Continued from Church Planting and the Great Commission
Stages of Church Planting
The art of church planting can be learned by anyone who is committed to it and has a desire to learn it. He has to learn certain principles and methods for effective church planting. Dependence on the power and the working of the Holy Spirit is not eliminated by emphasizing these principles and methods. God through the Holy Spirit is the initiator, controller and fruit-producer of the missionary work. Anyone who substitutes human principles, methods and techniques, in place of the Holy Spirit, eventually will find his efforts not only ineffective but futile. Based on this assumption, the author has worked out the following steps or stages for rural church planting in pioneering areas. Some of these steps should be applied for effective church planting.
"Therefore let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch and be sober." 1 Thess. 5:6.
"There are many that never watch. They never watch against sin; they never watch against the temptations of the enemy; they do not watch against themselves, nor against "the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life." They do not watch for opportunities to do good, they do not watch for opportunities to instruct the ignorant, to confirm the weak, to comfort the afflicted, to succor them that are in need; they do not watch for opportunities of glorifying Jesus, or for times of communion, they do not watch for the promises; they do not watch for answers to their prayers; they do not watch for the second coming of our Lord Jesus. These are the refuse of the world: they watch not, because they are asleep."
STAGE 1. Finding Responsive People Groups:
The first stage in church planting in pioneering areas is to make certain that a particular village or group of people is interested in the Gospel and that they will respond to it. The missionary should make informal visits to different villages in order to get to know the people and the village leaders. He should keep the field survey report as his guide (The field survey should be completed before the placement of missionaries).
To begin with the missionary could use some methods like literature distribution, film show, open-air preaching, bhajan singing. While involved in these pre-evangelistic activities, he should keenly watch the reactions of the people to the Gospel message. After a few days of pre-evangelistic activities, the missionary should visit the village and meet the people, especially the village leaders and youths, to determine their response.
Village people will express their response in different ways and the missionary must be able to discern the minds and hearts of the people with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The degree of responsiveness may vary from village to village and from one people group to another, but still there are signs and clues by which the missionary can determine whether a village is responsive or resistant to the Gospel.
If people show interest and say that they want to learn more about this new faith and invite the missionary for a bhajan singing or to show a film, this gives clue as to their responsiveness. Other interested people would say "We want to join your religion," or "We want to build a temple for your God in our village." Once the missionary is sure of the responsiveness of the people, he should proceed immediately to the next stage of conducting public meetings during the night time.
STAGE 2 Conducting Night Public Meetings:
The best suited method for village evangelism is conducting public meetings during the night time. Generally, the people in the villages are free in the evenings and are interested in some form of entertainment. People will respond readily to evening meetings. The first public night meeting should be arranged in such a way that it will attract the entire village to attend. A special bhajan singing group can be arranged or a movie film can be shown. That "the first impression is the best impression" can be true for this situation. The missionary should also see that local people get involved in the arrangement for the night meetings.
For the first few nights (once or twice a week) it is good to show a film and have bhajan singing, but not Gospel preaching. This will help the missionary to win the confidence of the villagers and will be an opportunity for him to get to know the people, their belief, level of understanding.
It is always good to hold the meeting in a common place or in the house of the village leader or a person accepted by the village people. This will allow the people to feel free to attend the meeting. It is important to invite the village leaders for the first few meetings, because the missionary will be in need of their help if the work is to be established in their village.
STAGE 3 Gospel Presentation:
After a few nights of public meetings with bhajan singing and film showings, the missionary should present the Gospel message. He should follow the "bhajanai" or "satsangh" method of singing and story telling. Visual aids like flannel pictures, flash-cards, slides, film strips are useful aids. Story telling which includes singing is one of the best methods of Gospel presentation to villagers. The Old Testament accounts of Creation, the Fall of man, Noah and the Flood, etc. and the parables and miracles of Jesus are not only interesting to villagers, but also an important part of Gospel presentation. Through these simple stories from the Bible the people understand the Gospel message.
The songs with Gospel message should be carefully selected or composed in local tunes and should complement the Bible stories. Sometimes the local people can be asked to join in as the missionary or evangelist leads the singing, which is a familiar method among tribals and other villagers.
The Gospel should be, presented in simple terms on a level appropriate for the local people. It should be communicated in the local language or dialect. The Gospel message should be forth-right and presented plainly in order to awaken the minds of the village people to think and to decide. They must understand biblical teaching about idol worship, evil spirit, magic, witchcraft, blood sacrifice. A clear presentation of the Gospel is essential.
Believers from other villages can be asked to share their personal experiences of how they came to know Jesus and how their lives were and are being changed. Some could share how their prayers have been answered. Such personal sharing by believers from nearby villages would be of great benefit to the missionary who should know how to use them most effectively in witnessing for Christ.
