We don’t sugarcoat or glamorize the hard work associated with establishing a thriving church when we speak to churches or young people about the need for laborers. You might think that would hurt our efforts in seeking to find those who would serve with us but we want to be clear and up front about what it takes to plant a church. –What employer hiring workers for a specific job would not disclose the qualifications necessary to do the work? The same goes here.
We’ve learned that many people think that establishing a church is merely purchasing a piece of land and constructing a comfortable and well-functioning building on it, then finding people to fill it. Sadly, that model fails miserably to meet the New Testament paramaters of establishing a church.
The book of Acts, covering a span from 33 AD to about 70 AD, serves as a missions manual and also as a model for establishing a biblically thriving church. It is also the period in history when most of the epistles were written. By the time you get to the book of Revelation you soon learn the necessity of functioning church principles when you read about what the seven churches in Asia Minor did and did not do.
Thus, the New Testament provides a clear picture of the church and God’s design for it to function.
So what does it take to establish a church where there is no church?
First, it takes people. We work primarily in areas of the world where the church does not exist. And in some instances we work in countries where the church does exist but there are outlying, hard-to-reach locations with indigenous people groups that the churches in those countries do not know how to reach. There have even been some cases where the church is totally unaware their country has such people. These are the areas to which we go to establish churches.
Next, we’ve got to find these people so we conduct survey trips and people group assessment studies in the areas where they live. It’s hard to imagine today that any of our contact work would be the first time that some of these people groups have ever had any contact with the outside world, but it is. One of the major difficulties of our work is communicating with the people, as the majority of indigenous people groups do not have a written language.
The hard work begins after gaining permission to live among them. Communication is essential so it may take anywhere from two to five years to gain a working knowledge of the language & culture. What makes this task so daunting is the fact that there are no study helps, no how-to manuals, nor any written materials to gain an understanding of the language & culture. It’s all grunt work.
During this time of learning our missionary team will reduce the language to writing, and then they will establish literacy classes to teach the people how to read and write in their own language. This will be beneficial for the day when the Bible is translated into the local language. Building relationships with the people may include community services such as providing medical help or assisting with village projects. Oh, and if you are in an area where you need air support, whether by airplane or helicopter, you would need to build an air field. Did I mention building a house to live in? Thankfully we work in teams.
By now you may feel a little overwhelmed with all there is to do. But getting to the point of tackling such work requires specific training & equipping; you cannot walk into such a task unprepared. You would need extensive Bible training as well as practical skills, training to understand what it takes to establish a church as well as language science skills and training in medical know-how in order to minister to such needs. Then there’s trusting the Lord for your support resources and getting to the place where you desire to minister. –Got faith???
When the missionary team reaches a comprehensive level of fluency in the language, they then develop Bible teaching materials. Where do you begin? Where would you begin? Consider the fact that these people have no knowledge of God or the Bible, and in most cases, they’re uncertain where they came from or how they got here. Most well-meaning Christians tell us to start with John 3:16 because it is the gospel message. But John 3:16 doesn’t even disclose who Jesus is unless you’ve understood the preceding chapters of John. …And who is God???
So where DO you start?
You begin by bringing the hearers into an understanding of who God is; His existence, and that He is eternal. Specific elements of God’s nature, His character and His attributes are vividly portrayed as you unfold the story of creation and teach the foundational stories of the Bible. These are important truths that must be taught for the story to make sense. Our missionary teams teach the story of the Bible on the timeline on which it unfolds. We call this ‘teaching the Bible chronologically.’ By working thru the events of the Bible in the manner that they unfold you are building the story in a comprehensible manner which will eventually culminate with the gospel message.
We’ve found through years of experience and by the example of scripture that the story of God is best communicated start to finish. Little wonder why Paul penned these words in Romans 10:17… “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” We’ve seen faith birthed in the hearts of lost people because they understood the story. …And with the birth of new believers a church is brought to life in the birthing room of eternity.
A church is formed by those who’ve embraced faith in Jesus. The next step is discipleship –teaching these new babes in Christ the strengthening resources of God’s Word and enabling them to walk in His truth. This requires months and months of teaching thru the epistles in order that these new believers can stand on their own. There is also a focus on training leaders so that the work of evangelizing and birthing churches in other areas of their language group can take place. Often the excitement of this new life in Christ motivates them to go across the cultural boundaries and reach neighboring people groups with the gospel. It’s what the church was designed to do.
Maybe you are thinking, “I would love to be part of something like this but I don’t believe I have the particular skills to do this kind of work.” Well there’s good news… we have specific training to equip you for every task. We also realize that not everyone is cut out to do this particular thing but there are other facets of missionary service where you might find placement. You see, everyone has a role to play. It might be serving in an administrative position; it might be using your skills as an IT person or as a pilot or perhaps you could serve as a school teacher or builder or using your gift of hospitality. Each missionary role is a part of the big picture, which is necessary in establishing thriving churches. There are endless positions to be filled.
I realize this is a lengthy letter lacking the usual array of pictures but I wanted you to know just how important it is for every believer to be a team player in what God is doing today for the glory of His Great Name. Perhaps you may never serve in missions but you can share a part by praying for God’s work around the world. You can pray specifically for missionaries; for the church planting effort; for the declaration of the gospel; for those hearing the message; and you can equip and send others. There’s a place for every believer to serve, just as Jesus gave the commission to every believer to participate in the Great Commission. What will you do?