Andy Davis’s Talk at The Gospel Coalition’s Missions Conference

Missions | Posted by: Editors

By Kevin Schaub, Lead Editor

FBC Durham’s senior pastor, Andy Davis, is a council member for The Gospel Coalition. Back in April, he spoke at TGC’s 2013 missions conference in Orlando on the topic of whether people without Christ are really lost.

The full video from that plenary session is embedded below, or you can watch it here.

Please share this with your friends. Andy’s talk has also been translated into Mandarin, Farsi, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. Just click the links if you would like to listen to it in one of those languages.

Of course, we would love to encourage you to check out the rest of the conference media. All seventy-eight of the plenaries, workshops, and auxiliary events are posted at the TGC website and free to download.

 

From Hearing to Maturity: Considering Missional Applications for the Local Church

Church,Missions | Posted by: Editors

By Chris, Missionary Serving in East Asia

David Hesselgrave has been one of the most prominent and influential figures in evangelical missiology over the past few decades. His academic prowess and extensive writing on most aspects of the missionary endeavor have endeared him to the Great Commission community. His magnum opus, Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally, has become a staple textbook in classrooms and mission courses all throughout the global west. In this book (pp 446–452), Hesselgrave describes the several stages he believes generally occur in authentic Christian conversions. Here is a summary of the process as he describes it:

Discovery: “There is a person called Christ whom the true God is said to have sent into the world to be the Savior and Lord of human beings.”

Deliberation: “Should I forsake my old ways and follow Christ?”

Determination: “I will repent and believe in Christ.”

Dissonance: “Forces are trying to draw me back to the old ways. Should I resist them and continue to follow Christ?”

Discipline: “I will identify with the people of Christ in His church. I will live in submission to His lordship and church discipline.”

Even though Hesselgrave was only using these phases to delineate different aspects of the conversion process, he was very wise to begin the last phase as identifying with the people of Christ in his church. If our goal is to bring those we are sharing with to become mature disciples of Christ, then we should not set our goal at merely a profession of faith. We should set our goal for those we are sharing with to as: we want to see them “liv[ing] in submission to [Jesus’] lordship” and “identify[ing] with the people of Christ in his church.”

Using a Chinese idiom that means “As you begin, so you go,” a pastor in China recently contrasted the differences between those who come to faith in the local church and those who come to faith through foreign missionaries. He noted that even though foreign missionaries boast much higher numbers of professions of faith, they have a much lower percentage of those who enter the church and become spiritually mature. His meaning of using the idiom was that if you make the “decision” the focal point of our witnessing efforts, then it’s very difficult to get that person to grow beyond that. However, if our witnessing efforts should be focused on spiritual maturity, then our evangelism methods should aim for a trajectory that goes beyond merely a profession of faith.

 Here is how he contrasted the difference:

Foreign Missionary Local Church
Witnessing efforts focused on presentation                           Witnessing efforts focused on relationship
Witnessing efforts focused on a decision Witnessing efforts focused on a process
Witnessing efforts focused on the individual Witnessing efforts focused on the family
The missionary did the evangelism The local church did the evangelism

 

In this pastor’s manner of thinking, even if the missionary did not intend to make the “decision” the focal point of the evangelism process, his actions communicate otherwise. With much fervor he would share the gospel message and always make sure to ask, “Do you believe this?” This seemed to be rather effective because after a few times meeting together an individual would either make a decision (yes or no), or he would stop meeting with the missionary. If the decision was “yes,” they would quickly begin a discipleship curriculum. If the answer was “no,” then the missionary would shift their concentrated efforts to a different individual.

Meanwhile, on any given night, the local brothers and sisters would share meals together. They enjoy hosting one another, and always try to encourage one another to bring friends. While fellowshipping together, they would get to know their guests and ask them many questions about their family and life, inviting their whole family to join in on their times of study and fellowship. The Scriptures were always the centerpiece of their gatherings and they would naturally try to draw the non-Christians into discussion, inviting them to come to the next gathering to discuss more.

For our American culture, the way the Chinese pastor described the evangelistic method of the missionary often seems most natural to us. It is a streamlined process that is measurable and identifiable. The method of the Chinese church that I just described above, however, is different and takes a great deal of time and investment—and it’s difficult to identify whether the non-believing family is more interested in the meals and friendship than they are the gospel. However, what is communicated non-verbally in the two methods is the importance of the community of believers. In the missionary’s method, he might share about the local church in the gospel message, but that seems to be an afterthought to getting the individual to make a decision. But, in the other example, the decision to follow Jesus is not only told with words, it is also lived out among the members of the local church.

Are we communicating the significance of the local church in our evangelistic methods? Are we displaying the joy of Christian fellowship in how/when/where we gather? If not, is it any wonder why it is difficult for the church to seem relevant to those in the communities around us?

In situations where we send those from among us to live overseas and plant churches, the way that the entire church family is involved in the process can also communicate the church as missionary model to the locals in that setting. They will see the sacrifice, effort, care, and love that one church can have for another as the parent church is willing to provide for the needs of the daughter church. This happens as our overseas representatives share their needs with us, and we rally to go, support, and provide for those needs.  Our mere presence can communicate far more than our unintelligible language sometimes. 