STAGE 4 Praying for Felt Needs:
People have felt needs, needs that are different. Some have spiritual need to know the true God. Others have physical needs, such as illness. Others have psychological needs, like deliverance from their fear of evil spirits. When the missionary claims that the God of Jesus is the supreme God and He is above all gods and has power over all evil spirits, and is more powerful than the witch-doctors, people respond by coming to Him with their felt needs.
People in India, especially tribals and villagers, believe in supernatural powers. They believe signs and wonders are from gods. Therefore, when they experience God's power in their lives, healing from their sickness and deliverance from demons, they put their faith in the Gospel message and accept the God of Jesus as their God. It is an encounter in terms of power; a missionary should be prepared to pray for felt needs so that God's power may be manifested in signs and wonders.
Sunand Sumithra of World Evangelical Fellowship rightly points out the importance of power encounter, when be says: "We in India are deeply grateful that the gospel can be understood in terms of power, and that the Holy Spirit is more powerful than any other spirit. Nothing seals the fruit of evangelism more than a power encounter with the forces of darkness and the victory of the Holy Spirit over Satan."
God confirms His Word (preached by the missionary) through signs and wonders as promised by our Lord (Mark 16:15-20). This was true with the apostles' ministry as it is recorded in the Book of Acts. "Now many signs and wonders were done among the people by the hands of the Apostles" (Acts 5:12). The purpose of these signs and wonders is always the salvation of people. So we read, "And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women..." (Acts 5:14,15).
God honors people's child-like faith and responds to their prayers, so that they may accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. The missionary must get to know the people in order to understand their felt needs and pray for them. He should reach the people to put their faith in Jesus Christ and expect His power to work in their lives.
STAGE 5 Persuading the People to Decision:
Christians have different views about persuasion. In the Book of Acts, Paul and other Apostles are seen not only proclaiming the Gospel but also persuading their hearers to believe on Christ and to become His disciples (Acts 13:43; 17:4; 18:4,28). Paul describes his evangelistic activity in terms of persuasion. "We persuade men" (2 Cor.5:11) "... we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20).
The missionary evangelist is a Christian persuader. His role is to counsel, convince, guide, and to encourage people to decide for Christ. This is not to force them to make a decision to follow Christ, but to guide them to the point of decision-making. After hearing the Gospel for a period of time, it is essential that the people be brought to a decisive point either for or against the Gospel. The Christian persuader, however, cannot use unethical methods in persuading people towards decision-making.
Several methods could be adopted for leading people to the making of a decision for Christ; asking them to give their names for baptism, asking them to come for special prayer, or for a special meeting on a particular day. After this the missionary should take time to visit each family and individual and lead them to make a personal commitment to Christ.
As a pre-condition for baptism the missionary should explain to people the necessity for giving up all non-Christian religious practices such as idol worship, visiting temples and animistic beliefs in magic, sorcery, witchcraft. They should be encouraged to stop all bad habits like drunkenness, adultery, fornication, and gambling. It is important that they decide to give up all these beliefs and practices before baptism.
McGavran stresses the need for a "decisive act" in which the convert renounces the old life. The new believer in Christ, before baptism renounces his loyalty to other gods, stops going to the priests, destroys religious objects or symbols, fetishes are burned, idols are thrown into the pond, amulets and charms are taken off and thrown away. This symbolic act usually precedes baptism in which the convert affirms his new life in Christ.
STAGE 6 Pre-baptismal Teaching:
Special meetings or classes should be conducted for those who have responded to the Gospel. All those who have decided to follow Christ and have given their names for baptism should attend pre-baptismal teaching classes. They should be given systematic Bible teaching on some of the important subjects like Bible, God, creation, sin, salvation, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, heaven and hell. It is good to follow a prepared catechism in teaching these people. They should memorize the ten commandments and the Lord's Prayer and other important Bible passages.
The pre-baptismal teaching may be for a period of three to six months but not more than six months because people may lose Interest if baptism is delayed.
During this period, the missionary or the local evangelist should watch the lives of the inquirers and take time to meet each one of them individually and give him or her the spiritual help needed. It is recommended that a male missionary counsel the men and a lady missionary the women. Inquirers may need help with problems like difficulty in giving up drinking, abandoning contra-biblical practices such as witchcraft, destroying the idols, fear of evil spirits, doubts about baptism.
After giving spiritual counselling, if any person finds it difficult to give up his old religious beliefs and practices and bad habits, baptism should be delayed. However, he should be encouraged to attend the meetings, and counselling be given continually.
The missionary should help each enquirer make a personal decision for Christ, even though a collective decision would have been made by the group leader or by the head of a family. He should see that people are prepared for baptism as families and joint families. He should try and encourage group decisions for Christ. The individual inquirers should be encouraged to bring their relatives to the point of decision. It is advisable not to baptize isolated individuals.
