“A Church-Planting Movement” Within Every People: The key to reaching every people and every person
Where are we headed? Which way to the front? Where should the mission world be headed and what should its chief objective be? The AD2000 and Beyond Movement has as its agreed-upon goal "A Church for Every People and the Gospel for Every Person by the Year 2000," but what does that mean and how do we most quickly achieve this goal? These are critical questions for all of us to answer as the 4,000 delegates from 200 countries gather in Seoul, South Korea for the opening of GCOWE 95. We must have a correct understanding of the nature of the task ahead of us if we are to achieve these laudable goals.
The AD2000 and Beyond Movement is a very diverse grass-roots movement with thousands of different ministries organized along the lines of 13 different resource networks and task forces. With this diversity comes great strengths and weaknesses. The cooperation of so many ministries is a tremendous strength. But it also provides the opportunity for many honest people to pull the focus of ministry for the movement in various directions. Diversity can be a tremendous strength when it cooperates toward a common end.
Now is certainly a good time for everyone, regardless of the ministries they represent, to agree upon the end result that we should all be working toward. This does not mean that we all have to do the same thing. Most ministries can be quite complementary to each other if their efforts are coordinated.
I intend to make the case for that essential end result being the establishment of an indigenous church- planting movement in every unreached people. Dr. Donald McGavran referred to this as people movements. The two expressions can be used interchangeably since a People Movement will always result in church planting. I believe this is the only way that the AD2000 goal can legitimately be reached.
A Valid Opportunity for All ,Most Christian leaders will agree that we need to give every person on earth a valid opportunity to accept Christ. The differences of opinion seem to center around what constitutes a valid opportunity and how do we achieve it for everyone. Most Christians would also agree that people who are without Christ need to have the gospel presented to them in a manner that is understandable. I believe that a church-planting movement within every people is the only way to accomplish this.
To "reach" Should Mean To "Incorporate" We talk about reaching the lost but can we consider a person truly reached outside of their incorporation into a church fellowship? Ralph Winter has said, "Some may ask, however, if we are simply trying to give everyone a valid opportunity to accept Christ, why is it necessary to emphasize the presence or absence of a church (as does the Lausanne 1982 definition of unreached peoples). In my thinking, and in the thinking of all those who employ this criterion, there is no such thing as a 'valid opportunity to accept Christ, apart from the indigenous presence of His Church. Don't misunderstand me! I agree that conceivably a person can accept Christ apart from a church in his context, but normally this is not the way that people become Christians, and even if they do, it is not ideal. People do not simply turn on a switch in their hearts or minds in some kind of direct relationship to God and then proceed to grow spontaneously in their new faith. Normally they need to be incorporated in His fellowship, into His Church. That is the reason why most of the various definitions of unreached peoples take into account the presence or absence of an indigenous church."
Reaching Groups Is Better and Faster It is a fact that it's more biblical to emphasize the reaching of peoples rather than individuals only. In addition to this, it is also far easier to give individuals a valid opportunity to accept Christ if we work within the ethnic community in which they live, giving them access to the gospel through a fellowship of believers who can communicate with them in an understandable form. Working through the peoples in which they live is a better and faster way to reach individuals. Just recently Billy Graham completed his "Global Mission" which presented the gospel by television and satellite to at least one billion people and potentially many more. This is an amazing and wonderful accomplishment for which we give praise to God. But it is not a substitute for a personal incarnate witness of Christ within every people which invites every individual within that people to become a part of a growing fellowship of believers. We cannot expect to accomplish the goal of a church for every people and the Gospel for every person with detached, one-size-fits-all methods of mission. We must be willing to get our hands dirty and make the Gospel personal for each people group.
Jesus set the example for us. He then commanded us to go and do likewise. He didn't just drop a note. He came in person in human form giving the message of the gospel through His life which He lived out in the linguistic and cultural context of largely one people group.
It is a clear fact that unreached individuals can only become mature and firmly established in the faith when they are incorporated into a fellowship of their own kind which speaks to them in their own linguistic and cultural context.
