5 Things to Learn from International Church Planting -- #1: Be a Learner, not a Leader
Last week, at the Church Planting Leadership Fellowship, we gathered about 100 leaders from about 40 different denominations (from Anglicans to the former Worldwide Church of God) to learn from one another in church planting. I gave a brief update on that here and shared more about the purpose of the CPLF here. We meet twice a year to encourage and learn from one another.
Now, it is worth noting that this is a gathering of North American Church Planters with people like David Wells, representing the PAOC (the Pentecostal Assemblies of CANADA), and Jim Bland of the PCA (the Presbyterian Church in AMERICA). Yet, most of the meeting was focused on those OUTSIDE of the very area they served. Why? Well, simply put, we are seeing Church Planting Movements around the world while we are trying to get church planting moving here.
So, our focus was on church planting GLOBALLY for what we could learn and apply locally.
We had leaders from Hong Kong, China, Germany, Sri Lanka, and several other Asian countries we cannot list for security reasons. One of the speakers helped start a movement with almost 2,000,000 believers. Another talked about movements he studied with tens of thousands of churches. Our speakers were nationals and missionaries.
At the end of the meeting, I shared five things I gleaned along the way and I thought I would share them with you in a bit of an expanded form. It will be in five parts over the next few weeks.
First, North American church planting leaders need to be the learners and not the leaders in the global church planting conversation. We in the West need to be listening and learning from our sisters and brothers around the Two-Thirds world.
The reality is that because North America has been so prominent in mission sending, sometimes it's not as engaged in mission learning. That's a mistake.
If you are a North American (or Aussie or Brit) listen to the global leaders and have a humble missiology to learn what's going on around the world. We've seen that among the Anglicans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Baptist, Lutherans, and others. Around the world there are explosive movements that we can learn from.
For example, I get a regular email from the Methodists' research office in New York City. In the most recent issue, they explained:
One example is Almolonga, Guatemala. Prior to the transformation in the 1990s, this highlands village had a very high alcohol consumption rate among the men. There were 36 cantinas where alcohol could be consumed. There were four jails, usually overflowing, with the additional offenders shipped to surrounding communities. The economy was feeble, with only four truckloads of produce exported monthly. The Christian presence was marginal, with those who were deeply committed often experiencing persecution. Old-fashioned idolatry was practiced by many of the townsfolk.
Finally, some of the local pastors and laypeople had had enough and began to cry out to God with prayer and fasting. They expressed an acknowledgment of the desperation of the situation and the resulting need for God's intervention, as well as a deep hunger for the person and presence of God. After some time their prayers began to be answered. Some dramatic healings and conversions took place and then things snowballed.
In a few short years, a total transformation of the community took place. Instead of a few struggling churches, there are now over 30 churches, several with over a thousand members. Of the 36 cantinas, only three remain open. Many of the former cantinas are now churches. Around 90 percent of the 20,000 population worship Jesus. All the jails have closed. Formerly unproductive, alcoholic men have become responsible family men with strong work ethics. They have saved up money to buy Mercedes trucks to transport their produce. The four truckloads of produce a month have become 40. The vegetables are not just more numerous, but also enormous. The growing cycle for some went from 60 days to 25. Underground springs opened up. The local Christians hold that God healed the land.
That does not sound like most Methodists I know, but I like the story (though I'd love to know more about the growing cycle!). Methodism is exploding in Central America through the proclamation of the gospel. It had a reminder at the end of the article that this is what Methodism once looked like here.
It can be a challenge to us to learn from around the world, but also a challenge to us here. Perhaps we need the reproof-- to be reminded that we do not have movements here, partly because we do live like our sisters and brothers do around the world.
So, I start the series with where I intend to take the series-- we (in the West) need to be the learner and not the leaders. Over the next several posts I will share the areas where I think we need to learn.