STAGE 7 Baptismal Service:
Baptism is an important event both for the missionary and for the new believers. It should be well-planned and well-arranged. If possible the baptism service should be arranged near a river or a lake so that the whole village might witness it. It is advisable to baptize the believers in their own village and not to take them to a nearby town. People should be well-informed about the date, place and time of baptism. The person doing the baptizing should be invited well in advance and proper arrangements should be made for his transportation so that he can come in time to the place of baptism.
All small details should be worked out well in advance so that there will not be any chance of failure of such an important event. Satan may work with all his evil forces against such an event, but the missionary with much prayer and proper preparation can defeat such evil forces.
During the baptismal service, new believers should be given an opportunity to make a public confession of their faith in Christ. They also should tell the public that they were not forced or enticed to take baptism or to accept the Christian faith. Some churches require that certain forms be filled out before baptism; other churches may not require this. It is good to follow the required procedures.
At the time of baptism it is better not to change the names of new believers. Giving English names or any name which is not familiar to their local culture should be completely avoided. Even biblical names are not recommended. We can give biblical names to the second generation (children of the new believers), but not to the first generation of believers. In many cultures, especially among the tribals, names have great significance for the family and for the tribe and they should not feel that they had lost their names and identity by joining the Christian religion. Name change can create social and communal problems and is an unnecessary hindrance to the spread of the Gospel.
It is advisable to give baptism only to adults above 18 years. Young people between 12 and 18 years should be baptized only with the permission of their parents and village elders. Children below twelve years can be dedicated.
STAGE 8 Forming Worship Group:
After baptism new believers should be linked to a local church. This is important and necessary for the spiritual nurture, fellowship and growth. Where there is no local church near by, it is necessary to form a new worship group. Planting churches in new areas (where there is no church) is every Christian's privilege.
A missionary should not invite new believers to his house or to the mission campus for worship. "Mission compound Christianity" should be carefully avoided. It is advisable not to link new believers with a church which is more than two or three kilometers distance from their village. Joining village believers to existing town or city congregations should also be avoided. Each village should have its own congregations and place of worship.
A regular time for weekly worship service, prayer meeting, Bible class, and outreach should be established. Time and place should be convenient to the villagers. Apart from these weekly programs, daily evening prayers should be part of the life of the village congregation.
A simple church organizational structure should be worked out according to the local cultural context, that is, according to the local leadership structure. The elders must be selected with prayer after consultation with the members. The number of elders depends upon the size of the congregations. Two or three elders should be needed for a small congregation.
The church elders must be taught and trained by the missionary. They should be given different responsibilities according to their spiritual gifts and abilities. Conducting worship, prayer, house visiting, discipline of the erring members and the keeping of accounts are some of the responsibilities that could be shared.
STAGE 9 Spiritual Nurture:
Spiritual nurture is also called follow-up, after-care and post-baptismal teaching. It includes both Bible teaching and pastoral care. Proper Spiritual nurture is vital for an effective church planting ministry. The process of church planting starts with baptism and is completed by effective spiritual nurture. Spiritual nurture is part of the discipleship process and is commanded in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:20). A missionary should make every effort in their post-baptismal care for new believers to grow in their spiritual life. He should aim at making now believers responsible and reproducing members of the church.
A regular pastoral care should be arranged, which would include observance of Church Feasts, visiting the homes of the members, praying for the sick, etc. Systematic Bible teaching through Bible Study classes should be given at a level appropriate for new believers for at least six months and this should include the entire congregations.
STAGE 10 Construction of Prayer Shed:
A prayer shed or church building in their village helps new believers in their worship and witness. In villages generally the houses are small and there is not much space for an entire congregation to meet. The missionary should encourage the new believers to erect a prayer shed as soon as the congregation is formed. They should donate land if any of them has land of their own. If not they should apply to the local village head to obtain the land. Materials like wood and bamboo can be donated. Some can give free labor. Others can give financial help according to their abilities.
One of the principles advocated by John Nevius is this: "Churches were to be built in native style, and by the Christians themselves from their own resources." When local people get involved in erecting the prayer shed they would feel that it is their own. This attitude will help them to use the prayer shed carefully and to maintain it at their own cost. After construction, a dedication service should be arranged; it should he a special occasion and an opportunity for the villagers to know that a place for the worship of Jesus Christ has been constructed in their village.
STAGE 11 Training the Local Church Leadership:
The training and developing of church elders, lay leaders and voluntary workers should be a top priority item for the missionary after the baptismal service and the forming of the congregation. A regular and systematic Bible and leadership training program must be worked out at the level of the new believers. People matured in age and experience should he selected and trained as church elders. Some of them who are literate and gifted can be used as lay leaders. There must be extra training for lay leaders who can be used as Bible teachers and preachers in different congregations.
Other talented, interested and literate young people should be selected to become full-time evangelists and pastors and given special training at a higher level and for a longer period of time. The missionary should carefully avoid bringing outside leadership (of old Christians ) into the newly formed congregations, because this would hinder the development of local leadership. A rural Bible school should be established for each people group which responds to the Gospel.
