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WORLDVIEW: Celebrating ‘unsung heroes’ of church-planting

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The early church had its share of superstars, the Peters and Pauls who led the way as the Gospel began to spread from Jerusalem across the Roman world.

It also had behind-the-scenes servants such as Aquila and Priscilla, Barnabas and John Mark –- helpers, encouragers and trainers who set the stage for more visible leaders to flourish. Their service is recorded in the New Testament, but they don’t get as much attention as the up-front guys.

Some modern-day missionaries are quietly making similar contributions to the birth and nurture of churches in East Asia, according to an International Mission Board strategist based there. Without making a fuss or attracting a lot of attention, they are helping change history in the region.

He calls them “the unsung heroes of church-planting movements in the making.”

Aquila and Priscilla provided the Apostle Paul with a way to build tents and meet the people he wanted to reach. They followed him to Corinth and Ephesus and later planted churches everywhere they went.

Jeff* and Glenda*, a middle-aged Southern Baptist couple, are modern-day parallels. Jeff was a printer; Glenda owned a landscaping business. They decided to offer themselves for missions service after their grown children left home, so Jeff and Glenda moved to a city in a restricted part of East Asia.

“They are ordinary people, but they really began to use their ministry skills,” the strategist says. “In Jeff and Glenda’s first two years, they shared the Gospel with 250 people. About 125 of them came to faith, and 12 churches resulted.”

They also came into contact with a house-church network in the region and began to coach and train its leaders to become trainers of others.

“As they began to train, churches began to multiply,” he continues. “(Local government) officials were not happy with all they were seeing take place, so Jeff and Glenda couldn’t continue to teach, but the church continues to multiply, and God is doing a great work in their city. What are the similarities? Like Aquila and Priscilla, they influenced people who were more effective than they were. Jeff and Glenda helped the local house church to be more effective by training the leaders how to be trainers of trainers.”

Barnabas, the great encourager, went out of his way to help Paul when many of the brethren still feared him. He went to places where people had not heard the Good News, and he was sent out with Paul by the church in Antioch to begin new work. He was comfortable letting others be in the limelight while he worked in the background.

Rodney*, another Southern Baptist worker, is a modern-day Barnabas. Trying to touch an unreached people group in an area where foreigners aren’t allowed to live, Rodney began teaching at a school in a major city near the region. Students at the school came from the villages he dreamed of touching with the Gospel.

“He began mentoring and encouraging them, and then traveling to their village on holidays and school breaks,” the strategist recounts.

On one of these journeys, Rodney passed through a town where foreigners weren’t even allowed to stay in the local hotel. But the bus Rodney was riding broke down there, so he had time to find someone to talk to. He met a young man in the town square and shared how much God loved His people and loved him. A few hours later, Rodney got back on the bus and left town.

The young man was later contacted by a Christian group passing through the area, who led him to faith in Christ. Several years later, Rodney was in another village when a man approached him and asked, “Are you Rodney?” It was the same young man, now a maturing believer.

“They’re working together now, and they have started 11 churches -– the first known churches in recorded history among this people group,” the strategist reports.

Jerry*, yet another worker in the region, is similar to John Mark, another of Paul’s co-workers.

Like John Mark, Jerry was a late bloomer, hesitant and tentative. Jerry arrived in East Asia unsure he could learn the local language and determined not to take on a leadership role.

But a year later, the experienced missionary Jerry was assisting completed his service and went home. Who would take on the responsibility for reaching their city of more than 1 million lost people?

Jerry reluctantly stepped up to the plate. He shared the Gospel with many people, but few new believers appeared -– and no churches.

Jerry entered into 40 days of fasting and prayer -– twice. During the second fast, he brought in believers from the region to walk and pray in every corridor of the city with him. Finally, a local church began to emerge. Jerry faithfully trained the new leaders, first with assistance from others, then on his own -– in the local language.

“As a result, in his three-year term he’s seen five churches started in this megacity,” the strategist says.

Does extending the Gospel to the edge of lostness require special gifts, compelling eloquence or extraordinary courage? Sometimes. More often, it takes simple obedience and faith on the part of God’s ordinary servants.

“Often we look and see the Pauls and the charismatic leaders in mission work, but we fail to see the unsung heroes,” the strategist reflects. “I look forward to the day we get to hear the ‘rest of the story’ about all the connections they have made to see God’s glory accomplished among the peoples.”
* Names changed for security reasons.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges