Thursday, July 19, 2012

Students, Missions and Church Planting Movements

I still have several posts on fruitfulness in the works--but I thought I would take a short discursion into another topic that I have been thinking a lot about lately which is vitally linked with fruitfulness.

Earlier this week I purchased a book entitled Global Church Planting--this book makes the case that church planting is the most effective way to reach people with the Gospel. It seems like the Lord is really keeping my attention focused on church planting as I have already been reading through Garrison's Church Planting Movements (free pdf) booklet--and this month's issue of Mission Frontiers is completely devoted to church planting.

Two of the most common elements in the rapid multiplication of churches are (1) raising up leaders and (2) employing reproducible methods.

Frankly, we are not developing enough leaders to get the job of world evangelism done, and this is in part due to the church structures and models that we choose to employ. The key to the leadership issue is a radical-rethinking of the priesthood of all believers. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

The 'priesthood of all believers' is not simply a quaint notion, or a polemic against Rome, it means that every believer is called to be a leader and a disciple-maker in the area to which God has placed them--and few churches are intentional about training their disciples to become disciple-makers. 

Church planting is also too often associated with buildings and paid-full-time ministers--this kind of church planting is not reproducible without extensive funding and theological training. In these churches the vast majority of people are expected to financially contribute towards the church, but not directly participate in the mission of the church to make disciples. The paradigm needs to change: the key is in turning passive spectators into active participants.

Last night I was sitting outside of a convenience store in front of Kangwon National University reading about church planting on my Kindle while waiting for a couple of friends to pick me up for a bible study with some KNU students--and as I watched students streaming out of the front gate of the campus a convergence of sorts happened.

Intervarsity at NYU; beautiful picture!
I had studied in the past about how many Student Movements had lead to mission sending and church planting--but I had never done much thinking upon why that was the case. Then it struck me like a bolt of lightening and I wrote down this sentence: "Student movements bear fruit because they release gifts and talents for the Kingdom by equipping and training Saints.

I remember when I was a brand new Christian in high school--there was a bible study being led on campus by one of the seniors. The group was started by students, led by students, taught by students--in fact it was even doing a good job of reaching out to students. But what it was also doing effectively was equipping these high school students to do ministry; it gave them a place to develop their different gifts for ministry and then release them for the Kingdom.

This pattern is similar among many university and college student groups--they often create a safe environment in which people can develop and exercise gifts of leadership, ministry and evangelism. It is no wonder that many of the best leaders in Evangelical circles come from campus ministry backgrounds.

Student groups are reproducible, especially if they are student led and student propagated--they generally do not require salaries for staff members (although there are some incredible missionaries who work among students with organizations like CRU, Intervarsity and Navigators), they don't need to spend money on buildings or maintenance, they tend not to be encumbered by strict traditions, liturgies, leadership structures, committees, etc.--this frees them up to do the work of making disciples, which they quickly equip and empower to make even more disciples.

It is no wonder that oftentimes student groups become ineffective when they lose this flexibility. Student groups then are a model for effective church planting. Pastors and church leaders could stand to learn a lot from fruitful student movements. If we want to see church planting movements and people movements begin in the developed world, we need to learn from and partner with successful student movements. This brings to mind a story from history that I will most likely give a full blog-post treatment to in the future:

Student movements are effective incubators for missions.
In the late nineteenth century a hand full of Japanese students were led to faith in Christ at a newly founded college in Hokkaido by a short-term missionary. The missionary returned to the States after eight months but left the young men with a charge, "Boys, be ambitious for Christ!" These young men, led the rest of their student body to the Lord and then went on to become some of the greatest leaders in the fields of education, politics, medicine, economics and religion in the Meiji period.

Sometimes the best thing a missionary can do is get out of the way--and student movements are effective incubators for missions and church planting because they provide an environment in which leaders can be developed without the encumbrance of stifling structures or dependencies. 

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