When we look at the remaining task to be finished of reaching and making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20), we quickly realize that there is much resistance to the gospel. We also see that there are some common characteristics that non- or less-reached nations share. For example:
- Resistance to the gospel
- Strong community/family-based culture
- Oral culture
- Strong spiritual strongholds
- Major non-Christian religions, such as Islam, Buddhism, Traditional Religions, etc.
Strategies that have worked well in other parts of the world are not giving the same and expected results among these nations. Albert Einstein is quoted to have said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Below I would like to describe some principles and a process that have made a break-through possible among some of these remaining nations to be reached. Wherever these principles and this process have been implemented (that I know of), there have been many churches planted in a very short time. In one country in sub-Saharan Africa, one leader who got trained and went to implement this approach said, “We have planted about forty-two churches in three years; but with this approach, the Lord has helped us plant 150 churches in three months.” There have been good results among Muslims, Buddhists, Traditional Religions, etc.
Because the space allowed in this article is too short to give details, I will give principles followed by a short description. Every principle comes from scripture. I will use Luke 10:1-11 (parallels: Matthew 10:5-14; Luke 9:1-6) as the main text.
I. Go Where Jesus Is about to Go
Jesus sends seventy-two of his disciples, two by two. The Bible says that he “sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go” (Luke 10:1-11).
The success in church planting happens when God himself is at work. So we will see success only if we go where he is at work. The Church Planting Movement (CPM) is not a human-made movement. It is an act of God. Making sure that we do church planting where God is at work is crucial.
The question then is how do we know where God is at work?
II. Make Sure to Pray!
Jesus told his disciples that they should pray that God raises workers for the field. The most strategic prayer will be to ask God to raise workers from within the harvest field to do the work. Raising and developing local leaders to do the work without much help from outsiders is a key for long-term success.
We should also pray to know the mind of God and where he is at work. When we discover that and join him where he is at work, we will undoubtedly see success. Also, any spiritual victory is won in prayer. Reaching people and winning them for Christ is a spiritual battle. Prayer is at the beginning, middle, and end of any successful ministry.
The long-term work of reaching a people group should remain on the shoulders of local leaders.
III. Look for the Person of Peace
In Luke 10:5-8, Jesus gives instructions about what to do when the disciples get to the places where they will minister. He says that the first thing to do is to look for a person of peace—and when they have found him or her, to stay with that person (i.e., do their ministry through that person). Jesus said, “Do not move around from house to house.” I believe Jesus is saying that we should not do house-to-house evangelism. The first and main activity of a church planter is to discover the person of peace in a given area or people group. When he or she has found that individual, he or she should do his or her ministry through and with this person.
The presence of the person of peace is the indication that God is at work in that place or among that people group. The person of peace is characterized by hospitality and other things; however, the main characteristic is his or her interest in the spirituality the church planter expresses through his or her attitude, language, the things he or she speaks about, etc. He or she has a spiritual hunger, is seeking the truth, and is attracted by any spiritual person and/or spiritual discussion. God is working in the life of that person. This is what creates the connection with the church planter.
Another characteristic of the person of peace who will play a role in reaching the area or the people group is that he or she has influence in the community, bad or good. For example, in John 4, the Samaritan woman had a bad testimony and influence in the village; however, she happened to be the person of peace and opened up her community to salvation. Another example is Cornelius in Acts 10; he had a good testimony and influence in the community and he happened to be a person of peace and opened up his family and household to salvation.
IV. Either Do Your Ministry through the Person of Peace or Leave
When a person of peace is not found in a community or an area, Jesus said to not do anything—to just leave. It means that it is not a place where Jesus is about to visit; God is not at work there; it is not God’s time for that place. Leave, pray more, and plan to come back later.
Sometimes a missionary will spend years in one place without seeing anyone interested in what he or she has to say or do. We spiritualize that by saying he or she is sowing and someone else will come and harvest. After some time, maybe up to six months, if we don’t discover a person of peace, we should leave, visit other places, looking for the person of peace.
When the person of peace is found, the church planter becomes his or her shadow. He or she will do ministry through that person and his or her network of relationships in the community: family members, friends, etc. We should avoid as much as possible winning one person at a time, instead focusing on families and affinity groups in the community.
Sometimes among Muslims, Satan will “give” us one family member and keep other family members. In this situation, when we win one, the rest become upset and not only persecute the one, but become even more opposed to the gospel.
The church planter should focus on the other members of the family of the person of peace and also his or her other network of relationships in the community.
The church planter’s agenda, as an outside leader, becomes “model, equip, watch, and leave.”
V. Respond to the Needs: Compassion Ministries
Jesus said, “Heal the sick who are there, and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near you’” (Luke 10:9). Before even giving the word, we should respond to the needs of the community. The best way to show the love of God is to help people in practical ways to meet their needs. This way of showing God’s love opens up communities and gives the church planter the opportunity to look for the person of peace. We have seen communities opening up because a Christian comes in and helps with health issues, schools, seed banks, etc. Hundreds of churches have been started because the love of God for people has been practically showed.
VI. Give the Word of God by Doing Discovery Bible Studies
When we start giving the word of God, our goal should be to make disciples, not converts. In Matthew 20:18-20, Jesus said to make disciples and teach them to obey. A disciple is someone who obeys his or her master. We should do “obedience-based discipleship” and avoid the “knowledge-based discipleship,” where people are filled with knowledge, but their lives have nothing to do with what they know. The level of knowledge should progress with the level of obedience.
Instead of teaching or preaching, doing Discovery Bible Studies helps make obedient disciples. It also helps people see the Bible (not the church planter) as the authority.
The Discovery Bible Study is simple and consists of: (1) reading or listening to the scripture, (2) asking everyone to say it in his or her own words, (3) asking everyone what he or she understands (formulate the truth), and (4) asking everyone how he or she will obey the truth discovered. Because it is a group discussion, there is a group self-correction in the process.
V. Start Churches that Multiply
As the group does the Discovery Bible Studies, the members will discover the truths about God, Jesus, humanity, etc., and come to the conclusion of their need of Christ. Decisions will be made. They will be baptized and organized in communities of disciples (churches). If the church planter works according to the agenda of “model, equip, watch, and leave,” he or she will build the DNA of reproduction in the disciples that will lead to churches that reproduce.
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