Church Planting and Spiritual Nurture
In the Great Commission, our Lord commanded us to "make disciples" by going, baptizing, and teaching; this chapter is concerned with the last word, teaching. In making disciples, it is not enough to go and baptize; they need to be taught, which requires effective follow-up and spiritual nurture. It is interesting to note that the baptism precedes teaching. Thus, it is post-baptismal teaching. In obedience to the Lord's commission, all three, going, baptizing and teaching, must be done.
The Definition of Spiritual Nurture :
Spiritual nurture is explained as "quality growth," or "perfecting growth," as McGavran refers to it. The traditional term "follow-up" is weak and does not bring the exact meaning of the ministry that is involved. "Spiritual nurture" is a stronger term and biblical and explains better the ministry of the post-baptismal teaching in building the spiritual life of the new believers. Here the terms "spiritual nurture," "follow-up," and "aftercare" are used interchangeably; all three phrases have the same meaning with regard to post-baptismal teaching.
The Relationship Between Evangelism and Spiritual Nurture:
Follow-up is defined by W. B. Moore in his book New Testament Follow-up for Christian Workers, as "the conservation, maturation and multiplication of the fruits of evangelism." He explains the relationship between evangelism and follow-up in the following, words: "Winning and building are inseparably linked together in the Scriptures. There is no continuing New Testament evangelism without follow-up. They are God's 'two-edged sword' for reaching men and making them effective disciples for Christ." Evangelism and spiritual nurture are two sides to the same coin of church planting. The process of church planting begins by giving baptism and is completed through effective spiritual nurture.
The Importance of Spiritual Nurture in Church Planting:
Spiritual nurture is the process of preserving the fruits of evangelistic efforts. It is not enough to pluck the fruits. They must be preserved. Similarly, it is not enough to simply reap the harvest; the grain should be gathered and kept in a safe place for future use or else it will be spoiled. This is also true with the planting and conservation of trees. In South Gujarat there is a teak wood forest in Dangs District. There are several forest conservators appointed by the government to look after the forest. It is not enough to plant trees; they must be looked after. This explains the importance Of spiritual nurture in a church planting ministry.
Sometimes churches have failed in giving spiritual nurture to people who decided for Christ in city wide evangelistic meetings and village outreaches. Such carelessness has resulted in the loss of precious people to Christ and affected the growth of the Church in India. Evangelist Prakash Yesudian rightly points out this failure. "We should confess our failures in this area and avoid the temptation of throwing the spiritual babies to grow in the gutter."
W. B. Moore likens follow-up to "spiritual pediatrics." The giving of baptism is to bring a new life into God's Kingdom. Thereafter the church planter has the parental responsibility of bringing the newly baptized person to spiritual maturity by adopting effective after-care methods of Bible teaching. Paul acknowledged his parental responsibility to the Corinthians: "For though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel" (I Cor. 4: 15).
Paul also referred to those he had won to Christ as his own children at Galatia and Thessalonica (Gal. 4:19; I Thes. 2:11). He called Timothy and Titus his "sons in faith." Unless the missionary or evangelist involved in planting churches realizes this parental responsibility to new believers, he will not be involved in their spiritual nurture. Unless he does spiritual nurturing there will not be any matured, Christ-like and reproducing churches in his ministry.
Alan Tippett, church growth scholar, emphasizes the importance of after-care in his book, Church Growth and the Word of God: "The missionary and indigenous pastor are obligated to see that discipling is followed by perfecting, that, when evil is cast out, the convert is not left a spiritual void. There must be growth in grace, growth to maturity. This is part of a church growth theory."
Becoming a Disciple and Practicing Discipleship:
Many missionaries and evangelists are not involved in spiritual nurture because they misunderstand the Great Commission. In church growth theory McGavran uses the word "discipling for the conversion of new believers from a non-Christian background." For spiritual growth or Christian maturity which follows, he uses the term "perfecting." However, the words "discipling" and "discipleship" are interrelated: discipling involves both conversion and Spiritual growth.
The term "make disciples" not only demands "discipling" but also "discipling into maturity" - helping him to practice discipleship.
For example at the time of baptism a new believer makes the decision to follow (to be a disciple of) Christ. But in many situations, especially in cases of rapid church growth, a new believer is a man who has "turned from his idols to serve the living God." Such a person needs spiritual nurture to grow to the perfection of discipleship.
Several passages in the New Testament explain the cost of discipleship. Jesus said to His disciples (please note that it is not to the crowd, but to the chosen twelve - Luke 9:18). "If any man will come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Luke 9:23). A new believer may not be able to fulfill all these demands. Certainly he cannot attain this maturity overnight. It will take discipline of the study of the Word of God and prayer. A new believer is a person who has decided to be a disciple. But disciples must grow in a life of practicing discipleship. Spiritual maturity can come only through spiritual nurture.
