As an example, I believe that God wants to plant the gospel in the Patient Grower's Network in Keizer. I have heard from one of my best friends, about the willing attitude toward the Kingdom of Christ, there. What draws them together is the use of medical marijuana. They are a new community of people who gather for education, access to doctors, friendship and fun. It's located along Cherry Ave. and it's been incorporated for about two years now. My friend has been sharing God there and people are capable of following Jesus - however if they do, they will be keeping much of their culture. Culture is not a bad thing - it was created by God for His glory.
Perhaps you've heard that Salem First Baptist Church used to hold Russian services in their sanctuary in the 1980s? I believe their services were on Saturdays.
Perhaps you know that this same church once saw Salem's Chinese Immigrants who had come to the U.S. to build our railways, as an opportunity for church planting? On the History of Salem First Baptist Church page you can read that the pastor's wife opened a school to teach the Chinese people English and to also teach them about God - and charged money to teach 40 pupils. A few years ago I was part of the church's 150th celebration - how neat our church has been here for so many years! I heard the story of what the church did incarnationally (evangelism without a program) for the Chinese.
We've done it before. Will we keep in step with our history of reaching out to our neighbors? How can we push aside some of the ways we do church to make some space for outsiders?
Current Evangelism is Productive by Addition
You may say, "we keep reaching the lost. We brought 47 adults and children to faith in Christ through Upward. Perhaps 14 through the Easter services. And three through the women's retreat. That's evangelism too!"
It is evangelism, and I am immovably excited about it. I pray all the time for Salem First Baptist to reach the lost, for souls to accept Jesus. In preparation for the Easter services there was a list available with first names on a piece of paper during the prayer meetings. I'd say there were 500-1000 people listed on that page. I'm thankful for 14, but is there any way to see more come to faith than our usual annual total of about 100 individuals scattered across our various programs?
Experts in missions talk about the difference between addition, and multiplication.
George Patterson is a world-renown missionary who has written articles for the Perspectives Course being held Monday evenings in the Banquet room in Salem First Baptist. He is also a speaker at missional community conferences such as "Verge" which I listen to. This is because the missional movement here in the United States that has started in the last few years is built on the expertise of worldwide missions. The things being taught in the Perspectives course are the same things contextualized for American local evangelism in the "missional movement." How trendy is the missional community movement? About as trendy as modern missions around the world. If you take the course you will see how painstakingly mission theory changes through time, for the sake of winning the lost successfully. Yes; they trend too.
In an interview here, I've duplicated what Patterson says for American evangelism at minute 35 of the video. In it the interviewer asks George what word he would have for American pastors and church members:
A word to pastors and church members in United States, to their role in the great commission.
It is a declining movement, and they need to make some drastic changes.
- Step Number One. What I do is I talk to Pastors and say "the challenge is right from Jesus [the Great Commission]. Let's get together and discern. There are fields around us, that are ripe and ready for harvest. Now obviously Pastor, if your church hasn't been growing well, you're not working in that field. So let's look at some of the other fields around us. Can we do that? Will you obey Jesus and do that?" (The Pastors will all say, "yes.") Yeah - let's do that. It's totally Biblical, it's what Christ told us to do, it's what the Spirit enabled them to do. Let's open our eyes a little wider; let's look around. Ok.... We want to look for the fields that are ready to harvest. Now let's find them. We probably don't have to drive more than ten miles. We're probably going to have to shift down to a lower class, less-affluent, less-educated level, too. Alright, let's do that. And that's step number one.
- Step Number Two, is to ask "What kind of church would be easily reproduced or multiplied in that environment?" Invariably they are much poorer, so our type of big church stuff can't be produced to the same level there. Give them a good pattern to follow. Let's make an analysis, it's fun. Let's look at the New Testament and see how it was done there. We have good patterns to follow.
- Step Number Three, find the people in your congregation who are gifted. God has promised that within all congregations there are people who are gifted as the "sent ones" with the apostolic gifting. There there are your feet. Find them! Talk to them about these ripe fields. Talk to them about what the church would be like there. Turn 'em loose. Give them adequate preparation from a mentor who has experience in that type of church, and turn 'em loose. And so you'll have two tracks within your church. And then you keep doing the same thing with the same people who know church as it is as they've come to expect. But don't push those people out to do cross-cultural work. You let those who are satisfied with the status quo continue to be pastored beside still waters. Ask for their prayers, ask for their blessings, love them, and they maybe will help you financially. And, so what? Get the focus off a non-responsive segment of the population and onto the fields as Christ commanded. Analyze what has to be done, and send out the workers to get it done. It's very simple and often has to be done with non funded workers, out of their own pocket money who will go and just do it. Don't need expensive procedures, just follow the New Testament pattern.
