Let me begin this post by telling you a brief encounter I had that nearly changed my entire approach to ministry. A couple of years ago I attended our state evangelism conference where I ended up meeting a missionary from Asia. He was there to teach a class on a new church planting methodology that boasted some seriously impressive numbers. Within the last decade, practitioners have planted over 80,000 churches and baptized some 2 million people!
I was immediately taken with the numbers.
As I listened, I felt the stir of excitement growing in my heart as I tried to imagine what it would be like if such an incredible church planting movement were to take place here in the States.
And then I began to research.
Here’s what the strategy looks like in a nutshell. The missionary goes out to an unreached people group (UPG) and immediately begins to share the gospel. As soon as he gathers five or so converts he then takes them through a six week discipleship program. Each week during the program the new converts are to go out and share the gospel with everyone they possibly can. When they gather five or so new converts they also begin to take them through this six week study. So in essence, each week the initial convert is only one week ahead of those whom he is discipling. As he learns from the missionary, he immediately turns around and teaches that material to his converts. And guess what? Those second generation converts are to do the same thing, beginning their own group. Get the idea? This methodology is intended to create an ever expanding number of these groups.
Here’s the problem. Once the first group finishes a six week program, the missionary calls them a church and moves on. And consequently these “churches” sorely lack adequately trained pastors or any kind of culturally-contextualized grounding in God’s Word. Quite literally, two ladies who meet in a hut would qualify as a “church”, using this methodology.
Now imagine that you are a part of a culture whose beliefs have been animistic for the past 1,000 years. Such beliefs would undoubtedly be deeply entrenched in to the hearts and minds of the native people. Further imagine that this is all you’ve ever known. Do you think that a six week program would be enough to help you totally recalibrate your entire worldview?
Well, of course not. It’s hard enough for new converts who were born in to a Christian home to begin to learn what it means to follow Christ, let alone someone who (apart from 6 weeks of basic instruction) has never been exposed to anything remotely similar to Christianity.
It is not surprising then, that many of these “churches” quickly die out, or worse, mix their native beliefs with Christianity so that the resulting religion is nowhere close to what we find in the Bible.
This whole methodology is driven by speed. In an heir of what may be false humility, proponents are quick to point out that all believers need is the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Ironically though, is that what we really find in the Bible? The Holy Spirit is undoubtedly the one who brings about effective change in a believer’s heart. But as He has ordained the end, so has He ordained the means. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus has instructed us to reach and teach new believers. So God, in His wisdom, has chosen to use us as instruments in helping to make disciples. We also see references for the need of pastors and teachers in the body (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, James 3:10, Ephesians 4, Acts 20, 1 Peter 5, etc.).
What’s really driving the ideology here is not a concern for handing the ministry over to the native population, but rather, a notion that taking the time to thoroughly disciple new believers and train pastors is simply too slow.
As I dug around and emailed my missions professor, I ended up coming across a ministry called Reaching and Teaching led by Dr. David Sills (Professor of Missions at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). In his book (also named “Reaching and Teaching”) he tells the story of how Baptists, succumbing to the “need for speed” mentality, began to pull out of Ecuador in order to reach other UPGs. When he arrived there as a missionary some years later, many pastors urged him to not plant more churches. When he asked why, the indigenous pastors told him that in some cases pastors were trying to serve between 8-10 (and sometimes more) churches. Only half of the Baptist churches in Ecuador have a pastor and of those pastors, only 17% have received adequate theological training. When he asked some of the people in the churches what their biggest needs were (and being so poor they were undoubtedly many), their first response was the need for pastoral and leadership training.
And that is exactly what Reaching and Teaching seeks to do.
If we plant 80,000 churches which either fall apart or give way to syncretism in a few years, we have not really obeyed the Great Commission. Not only must we reach people, but we must teach those who are reached.
There are many great organizations out there for you to support. But I would like to ask you to please consider praying for, giving to, and going on a mission trip with Reaching and Teaching. Below is a short video to help you get better acquainted with this wonderful ministry.