top of the pillow."

Ali could barely contain his excitement. "Don't you see what this means?" he asked.

Mark wisely responded. "Ali, why don't you tell me what it means."

Ali replied, "It is so clear. God is saying that I must not believe only a part of the Bible, I must believe all of it."

God had certainly spoken to Ali, but he was not yet ready to make a conversion to Christianity. Mark could have forced the issue and pressed Ali for a decision, but instead he affirmed Ali's vision and encouraged him to share the news with his father.

They both knew that Ali's father, the patriarch of the clan, was still living at home and was a force to reckon with in family decision making. Ali went home and told his father the story of his dream. That night Ali's father took his own Bible and placed it under his pillow. The next morning, the old patriarch reported the same revelation.

Within a week the entire clan, all 13 of them, had given their lives to Christ.

Missionaries in Church Planting Movements turn evangelistic encounters into family harvest times, resisting the temptation to extract converts one-by-one. They learn to let the natural love and respect that family members have for one another draw their entire clan to faith in Jesus Christ.

6. Immediate Enlistment of New Believers

In most Church Planting Movements, new converts are quickly incorporated into the life and work of the church. They are not only welcomed they are put to work!

In China, for example, church planters deliberately channel new believers into new churches rather than assimilate them into older fellowships. This integration forces them to take an active role in the church's life, and they are often up to the challenge.

In India, an elderly Bhojpuri man planted 42 churches in his first year as a believer; no one told him that he needed to mature in faith first!

In more traditional situations, churches are cautious about assimilating new believers until they have proven themselves.

Converts are put on a pew while they demonstrate their conver­sion through years of faithful church attendance. If the convert grows disinterested over time, the faithful conclude that his conversion was not genuine, when, in fact, he may have simply grown bored. This pattern has led to a staggering attrition rate for evangelical churches around the world. The passion and zeal of the new convert is slowly absorbed into the church pews until an anemic, nominal Christian finally drifts away. Lost people are finding the message of the gospel powerful both in its appeal and its ability to change their lives, but they find the life on the pews to be less satisfying.

In recent years, evangelical churches have improved disciple-ship training in an effort to conserve new converts. Some of these efforts have proven effective, but often they concentrate on indoctrination that results in better-educated Christians, but not necessarily better-assimilated Christians.

In Church Planting Movements prospective converts often begin serving Christ even before they become his follower. A Southeast Asia missionary began meeting regularly with a group of Vietnamese physicians. Though the physicians were not yet Christian, they met weekly for prayer, Bible study, and sharing a vision of what they perceived to be God's desire for them and their people.

After a few months, one of the doctors said, "I am not yet a Christian. But when I do become a Christian, I think I want to be the kind of Christian who brings a Church Planting Movement to my people both in this country and across the border."

The vision of this pre-Christian physician was surprising to everyone except the missionary.

"This is how it works with Church Planting Movements," he explained. "You begin practicing the end from the beginning."

In most Church Planting Movements, baptism is not delayed nor followed with lengthy probationary periods. Instead, new Christians immediately begin evangelizing others sharing the discipleship teaching they themselves are receiving, and partici­pating in new house church formation.

The movement focuses outward aimed at starting new works and drawing in new believers rather looking than backward to the past. This bias toward new church starts over against enlarging older works is in sharp contrast with conventional practice where it is often assumed that the church should not risk much on new believers.

7. Worship in the Heart Language

Worship in the heart language allows the gospel to flow freely through a people group. There are Church Planting Movements that have erupted among people groups who do not yet have the Bible translated into their heart language, but even then their worship, songs and prayers are expressed in their heart language.

In a church service near the Caspian Sea, I listened to haunting choruses of Azeri praises ascending to God. Stepping into a dark and crowded room in Addis Ababa, I joined a wave of Ethiopian believers as they closed their eyes and lifted holy hands and Amharic songs of praise. In a crowded training center in Uttar Pradesh, India, I was swept up with hundreds of Dalit believers pouring out their hearts to God. I've joined Maasai believers laughing joyfully as they sang and danced the great stories of the Bible. In each place, the rhythm and flow of the worship was local, natural, and powerful.

A missionary colleague returned from a visit to Myanmar where he met a group of Buddhist monks who had just come to faith in Christ. They had never heard Christian hymns, but they couldn't help singing psalms and prayers to God.

"If you could call it singing," the missionary said. "They sounded like Buddhist chants, but the words were all praises to God."