God Has Already Defined the Nature and Scope of Our Task. God has been interested in reconciling peoples to Himself long before His people have been interested in being reconciled. All the way from Genesis to Revelation we can see God's heart for all peoples. God's chosen method of reaching mankind has always been to focus on the peoples within which individuals live. In the "Great Commission" of Matt. 28:19 we see Jesus calling His followers to disciple the "nations" or the ethnic peoples of the world. In Matt. 21:14 Jesus indicates that all the ethnic groups must be penetrated with the gospel before He will return. And in Revelation 5:9 and 7:9 we see that God's ultimate purpose is achieved when multitudes of people from every tribe, language, people and nation are worshipping Jesus because He bought them with His own blood. Jesus will not receive all the worship He deserves until every distinct people in all their diversity are worshipping Him in all of their uniqueness. Every people has a destiny to fulfill as true worshipers of the Lord Jesus Christ and we as His servants can help them to find their true role in God's plan for them.
Deut. 32:8 and Acts 17:27 indicates that God created every people and determined where and when they would live so that they would seek Him. It is clear from Scripture that reaching peoples is a God-given strategy that we would be foolish to ignore since God's purposes receive God's blessings. It makes sense to cooperate with Him.
Practically speaking, the peoples of the earth are a reality that we dare not ignore, even if we want to. They are a God-created reality that will be with us until the end. Every ministry, strategy, or methodology that ignores the reality of people group dynamics and the need for an indigenous church- planting movement within each people will do so at the cost of wasted time, money and manpower.
What's the Problem? If reaching peoples is a God-designed strategy that works better than targeting individuals alone, then why is this still such a radical concept for many sincere believers?
One reason is the cultural and historical baggage that Westerners bring to the missionary cause. Most Western and American Christians in particular have a difficult time understanding the complex ethnic makeup of the world we live in and how individuals within these ethnic groups think and live.
Westerners have been raised in societies which honor and exalt the image of the rugged individualist and independent thinking. No one has the right to tell anyone else how they should live or what they should think, not even family members. The family in Western society has been so fractured and splintered that it has lost the authority and power to control the actions of its members.
This individualism affects every aspect of our Christian life. It affects how we read, interpret and translate the Scriptures; how we get saved; how we worship; how we serve God and what strategies we develop to reach a lost world which is very different from the world we come from. We have developed methods and strategies to get people saved the same way we did, very individualistically and not in the context of a very cohesive ethnic group.
American Christians worship in churches that are a collection of fragments of families and various ethnic backgrounds. So when they first got to the mission field they were unprepared to plant a culturally relevant church within a cohesive ethnic group. Instead they focused on individuals, largely ignoring the implications of the surrounding culture
As a result, when missionaries first went out from the West, they most often began to get people saved one at a time by "extracting misfits and rebels" from their surrounding culture who then adapted to the missionary's culture. This resulted in the creation of a culturally "different" church which very few others from the surrounding people wanted to join. Dr. McGavran in his writings referred to this as the Mission Station Approach since the missionaries would live together in a common area.
Extracting individual converts is one thing we must not do if we want to see a whole people come to Christ. Donald McGavran quotes Bishop J. W. Picket, in his study Christ's Way to India's Heart, as saying,
"The process of extracting individuals from their setting in Hindu and Moslim communities does not build a Church. On the contrary it rouses antagonism against Christianity and builds barriers against the spread of the Gospel. Moreover, that process has produced many unfortunate, and not a few tragic results in the lives of those most deeply concerned... It has sacrificed much of the convert's evangelistic potentialities by separating him from his People. It has produced anemic Churches that know no true leadership and are held together chiefly by common dependence on the mission or the missionary." Must We Join Another Race to Be Saved?
McGavran goes on to say that converts achieved through extraction "felt that they were joining not merely a new religion, but an entirely foreign way of living--proclaimed by foreigners, led by foreigners and ruled by foreigners...In many parts of the field it was as psychologically difficult for a person to become a Christian as it would be for a white man in South Africa to join a Negro Church knowing that his children would intermarry with the black children. The person not only became a Christian, but he was generally believed to have joined another race." Our job is to give people access to the Gospel without putting up unnecessary cultural barriers for them to cross over.
Personal Salvation Is Still Necessary Bringing entire peoples to Christ does not in any way negate the need for the personal conversion of individual men and women. The strength and vitality of any church-planting movement depends on the number of truly born-again individuals.