Emphasizing the importance of teaching in the Great Commission, Bishop Newbigin says, "Teaching and discipling are not two separate activities. Discipling is not merely a change of religious allegiance with no ethical implications. And those ethical implications may well involve challenging elements in the traditional culture. Discipling includes 'teaching them to observe all that I have commanded;' that is not an additional extra."
The Lausanne Covenant rightly states, "in issuing the gospel invitation we have no liberty to conceal the cost of discipleship. Jesus still calls all who would follow him to deny themselves, take up their cross, and identify themselves with his community."
Sometimes it is easier to make disciples than to mature them; easier to baptize a person than to perfect him in Christian maturity; easier to plant a church than to perfect one. Both, however, are necessary and important processes. Both activities are part of the Great Commission. Christians are commanded not only to go and baptize but also teach. Baptism is but the beginning. As one who has worked on the mission field, the author must say that it is not easy to build up a man in Christian growth and maturity. It takes money, time, and skill; nevertheless, it is a must for an effective church planting ministry.
Spiritual Nurture and Qualitative Church Growth:
Church growth is both quantitative numerically and qualitative spiritually. Numerical growth must be accompanied by qualitative growth which must be seen in the spiritual and structural development of the local church. Growth does not necessarily mean the church becoming larger and larger. It includes planting of new churches or multiplication of churches and growth in grace and spiritual maturity.
Spiritual nurture helps the local church to have qualitative growth. Tippett emphasizes such a balanced growth. "Discipling, and perfecting, then, are different but related kinds of growth - one the quantitative intake due to evangelistic outreach, the other the qualitative development to maturity with the congregation. Without the former the congregation would die. Without the later it would produce neither leaders nor mature members. Without maturity there would be no organic growth of the Body."
The church growth theory emphasizes statistical information to measure the growth of the church. Occasionally, this information is useful but at other times such statistics of numerical growth may give a false impression of healthy and spiritual churches, whereas a closer look at the situation may give reason for alarm. Spiritual growth cannot be spotted on a statistical graph. A church growth graph may not always be helpful in determining the spiritual growth of a church. Although, occasionally, numerical growth is a sign of spiritual growth, it is not always the case. A church can be engaged in numerical growth at the expense of its spiritual growth. Therefore equal importance should be given to both spiritual and numerical growth and quality and quantity growth of a church.
Prakash Yesudian rightly points out that, "Even though we need to concentrate on quality, we should be careful not to undermine 'quantity ministry.' But after involving in mass evangelism, we must always look for people with quality who can be trained, and become disciples."
Graham Houghton, the principal of SAIACS, Bangalore, from his research brings to our notice an interesting analogy of a bunyan tree to emphasize the two-fold growth of the churches. The analogy is from the 1885 annual report of the Madras Native Church Council, which reads: "not only striking root downwards, but also seeking to send forth branches in different directions." The meaning of the analogy was that the churches under the Madras Native Church Council were able to maintain and consolidate the work committed to them as well as to be involved in evangelism reaching the unreached people.
The importance of a balanced growth could be further explained comparing the church to an efficient army general who plans both the conquest and the consolidation properly. Thus discipling and perfecting, evangelization and edification, quantity and quality should be well planned and properly balanced for the growth of the church.
Spiritual Nurture in the Process of Church Planting:
It is a mistake to think it is necessary to stop evangelism in order to concentrate on a period of consolidation. "First evangelization and then consolidation," or "first planting and then perfecting of the church" is not a valid formula. These two activities do not require different timings. Church growth scholars recommend that both these activities go on together.
McGavran says that qualitative and quantitative growth should continue simultaneously in the life of a healthy church. He rejects the idea that a period of active and successful evangelism may then necessitate a time of consolidation before returning to evangelism again. Such a stop-go policy, he says, will lead to stagnation.
Similarly, Tippett recommends that growth, both numerically and spiritually, must be "a continuous process until the final end." And he says that there should not be any let-up in the continuous process of growth. W.B. Moore compares evangelism and follow-up to the two rails of a train track and says that a break in either stops forward progress. Thus, both activities, evangelism and spiritual nurture should proceed simultaneously for effective results in church planting ministry.
Spiritual Nurture in People Movement Church Planting:
Effective spiritual nurture of people movement churches is very important. It should begin from the time of baptism. It should be given in the method most meaningful to the people. The neglect of follow-up teaching will result in the arrest of the people movements to Christ and to the Church. The Stocks warn us of the danger of failure in follow-up : "Baptism without follow-up teaching is not only worthless, but dangerous... Baptized believers who have been neglected for a long period of time are greatly hardened to the message of the gospel."
Emphasizing the importance of spiritual nurture in people movements, McGavran says: "The quality of people movement churches is uniquely dependent on post-baptismal care. In these movements relatively large numbers of converts form new churches quickly. If they are neglected,... a starved and nominal membership can be confidently expected. If, on the contrary, new congregations are nurtured with imagination and faithfulness, in ways which lead their members to a genuine advance in Christian living, solid congregations of sound Christians will result. Much of the failure in people movements is wrongly ascribed to the multi-individual way in which they have decided for Christ. It should be ascribed rather to the poor shepherding they have received both before and after baptism."