Missionaries who take the time to adapt the gospel to the heart language of the people are aligning themselves with the way that God is at work. However, acquiring the heart language of unreached people groups is rarely easy.

Most of the world's least reached people groups are unreached today because their languages can't be learned at a local community college. Often the languages are unwritten and hidden behind other difficult trade languages. In some cases, the languages of the unreached people group have even been outlawed as subversive like that of the Turkish Kurds or the Kabyle Berbers of Algeria. For many years, the possession of literature in these languages could result in imprisonment or deportation.

Despite knowing the advantage of learning the heart language, some missionaries succumb to the temptation to provide the gospel in a trade language. Language learning is difficult and time consuming. So these missionaries stop after learning trade languages such as Hindi, Swahili, French, Russian, Chinese, or Arabic rather than penetrating to a deeper level to provide the gospel in one of hundreds of heart languages.

The difficulty of learning the languages of the world's least reached peoples makes receiving the gospel in their heart language all the more precious. A village woman in Southeast Asia watched the Jesus Film in her native tongue. "Who is this Jesus," she asked, "who knows and speaks my language?"

Among the Kabyle Berbers of North Africa, their own language has been suppressed for decades—first by the Arabs and then by the French. Today, they can hear the gospel radio broadcasts, read the Bible, and view the Jesus Film all in their Kabyli language. Small wonder that these historically Muslim people are now turning to Christ.

8. Divine Signs and Wonders

Church Planting Movements are bom and nurtured in an atmosphere of God's mighty acts. For some, the power comes through healing. A friend recently returned from Bihar, India.

"I interviewed about 50 believers," he said, "Everyone of them knew Jesus as healer before they knew him as Savior."

For some, it is God's divine protection. A believer in a country torn by civil war observed, "In my country, Muslim fundamentalists and the government are killing each other in a war that has cost 100,000 lives. To this day, God has spared his Church; not one believer has died in the violence."

Missionaries who are unaccustomed to signs and wonders have become converts to the notion of God's direct intervention into the affairs of men. An American missionary who graduated top of his university class in America entered a new world when he immersed himself in China. After a few years there he confessed, "All of the Church Planting Movements I've seen in China are full of healings, miracles, and even resurrections."

Another Baptist missionary, who was serving in India, almost apologetically told of a resurrection from the dead that occurred among his people group.

In Bihar, India, the death of a young girl in the village coincided with the visit of an evangelist. As was the custom, the child was sown into a sarcophagus bag in preparation for a funeral pyre. RSS activists (an Indian nationalist vigilante group) used the opportunity to blame the itinerant preacher. Grief-stricken villagers were torn between the appeal of the gospel message and their bondage to the old ways. As a gang of thugs seized the evangelist and began to abuse him, the little girl in the sarcophagus bag suddenly sat up. Her family hastily freed her from the bag. And the evangelist was released.

Another church planter learned to expect the miraculous. "When we enter a village," he explained, "we look for God's man of peace who will be the leader of the new church. Then we do as Jesus commanded in Luke 10. We proclaim to him the Good News of the kingdom, and we pray for the healing of his family and anyone else who needs it. God doesn't always heal them but he does reveal himself to them. Our job is simply to obey his command to proclaim and pray."

9. On-the-Job Leadership Training

Leadership training is vital to Church Planting Movements. With new churches being produced so rapidly, there is a never-ending demand for the training of new leaders. For that reason alone, it is not surprising that Church Planting Movements have featured various types of practical, continual on-the-job training.

In Cambodia, training was conducted in two-week modules through the Rural Leadership Training Schools. The schools themselves were mobile, could be set-up close to the greatest area of need and then dismantled again until a new two-week session was organized. In the Latin American Church Planting Movement we saw that Lay Missionary Schools fueled the Church Planting Movement.

In the Gypsy Church Planting Movement, leaders developed within the church as experienced pastors mentored apprentices who sensed God's calling to be preachers. Across parts of China, leadership development followed several decentralized programs that complemented and sometimes took the place of training offered by the few seminaries in the country. In one Chinese Church Planting Movement, the house church pastors staggered the time of their worship services in order to attend other house churches to observe different methods of church leadership.

One of the more ingenious and effective leadership training methods is the cascading model. Widely used in India, this model allows training to multiply out without reliance on formal institutions by using cascading tiers of mentors who convey biblical training from level to level.

