Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A New Missional Network … A New Generation of Cooperation

I’ve mentioned in previous posts the cooperative situation in which my church functions. Like a large and growing number of newly planted Southern Baptist churches, we are not affiliated with a local association. We do cooperate on a modest level through our state convention. Currently, the majority of our missions dollars are being invested in a four-year international partnership to plant churches among the Pachitea-Panao Quechua people of the Andes Mountains in Peru. While we remain Southern Baptist in our doctrine, we tend to take more of a “point-of-contact” approach to our missions giving. Our people want to see where their missions dollars go. They want to see and touch the impact of their missions giving in a personal way. They are not satisfied with, nor supportive of, sending all of their missions offerings to a centralized Baptist fund.

But, lately, I have felt led to involve our people in a more direct involvement in church planting and missions in North America. I want us to get involved in planting strong evangelical churches in places where there are no churches. I wonder … how many more churches can we plant in the suburbs of Atlanta? What about those places where people have basically no access to the Gospel of Jesus Christ … none at all? You know … those places where it just doesn’t work to run a couple of ads in the newspaper, do a bulk mailer, and have 200 people in attendance within four weeks. What about the places where the spiritual landscape is cold and dark … the Shadowlands of North America?

My friend and Mission M Possible ministry partner, Roger Ferrell, has also struggled with this same desire. In fact, he’s been doing something about it. Roger has been doing some research over the fast few months, trying to locate those places in North America where there is little or no Gospel access … places where there are no solid, evangelical churches. It hasn’t been easy. Our denomination (interestingly) has no information on this at all. But,believe it or not, these places do exist. Many are in Canada, but there are also some completely unchurched communities in the United States, as well.

So, Roger developed the idea for a new missional network (well, I helped a little bit) that we want to call The Shadowlands Project. Here’s our idea, in a nutshell:

  1. Locate and target the most unchurched communities in North America.
  2. Target one community at a time for the planting of a healthy, doctrinally sound, evangelical church.
  3. Locate missional churches willing to invest in a network which has the sole purpose of planting churches in the those communities.
  4. Invite those churches to invest, financially, in the support of a church planting family and/or team to relocate to that community and begin the planting of a healthy church.
  5. Challenge those churches to invest a portion their North American missions volunteer efforts in the support of that new church plant.
  6. Provide Church Planting training events and missions experiences for church groups through our “training wing” of the network, Mission M Possible.
  7. Once the church planting task in that community is complete, shift the focus of the network to the next community on the Shadowlands strategic list.

We think this may be a new level … a new generation … of Baptist cooperation. It could be an especially attractive missional network for the rapidly increasing plethora of non-associational Southern Baptist churches. This could also be an effective, inexpensive way for new church plants to immediately and directly get involved in planting new churches and rapidly get church planting established in the “DNA” of that new church.

For the record … Roger and I are both lifelong Southern Baptists, but we will certainly welcome the input and cooperation of like-minded and like-hearted believers from other denominations or non-denominations. We just want to plant churches. We just want to be a part of a huge, difficult, challenging vision. But we do envision that this will be something that many Southern Baptist churches will be able to “wrap their minds and hearts around.”

We’re not asking anyone to abandon any association or group that they are a part and to which they are faithful. We simply want to offer a cutting-edge, “missions frontier,” point-of-contact missional network for churches that are up for the challenge. This won’t be easy. It won’t be something that someone can just mail a check to and then forget about it. The Shadowlands Project will require a real, hands-on, practical missions commitment.

Just think … if we could get just 50 churches to pledge support of just $1,000 per year, we could fund a church planting family (and perhaps another team member) in a manner that is generous and responsible. Not with a meager, insulting, welfare-level pittance of supplemental support. We could support a family with a livable salary until the church was established. We could give a church planter on the “last frontier” in North America the support of a strong and viable network. We could greatly increase this man’s opportunity for a successful, thriving ministry.

What do you think? Would your church be interested in The Shadowlands Project? Give us some input. If you’re interested in becoming a part of this new network and vision,please send me an e-mail with your phone number on it. Roger or I would love to talk to you about it.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Student Church Planters - Going International?

I recently returned from the nation of Peru. I led a small contingent from my church on a "Vision Trip" with REAP North Peru, a strategy team with the International Mission Board of the SBC.

Our visit led us to this valley in the province of Huanuco. It is called Pachitea. There is a unique people group that lives here called the Pachitea Quechua. There are approximately 60,000 of them. As best we could tell, there were about 600 believers in the entire region.

They are an unreached people group. We are considering partnering with REAP North to become the "missionaries" to the Pachitea Quechua people.

As I walked through the villages of Pachitea, I realized how effective students (teens and college) from North America would be in helping reach people like these. The work is tough. There is much travel, walking, hiking, and even camping! But there are, literally, dozens of small settlements on those mountain tops where the Gospel has never, ever gone before.

How cool would it be to take some faithful Christian students from North America to those mountains and take the message of Jesus Christ for the very first time?

It can be done! It should be done! Pray for my church as we consider this partnership. Sometime in the next five years, we may be organizing a group of teen-agers through Mission M Possible to take the Gospel to this final frontier...

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Youth Pastors Who Are Called To Church Planting

Yesterday I was asked to teach a seminar at an upcoming church planting conference. The title of my breakout session is Leaping From Youth Ministry to Church Planting. This is an interesting topic and one Geoff and I have been exploring for several months. Here are some of the questions we have been asking:
  • What percentage of church planters come from youth ministry?

Answer so far - quite a few. Okay, so we don't have Barnaesque statistics on that yet. But we're working on it. If anyone has those stats, I'd love to hear 'em.

  • How can youth pastors transition successfully from youth ministry to occupational church planting?

Ah, there's the rub. We've heard lots of horror stories about youth pastors going into their senior pastor's office and telling him of their calling to church planting. Then they hear the dreaded words: "I'll need your resignation letter by tomorrow morning." So instead of thinking through church planting strategy, they spend the next 24 hours thinking how to tell their wives they have to get a job at Home Depot. Immediately.

So one key is, we have to climatize the church, and the senior pastor, before any announcements. What is the best way to do that? Engage the church in church planting. So my recommendation is that when a youth pastor feels called to church planting, he or she start planting churches using the resources he or she currently has, namely, students. By familiarizing the church with church planting and giving them a heart for multiplication, student ministers will guarantee a better response if and when they decide to step away to be a full-time church planter. Not that working at Home Depot while planting a church is a bad idea, but it would be nice to have the support of your former church and former pastor. If climatizing is done well, they could end up as your sponsor, sending you money, people and resources to plant a new church. And that is good for them, for the kingdom and for your family.

So be patient. Read and reread the parable of the talents. Be faithful, and be wise. And don't jump till you are sure you are called to jump. A call to church planting does not mean you have to resign. It may mean you lead your church to multiply itself. And that is just cool.

  • Does every youth pastor who feels a calling to church planting have to leave his current position?

I sort of got a little long-winded and answered this one already. But this begs a follow-up question: how do you fufill a calling to plant churches without becoming a full-time church planter? If you are a youth pastor, it may mean your youth group adopts a new church plant, sends encouragement emails to church planters' kids, offers your church or homes as Safehouses (see the Safehouses tab on our website), gives money to church planting, educates your church on church planting, takes a church planting mission trip (like a MissionMPossible deployment event or a Powerplant week), or actually plants a church. Shoot us an email if you need more ideas, we'd be glad to help (unless Geoff is fishing, in which case he will ignore your email. But he will get back to you the next week and be glad to help if you will listen to his fishing stories. "It was thi-is big...")