May we always be willing to cross whatever geographic or cultural barrier that exists to help put those churches we are planting on a path to maturity. May we live like the Chinese pastor was challenging us to live, even in places where no local church yet exists. Inviting families into our homes and having them join in our Christian community (even if it is only our family), they will see the joy that is shared as God’s people gather together. And, may all our evangelism and church planting efforts be done with the goal of  bringing the nations to hearing about Jesus for the first time and to “identifying with the people of Christ in His church … living in submission to His lordship and church discipline.”

“We Were There”: Considering Missional Applications for the Local Church

Church,Missions | Posted by: Editors

By Chris, Missionary Serving in East Asia

The Great Leap Forward resulted in one of the most deadly mass killings in human history. Under the leadership of Mao Zedong and the Communist Party of China, soldiers scoured the country’s vast landscape, confiscating all of the land and placing it in the hands of the government. Millions of people died as they fought to keep their stead and tens of millions died by the ensuing famine and fallout. There was not a tread of sod left untouched by this great tragedy.

After assuming ownership of all land, the government gathered the country’s inhabitants into communes. In each commune, every individual and family had to give up the rights to their own possessions. Everything became owned by the “collective whole.” While Mao was able to get the majority of the population organized into such communes, there were pockets where this was not as successful. Resistance was most strongly maintained among the tribal peoples who refused to give up the lands they had been cultivating for centuries. They were resolved to stand firm, in part, because of the history and heritage they shared on that sod. Where such strongholds remained, the government eventually made concessions with those peoples by allowing them to maintain limited autonomy over their native territories. 

While the victory of resistance is still shared among many of China’s minorities, the stories and memories of all that happened in that dark period of their history are still alive and active. A couple of years ago, I was in a meeting where a local pastor was addressing a small church. He was speaking to them about how to share the resurrection of Jesus Christ with their village. He reminded them of the aforementioned battles their grandparents fought to keep their lands, climaxing with a battle cry they were all familiar with, “We were there when the unspoken boundaries were drawn!” “We were there,” he paused, “We were there when Jesus died. We were there when he was placed in the tomb. We were there when he rose from the dead!” “We were there,” he said, “that is how we should share about the resurrection.”

I will never forget the way that pastor’s words collided with the Spirit within me. The ethnic people group these brothers and sisters were from are the original inhabitants of their land. They believe their ancestors settled there several thousand years prior. Yet, they still claim, “We were there …”  That same strong identity shared with their physical ancestors is now shared among the descendants of the people of God. My spiritual heritage became more near and concrete to me that day. I became more finely tuned to what Peter was saying in 1 Peter 2:9–10:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.”

Here, Peter was talking about a chosen people from a remnant of all peoples throughout all generations, a royal priesthood made up of all tribes spanning all ages, a holy nation crossing all global geographic and ethnic barriers. As far chronologically removed as we may be from the events recorded in the history of the early church, as the people of God, we were there

Aside from learning a great and new practical perspective for sharing the gospel, I’ve drawn a couple of practical implications from this:

First, the more we understand our Christian heritage, the more we can identify with those who went before us—and with the doctrinal battles they fought. This should embolden us not to concede our doctrinal foundations, but rather to persevere in resisting theological compromise. So, we should have an action plan—to learn our history. We should learn our biblical, church, denominational, and local church histories:

Biblical History: This is the story of what it means to be the people of God. “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26). “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps 139:16).

Church History: Every generation comes up with new ways to express the same ancient theological errors. The firm doctrinal foundations laid by our spiritual predecessors serve as theological moorings to help keep us from drifting into dangerous theological waters.

Denominational History: We should know the tenets on which our denomination was founded. With healthy local bodies of regenerate believers joining together, our churches serving as missionaries can confidently take the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth.

Local Church History: God has hardwired the world in such a way that each local body should serve as a luminary in our immediate community and beyond. We should seek to know our beginnings and set our course so that each successive generation can see how we are part of God’s plan in bringing the nations to dwell with and enjoy him forever.

Second, an understanding of our history should make us increasingly aware of the need to dispatch larger regiments of soldiers as the Kingdom marches on. So here, also, we need a plan of action: i.e., to train up, and then disperse, our local fellowship of believers:

Evangelism and Basic Discipleship: Outside of normal times of corporate worship, all members should have access to good theological training provided by the local church.

Discipleship for Life: God’s main means for the sanctification of every believer is for us to grow up into maturity through the local church.

Elder Training: A local church should always be striving to train up men as a means of both providing a succession plan for existing leaders, and for the development of new leaders.

Church Planting and Missions: As the local church equips and trains disciples in the previous three areas, it then disperses them into new areas for the advancement of the kingdom. Once a new church is planted, it should implement the same type of training and dispersing paradigm so that all church plants strive to produce church-planting churches.

Thanks for reading so far. We’ll continue this series, Lord willing, next week.