Spiritual Nurture for Migrants:
People move from their native places to nearby towns and cities in search of jobs, education. Some poor people move to dam sites, to places of canal construction or road construction. Village people and tribals are frequent migrants. For example, in South Gujarat the tribals who have no irrigation facilities during dry months move to nearby cities like Surat and Valsad in search of jobs. Many people go to nearby sugar cane plantations to work. They go in such large numbers that church services in villages are often affected: the income of the local church is greatly reduced during those months.
The migrated people indulge in drinking and immoral life because there are no community bindings. Even new believers are tempted to a sinful life because they do not have Christian practices like prayer, worship, or Christian fellowship. The missionary should follow such new believers in their places of work. More important he should train the local leaders so that they may move with their own village people and give spiritual nurture while they themselves work.
There is a good example from the ministry of the United Presbyterian Church in Punjab: "To follow-up migrations is an important principle of church growth. Today 22% of the members of the United Presbyterian Church reside in the Canal Colonies. These would have been lost had not the Mission taken the wise and swift action to move with the people as large numbers migrated."
Methods of Spiritual Nurture:
Different methods can be used for spiritual nurture of the new believers. Some of them are as follows :
1) PERSONAL VISITATION: Regular personal contact is necessary to lead a new believer to Christian maturity. The missionary or the local pastor should set aside certain hours on certain days to visit the homes of the new believers to give them biblical instruction and spiritual guidance. Visits are time consuming, yet they are very fruitful in discipling the new believers. Though this method is very effective, it may not be practical in people movement areas with large numbers of new believers.
2) BIBLE CORRESPONDENCE courses: Such courses are very useful for people who have the interest and ability to do self-study and who understand spiritual truths without someone teaching them in person. But again this may be effective only in urban areas among literate people. Obviously it will not work among pre-literate people.
3) CAMPS, CONFERENCES AND CONVENTIONS: Public meetings are useful in doing mass follow-up, are less expensive, and more people benefited at one time. The weakness is that individual attention is not possible. Usually not all people are of the same capacity to understand spiritual truths. Consequently many may not get the benefit of the mass follow-up teachings given at the camps or conventions. Another weakness is that such programs cannot be conducted regularly and there is no systematic teaching.
4) CHURCH REVIVAL OR RENEWAL TEAM: Under this method a team of missionaries visits different congregations and conducts revival meetings giving Bible teaching. In such meetings people get revived, some renew their commitments, and the back-slidden return to the Christian fold. The main work of these teams is Bible teaching. This method may help revive the local congregations. However, this approach need to be supplemented with other Bible teaching plans.
5) REGULAR BIBLE STUDY CLASSES IN EACH CONGREGATION: Among different methods of follow-up, I found the most effective is the Bible study class method; this is especially true in rural situations and areas of rapid church growth. These classes are conducted in each village for the whole congregation once or twice a week by a missionary or a trained local evangelist.
Systematic Bible teaching can be given using Scripture portions. These may be supplemented by text books or guide books. Such Bible study classes should be conducted regularly for the whole congregation for about six months to one year. Later on, classes can be conducted as part of the church regular program.
From the beginning the missionary should plan to select keen and interested persons for leadership training; if necessary they should be sent to Bible school. In this method, systematic Bible teaching with personal attention to all members is given for a longer period of time.
Spiritual Nurture, Prayer and Christian Living:
Spiritual nurture includes the prayer life of the congregation. It also should aim at practical Christian living. Biblical instruction is not for intellectual understanding alone, but for application in personal experience. Therefore every Bible study class should end with a time of heart-searching and personal prayers. Emphasis should be given to apply the Bible knowledge that the members gain in the classes to their practical living. The missionary or the evangelist should make constant evaluation of the life of the members and guide them to live a witnessing life in their own community. Special prayers should be offered for the spiritual renewal of the congregation.
Practical Guidelines for Church Planting
One may ask, now how can I start planting churches? Where do I start and how do I go about planting churches? Here is a summary and a review of the practical steps to follow. These steps are applicable to individuals, local churches, and mission agencies. Much church planting is done in a cross-cultural mission context even though each local Church is expected to plant her own daughter churches in areas nearby. Therefore guidelines are given for mission agencies with regard to their candidates' training, field survey, selection of fields, placement of missionaries, field administration. Some of these guidelines must be adapted by people who plan to be involved in church planting through local churches in nearby areas.
1 . Prayer and Spiritual Preparation:
A person who is interested in a church planting ministry should pray and prepare himself well before involving himself in it. He should wait on the Lord and seek His guidance for his life and ministry. Unless he is sure of God's call for cross-cultural mission work, he should not involve himself in it. He should examine his life before God and see whether he is qualified to be a church planter.
