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FIRST-PERSON: Passionate planters seek God’s glory first

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Church-planting movements may be the most exciting phenomenon in today’s world, writes Mary Jane Welch, editor of The Commission magazine.

They are powerful. They are biblical. They are of God. However, to avoid sabotaging their potential — or downsizing them into another mission fad — heed this essential reminder from International Mission Board strategist David Garrison:

“A church-planting movement is not an end in itself. The end of all our efforts is for God to be glorified.”

A consuming desire to see that end become reality is the mark of Christians dedicated to God’s global purpose. It motivates them to plant their own lives with holy passion, “that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11).

Here are a few brief glimpses of such lives over the past year:

“How shall we ask people to pray for the church in China?” some Christian workers asked a Chinese house church leader. He has been beaten and imprisoned many times for his faith, yet continues to proclaim Christ. His reply: “Don’t ask God to put an end to the persecution. Pray instead that those who are suffering will sense God’s presence with them, and that he will be glorified through their lives and witness.”

Describing another Chinese lay evangelist, a worker wrote: “It was moving to see this man with nothing but his tea jar and the clothes on his back sitting on my couch, wanting to know more about Jesus. He and his family have since walked long distances to other villages to share with countless others … and brought many to us for baptism and training. They are truly on fire for the Lord.” Most Chinese church planters, however, go out alone for months at a time while their churches take care of their families. One homesick planter received a tape-recorded message from his 5-year-old son saying, “Don’t worry about us. You are doing God’s work. I will obey Mommy.”

First-year IMB missionary Gloria Sloan witnessed the accidental drowning of her husband, Gary, and 11-year-old daughter, Carla, in Mexico during a 1999 beach outing. She came home but returned to Mexico with her three other children by year’s end. “My calling did not end on that beach when Gary and Carla died,” she says. Today she leads a children’s ministry. She still grieves and experiences loneliness; she juggles kids and mission work. But when she faces hard times, “my mind goes back to that moment in the sand holding my baby, and I know God can handle anything. I have come to understand that verse that his strength is made perfect in me.”

A Southern Baptist volunteer in Southeast Asia wrote: “When I came [here], I came with a fear of the unknown, of weird diseases, deadly insects, strange food, a hostile government and of never being able to shower again! I wrote in my journal the day before I stepped on the plane, ‘Why am I going? Because I’m crazy, because I believe in making a difference, because my Father loves the people of [this land] and so I do, too. How could I not go?’ So here we are, our ragtag bunch of students, terrified of everything we don’t know and completely in love with everything we do, off on the greatest adventure we have ever known. Now my time here is almost finished, and what will I take home with me? Despite all circumstances, God is at work raising up a people for himself from every tribe, nation and tongue. I want to be where he is moving, using my energy and talents to hasten the day of his return.”

People in Berkovitsa, Bulgaria, once feared the Gypsy Ivan Zahariev. He was a criminal and a sometimes vicious drunk. But when he accepted Christ as his Savior, his life changed. As an IMB missionary discipled him, Ivan the drunk became Ivan the preacher. Ultimately his entire village changed, too. Today he is pastor of a growing Baptist church in Berkovitsa, where crime has fallen sharply. Now he envisions churches for all his people. His radio messages in the “Rom” Gypsy language have brought responses from far and wide. “When someone calls on him, God is near, and he comes,” Zahariev says. “He wants to live within us, not just near us!”

And when he truly lives within us, we have a passion to plant our lives among all peoples.
Tomorrow: Church-planting movements started with the Book of Acts.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges