RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–“It’s a God thing.”
That’s a phrase you hear a lot these days — particularly among young missionaries — to describe a development explainable only in terms of divine activity.
A true church planting movement fits that category. It’s a rapid, exponentially growing wave of indigenous churches planting other churches within a people group or region. Missionaries often help spark the movement, but it must take on a momentum of its own — led by local believers and sustained by the Spirit of God.
Only a few years ago, mission strategists believed such movements were unlikely to occur in highly unevangelized areas. Establishing “toe-hold” churches might be the best short-term result to expect among some unreached peoples, they cautioned — followed by generations of slow, painstaking expansion.
But God has surprised and challenged the modern mission movement with his passion for the lost, just as he surprised the early apostles who ended up evangelizing much of the Roman world. Where believers follow the New Testament pattern found in the Book of Acts, church planting movements are beginning to flower in seemingly rock-hard soil.
As powerful and exciting as it may be, however, a church planting movement “is not an end in itself,” cautions David Garrison of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. “The end of all our efforts is for God to be glorified.”
That’s where the passion comes from.
“Our [lay leaders] are so on fire that we simply cannot hold them back,” observes one amazed worker in the midst of a church planting movement. “They fan out all over the country starting Bible studies and a few weeks later we begin to get word back how many they have started. It’s the craziest thing we ever saw! We did not start it and we couldn’t stop it if we tried.”
Such zeal comes from above — not from a training manual. Training is critically needed, but it can’t stir up passion where there is none. The same is true of Southern Baptists who respond to God’s burning heart for the world.
“Why does a missionary go to a place uninvited or live where missionaries are not welcome? Why does one embrace hardship and danger and subject his or her family to isolation and uncertainty?” asks International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin. His answer: “a passion to reach the lost with the good news of Christ” — and ultimately a passion for God himself that constrains us to worship him among all nations.
Sometimes that passion turns up in surprising places.
Several months ago, IMB missionaries Larry and Terry Singletary were driving in Uganda with their children, Andy, 19, Laura, 17, and Jackie, 15, when a Karamojong tribal warrior stepped out of the tall grass with an AK-47. Another armed man appeared on the other side of the road. Recognizing robbery and possible death at the hands of bandits, Singletary jammed the car into reverse and swung it around. The bandits started pumping bullets into the car as his wife and kids dove for cover.
One bullet slammed into the back seats between Jackie and Andy; another shattered a window. A piece of shrapnel hit Jackie’s back. Her father hurtled down the road away from the bandits — until a tire blew out. Not knowing whether their attackers were in hot pursuit, the family fearfully got out to change the tire. They jumped back in and took off again.
“The kids were crying, we didn’t know if the wound Jackie had was a bullet or a piece of glass, and everyone was just going to pieces,” Terry Singletary later admitted. Nobody would have blamed anyone in the family that day for screaming, “I never want to go near these people again!”
Instead, 15-year-old Jackie, hurt and bleeding, cried out: “They need Jesus! They just need Jesus. They live in darkness. They don’t understand … . Oh God, they just need you!”
Jackie’s wound later proved to be superficial. But her moment of extremity revealed what was in her heart: a passion for the lost souls of the Karamojong people — even those who had attacked her and her family.
That’s a God thing.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: LOVE UNDER FIRE.