But maybe you're thinking about Salem First Baptist starting various indigenous church plants all over Salem and you're thinking, "I'm not sure I'm totally on board with this." Maybe you like getting individuals to come to church, only, and you believe this is what the local church should be doing. It's a fair question. One that missionaries have been grappling with and still are grappling with out on frontiers around the world. Here is another article explaining the difference in outreach, between seeking individuals to become attenders and seeking whole people communities to follow where they already are. This also is from the readings for the Perspectives course. You can read the full thing here.
American Christians worship in churches that are a collection of fragments of families and various ethnic backgrounds. So when they first got to the mission field they were unprepared to plant a culturally relevant church within a cohesive ethnic group. Instead they focused on individuals, largely ignoring the implications of the surrounding culture.
As a result, when missionaries first went out from the West, they most often began to get people saved one at a time by "extracting misfits and rebels" from their surrounding culture who then adapted to the missionary's culture. This resulted in the creation of a culturally "different" church which very few others from the surrounding people wanted to join. Dr. McGavran in his writings referred to this as the Mission Station Approach since the missionaries would live together in a common area.
Extracting individual converts is one thing we must not do if we want to see a whole people come to Christ. Donald McGavran quotes Bishop J. W. Picket, in his study Christ's Way to India's Heart, as saying,
"The process of extracting individuals from their setting in Hindu and Moslim communities does not build a Church. On the contrary it rouses antagonism against Christianity and builds barriers against the spread of the Gospel. Moreover, that process has produced many unfortunate, and not a few tragic results in the lives of those most deeply concerned... It has sacrificed much of the convert's evangelistic potentialities by separating him from his People. It has produced anemic Churches that know no true leadership and are held together chiefly by common dependence on the mission or the missionary."
Must We Join Another Race to Be Saved?
McGavran goes on to say that converts achieved through extraction "felt that they were joining not merely a new religion, but an entirely foreign way of living--proclaimed by foreigners, led by foreigners and ruled by foreigners...In many parts of the field it was as psychologically difficult for a person to become a Christian as it would be for a white man in South Africa to join a Negro Church knowing that his children would intermarry with the black children. The person not only became a Christian, but he was generally believed to have joined another race." Our job is to give people access to the Gospel without putting up unnecessary cultural barriers for them to cross over.
McGavran continues, "People Movements have five considerable advantages. First, they have provided the Christian movement with permanent churches rooted in the soil of hundreds of thousands of villages. For their continued economic life they are quite independent of Western missions. They are accustomed (unfortunately too accustomed) to a low degree of education. Yet their devotion has frequently been tested in the fires of persecution and found to be pure gold. They are here to stay. They are permanent comrades on the pilgrim way.
They have the advantage of being naturally indigenous. In the Mission Station Approach the convert is brought in as an individual to a pattern dominated by the foreigner. The foreigner has set the pace and the style, often to his own dismay. But such denationalization is a very minor affair in true People Movements. In them the new Christians seldom see the missionary. They are immersed in their own cultures. Their style of clothing, of eating and of speaking continues almost unchanged. Their churches are necessarily built like their houses--and are as indigenous as anyone could wish. They cannot sing or learn foreign tunes readily, so local tunes are often used. Thus an indigenous quality, highly sought and rarely found by leaders of the Mission Station Approach churches, is obtained without effort by People Movement churches.
People Movements have a third major advantage. With them 'the spontaneous expansion of the Church' is natural. Spontaneous expansion involves a full trust in the Holy Spirit and a recognition that the ecclesiastical traditions of the older churches are not necessarily useful to the younger churches arising out of the missions from the West. New groups of converts are expected to multiply themselves in the same way as did the new groups of converts who were the early churches. Advocates of spontaneous expansion point out that foreign-directed movements will in the end lead to sterility and antagonism to their sponsors, and that therefore the methods now being pursued, here called the Mission Station Approach, will never bring us within measurable distance of the evangelization of the world."
