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Fruitful Practice # 1 Target the Unreached

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Welcome to the first in a series of articles on Fruitful Practices for Church Planting. Periodically, I will discuss some fruitful practices for church planting that I have come to understand over the past thirty-eight years.

The term Fruitful Practices really fits what I want to discuss. Some organizations have a list of “standard practices” that refer to requirements for excellence or certification. Fruitful Practices, on the other hand, is not a list of benchmarks to be met. They are practices that are found in thousands of church planting movements. New church planting efforts would do well to follow them. Denominations and agencies would benefit from using them to evaluate their present church planting efforts.

Fruitful Practice #1 Target the Unreached

Two decades ago I wrote an article detailing The Importance of Ethnic Groups in Africa. They are no less important to missions in other parts of the world. There are more than 16,400 unique people groups in the world, many of whom view the world vastly different from their fellow citizens on the planet. God not only established this diversity of ethnic groups, he went on to send us to each of them with His saving message.

Right now, there are churches on every continent, yet many ethnic groups still lack a vital, multiplying community of believers. The Joshua Project, one of the premier people group data repositories, reports that more than 6,700 people groups still need an initial church planting movement. Other researchers contend there are many more. In a blog article I defined the term unreached peoples and discussed why researchers come up with different numbers. By anyone’s measurement there are thousands of groups without churches.

If you are tempted to think that these unreached people groups are small, hidden away peoples, you would be surprised to know that 34 of them have a population of 10 million or more. Hundreds of them have a million or more.

It is a sad truth of the current state of Christian missions that, even though unreached people groups have been showcased at international forums for more than three decades, churches, denominations, and agencies continue to send the overwhelming bulk of their workers and spend the majority of their monies on missions among the reached people groups.

Before any of us begin any new work, I suggest that we ask ourselves an extremely important question. Is this new mission effort going to be mounted among an unreached people group? If not, why do we consider this mission a priority over working among the unreached?

I am not pleading for pull out from existing works among the reached. However we need to seriously consider beginning new works among those who have been neglected for decades. If you are a member of a congregation that is about to begin something new in missions, ask leadership the above question. If you are an administrator or consultant for a denomination or agency that is considering launching a new work, ask the same question.

Many of these unreached people groups do not have the scriptures in their own language. Translation agencies have the opportunity to give these people mother tongue scriptures and play a role in planting the first churches among them. When translation agencies target churched or reached populations with their translations they run the risk of the mother-tongue scriptures they produce being marginalized because the Christians, especially the leaders, have grown accustomed to using a language of wider use translations. When the Bibleless unreached are targeted, scripture translation becomes a tool in an overall program of church planting. The mother-tongue scriptures are part of congregational life from the outset.

Please pray for the unreached people groups of the world. God is already there, preparing them for reception of His saving grace. Ask the Lord of the Harvest what role you can play in reaching them.

Additional Articles of Mine on This Topic:
A Field Selection Model for Use at Academic Institutions
Field Selection Criteria for Africa
Field Selection Criteria Definitions

Ralph Winter Completes His Service 1924-2009

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Ralph Winter Completes His Service

Missionary Scholar, Motivator, Mover and Visionary died on May 24th, 2009 at 84.

Ralph Winter one of the most influential Evangelical missions leaders has completed a tenure of service for the Lord that began, at least as a full-time missionary, in 1956 in Guatemala where he served with the Presbyterian church of ten years.

Upon return from Guatemala, Winter began is twenty years of teaching and motivating missionaries and missionaries to-be at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California.

In 1976 the master teacher moved to role of master missions strategist by founding the U.S. Center for World Missions, not far from Fuller.

I have been inspired for many years as I read Dr. Winter’s editorials in Frontier Missions. In recent years he has coined a term “re-amateurization of missions”, referring to the preference among many churches and Christian leaders to emphasize short-term missions over well thought out strategic missions planning and evaluation. “Missions, it seems, has become any Christian volunteering to be sent anywhere in the world at any expense to do anything for any time period.”

Ralph Winter was revolutionary, in my view, in his approach to such world problems as malaria and cancer which he viewed as demons. He organized prayer networks against both of these killers.

I must also mention that his editorship of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement book truly spawned a world movement of the study of missions at the grassroots level, in local congregations and living rooms around the globe.

Last month’s Missions Frontiers, without an editorial by Dr. Winter, seemed limp in my hands. But, I am convinced that Christian missions is stronger because he was a leader among us for so many years.

I pause, and I hope you will too, to thank the Lord for this great servant. Thank you Lord for Ralph Winter, may his memory live on.

How Many Christians Does it Take to Send a Missionary?

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

How Many Christians Does it Take to Send a Missionary?

How many Christians does it take to send a missionary? None, of course. The Lord sends them. There is no disputing that fact. He raises up all the leaders that His church needs to “to prepare His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:12,13)

A lot of what God does is mysterious, even unexplainable. This is especially true concerning the way He calls and sends missionaries. It does not seem to me that He raises them up though any standard, common or preferred channels from one generation to the next. He delivers their support, both financial and spiritual, from some of the most unexpected sources – so unexpected that that I often miss seeing them. At times His movement is brought into sharper focus, for me, through research data. Such clarity came to me recently when I was invited by Missions Resource Network to attend The State of the Gospel 2009 a Mission Exchange webinar presented by Jason Mandryk.

