National Church Planting Strategies

Joy- Welcome to Asked and Answered,” the podcast series that answers all of your mission-related questions and with me in the studio are Ron and Charis Pearce. Welcome back, guys!

Ron-Thanks, Joy.

Joy- Alright so let’s just get right into this. At Empower we talk a lot about the success of the national church, it’s the lifeblood of everything that we do. So the question today is, what approach are the national workers taking and why are they so successful? And is it different from country to country, does it vary?

Ron- National church planters, and when we refer to national we talk about, for those that aren’t used to our podcasts and our lingo that we talk about here, those are the indigenous workers, the indigenous national church plants that exist in that country that are peculiar to that country, shall we say born in that country, language, customs everything like that. It’s not a foreigner from whatever country dropping in a church model or personnel. It’s those people growing up into the Gospel in their own culture. So, with that in mind, they start churches around and win people to the Lord around their countries pretty well in different ways. It all depends on that cultural setting but there are some things in common and there are some things that are different. Let’s try and do the common and the different, okay?

The things that are in common is that they are always structured around the Word of God as being infallible as being the guide to eternal life. It stands alone, there are no other holy books shall we say. It’s the Word of God.

Joy- So there’s no programs, there might be but it’s not the central.

Ron- Yeah, that’s from the differences area, but in the commonality, the Bible is number one. Secondly, they talk about being born again. All the basic evangelical beliefs is what we stress shall we say and those are all held by the major national church planting movements that are within the evangelical or full Gospel sort of family. Now there are other national operations, churches that are not evangelical, they are Christian, but we at Empower don’t operate with those groups per say. They may want some Bibles sometimes for various things but we’re in our church planting movements. Those are more Bible-believing, born again, those sorts of folks starting up churches. So those are the things that they have in common. Beliefs structure around the Word of God, and thirdly, this, and this is the big one, in all these countries, they adapt the methods of sharing the Gospel around the people, what they believe, where they start out in their understanding and they move on from there. The difference I’m saying is that they don’t parachute in a structure of operating church or church meetings or instruments like organs or pipe organs and things like that. They don’t bring those things in from afar and say now people this is Christianity, sit down and listen. Put the pews this way and look frontwards and that’s it. They don’t do that.

Joy- So there’s not a model that they follow.

Ron- They don’t have that model of another culture coming in with their model, superimposing it. But what they do have in this is that even within their cultures of their countries and various things like that there are variations. So in one area, they might use one type of instrument, in another area another. In one area it may be men sit on one side and women sit on another. In another area, it could be we don’t have buildings, we operate outside of buildings, we’re under the trees. Okay, church is under the trees. So they are very moldable and adaptable to the cultural differences even within their people. That is a little different from what the historic Western missionaries did because, not all but many, missionary groups came in with their Western model, superimposed it, dropped it on them, and said this is what you should be doing.

Joy- This is what a Christian does or this is what a Christian looks like.

Ron- Exactly, whereas the national churches of today don’t really do that at all and they are adaptable and, therefore, it is very form-fitting. It’s like finding a good shoe. If you can find a good shoe it’s great. If I had to walk around in high heels all day that would not be good.

Joy- There are some good high heel shoes out there! {laughter}

Ron- Yeah right, like we’re going to go there! {laughter} So anyways, what I’m trying to do is tell you that there is something where the Gospel isn’t noticed because it’s normal, where the Gospel can come in in a message form and it will penetrate to the heart and nobody is looking at externals. And that is how they do church planting.

Joy- That is why the Gospel is spreading so rapidly then.

Ron- It’s one of the reasons, if you match that with a heavy move of the Holy Spirit, and if you get a real energy both generated because of the anointing on the leaders and the church planters that come in, their knowledge of the word, they get that on top of national religions falling apart as in major world religions or even the local religions of the people, animism sometimes. Or even communism when it comes in and people are discouraged with all these things. So if you put these things together in the right environment, you’re going to make a pretty good cake. That’s what’s happening right now in these national church plantings around the world. This is a tasty cake, it will last a long time because it’s not foreign, so it’s got a future to it.

Joy- Right, so we do a lot of stories, I’ve heard a lot of your stories and when we talk about the different countries, what usually happens in these stories, the real stories, the ones that we get from the partners, something, often a miracle will happen, something really incredible. And actually, I think this happens a lot in India, and then word spreads, and the Gospel is shared and the power of the Holy Spirit is there, he’s there in the miracle and he’s there as the Word spreads. Is that across the board in all the countries?