He should mobilize prayer support for himself and for his ministry. This also applies to churches and mission agencies which have plans for church planting. As it involves a spiritual warfare, no church, mission, or individual should dare to be involved without proper prayer and spiritual preparation and the prayer support of God's people.
Any human principles, methods, and techniques can not be substituted for the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore the church planter should constantly depend upon the guidance and enabling power of the Holy Spirit in his life and ministry. The spiritual life of the missionary should be emphasized by churches and missions both at the time of his recruitment and while he is on the mission field.
2. Recruiting Evangelist and Missionary Candidates:
Mission conferences and missionary challenge meetings offer excellent opportunities for recruiting young people to the ministry of church planting and the mission field. Every church should plan for such mission conferences every year. Interested young people should be recruited and sent for training.
Bible school students should be challenged to commit their lives for missionary involvement. The pastor and the church leaders should encourage the interested young people to join mission agencies in order to go for cross-cultural mission work. Churches should invite missionaries and mission leaders to come and share their experiences as well as provide mission field information. This may help impart a missionary vision to the members leading to mission involvement.
Church planting teams should be formed in each local church and special training given to these teams. They should have certain target villages or areas of ministry for planting daughter churches. Apart from this, the pastor should make his church a "missionary-sending Church" by encouraging his members to pray and support missionaries working among unreached people groups.
3. Training in Church Planting Ministry:
Besides spiritual preparation one needs to prepare himself through special training in evangelism and missionary work. Church planting is an art, and the person who is interested in it should learn certain principles and methods for effectiveness in his ministry.
Existing Bible schools and colleges should include special courses for interested students to specialize on mission, evangelism, church planting and church growth studies and other related subjects in order to train them for mission field. Some colleges should open a separate department on mission studies.
Books on mission and missionary magazines should be read by church planters and missionary candidates. Local churches should plan to conduct seminars and workshops on church planting and church growth by inviting specialists on these subjects and experienced missionaries.
4. Mission Field Orientation:
Persons interested in a church planting ministry should visit some mission fields and spend a few months (at least three to six months), possibly during the summer holidays. He should visit the field not as a guest, but as a learner willing to make adjustments and to learn things from the life and ministry of the local missionary. Missionary training should include mission field orientation, which is a combination of classroom study and practical field experience.
Local churches should arrange a field visit for their interested young people once a year during the holidays. Reading the instructions of the Field Work Manual, as prescribed by different mission agencies, is a must for those who visit mission fields. 5. Field Survey of Unreached Places and People Groups:
Conducting field surveys of unreached places and people groups is an important aspect of effective church planting. Such surveys should be conducted before the selection of Mission fields and target areas for church planting and the placement of missionaries. The field survey should include the political, economic, social, and religious conditions of the particular area, and the culture, customs, language of the people. The survey should also include a study and evaluation of the work of the past missions and para-church agencies in the selected area or the people group to determine possible reasons for their success or failure.
The Field Survey Report should be prepared with maximal accuracy since it would be an important tool in the hands of missionaries and evangelists as a guide for their future activities. Every mission agency should have a team of field surveyors to explore the possibilities of opening new mission fields among unreached people groups.
6. Selection of Mission Field and Placement of Missionaries:
An important consideration with regard to the selection of a mission field should be that it is relatively unreached with the Gospel. It should be a responsive area or people group. The field survey would help to determine the responsiveness of the people.
To begin with, the missionaries should be placed in a small town, where they would get a house to live, for language study and in order to have communication facilities. Later on, as the work develops, they can move to a nearby village where people respond to the Gospel in good number. Missionaries should always be placed either as a family or two-by two (e.g., two bachelors or two spinsters) for spiritual fellowship, moral support, and mutual help in times of emergency, like sickness, accidents, thefts.
7. Church-Mission Relationship:
The mission agency should consult the nearby local pastor in the target area before opening the mission field. A proper church-mission relationship should be established by the sending body with the local church of the particular area selected for field work. The missionaries should work in close co-operation with the local church.
Each mission agency or sending Church should work out a proper Church-Mission policy and must practice it. Mission agencies should not work parallel with the local church so as not to duplicate the work of the local church in the mission field context. The missionaries should be properly instructed to concentrate their efforts among non-Christians with the aim of church planting, and not to disturb the local Christians. Any activities among local Christians should only be done with the permission of the pastor.
When a local church or denomination is interested and burdened to work in an unreached people group, but find it difficult to carry out such work, it could invite one of the indigenous missions to come and work in the selected area and support the missionaries with prayers and finance.
8. The Life and Work on the Mission Field:
Learning the local language or dialect is a must for church planting ministry. Missionaries should concentrate on language study during the first two years. They also should learn the culture and customs of the local people and identify themselves in their dress, eating habits and good behavior. They should know the religions, beliefs and practices of the local people and work out the right methods of evangelistic approach for effective communication of the Gospel.