If you are a youth pastor who is considering church planting or a church planter who came from youth ministry, I'd love to hear your story. We may use it at the conference. And if you would like to join us February 26-27th in Cumming, GA, just go to www.churchplanters.com. You can register for the conference and for my seminar. I promise to have meticulous statistics by then. Just look for the guys in the orange aprons. Come to think of it, "you can do it, we can help" is not a bad slogan...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The "Church in the Container"

I found this awesome story about a United Methodist church plant in Berlin called "The Church in the Cntainer." The story was written by Kathleen LaCamera, a United Methodist News Service correspondent based in London.

What an inspiration! In this place of desolation and destruction (as many as 2,000 unexploded bombs from World War II are buried underneath the streets and buildings!), this group of believers has planted a church that meets in a storage container! Their vision is to reach their community through social ministries and action, especially ministries directed toward students. Check it out!

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Cow Story

Well, my Maasai ramblings haven't generated the conversation that I thought they would. So, I'll make this my last post. Of course, I saved my best story and reflection for last.

One interesting character that I met among the Maasai was an elder named Oneipu. (He bears an uncanny resemblance to the elder in the picture ... just a little more white hair.) Oneipu was a tribal leader in the area. On one of our last days in the area, one of Oneipu's cows fell in a hole and the men couldn't get it out. Its back was broken. Oneipu stayed out all night to protect the cow from hyenas and leopards. They could not allow this great wealth to be eaten by the wild animals. They needed to slaughter it for the people.

So, the Maasai developed a plan. They wanted us to take the missionary truck (a Toyota Hi-Lux, not found in the states) down in the bottom of the ravine, where we would all load the cow into the truck, and haul it back up to Oneipu's boma.

Well, it was an absolutely crazy and hilarious adventure ... but we got it done. I don't know how, but we picked up that half-ton cow and loaded it in the back of that truck.

When we reached the boma, Oneipu's son, George (who was the pastor of the church where we were serving), asked me to preach the Gospel. His father was not a Christian and many of the other men were not Christians. Needless to say, I was unprepared ... so I asked God to give me a message. It was in that moment, as I looked at the old cow "chowwing down" on the tall grass, and as I looked at those men, that God gave me my text ... the parable of the lost sheep. The only problem was, I had not seen any sheep in Maasailand ... I didn't even know if they had ever seen any sheep. Sooooo ... I didn't think that God would mind very badly if I did a bit of contextualization. I adapted the parable to that of "the lost cow." Instead of the shepherd, the parable had a herdsman ... and you can guess the rest. (Now, I know that some of you have tuned me out at this point and declared me a heretic, but just stick around, you'll like the ending!)

As God filled my heart and mouth with the words (and it was God, by the way), those men sat silently and listen. Their eyes kept darting from me to the cow lying on the ground behind me. After all, we had just lived out the words of this story! We had just left all of the other cows in the boma and gone on this great mission to save the one lost cow! At the end of my message, I handed over the "invitation time" to one of the local pastors.

What happened next was a holy moment that I know that I will never again experience on this side of heaven. Oneipu, the local tribal elder, arose from his seat in the rear, walked over to George (his son) and me, got down on his ancient knees between us, and gave his life to Jesus Christ. It was an unbelievable event, both to us and to the Maasai men who were in attendance. No other elders in that area had commited themselves to Jesus. They considered the Jesus religion to be a faith for only women and children. But on this day, the unthinkable had happened. A Maasai elder was walking with Christ. Everything had changed. In the coming days, Oneipu's conversion would surely lead to the conversion of many other local men as they followed his leadership.

The next day we had our closing celebration as we prepared to depart for home. Oneipu worshiped for the first time, as the only "Elder" of the church, at his son's side. It was a remarkable day. Right before we left, after the lunch "feast," Oneipu called me over and grabbed an interpreter. He placed a hand on my shoulder, and put a bony finger in my chest. He said, "I will never forget the day that you all saved my cow, for that was the day that God saved me." Shivers ...