Ron- It depends a little on the background of the church. For instance, sometimes, and don’t let me get off track because I’ve got to go down a rabbit hole here to give you some ideas, but sometimes if a certain type of missionary came in with a certain theological understanding and that maybe was that miracles aren’t for today, and, therefore, they come in and they teach all of their people for 50, 60, 70 years that miracles aren’t for today, that ended, well then usually the people believe that when the missionaries are gone and they just carry on thinking that’s the way it is. Other groups came in and said miracles are for today and, therefore, they expected them. Overall now, a lot of that previous teaching is gone and there is much more balance in the fact that maybe there are not miracles everywhere but the supernatural is real. It’s almost like, Satan is doing miracles, why doesn’t our God do miracles? So demon possession in tribal areas and very animistic areas, very, very common. So there is an openness right now to supernatural manifestations within the body of Christ. Not to where the people use these as something to hold on to of their faith, in other words, the Gospel is not dependent upon God turning up and doing a miracle at a service. But it happens and when it does happen how do we handle it? Well, this isn’t the Gospel, this is just God loving us. One time I was told, a long, long time ago, we were talking about miracles in these sort of settings and I said, How do you folks in this area handle miracles?” It was this brother in Southeast Asia, and he said, We don’t worship the miracles, they are just footprints of God’s love. We worship the God that made the footprints.” So, therefore, they had very good balance when it came in to understanding what this was about. So miracles, yes, they happen in a lot of situations, they are more common today than before. In some countries, dreams and visions are very normal, Ethiopia being the example and in some countries they don’t even know what I’m talking about when I mention a dream or a miracle. They just don’t happen. I don’t know why. God works in one way and not in another way. It could be their background, their hesitancy, something of that nature, but its different, Joy, where you go and how you do it, but there is more of an openness today.

Charis- Another thing that they have in common in the national church planting movements, they all have an urgency. They know that there is a lostness to the human soul and they have to go out there and win them and I think that motivates a lot of them to keep working in difficult situations despite the persecution, despite the conditions they are living in, there is an urgency that they have within them.

Ron- Exactly and usually when they preach that urgency what happens then is that the people say, Is your God stronger than our gods? We’ve heard your message, we know you believe it, you’re urgent in your presentation and you believe it but convince us, sort of like, is your God that powerful?” It takes me back to the Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Here the prophets of Baal said basically prove it and that was the thing and Elijah said my God is stronger and I’ll show you guys. Then alter, water, everything like that, fire there for God. It didn’t end so well for the prophets of Baal by the way. The idea behind that was that God, on occasion, shows his existence, his power, his love, his approachability as in Islam, that there is a God that loves you and is coming to look for you. So that is all a supernatural sort of thing and then when God does that miracle and everybody sees it, it’s sort of like, wow! This is unbelievable! We’re going to listen! So the volume of the human ear is turned up by a miracle. At times the message is faint but when a miracle occurs, a healing, water into wine, that’s an old one but it’s a goody, an oldie but a goody, it’s an original, when those sorts of miracles happen then all of a sudden you’ve got these nationals who are not believers, they all of a sudden think to themselves, we have missed something here. We’re going to listen and God helps them listen by the volume of the miracle. Then they are not talking about the miracle after a while, they are talking about the Gospel of who made this miracle and what does he want from us which takes us always back to the cross, resurrection, being born again, the work of the Holy Spirit within. So the balance is there. This is an eye-opener. This is sort of like a wow” moment but nothing that will be the focus of their ongoing ministry.

We don’t worship the miracles, they are just footprints of God’s love. We worship the God that made the footprints.”

Joy- So it’s like a circle. It starts with God, it starts with the Holy Spirit, the miracle happens, they are wowed by the miracle but then eventually, it comes back to the central message of Jesus. And not to compare the North American church to the hotspots of the world but one might wonder if we had those same miracles happening, would we complete the circle and come back or would we be too caught up in the miracle because the question remains, why are we not seeing the same kind of miracles?

