“Hope Does Not Disappoint” (Rom. 5:5)
The Mission Story of Hope Chapel, Austin, Texas
This story should be subtitled: "Dangerous Things to Avoid, If You Want to Keep Your Church from Making a Global Impact."
- Avoid the Perspectives Course. This church didn't. The first course was held in fall, 1983. Senior pastor Dan Davis attended "out of sympathy for the poor coordinator." The "poor" coordinator, Lisa Dodson, ended up with 60 people in the first course, and Hope Chapel has never been the same. Lisa had spent six months at the U.S. Center for World Mission earlier in 1983, and as a result brought Perspectives back to Austin.
- Don't Obey the Challenge of God. This church did just the opposite. Steve Hawthorne, one of the Perspectives instructors, challenged the church to go out with Joshua Project (now a ministry division of Caleb Resources--see page 24 of this issue) and spy out the land in a spiritually needy country. They daringly responded, and now look what's happened.
- Don't Send Your Leaders to this Spiritually Needy Area --the Holy Spirit Might Speak to Them and Break Their Hearts with Compassion for the Needs They See. This church passed the "point of no return" when they sent 30 of their key leaders there for short-term visits in 1985 and 1987.
- Don't Pray and Ask God for Guidance and Be Willing to Creatively Respond with Whatever Available Resources You Have before You. If you do, God will answer you, and before you know it, your local church will be having a significant global impact. And you'll be responsible.
Hope Chapel "failed" to avoid any of these four and as a result are experiencing an incredible surge of vision for the homefront as well as for an unreached people group.
Since early 1989 Hope Chapel has linked with Partners International of San Jose, California. This linkage has placed a team of four on location in a large city of a Muslim country. (Security prevents disclosing details.) This country is officially closed to Christian missionaries, and the known actual Christians comprise less than .1% of the population.
Partners and Hope Chapel have established a "beach head" in a lower- middle income neighborhood of 200,000 within the city. Their goal is "to plant an indigenous local church within that neighborhood." The church commitment, decided on in October, 1987, is "understood to be a serious long-term commitment."
To date, over 40 adults from the Austin church have personally visited the mission location. Dan Davis reports that at least 300 out of the 900 worshipers at Hope Chapel "have a deep sense of ownership and involvement in the mission effort."
The team on location has successfully established themselves. A "tentmaker" business is underway. Two team members have lived in separate Muslim families for the past year, and have become highly proficient in the language. Positive bridges of relationship are being built in the neighborhood. But no illusions of a "quick work" are being harbored--the church and the team are committed for the long haul.
"Prayer for our mission effort has become an integral part of every prayer gathering in our church," says Dan Davis. A Sunday prayer meeting is devoted solely to that topic. Home Groups have adopted each of the individuals on the field team for consistent prayer.
Alex Arauja, Manager of International Ministries for Partners International, comments, "Hope Chapel is a tremendous example of thoroughness in missions --especially a depth of commitment to such a difficult area --in contrast to many churches, who are only superficial dabblers."
What has worked at Hope Chapel, that has resulted in this phenomenal level of commitment to plant a church in one of the toughest spots in the world? What can other churches learn from their example, and thus hasten the establishment of a church for every people? Here are nine observable factors. Don't miss any of them.
- Learning everything possible from experienced experts. The beginnings of Hope Chapel involvement was under the training of Joshua Project--for one month at the USCWM in Pasadena and then on location for two months in 1985. "Their training was so excellent," says Davis, "that it has formed the basis for everything else we have done." In addition to the primary support of Partners International since 1987, Hope has also received extensive help from Caleb Resources, Zwemer Institute, Frontiers, AIMS and local Muslim experts in Texas. In addition, several years ago the church discovered two Christian converts in the U.S. from the ethnic group they are trying to reach. Hope Chapel ministered to them, and in the process gained much valuable learning for the future work.
- First-hand involvement of key church leaders. "It started with me," says Davis. "I thought I was going on an interesting Christian excursion in 1985. Once I got to that city, the Lord ambushed me. As I prayed for that city, I fell in love with it, and my heart was broken for the people." When the second team went in 1987, it was led by associate pastor Mike Tait and his wife. This team did further research and strategizing, and also hosted 25 other key church leaders who took two-week summer vacations to visit the field. Their purpose was not to minister, but to learn and pray.
- Taking time to make the major decision to adopt an unreached people group. Hope Chapel's first trip to their adopted people group with Joshua Project was in 1985. The final church decision to make a long-term church planting commitment to the unreached neighborhood was not until October 1987. By that time, after the second round of visits, the decision was a powerful one and the "ownership" level was very high. "The vote was unanimous among all the church leadership," recalls Davis. "But even then there were some pretty confused people within the congregation, and three or four families may have left out of disunity with the vision." In their experience, any sooner would have been too soon for a meaningful church commitment to be finalized.
- Emphasis on local outreach in Austin. At first this sounds contradictory, but Davis observes: "Because we had a church-planting vision for our local area, we were much more attuned to the same cause in the larger world; it was a natural progression." In the early 80s Hope Chapel had planted two new churches in the Austin area. "Furthermore," notes Davis, "the interaction between world mission and local mission has continued to be one of cross-fertilization not competition. As people have come back from their trips overseas, it has radically changed our vision for our own city --in terms of intercession, unselfish cooperation with other churches, etc. Our recent growth is a direct outworking of that."
- Heavy prayer activity. "Prayer has been the seed-bed out of which our vision has grown," says Davis. The church teaches that this mission challenge is like Exodus 17 where Joshua fights, while Moses, Aaron and Hur intercede from a distance. "We see our field team leader in the role of Joshua and the intercessors who are at homebase in the roles of Moses, Aaron and Hur. The teamwork of all is crucial to the battle's successful outcome."
- A commitment to innovation and creative daring in responding to needs. Davis says, "Our commitment must be to constant innovation in all areas, including the freedom to fail. And our leadership must love change, instead of fighting it."
Financial commitment. Many churches have approached this in many different ways, but undoubtedly one of the reasons for the high level of ownership at Hope Chapel is because of their clear financial commitment to the task. Presently 17% of all church offerings received is committed to the foreign mission effort.
The four team members on the field are totally financially supported by the church, without needing to raise their own support. (Ultimately the goal is for the field team to be self-supported by business enterprises on location, which will also give them a viable legal reason for staying in the country, but the business income is not yet there.)
- Continual travel interaction from the church home team to the field team. Hope Chapel sees this to be crucial for three reasons: 1) First-hand contact with the field team provides motivation for the home team. 2) When godly people from the home church come alongside, the field team is nourished with strength and encouragement. 3) The process of going to the field is an effective recruitment and training vehicle for replenishing the field team. Replenishment preparation is particularly crucial because of the possibility of deportation of team members as the gospel starts to make impact.
- Commitment to the long haul. This quality perhaps stands out as the most crucial element in the whole equation.
These nine factors tell the story behind one church's powerful commitment to reaching the unreached. Their steps have not only begun to impact an unreached people who have been entirely without Jesus, but have also brought significant life, vitality and growth to the home church ministry!
Mission vision can impact your church!
Contact the following groups at 1605 Elizabeth St., Pasadena CA 91104 USA for ideas on how your church can excel in the sending phase of the Final Task! Mobilization Division, Perspectives Office.
(Author Phil Schenk is a pastor from Springfield, Ohio who served short-term at the Adopt-a-People Clearinghouse.)