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Church planting – What is essential?

By Ronaldo Lidório

 

A missionary experience involves a number of activities and responsibilities, as we all know. We have to deal in a daily basis with issues from the field, office, family, home church and so on. The greatest challenge we all have is to focus on the essential values and activities in our missionary life.

What is the minimal we need to plant a church? Perhaps it is a question we have to ask time to time in order to see what is essential and what is secondary in our ministry.  The main danger in a church planting role is to involve ourselves too much with work and activities that are not essential, taking most of our time, efforts, finance and energy.

So, what is the minimal we need to plant a church? I would say that, if you work in a cross-cultural context, the minimal elements may be (1) learn the language; (2) learn the culture; (3) build relationships; (4) share about Jesus Christ.

Of course we have a number of other important elements involved in church planting and that may define our ministry, however my desire is to help you to do an exercise and think, in your context, what are the essential elements that may or may not be missing in your daily activities, according to your vision and goal in the situation you are in.

Some main errors in a church planting ministry may be:

1.   Spend too much time with activities that are not essential for our ministry

We need to filter our actions and have intentional input into what is essential in our ministry. Let’s be careful not using our precious time surfing on internet or in unnecessary meetings. We need to free up ourselves to invest in what is the purpose of our presence on the field:  the local people.

Another danger is to spend too much time with other missionaries instead with the local people.  To work in a missionary team is a blessing, but also a challenge as the danger is to interact more and more in your own group, and less with the local people. So, a good idea may be to replace some unnecessary missionary meetings for more involvement with the local people.

2.   Spend too little time with language and culture learning

It will be not possible to accomplish our goals in terms of gospel communication without good language proficiency and cultural understanding. This is a true clear statement for the entire missionary world. However, most of the problems in the gospel communication are linked with the lack of language proficiency.

Language learning is normally a matter of commitment. If you don’t invest at least 3 hours a day to learn a new language, for a period of at least 24 months, most probably you’ll not learn it. Of course there are different abilities and context, but we hardly find someone who learned a new language well without investing at least 3 hours a day in this task. One of the greatest barriers for church planting is still the difficulty in sharing the gospel in a local language, so a good idea may be to organize your schedule in such way you have at least 3 hours a day for studying and practicing the language.

3.   Think more about the structure than about relationships

Most of us come from a church or missionary organization based on a structure. When we think of a new initiative we picture a place, building or an organizational process.

Church planting is not about places or organization, but about relationships. So, one of the main emphasis we need to have in our church planting ministry should be: How to be among the people and to create a good relationship with many of them. And how to do that in a non formal and personal way. Yes, we may need a room to put people together eventually, but what we need mainly is to interact with people.

Because we are part of a human society designed to relate with each other, a formal presentation of the gospel gets little attention from the people. However, a personal sharing about what Jesus Christ made in our lives, based on a relationship of trust, is often powerful.

4.   Think on evangelism as a complex and unreachable task

If you speak the local language, understand the local worldview and have personal relationship with the local people, you have everything necessary to do a good and fruitful evangelism. Of course there are many regions with security issues, however with these three tools we are ready to use every opportunity the Lord will handle to us in open or closed areas.

Evangelism is living and sharing Jesus Christ. We don’t need buildings, programs or complex structures to live and share Jesus Christ. We need to be close to people who relate to us and share about Him, with life and words. 

One day a young man wrote to me a question, asking me to mention “in a very simple and objective way, the process of planting a church in a place where we can share the Gospel, but there is very little response”.  The beginning of my answer was:  “... You need to come close to the people and allow them to see Jesus in you, through life and words. It’ll happen mainly in a context of good,  personal and non formal relationships. After meeting them in their own context for a while, you can now invite some to come together and talk more about Jesus. For those who will come you may use the opportunity to pray for each other and study the Scripture. If there is openness, make it a weekly meeting. It is possible that some of them will not come again, but you continue with those who will be attracted by the gospel. Meanwhile, don’t stop on building new relationships with new people. After some time you feel the group meeting is getting strong and mature, then, teach them to do the same with others”.

It is an answer for someone in a specific context and seeking for a simple and objective way to plant a church. I’m using this as an illustration to stress that, as you can imagine, it is not possible to do that or any another responsible evangelism, without the four essential elements: language, culture, relationship and gospel communication.

In your situation, and for your ministry, what is the essential and how much are you committed to that?

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Ronaldo Lidorio
International consultant of Missiology & Church Planting
WEC International - www.churchplanting.com.br
Presbyterian Church of Brazil – APMT Mission Board
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