SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (BP) — We face the enormous challenge here in Illinois of a mission field that is not just large geographically, it is also inhabited by a wide variety of people. People from all over the world call our state home.
Additionally, every ethnic group in Illinois has generational distinctions among them that are reflected in differing worldviews, communication styles and values. While that may be obvious in Chicago, it’s just as true in countless unincorporated rural regions of our state.
Church planting offers us the opportunity to see a wide variety of peoples won to Christ, to grow in Christ-likeness and to mature as disciples in community as God has designed.
Throughout Illinois, we have people groups who do not have ready access to the Gospel. They do not have a group of believers with whom they have enough in common to develop relationships of trust and understanding that are essential to hearing the Gospel and responding in faith. They do not have a community of believers with enough in common to urge one another on to love and good deeds.
In suburban West Chicago, we have a church plant that is evangelizing and discipling Zomi people who have come to the U.S. as refugees. Having come to these shores from Burma as a result of religious and ethnic persecution, Zomis are hearing and responding to the Gospel through the work of a Zomi church planter, Kam Sen.
Kam Sen understands the values, needs and concerns of his Zomi kinsmen because their experience is his experience. He understands how to communicate biblical truth in ways that connect with them. And he knows how to lead them to maturity as disciples.
In southern Illinois, meanwhile, there are young and middle-aged adults who may not value all the expectations of attire and conduct that may be part of the culture of established churches in their area. They may not know all the theological vocabulary that is sometimes common in churches with a long history. The long, deep and beneficial relationships among people in older churches can be impenetrable circles to unchurched people.
While older, established churches continue their fruitful ministries of evangelism and discipleship, planting new churches allows us to engage, evangelize and disciple people who feel disconnected from the cultural distinctions of the established church.
Church planting holds for us the greatest opportunity to see the various peoples in Illinois have the opportunity to hear and respond to the Gospel and to grow as followers of Jesus along with other disciples.
Whether new or old, our churches are the only biblically defined, God-ordained, Jesus-headed and Holy Spirit-organized place for spiritual growth and maturity to happen.