Contextualization ... it means to reach people where they are, within their culture, with the message of Jesus Christ. All it takes is sharing the Bible and the message of Jesus through language and methods that the people of a given culture will understand. We do it so well on the international mission field. But why do we stink at it here in the USA? Traditionalism, maybe? Ignorance, pride, and arrogance ... probably.

Why are so many of our churches in North America plateaued or declining? Why are our baptisms on a steady downward spiral? Why is the church so rapidly becoming irrelevant here? It's because of our complete lack of contextualization. We are not only NOT reaching people in the current 21st century American culture ... we have DEFINED that culture as the actual ENEMY! How blindly, ignorantly absurd.

My prayer? God, please open the eyes and hearts of our dying churches in America! Help us understand that we live in a mission field, which demands a missional mindset and ministry strategy! Lord, as churches all around us are dying, please give birth to new churches which will embrace the culture, embrace the people you have created, and love them through ministry (not just judgmental preaching) to bring them to Jesus. Amen

Thursday, November 30, 2006

What Will We Do?

I met many young Maasai men in Kenya. They were men of deep thought, and enthusiastic conversationalists. During my days there we would visit from "boma" to "boma" in the mornings. (A "boma" is a Maasai homestead built around the patriarch and his multiple wives and children.) After an adventurous lunch (we never knew what we were going to get) and a mandatory one-hour rest period, we would gather inder the roof of the church for some awesome Bible studies and incredibly deep theological discussions.

As the Maasai of Ilkushin Baptist Church pondered their vision of "a church on every hill," questions began to emerge. One of the most fascinating and interesting questions that they asked me during one of these lively discussions was, "What will we do when everyone in a Christian?" This one had them perplexed. You see, in their world ... in their valley ... almost every person they could imagine was following Jesus. They sincerely saw a quandry ... what would they do when their entire "world" was converted?

I was blessed to challenge them with my perspective on their quandry. I encouraged them not to rely entirely upon the Western missionaries to take the Gospel to the other places. I reminded them that there were Maasai in may valleys in Kenya and Tanzania. They could send out their own missionaries to reach their own people in faraway places. They seemed pretty excited about the idea.

Wouldn't it be incredible if we could ask that question here in the U.S.? "What will we do when everyone around us is a Christian?" Perhaps if we would stop trying to help God convict people of their sin, if we would stop standing against and boycotting everything and begin standing for something, if we could embrace the people within our culture rather than alienating them as our cultural enemies ... then we might be a bit closer to asking that profound, holy, unthinkable question.

Maybe we should just follow the Jesus methods of evangelism ... meeting needs, ministry, grace, love, healing, and forgiveness.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Church Buildings & Church Vision - Maasai Style

My first experience with Maasai church life was one of simplicity. Like their homes, their churches were simple and functional. This picture is actually a bit "rougher" than the churches that I encountered. This one seems to be patterned after their home construction.

The churches where we worshiped and spoke were simple metal roofs on rough rafters with cedar posts. Most of them were open-air with handmade benches. Incredibly, the construction team with our church group built three such "roofs" during eight days on the field.

The vision of the Maasai Christians was incredible! They had absolutely no desire to "fluff" their church buildings with expensive decorations and furnishings. Instead, they wanted to start more churches. On my first day there, the pastor of Ilkushin Baptist Church, a sweet, godly man named George Oneipu, took me out in front of his humble church and identified three hills in the distance in three different directions. He told me, through a translator, that it was their desire to see a new church on each of those hills. Indeed, it was their vision that you would never be able to stand upon a hill in Maasailand without being able to see many churches in every direction!

What an awesome vision and testimony! But how far away from that kind of vision are the churches of North America? We built three churches with $5000 in Kenya. Here in the states, churches with perfectly functional facilities will drop $5 Million for "renovations" in a heartbeat. Just imagine how many new churches could be planted in the United States with the money that our churches throw away on "cosmetics" and "looks."

Are we too busy building fortresses on our own "hills" to have a vision for the "mountains" of lost people that surround our churches? Something to think about. What do you think?