An Indian colleague explained it this way, "I relate directly to only 24 men, whom I call 'Master Trainers.' Each of these Master Trainers mentors 10-12 trainers. Each trainer mentors 10 pastors, while each pastor has at least 10 adult church members. What I teach the master trainers is cascaded out within two weeks to every church member."

I quickly did the math and saw that he was regularly training 36,000 people.

"How effective is it?" I asked.

"We'll know next week," he replied.

"And why is that?"

"Because next week I'm bringing in the second tier of trainers to see how effectively the message is reaching them."

For him, the quality inspection was as important as the cascading training model.

The cascading model has many benefits.

  1. Allows for exponential multiplication of training that is able to keep pace with exponential church multiplication.
  2. Can be transmitted with or without written materials, which makes it accessible to nonliterate as well as literate trainees.
  3. Is interpersonal and relational. Because it can take place in restaurants, public parks, or sidewalk coffee shops, it stays below the radar of government opposition.
  4. Finally, the requirement to immediately pass on the teaching is reinforced in the mind and life of all those involved in the process.

10. Missionaries Suffered

As the Church Planting Movement panel discussed the various Church Planting Movements we had witnessed, one unavoidable factor surfaced again and again. So many of the missionary colleagues we had known, who were instrumental in these Church Planting Movements, were no longer serving as missionaries. Others have continued on the mission field, but only after enduring staggering calamities.

Over the past decade, missionaries or their families, who have been involved in these movements, have been touched by lupus, multiple myloma, leukemia, lung cancer, lymphoma, fatal attacks of asthma, scleroderma. heart disease, diabetes, chronic back problems, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, children's birth defects, and nervous breakdowns.

Sometimes the assaults are so insidious that they can only be attributed to the Evil One. A missionary family who served on some of the toughest fields in the world had their ministry come to an end when the father accidentally struck and killed his own toddler with his automobile. Another missionary's ministry ended when he was charged with misappropriation of funds following a famine and relief effort. There was never any question of personal enrichment, but the misdirection of funds from one cause to another tarnished the missionary's reputation and temporarily sidelined him.

In other instances missionaries involved in Church Planting Movements had to leave the work due to illness of parents or the needs of their children. There have been departures over issues of interpersonal conflict and inability to handle a changing assignment.

The nature of the missionary suffering has been as diverse as human suffering can be. The only common link in this catalog of suffering is that each missionary was related to a Church Planting Movement. For many, though not all of these mission­aries, the suffering removed them from their vital role in the movement.

Knowing that suffering is so frequently a part of the Church Planting Movement environment can help prepare us and arm us against this threat. Here are a few of the things missionaries are learning to do to keep themselves in the Lord's service:

  1. Find an accountability partner with whom to share openly and honestly. A good accountability partner will tell what you need to hear and not just what you'd like to hear. For the sake of objectivity, the accountability partner should be someone other than one's spouse.
  2. Commit to the spiritual disciplines of daily quiet time and regular church involvement. It's easy for those in the 'religion business' to become stale in their personal walk with the Lord.
  3. Commit to the disciplines of regular physical exercise and proper diet. Missionaries have a habit of de-prioritizing their own physical needs until it is too late.
  4. Set limits to the number of nights each month or year to be away from home. Commit to regular date nights with one's spouse. Work at marriage with a goal of making it better this year than it was last year.
  5. Schedule time with one's children. Put their school holidays and family vacation time on the calendar before everything else. Bring them into your inner prayer circle. As they see the ministry through your eyes, they will catch the vision and become your greatest team members.
  6. Develop a strong prayer network of support. Watch, fight, and pray!
  7. Stay humble and grateful that God has allowed you the privilege of serving him. Missionaries who maintain a posture of humility and gratitude serve longer and live longer!
  8. Remember there is an Enemy. The adversary is not flesh and blood, but principalities and powers—spiritual darkness in high places. So avoid seeing individuals—Christian or non-Christian—as enemies.

These principles are helping to protect missionaries from the Evil One who would seek to destroy them. In the final analysis, we shouldn't be surprised at the measure of suffering that accompanies the missionary task around the world. Suffering was in the DNA of our Savior and so naturally passes on to us his offspring. Linking us closely to him it also binds us to those new believers whose suffering often exceeds our own.

Several Scripture passages have taken on renewed meaning in the light of God's great saving work through Church Planting Movements and the plight of so many great missionary brothers and sisters who have been involved in these movements. One of these is found in the book of Revelation, which clearly describes our own time.

Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short.222

Footnotes

222. Revelation 12:10-12