Church Planting can have as many strategies as there are individuals whom God has called to implement them. All strategies have positive aspects and negative challenges to them. I will outline why I believe that a humanitarian approach is the best for situations that are steeped in poverty, conflict, and resistance to the Gospel. For the sake of oversimplification let’s break down the various strategies into three categories.
The I go alone approach is the first and has been tried. I will now dismiss it out of hand as lacking biblical support and being difficult to implement in the kinds of communities that we are facing.
Next is the Churches plant Churches approach. I like it. It has biblical support. The Church is the Body of Christ and this Body is given the gifts that will make the work of the Kingdom possible. Its strength lies in the fact that motives are clear and the message unmistakable. The ambassadors of Christ come to represent Christ. It is simple and uncluttered. Everyone knows why everyone else is there and what they are supposed to be doing. We have done the work like this for over 200 years and we have lots of history and tradition to learn from and draw on. We know there are pitfalls and we have seen them overcome.
There are some obstacles that might not be apparent with this though. This method pays for an outside worker to come into a new place and develop a national leadership that sends out inside workers to its own people. Money is always an issue in the emerging Church. Where do you find the funds? Can the nationals raise their own support? If a paid CPer comes to a village and shares his faith and someone accepts can that someone not expect to be paid to go share their faith as well? In a very poor or suffering village how will the church show compassion? Is just teaching enough? If they come to a village and help out a local family who is struggling and that family comes to faith do we know why they came to faith? Do they know why they came to faith? What will the other villagers think of this? Will this new believer’s testimony be credible? What about security in a restricted place? Can believers- national or expat- go to restricted areas and share openly? If they can not then what will they do to reach these areas? If they do get there how will they be heard in a hostile environment? How will disciples be made and grown before outside oppression snuffs out the new budding faith of a young believer? I could go on and on. These questions are not unanswerable and these situations are not insurmountable. But the problems must not be ignored. They must be addressed and tackled if we want to see healthy communities of Faith grow and mature.
Our team has chosen to answer these problems with a humanitarian aid organization. This is the NGO Approach. We began in 1997 and to date we have seen four church starts. Two of these no longer exist and two are doing very well. We have evolved in our understanding of what we are doing over the years. I will not recount that journey here. Instead I will list some principles by which we operate that will help give an idea of what we do and why we do it. Let me say right at the beginning here that I am a big believer in the ‘Walls of Jericho’ concept. What we have done here is unique and should not be repeated. The only lesson we can take from
There are many disasters here in Middle Earth. I often joke that Gondor is the only country in the world where you can do disaster response full time. We saw that the people were suffering and no one was responding. So, we began responding to the needs. Principle number one: Walk into a place and asked the Holy Spirit what these people need. Then begin meeting that need. I am a Music Major with a Master of Divinity degree. This hardly qualifies me to be a disaster response expert. But God gave our team unqualified favor to do this work. We made many good decisions and we were able to offer real leadership to communities experiencing disaster. Principle number two: The Holy Spirit will gift you to do all that He is calling you to. Or, He gives you the authority to act where he is calling you to act. We were able to build a solid reputation in our country and as a result we have access to sensitive areas where no one else is able to go. We have worked in the remote mountains and along the very sensitive Mordor border. We have done a couple of projects in Mordor itself and in 1998 even opened an office there that is still there today. Our goal has always been to impact the entire country and the region as we had opportunity. I have been very irritated to talk to fellow workers who do not believe that we can offer the kind of large scale effective aid that the Red Cross or other large humanitarian aid agencies can provide. We can and should do much better than those agencies. We have the unlimited resources of the Father, the wisdom and compassion of the Son, and the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. Principle number three: No small visions. This is a very important principle for us as without it we remain in our own strength and forfeit the opportunity to see God work in our lives and ministries.
When we encounter a disaster we have a team of believing guys who go and do assessment. While doing assessment we listen to people and we pray with them and for them. This is culturally appropriate and introduces us to the community as men of faith. After the disaster we continue to witness through our lives as we work with the community to recover from the effects of disaster and return to normalcy. During this time we have found what I call ‘in your face’ evangelism to be utterly useless. People can not hear us and have no context with which to understand our words. So, we live out our faith very publicly. Everything we do is worship. We get up in the morning and pray together. We sing songs, read the Word, and serve others openly. It is important to be understood on this point: We unveil our personal lives with God before the villagers whom we serve. We never tell anyone that they must do this or that or that they must believe this or that. We tell each other in front of the villagers that Jesus is Lord and we encourage each other with scripture and discuss the Word and God’s plan in front of everyone we can. Principle number four: Everything you do must be worship to God. This results in a lot of joy on the team. We are quick to laugh, love, and serve. This sets an example to the whole village as to what a believer is and does. Principle number five: Discipleship begins when you meet someone. There are four national guys on the team and we have as many as two or on a rare occasion three expats on site as well. We model for the village a true Christian community. One day we pulled into a new village and as we unloaded the truck and set up the field office some village leaders came over to me and said, ‘who are these guys? Are they followers of Jesus?’ Ten minutes was all it took for them to see how different these guys behaved from everyone else. They had not said anything about Jesus. They had not passed out Christian literature. Their lives spoke of a love and peace that was foreign to the culture we are serving.
As people have come to faith through the work we have done I have been very pleased with the results. No one asks for money. Our guys work hard doing NGO work and that is understood as the reason they get a pay check. Everything they say and do for Jesus is out of love for Him not for money. Another big advantage to this work is that we serve whole communities. We give aid out to whole communities regardless of their coming to a Bible study or being baptized. This means that the ‘rice Christian’ issue has not really existed for us. The people who have come to faith through our work have gone on to work harder than ever at their secular jobs and have more money than they ever had before. Another great benefit that we have seen is the resulting new Christian community has a better organizational model than we can provide from the West. New believers are not given a ‘come to the building we call Church’ model. They are shown a living community that meets everyday and worships all the time. We have left them free to form whatever organizational model fits with their context. Principle number six: We share the Good News of the Kingdom and let Christ build His Church as He sees fit.
This leads to another principle. I hate extraction evangelism. The idea that we go somewhere and share Christ with one person and disciple him or her apart from any community is very foreign to the New Testament. Pretty much you have the example of Philip and the Eunuch and that is it. Paul shared openly and discipled openly even in hostile situations. We can not have house churches until we have reached households. We must focus on the existing community- as Paul did- and then see how God will redeem it and bring about a new community of faith. Western methodologies are utterly bankrupt here. We must recover real community in our own life and learn to live it in a contagious way before the communities we serve. Principle number seven: You reap what you sow. Sow to an individual, reap an individual, sow to a community, reap a community. I believe that the NGO doing humanitarian aid is the best way to do this among communities that are hostile to the truth and are politically restrictive.
There is more that I could say. We have a whole different set of principles that go with how we provide humanitarian aid. But I think I will conclude here and let you ask questions as you need to. Thanks for this opportunity to share what God has been doing in us and through us. It has been an exciting ride.