Among the wealth of data that Mandryk presented was a set of facts that changed the way I perceive what the Lord is doing among churches in the Majority World. You may be unfamiliar with the term ‘Majority World’, but more familiar with the terms ‘third world’, ‘developing countries’, or ‘poorer nations’. The designation Majority World refers to those same people, but highlights the reality that the majority of humankind lives in these countries.

Mandryk revealed that currently it takes far fewer Christians in the majority world to send out a missionary than it takes for Christians in richer countries to send one out. According to Mandryk’s data, it takes one thousand Canadian Christians to send out a missionary, close to double that many in the United States, and 3,500 in the UK. Among the Churches of Christ, the fellowship I belong to, it takes 2,200 USA members to send out a missionary couple or a single. In parts of the majority world the picture is quite different. It takes 222 Mongolian Christians to sent out a missionary and four hundred Singaporeans to do the same. In the much poorer African countries of Niger and Mali it takes 451 and 608 respectively. Spain is the only non-majority world country ranking in the top ten countries when it comes to membership/missionaries sent ratio. Other countries in the top ten are Lebanon, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Faeroe Islands, and Thailand. This data was collected from Protestant, Anglican, and independent churches and includes only countries where Christians have sent out fifty or more missionaries.

Why such a disparity between majority world churches and the resource flush churches of the west? There may not be any clear answer, but one can deduce some likely realities. (1) Churches do not have to be wealthy to send out missionaries. People in Nepal, Niger, and Mali rank among the poorest of poor, yet they support missionaries. (2) Very small congregations can be extremely missional in outlook and actions. Of course there are large congregations in Singapore and Thailand, but small groups of believers typical to countries like Mongolia, Niger, and Mali seem to understand that the Lord wants them to reach out across cultural barriers and plant churches. It does not take a mega church to send missionaries. (3) Young, evangelical congregations, where most of the members are first or second generation believers, have missions in their very DNA. For them, sending out missionaries is normal and doable.

In an article titled Costa Rica: Sending Missionaries to Africa the Christian World News reported that a congregation of one hundred in one of San Jose’s poorest neighborhoods uses eighty percent of its income to train and support their own members to be church planters in Africa. Read the amazing story of how these poor Christians have started a bakery and an auto repair business to support their missionaries. “With the Bible in one hand and tools in the other, future missionaries work hard to maintain their companions in Africa.” In the past eight years, this congregation has sent out 21 missionaries. Make no mistake these are true missionaries – they learn the language and culture of the Senegalese and Malians they minister among. God has blessed them.

Then there is the story of, Philippe and Ruth Sagara, who are missionaries to the Bozo people of Mali. In the early 1990s the Sagara were the first Malians sent out as cross-cultural missionaries by their brothers and sisters in the Gospel Missionary Union. God blessed their efforts and before the year 2000 had arrived, nine other couples were sent out by this Malian denomination. The fact that they are Malian has not sheltered them from the adjustment struggles common to all cross-cultural missionaries. In some cases “the temptation is not to put a priority on language learning,” and settle for using a trade language like Bambara. But, the time and effort put in mother-tongue language learning has paid great church growth dividends. Today, some of the more experienced Malian missionaries train and counsel Western missionaries who continue to arrive to labor along side them.

Some might say these case studies and data only points out the obvious – it cost less to send missionaries from the majority world than those from richer nations. That may be true, but it has very little to do with the results revealed in this data. Western Christians send western missionaries at western support levels. The majority world Christians make similar financial sacrifices to send their brothers and sisters out at majority world support levels.

It would be a misuse of this data for Christians of richer nations to justify a scaling back of the number of Western missionaries they send out and redirect their funds to sponsoring majority world missionaries who can be sent for less. What this data shows is that Majority World Christians have taken seriously the task of sending their own to the unreached. For western Christians, agencies, and churches to step in and take over what these sacrificial Christians are already doing well would be counter productive. Why take from them what God is already allowing them to do on their own? Western Christians may need to view what their Majority World brethren are doing as an example or model of what they ought to be about. In these times it seems God is using Christians in what used to be considered ‘the mission field’ to set the pace for the ‘historically Christian nations.’

I am convinced that this shift has little to do with any recent strategy adjustments. For it is evident that God is, in many cases, using those who have very little understanding of strategic matters. They simply have a healthy understanding of what He has done and is doing among them. They are grateful and prayerful. They trust in His promises and move out in faith, expecting Him to be faithful, not based upon what they do, but upon who He is.

What is ahead in this new era of missions? What else will the Western church learn from their Majority World brethren? I am not sure. What I do know is – this is an exciting time I are living in. Thank you Lord for allow me to to witness it.

Stories of Africa

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

We have just gone live with an additional website Stories of Africa. The site presents African writers and non-Africans who have written about Africa.  It is about the authors and their works.

Stories of Africa does contain a RSS newsfeed of BBC’s Africa Service, however it goes behind the news are reveals the careers of the Reporters of news from Africa.

The Stories Tellers of Africa, including novelists, short story writers, and poets are presented.

Stories of Africa will present both noted and obscure Scholars who written on the gambit of African Studies from the politics and people groups to the religion and philosophy.

If you enjoy reading about Africa, you will enjoy knowing something about the writers themselves.

If you are a non-fiction or fiction writer who has explored Africa and her people in your work, we could be interested in highlighting you and your material.

Give Stories of Africa a look.