POWELL, Tenn. (BP)–The folks at First Baptist Church of Powell, Tenn., must be one of the most confident congregations in the United States.
They have to be. Why else would they commit to evangelize a city of 1.9 million people in India all by themselves? And they plan to do it with teams of fewer than 10 people — most of whom have never been to India before.
They must be crazy. Or is it God?
A ‘STRATEGY COORDINATOR CHURCH’
With the title of “strategy coordinator church,” First Baptist Church, Powell, is one of the first churches to join the effort called Project Thessalonica. It was developed to recruit Southern Baptist congregations who will develop a long-term game plan to start churches in Indian cities, where few — if any — have heard the Gospel.
The job of strategy coordinator usually goes to full-time missionaries, but in a region with more than a billion peeople, the board needs all the help it can get. This past spring, First Baptist Church, Powell, sent its first team to India to scope out the area and begin their work.
For those Southern Baptists who are still a little hazy about what a church-planting movement is, it’s not about a building, or paid staff, or a parking lot. It’s about establishing a community of believers and training them to multiply into more communities.
Pastor Phil Jones admitted this is one of the toughest assignments the church has ever accepted. Right now, they’re just following orders — God’s orders.
“We’re not 100 percent sure of all that [being a strategy coordinator church] involves, but we know a little bit of what that involves,” Jones said. “We’re sort of learning as we go along.”
With their bright clothes, backpacks, water bottles and maps, the church’s missions team looked like a bunch of tourists at a theme park when they first arrived in their assigned city. Despite the team’s we’re-not-from-around-here appearance, they accomplished all of their objectives for the first trip.
They trained, prayerwalked, distributed Bible verses throughout the city, began mapping the area and established helpful contacts with a couple of friendly Indians. They even picked up an invite to a private wedding that they attended — not bad for a few days of work.
“I’ve seen other workers come into areas for six months, eight months and not be as far along as this group is in five days,” said Marc Bowman, Project Thessalonica coordinator. “… And I think that is a direct result of prayer.”
STARTING AT GROUND ZERO
Bowman and his wife, Ann, guided First Baptist, Powell, with their training before and during the first trip to India. For the past two years, the couple has helped churches willing to work in India.
Finding a church to make such a commitment isn’t always that easy.
“They’re starting from ground zero,” Bowman said. “We are training them basically how to take the place of a full-time person living on the field training the nationals — they’re responsible for coming in, doing evangelism, discipleship, church planting and showing [new Christians] how to reproduce that.”
Southern Baptist churches participating in the project can send volunteer teams into a city as many as five to seven times a year. Churches can make a commitment for three years or for as long as it takes to complete the task. The project also provides opportunities for students in the church who feel called to spend a summer mapping and researching the city.
Jones hopes the partnership will revolutionize the congregation’s passion for missions and stir other churches, of all sizes, to get involved.
“I think that most churches have inferiority complexes,” he said. “They think, ‘Who are we? We’re just a little group of people in our little corner of the world, and what impact could we have on millions of people who are lost?’ We don’t realize the power that God has invested in His church.”
COMMITMENT TO GO
It is true that First Baptist Church, Powell, is no small church. They send about 300 to 350 of their 2,800 members on about 30 mission trips per year. That’s active in missions by any standards, but being active isn’t about the size of the church. It’s about the heart of the church, Jones said.
“There are too many unreached peoples for us to spend all of our time where other people are willing to go,” Jones said. “We don’t want to go where everybody else is going.”
Risks come with the territory.
“If we wait until there is no danger, no challenge, then we may never go,” Jones said.
“Danger” is one word Vicki Tillman, a member of the team, admitted she tries to avoid. “I’m a fearful person,” the petite, 30-something lawyer, wife and mother admitted.
“[But] I realized … that until I became courageous in God, by stepping out in faith and being led by God, that I would never be useful to God,” she said.
Tillman, converted from a Jewish background, hopes the Lord will make the same difference in the lives of people in India that He made in her life. Even if no one accepts Christ in this particular city in India, Tillman said obeying God outweighs the risk of failure.
“My job is to go and plant those seeds, and whether it comes quickly or in years to come, we’re going to provide them with that opportunity.”
Scott Sherrod, who led the first team, refers to the project as a “God dream.” He said it is an opportunity he and his wife, Rosemary, have been praying about for the past two to three years.
“In the meeting, when I was hearing [Bowman] unveil this whole process, the hair on the back of my neck stood up,” Sherrod recalled. “It was terribly exciting.”
One of the best parts for Sherrod, a self-proclaimed average Joe, was that the project did not exclude people on the basis of experience. In addition to a lawyer, the team consists of a nurse, an administrative assistant, homemakers and businessmen.
“There are no [ministry] professionals involved in this,” Sherrod said. “There are six women and two men, and I believe they have been God-picked.”
With more than a dozen Bibles in his home, Sherrod said he personally feels obligated to share the truth with those who have never heard the Gospel.
“We have a message,” he said. “And to not share that message is very selfish.
He might even say it’s a little crazy.
For more information about outreach in South Asia, visit http://www.imb.org/southasia.