It turns out that when individuals are won, and they start learning how to live life in a local assembly they often largely exit their culture and family and community where they used to live. This is what a "Stationary" mission subtly communicates as the proper way of life for believers, which is to draw them out. To new converts of this method it is an advantage to live life in the church because they never really fit in society anyway. I don't know if I, personally, fit the "misfit of society" stereotype... now I wonder if I did! McGavran even points out that there are a few jobs on the Mission compound to give a means of self-support to the converts, but because the jobs are few, older converts actually discourage new converts so they won't have competition for their job in the missionary compound! What a conviction that is on life in the local assembly, where there are only a few positions of leadership and everybody wants to make an impact, not knowing where else they could find work for the LORD!
|scattering our people for mission in Salem|
Does this make sense?? I'm doing my best to explain what it means to become a missional church.
Their impact is so natural because they will be in the relationships they have already been living with those people, all their lives. It is SO MUCH BETTER than a missionary who acts and speaks Christianese coming in and telling people how to be like them in absolutely everything (mixed in with the message to pursue Kingdom life).
I think about this when I think about the 14 response cards after the 500-1000 people out there our church prayed would become saved through the Easter services. McGavran concludes,
"Desirable as spontaneous expansion is, it is a difficult ideal for the Mission Station Approach churches to achieve. They might be freed from all bonds to the Western Churches, they might be convinced that they had all the spiritual authority needed to multiply themselves, they might be filled with the Holy Spirit and abound in desire to win others to Christ, and yet--just because they form a separate people and have no organic linkages with any other neighboring people--they would find it extremely difficult to form new churches. In People Movement churches, on the contrary, spontaneous expansion is natural. Thus we come to the most marked advantage of these movements.
We don't often have to learn a new language or come to learn extreme cultural differences in order to win a few converts here in Salem, Oregon. The kind of differences we need to cross come from the fact that not everybody is comfortable with studying a bible. Or dressing up for church. Or they have a different avenue for medication which is use of marijuana. These are smaller differences and we can't confuse a call to enter the Kingdom with the call to superficial uniformity and Spirit-devoid morality. When it comes to winning souls, you cannot have your cake and eat it too. You must choose between planting the gospel, or planting everything else.
So We Let Them Keep Their Own Communities.
Does This Mean We Never See The Fruit?
Seeing the fruit. That's one reason we want them inside Salem First. What are some other important reasons we gather together at one time? Gathering ourselves back to SFB is just as important as scattering ourselves into pockets of the city.
Salem First Baptist Church has a vision to start a third service. Are 100 new converts annually going to be sufficient to populate a third service? Perhaps. What if we shared the gospel in natural communities in the Salem area and the communities began to believe? They would need a place to congregate. What if the Islander immigrants began following Jesus and they needed a place to congregate? We CAN keep in line with our history. We can see whole congregations of the Chinese, Russian, or other varieties of peoples "come to church." If we went into their services, we might not understand the language of their sermons. Or their music. Or their ways of social interaction. And that would be ok, wouldn't it, as it once was?
Would you give up a little cultural comfort through insisting that everyone in Salem be comfortable growing in our kind of church... and trade that for filling our sanctuary with additional services?
|Gathering is just as biblical as missional communities|
We're Losing Salem Without Moving Preservationally
Through Its Cultural Uniqueness
Salem First Baptist's vision is "A growing community of followers of Christ who are being transformed into His likeness and reshaping culture to reflect God's heart."
You may prefer to see salvations occur individual by individual. Increasing by addition, instead of by multiplication. You may say, "Other churches in may close their doors here locally, but as long as we keep reaching individuals like we have, we will survive the impending churchlessness in America."
That may be true. Even if SFB stays open, other churches will still close. We don't want other churches to close! If they do, we also lose! With a shrinking witness, I'm afraid the animosity and confusion toward Church in the surrounding culture will only intensify. There is only one way to change the culture. It is from within the culture. It will not be by maintaining our "safe base" like in the game of tag that our children love to play. It will have to be by finding indigenous representatives of all the pocket communities in this city and developing them to do and be the church where they are, so that all of them can know Jesus in a way that makes sense in the culture they have.
I'm looking for someone, just one person who feels this way about the PGN. I don't know what the mission looks like, but I know God wants to plant the gospel there. There is only one reason why I'm still blogging about missional opportunities...