Missionaries should not divert their attention to other needs of the field such as social and developmental work or activities like Bible Translation or teaching ministries. Such activities will follow later. The priority is to establish a Christian witness in the village or people group. They should concentrate on reaching non-Christians and planting churches. In other words, the missionaries sent for evangelism and church planting should not allow themselves to be sidetracked.
Missionaries and evangelists should work out specific goals for their work. Special enlarged evangelistic and church planting programs for specific area or people group, with specific goals and time limits should be worked out. They should not limit their work to individuals but should aim at group conversions. The new believers should form a worship group. Planting churches where there are no churches is the responsibility of the missionary.
9. Providing the Basic Needs of the Mission Field:
The missionaries should be provided with basic equipment, musical instruments, vehicles, visual aids, literature, first-aid kits with some basic medicines for emergencies; adequate cash or advance money for travelling expenses and other field programs; a missionary identity card with the photograph and the address of the missionary is well as the full address, seal and the signature of the head of the Church (pastor or bishop) and or of the mission agency (general secretary or field director).
10. Mission Field Administration:
Proper administrative discipline should be maintained from the beginning. Each church and mission agency should have its own Field Work Manual and instruct its workers to follow the instructions carefully. The missionaries and evangelists should be properly guided, encouraged, and supervised. However, missionaries and evangelists should be given freedom of operation and be encouraged to develop their work with creativity using their spiritual gifts and abilities. Any decision regarding a particular mission field should be taken by field administrator or field director in consultation with the concerned missionary.
It is necessary for persons involved in field administration to undergo a minimum term of six months to one year of field experience. Ex-missionaries are better qualified for the office of the Field Administrator or Field Director. Actual field experience should be required as a qualification for a person to lead a missionary agency, to head the mission board of a denomination, or to lead a church planting team.
Church Planting: Definitions
Today, in the name of evangelism and church planting, several Christian activities are carried out by churches and Christian organizations. But in reality all of them are not resulting in church planting and in church growth. Some Christian workers have a misunderstanding about the nature of church planting ministry and so they try to use unspiritual and unscriptural means and methods to plant churches; but again in reality they are not planting churches nor helping the church growth. Church planting is the result of evangelism among non-Christians. It is bringing people to the fold of Christ, from the Satanic kingdom to God's Kingdom. It is also the visible and local fellowship of God's people who were redeemed by the blood of Christ. We need to have clarity on this truth. The following are some clarifications on what we mean by church planting.
Church Planting is not the Construction of a Church Building :
It is true that church planting involves construction of a church building. But "church planting" in the truest sense does not refer to the building. We use the word "church" to mean both the "congregation" and the "building" where the congregation meets. So the word "church" confuses Christians because of these two meanings. Sometimes Christian workers have a false satisfaction based on church buildings rather than congregations. Others make the grave mistake of building a church before planting a church, the congregation. Building a church before planting a church would be like putting the cart before the bull. That is against biblical teaching on evangelism and church planting and church growth.
Church Planting is not forming Congregations with Christians who are members of another Church:
Such a process is "sheep stealing," not church planting. People argue that nominal Christians and unsaved Christians do not constitute the true church and so they justify their activity. Here we must understand that "church planting" means both the "local church" and the "Universal Church," which is the Body of Christ. When a person works among nominal and unsaved Christians who are already members of local church, he must try to convert them and establish them in the same church, not displace them by forming a new church. In reality all local churches have both saved and unsaved members and as such a Christian worker should see that his primary ministry is not to lead them to a new structure but to a new life in Christ.
Church Planting is not an Administrative Structure of a Pastor, a Building or other Activities:
Some Christian workers deceive themselves and others by forming church structures instead of forming a congregation. Such structures even include having a pastor, building and some regular church activities. While we cannot be rigid on number of believers, a congregation must have some members for meaningful interaction in edification and evangelism. Local church structure without a group of members (15 to 20 individuals) cannot be called a church and such ministry can not be identified as church planting ministry.
Church Planting is not forming a Congregation by Splitting the Local Church:
Sometimes when a church is too big, it may need to split and start new churches in different localities for convenience sake. This is more true in big cities. Such a reorganizing of an existing congregation may be accepted. But splitting a congregation by unbiblical or unspiritual ways, such as by groupism, minor doctrinal and denominational differences cannot be called church planting.
Church Planting can be defined as follows:
Church planting is proclaiming the Gospel to non-Christians, leading them to true repentance, and the experience of personal salvation, guiding them to the point of baptism and forming them as a visible local worshipping community which will be actively involved in prayer, Bible study, witness and social concern in its community and in the world.
Excerpted from "Church Planting Approach to Mission" by S. Devasagayam Ponraj, Bethel Bible Institute, Danishpet - 636354, Salem Dist., Tamil Nadu, India. 1987.
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