World renowned mission agencies have challenged local churches to work with them in Finishing the Task (FTT). This vision, to launch indigenously-led church planting movements to targeted groups around the world, was presented 14-17 November at the Billy Graham Training Center, in Asheville, North Carolina, USA. The strategy targets 639 unengaged, unreached people groups (UUPGs) with populations over 100,000. These people groups represent 535 million people who have no known evangelical church planting work underway. Many also do not have evangelical resources in their native language.
Concert of Prayer
Although these people groups have not been forgotten, many are quite difficult to reach. Spiritual and political forces are creating strong resistance among many of these groups. Some are located in remote places where one has to travel for days just to enter the town limits.
The eighteen FTT partnering agency leaders (including presidents from four of the largest mission agencies: International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention, Wycliffe Bible Translators, Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) and Youth With A Mission (YWAM)) realize that even though their organizations have mobilized many missionaries, thousands of new missionaries are still needed to launch church planting movements among these people groups. Therefore, the agencies and pastors desire to follow the New Testament pattern by having local churches around the world lead the effort in sending out missionaries. However, leaders also understand that these local churches and missionaries will need to be equipped for this daunting task. This is where the partnering agencies can serve the local churches—by training workers, providing resources and making vital connections on the field.
This is clearly a new way of working together. Mission agencies are serving the local church as these churches take the lead in reaching the unengaged, unreached people groups.
By the end of the November conference, forty-one of the fifty-nine churches represented immediately responded by choosing a total of seventy UUPGs to work with. Nineteen churches indicated they would host a regional Finishing the Task conference within the next thirty-six months. The purpose of these regional events is for these churches to influence other churches in their area to reach the remaining UUPGs.
Pastors from US churches like North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia; Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California; Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Belmont Church in Nashville, Tennessee; Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho; and Northwood Church in Fort Worth, Texas, were part of the gathering.
To serve the churches better, FTT partnering agencies have trained “brokers” to assist partnering churches. Each broker will become an expert on the strengths of each of the eighteen FTT partnering agencies. They are trained to strengthen each church as it seeks to fulfill its goal. Brokers gain a wealth of knowledge to share with partnering churches, including human resources; tools; print, video and audio media resources; contacts in the field; leadership in hosting regional training events; and support in training churches for cross-cultural communication.
Partnership between Churches and Agencies
Engaging one of these people groups begins with prayer. However, this effort goes beyond simply praying for a people group. The church will go to the people group to seek out national partners within a nearby culture (or even within the region) and work together to reach the people group. Most groups have no scripture in their language, so the challenge of launching a church planting movement where there is no Bible is great.
According to Paul Eshleman, CCC’s vice president of Global Coverage and a member of the FTT strategy team, “From a human standpoint, you would look at it and say, ‘That’s ridiculous, you need professionals to do this.’ But from scriptural guidelines, we recognize that from within the church there are people God will prepare and send who have the ability to go into these peoples. Our agencies are going to serve them and help to train them and equip them. [We will] get those personnel mobilized out of the local church in North America and particularly from in region-national church partners, under the church’s direction and guidance.”
Eshleman, who is also chair of the Lausanne Strategy Working Group, went on to say that each church would need to develop customized strategies for reaching a certain people group. “For instance,” he said, “if it’s a Muslim group in a very difficult terrain and hard to access, that’s going to take one strategy. If it’s in a mega people group in China, that’s going to take a different strategy. Whatever it is, our agencies are committed to serving the churches to help them launch indigenously-led church planting movements.”
OneStory, a partnership of the five largest FTT agencies (IMB, YWAM, Wycliffe, TransWorldRadio and CCC), trains two person teams to work with translators in order to share fifty to sixty Bible stories in chronological order in the language of the people. They do a worldview study within that particular people group and then work over a two-year period to formulate and audio record sixty core stories that address the life issues of that people group. This can be used to launch a church planting movement among the people in their native tongue.
Some of these groups may never have the complete Bible translated in written form, so oral recordings are made and distributed among the people so that the stories can be shared within the members of the group. Wycliffe is partnering to craft these stories in the hopes that they can one day translate the scriptures in the language. This may indeed be one of the biggest missiological breakthroughs of our generation.
FTT is a movement birthed of the Spirit, across denominational lines. Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Presbyterians, non-denominational, westerners and non-westerners are coming together. The four largest organizations in FTT represent a combined total of more than fifty thousand full-time staff working in over 180 countries.
FTT conference speakers included Henry Blackaby; John Piper; Jerry Rankin, president of IMB; Bob Creson, president of Wycliffe; Steve Douglass, president of CCC; and Loren Cunningham, founder of YWAM. Many pastors from around the country also spoke, including Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Woodstock in Georgia; Durwood Snead, director of World Missions from North Point Community Church; and John Marshall, pastor of Second Baptist in Springfield, Missouri. Other speakers included Paul Eshleman; David Garrison, author of Church Planting Movements; Avery Willis, chairman of the International Orality Network; Grant Lovejoy, director of Oral Strategies for the IMB; Mark Anderson, international director for YWAM; Marcus Vegh, strategy team leader for FTT; and Bob Varney, executive director of Table-71 (the core group of FTT agencies).
A concert of prayer during the conference was led by Steve Fry, pastor of Belmont Church in Nashville, Tennessee, during which Christian leaders from Vietnam, the Middle East and India facilitated focused times of prayer for the UUPGs. Worship was led by Scott Wesley Brown.
Resources and Training
A FTT CD-ROM with all 639 groups has been developed to help churches select an UUPG. Also, a customized FTT deck of cards was created to assist a church in determining the seven criteria that best fit their particular church, including country, macro-religion, population, evangelical resources, threat level, freedom index and physical exertion. Audio and video resources from the conference will also be available to partnering churches and agencies 1 January 2006.
FTT Champion’s Training, will be conducted 14-16 March 2006 at the International Learning Center in Richmond, VA, USA, for any person wanting to be the “champion” for one of the FTT UUPGs for their local church (be in contact with the broker, assemble a team, etc.).
To read the FTT strategy, learn how to engage your local church with a broker, join your agency to the FTT partnership or register for the local church “champion” training event, visit www.finishingthetask.com/.
Contributor: Becky Hill