Larry Sharp of IBEC Ventures joined us recently at To Every Tribe for a class on Business as Mission. Dr. Sharp presents the marketplace as a viable sphere for meaningful discipleship in mission.
This week we ask David Sitton, To Every Tribe’s Founder, what it means to plant “indigenous” churches.
If you have a question you would like to ask a missionary, please post it in a comment below!
So what is the desired outcome from all of our philosophies and methods of pioneer church planting? By God’s grace, the goal is to see a Christ-worshiping church that is locally led and supported, studying and interpreting the Scriptures, and seeking to reproduce themselves into second, third, and fourth generation churches in regions far beyond themselves for the glory of Christ alone.
Paul says, “…thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand’” (Romans 15:20-21).
This is what To Every Tribe is about as a ministry: locating, researching, and targeting unreached regions, then preaching Christ, evangelizing, and establishing locally led communities of believers in places where there is no witness for Jesus. This is the heart and soul of To Every Tribe.
In Psalm 46, God declares, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Holding fast to this truth, we look forward to the day when we will witness what John describes in Revelation 7: “…a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”
Part of that God-glorifying multitude will be the members of churches that were planted by faithful pioneer missionaries in people groups that, at this moment, remain unreached with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
Planting churches, left and right
Planting churches, day and night
Planting churches with all my might
Joe Cannon, Pioneer Missionary
Besides the grit of a pioneering leader, the guts of effective pioneer church planting include both a certain philosophy and the accompanying methodologies. To Every Tribe’s philosophy of church planting centers around the importance of planting indigenous churches.
The word “indigenous” means native and local. Missiologists use the word “organic” to describe the sprouting out from within nature of the gospel that shoots out in unexpected, unpredictable, unorthodox ways as the gospel moves from individual to individual and then as it spontaneously reproduces itself into other surrounding people groups. We want this to happen. But, too many missionaries don’t truly want indigenization because of their fear that they cannot control what happens.
Unless missionaries are trained in a better way, they will naturally plant a church that is culturally comfortable for themselves. This is because the way we live our lives is the direct product of the beliefs and values of our worldview. We have a particular worldview that oftentimes we are not conscious of and we rarely question its validity. It’s only with concerted efforts to act and react differently, think and operate cross-culturally, and work in culturally sensitive ways that we’ll be able to do an effective job of pioneer church planting.
We want to purposely not plant congregations which are transplants of Westernized, American culture Christianity. We are not church transplanters, we are church planters! We want our churches to be indigenous, that is, born from and shaped by the local cultures of the people to whom we go. What the church looks like should be consistent with local expressions of the true gospel being lived out within their own cultures, not in the culture of the foreign missionary. The more this is the case from the early stages of pioneer church planting, the more likely local believers will be equipped and empowered to take ownership and develop into healthy, culturally appropriate churches.
The world is a dangerous place for Christians, especially for pioneer missionaries. We’re going into battle with the enemy of our souls. This is spiritual war. It is certain there will be casualties, persecutions, and martyrdoms. However, it’s not an accidental providence that God turns evil around for good; it is His “Plan A” strategy. It’s God’s way, His chosen method to save the world through His cross and through our crosses. Joseph Tson said it so well, “His cross is for propitiation. Our crosses are for propagation.”
If God spared not His own son, but freely gave him up to death for us all, then what makes us think we’re exempt from it? Jesus didn’t walk the hard road of suffering and death so that we can walk the soft road! We walk the same road. This isn’t just a missionary calling, this is the calling of a Christian.
If the gospel is as precious as we say it is, then it’s worth every hardship, every sacrifice, every suffering, and every effort that we can muster. The gospel will go to the ends of the earth by “fools” who throw away their lives for the gospel, not by “wise men” who seek to save them. That’s what Jesus did. He came to earth to die. He was dedicated to death from the beginning, that was “Plan A” and there was no other plan. And just before His ascension, Jesus turned to His disciples and said to them, “As My Father sends Me, so send I you.”
As new missionaries train for the frontline, they need to be prepared for the very real possibility that they may be called upon to lay down their lives, all the way, even to death. The pioneering missionary must be absolutely convinced of this truth: because God is Sovereign, Christians are absolutely indestructible until God is through with them on this earth. We cannot be killed prematurely because the Lord has already numbered our days; He knows the moment of our death. The enemies of the gospel can’t change that. Satan is God’s puppet. Our persecutors are God’s puppets. They can only touch us as the Lord gives them permission, and none of their torments will last one second longer than our loving Father will allow. Let’s trust Him with that. Whatever God does with my life is good with me. I’m safe in His sheep pen.