The Church As Missionary: Considering Missional Applications for the Local Church

Church,Missions | Posted by: Editors

By Chris, Missionary Serving in East Asia

Captain James Cook was the famed 18th century British naval explorer, who sailed across thousands of miles of previously uncharted territories. He published maps and writings of the exotic peoples and places he discovered as he went. During that time, as many faithful followers of Jesus Christ began to gain access to Captain Cook’s discoveries, God began to stir in them a swirling storm of conviction to get the gospel to these previously unknown regions of the world.  Each man’s work continued to build on another: from David Brainerd to Jonathan Edwards to William Cary, until the modern missionary movement was birthed. Today, there are hundreds of missionary organizations in existence sending thousands of missionaries all over the globe. 

While there are many things to celebrate in the current state of the modern missionary movement, there is also some things that should cause concern. For example, nearly every modern definition of a missionary focuses on the task of sending an individual across geographic and/or cultural boundaries to live out the Great Commission among a population segment that has little to no access to the gospel message. Unfortunately, it seems to me that many fail to see the inherent danger with this definition.

Consider the following scenario with me:

The Wright family goes to serve in a country that’s officially closed to the gospel. They go to work with a people group that does not have a single known believer. They win some people to faith and gather them together. After a while the group begins to mature and forms into a church.  Even though they are young, they want to do what the Bible says in all matters of faith. Not wanting to create dependency from the church on outsiders, the Wright’s provide increasingly less support for the new church, and instead continue the same church planting model in new areas.

On the surface, this seems like a commendable plan. The Wright family has done a great job in evangelism and getting this church formed. However, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. Is this church equipped to be self-sustaining and self-theologizing? Is this church equipped to deal with difficult persecution? Is it equipped to develop new Christian traditions that completely replace previous pagan ones? Is it equipped to help women who are abused physically, emotionally, or sexually? Is the church able to correctly discern truth from the errors of false doctrine? And most importantly, even if the Wright family continues to help this young fellowship, are the Wrights alone equipped to provide all that is needed to help this church mature? Remember, in this scenario, this is the first church planted among that population segment. There are no other neighboring churches they can go and talk with to learn how to deal with certain trials that might arise.   

Every year there are hundreds of churches that are reportedly planted on the mission field that begin like one I described above; however, an alarmingly significant percentage of these churches will no longer be in existence two years later.

If we want to plant churches that are going to stand the test of time—churches that will also be able to plant other church-planting churches—then we need to stop looking at individuals as missionaries and begin to look to the local church as the missionary. While there might be individuals that go out from us for certain portions of the church planting efforts, the work of church planting is better understood to be the work of the local church.  

Three important implications for the church as missionary paradigm:

1) From Hearing to Maturity: While individuals sent out from the local church might be well equipped to initiate the church planting process, precious few are able to give a new church (in a cross-cultural context nonetheless) everything they need to be healthy and self-sustaining. Imagine the training needed for a context in which no previous believers in the entire population segment existed! All members will be brand new believers and must grow into their positions of church leadership and service. The parent church can nurture the daughter church in this process in ways that individuals cannot.

2) The “Homogeneous Unit” Principle: This principle focuses on the fact that demographically similar people tend to flock together. This can lead to the ostracizing and neglect of certain segments of the target population and does not well portray the differences in the body of Christ that is characterized all throughout the Scriptures. If individual missionaries are very intentional, they will be able to share the gospel with all types of people. However, if they want to follow Jesus’ model of discipleship, they will only be able to spend consistent one-on-one/life-on-life training with a fraction of those they see come to faith. This normally ends up being those who are in the same gender and phase of life as the missionary. Therefore, regardless of the cultural differences, the church plant tends to look very much like the missionary.  If the missionary is not an individual, but a church body, the Homogeneous Unit problem can be replaced with a healthy church planting model.

3) The Church/Parachurch Relationship: The prefix ‘para’ can have several similar, but different, definitions. In regard to para-church the suffix takes on the meaning ‘distinct from, yet providing assistance to’ the church. Therefore, it is important to remember that such an entity is not only distinct from a church, but it exists to assist the church. With the church seeking consultation and training from parachurch organizations for specific elements of the missionary task, the church can maintain its position as missionary while receiving much needed help from others who are more experienced or equipped in certain areas.

While there are numerous tracking systems for the number of churches being planted globally each year, there does not seem to be much effort given to the tracking of the growth of such churches. Not too long ago, I was part of a group that was studying the elements behind three different movements where churches were rapidly planting new churches. While there was certainly much to celebrate, I was deeply grieved to discover that more than eighty churches reported in these movements were no longer in existence before their second birthday. If we are sowing our seeds a mile wide but only an inch deep, is there any wonder that persecution and the worries of this world are choking the life out of these young fellowships (cf. Matt 13:1–23)? It’s similar to this old, oft-quoted African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

In following posts, we will look at each of the aforementioned implications for local church mission work, and consider how a US-based local church can practically apply them by serving as a missionary in a global context.

Image Credit.

What’s Scheduled This Week

Church,Missions | Posted by: Editors

By Kevin Schaub, Lead Editor

We’ll take a brief break this week from our current series on “Christ’s View of the Scripture,” in order to hear from one of FBC Durham’s missionaries serving overseas. These posts will consider missional applications for the local church. It looks like the first post will go up tomorrow, so we hope you’ll come back and check it out.