McGavran says, "A Christward movement within a people can be defeated either by extracting the new Christian from their society (i.e. by allowing them to be squeezed out by their non-Christian relatives) or by the non-Christian so dominating the Christian that their new life in Christ is not apparent. An incipient Christward movement can be destroyed by either danger."
The Advantages of Church Planting or People Movements Dr. McGavran lists in his writings several advantages of seeking to reach individuals through the peoples within which they live.
"People Movements have five considerable advantages. First, they have provided the Christian movement with permanent churches rooted in the soil of hundreds of thousands of villages. For their continued economic life they are quite independent of Western missions. They are accustomed (unfortunately too accustomed) to a low degree of education. Yet their devotion has frequently been tested in the fires of persecution and found to be pure gold. They are here to stay. They are permanent comrades on the pilgrim way.
"They have the advantage of being naturally indigenous. In the Mission Station Approach the convert is brought in as an individual to a pattern dominated by the foreigner. The foreigner has set the pace and the style, often to his own dismay. But such denationalization is a very minor affair in true People Movements. In them the new Christians seldom see the missionary. They are immersed in their own cultures. Their style of clothing, of eating and of speaking continues almost unchanged. Their churches are necessarily built like their houses--and are as indigenous as anyone could wish. They cannot sing or learn foreign tunes readily, so local tunes are often used. Thus an indigenous quality, highly sought and rarely found by leaders of the Mission Station Approach churches, is obtained without effort by People Movement churches.
Enormous Possibilities of Growth "People Movements have a third major advantage. With them 'the spontaneous expansion of the Church' is natural. Spontaneous expansion involves a full trust in the Holy Spirit and a recognition that the ecclesiastical traditions of the older churches are not necessarily useful to the younger churches arising out of the missions from the West. New groups of converts are expected to multiply themselves in the same way as did the new groups of converts who were the early churches. Advocates of spontaneous expansion point out that foreign-directed movements will in the end lead to sterility and antagonism to their sponsors, and that therefore the methods now being pursued, here called the Mission Station Approach, will never bring us within measurable distance of the evangelization of the world.
"Desirable as spontaneous expansion is, it is a difficult ideal for the Mission Station Approach churches to achieve. They might be freed from all bonds to the Western Churches, they might be convinced that they had all the spiritual authority needed to multiply themselves, they might be filled with the Holy Spirit and abound in desire to win others to Christ, and yet--just because they form a separate people and have no organic linkages with any other neighboring people--they would find it extremely difficult to form new churches. In People Movement churches, on the contrary, spontaneous expansion is natural. Thus we come to the most marked advantage of these movements.
"These movements have enormous possibilities of growth. That these possibilities are today largely ignored and unrecognized even by the leaders of the churches does not diminish either the truth or the importance of this fact.
Providing the Normal Pattern of Christianization "These movements provide a sound pattern of becoming Christian. Being a Christian is seen to mean not a change in standard of living made possible by foreign funds, but change in inner character made possible by the power of God. This life, centering in the village church, often built by the Christians themselves, is seen to be the main feature of the Christian religion. There are no impressive institutions to divert attention from the central fact. Christians become 'people with churches, who worship God' rather than 'people with hospitals who know medicine,' or 'people with schools who get good jobs.' The health of the Christian movement requires that the normal pattern be well known, not merely to the non-Christian peoples, but to the leaders of church and mission and to the rank and file members. The People movement supplies the pattern which can be indefinitely reproduced. "
A Call to Unite Behind a Single Purpose ,In just a few days 4,000 Christian leaders from 200 countries will be coming together in Seoul Korea for the purpose of bringing the gospel to every people and every person. We have the opportunity to unite behind a common vision and purpose in ministry that will generate tremendous power and momentum toward the completion of the Great Commission. Regardless of what ministry we are involved in, one thing is basic. There must be an indigenous church-planting movement in every people group in order for every person to have access to the gospel and be properly discipled.
Our job should be to combine and coordinate our resources toward the common end of starting a church- planting movement within every people by the year 2000. God has given us a means to initiate a spontaneous turning to Christ within every people through the people movement approach. We should not miss this opportunity to work together toward that end.