Ron- Okay, well this brings us to a whole new topic. You have to think about the difference between the culture here in North America and so many parts of the world that are somewhat isolated. Yeah, you can say they’ve got internet but they are isolated in their communities and their world usually extends somewhere around 40 miles in any one direction. That’s it. So now, we over here are used to big performances, glitzy sort of situations, circuses, various things like that, sort of big events where you’re wowed.” You know what I always think of this, I always think of Las Vegas. And people listening to this are probably going to be judging me right now {laughter} but I’m just telling you that Las Vegas has got all the glitz and the glamour and the attractions and everything else that people are just overwhelmed by. They don’t have that overseas and in these areas of the world a miracle happens then that is something that generations talk about! Over here, we drop it overnight, sort of like, well, where’s the next one, where’s the next one?! In that way, we are like little kids. We are easily amused and we lose focus very quickly. We have to have nice toys to play with and we have to have new toys all of the time because the old ones get old. And, therefore, you’ve got a real mix of cultures, yes here, but there is an overwhelming cultural dynamic. We are immature here, as a whole, as a society, very demanding, very entitled, we think we are entitled to this. Overseas they don’t live that way. They are happy for life, they want truth. The big thing might be a wedding. A wedding is a huge event in many of these cultures around the world. People will get together and have fun. They start new life with a new family getting going. They have a party, there is dancing. All of these things and, therefore, that is a big issue. Let’s go back to the Gospels for just a second, okay? When Jesus was on earth, He did a lot of miracles. Why? Well, two things. One, he loved the people and he wanted them to be healed or he wanted to show them that He was the son of God, or that God had come to earth. He proved Himself but there was a lot of love involved. Then He showed some miracles to the disciples, and He showed the disciples, okay, watch, just sit back, watch. Like remember when the fish in the sea and pulling out the coin, remember the one put your net on the other side of the boat and reel in a big catch. Well, there weren’t many people watching, that was just for the locals that was just for the 12 guys just hanging around. And that was an important time because that’s what goes on now, the difference overseas, Jesus wasn’t trying to impress anybody but He was trying to show them. Over here in the West, we try to impress people with miracles or something like that. Over there it’s more of a small group of people. God comes down, a miracle has taken place and everybody just sort of sits there and takes it in and say, Okay, God is in our presence.” There is a supernatural God that loves us. The checklist is all put off like that and it’s more of a personal conviction rather than an external experience. And there is two worlds there. And that is why when I go overseas and I hear about all these miracles like you’re talking about, and it’s so common, it’s all different, but the guys look at it sort of like, man, that really deepened my faith like you would not believe because this was like no other religion, this was like no other experience. This was God speaking to me about his power being unleashed and every time I hear it I think, wow, these guys are so much different than us. No wonder the nationals in these villages, in these towns, in these areas, really perk up and listen and watch,

Joy-They just think different. Different from our mindset.

Ron- Totally and we are not wrong and they are not right or vice versa, whatever it is, it’s not a right and wrong thing. It’s just the way we are built and our Western culture and our Western materialism has robbed us of the joy of the moment and sometimes of our personal walk with God, the depth of it. It’s not the same here. I feel bad for us in the fact that when I go overseas and then I come back home and I’m thinking to myself, how do I communicate the depth of their urgency as, Charis, you were talking about, to spread the Gospel, all of these things, how do I bring it back home and let the people understand? Because I’m in front of a congregation for about 45 minutes, I walk out, usually about half an hour after I have left and they heard the words end, they have forgotten about what I talked about. And it’s simply because, well, Ron, what’s next? And there is the difference, Joy.

I feel bad for us in the fact that when I go overseas and then I come back home and I’m thinking to myself, how do I communicate the depth of their urgency as, Charis, you were talking about, to spread the Gospel, all of these things, how do I bring it back home and let the people understand?

Joy- So we chase the miracles.

Ron- We chase everything. We chase good times, we chase events, we chase the miraculous, and over there they are more stayed, anchored, loyal shall we say, and many things like that. And, therefore, they are different.

Joy- So the original question then being what is the national church doing to have such success in spreading the Gospel, the miracle is one aspect and it is kind of the propeller, it catches attention, but really it comes down to the Holy Spirit and the passion of the people.

Ron- See, that’s it. The work of the nationals, they are strong in their work ethic, they work hard to plant churches. They go the extra mile.

Joy- It doesn’t come easy for them.

Ron- No, no, and when they do all of this and they prepare the environment, as in their style, then you’ve got the hard work, then you’ve got the Word of God, then you’ve got looking into the heart of the pastor and seeing that he really believes this God came and died for us. And then you just add on like salt and pepper, miracles and healings. That is God’s job. That’s what He does to break through and show His presence and then you put that whole thing together and then you’ve got church growth.

Joy- It’s funny that you say that, how hard they work because when I read through the stories of let’s say China and I’m reading about these pastors and these church planters and time and again they talk about just the hard work of preaching the Gospel and the work. And the miracles are there but they are just such a small part and they don’t really pause or pay attention to them like you said, they just keep carrying on with the hard work of what they are doing.

Charis- Well, when they talk about going to prison for a rest, you know they are working hard.

Joy- It was a three year rest and they deserved it! {laughter}

Ron- And they work in prison too but sort of like time off, like going to Florida.

Joy- Well, I just read a story recently I think it was in Vietnam and he went to prison for three years. His first week in prison he led 19 men to the Lord! This is one of our partners. And then he just continued for the next three years building a church in prison.

Ron- Oh yes, it’s just normal. But then you see when you get a miracle or something like that, there is no work involved. God does all the work so that is really when the guys just sort of sit back, they don’t work it up, they just rest in what God is doing. Their work is to explain, to pray for people, to travel. That’s how you do it.

Joy- Okay, well honestly, I probably have a thousand more questions that I could ask but I know how you really feel about all my questions so that’s it! Thanks, guys.

God does all the work so that is really when the guys just sort of sit back, they don’t work it up, they just rest in what God is doing.

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