2007 January

In keeping with my complete inability to leave well enough alone, I’d like to illustrate the point of my last post. Some of you will be surprised to learn that there was, in fact, a point to my last post.

“Church planting movement” is the term we’ve adopted to describe a phenomena in which many, many churches are sort of spontaneously planted and those churches quickly turn and plant other church-planting churches. In many ways, a CPM is like a storm (or an earthquake, or a drought, or any other “act of God”), in that it is something only God can do. We cannot cause a CPM to happen any more than we can cause a tidal wave or instigate a hurricane.

It makes no sense, then, to set as our goal something that we cannot do. Yes, I’ve heard about the importance of having a “God-sized” vision, but a vision and a goal are not the same thing. To continue with the illustration:

We can prepare for a storm. When the weatherman warns us and the sky turns dark, people run to the store and buy water, plastic, duct tape, and granola bars. This is how many of us “prepare” for a movement of God, CPM or otherwise. We get a hint that God is working somewhere, and we rush to get ready. We write requests for volunteers and we notify the prayer networks that we’re going to need extra coverage. We put unresponsive people on the back burner and concentrate our energy where the action is. The problem, in my opinion, is that rushing to facilitate a CPM is not the kind of strategy that called people should depend on.

Why not? Because only God knows when and where He’s going to make it rain, and whether it will be a slight drizzle or a torrential downpour. I think that’s why he called me to Western Europe well in advance of whatever it is He’s going to do. This wasn’t a “priority” area for the IMB. There were places with more “strategic significance” and higher “concentrations of lostness.” But He know what He was doing, and I trusted Him, even though I haven’t seen the results I’d hoped for.

Which brings me to another type of readiness that we should consider. It’s the long-term, not a cloud in the sky, “wait for it… wait for it…” sort of approach. It is modeled for us by Noah in Genesis 6-8. When people saw this old man building a giant boat in the middle of the desert I’m sure they called it insanity. I think we should apply it to missions, and call it “nonstrategic obedience.”

God gave Noah a vision of the deadly waters that would flood the earth. That was something only God could do. Noah’s goal, then, was not to create a storm, but to build the boat. His goal was a big boat full of the people and animals God told him to take inside. His strategy was to build the boat exactly according to God’s detailed instructions.

Church Planting Movements are a vision, not a goal. Proclaiming the gospel, teaching people to obey, living as incarnational witnesses- these are goals. Our strategies need to get us to these goals. Focusing on Church planting movements distracts us from doing the things God has instructed us to do because we assume that we know how God wants to take us to the vision He’s given us. We start to see our goals as means. We should make disciples because God told us to, not so that we can facilitate a greater movement.

Getting ahead of ourselves (and God, if it were possible) is pretty common for us. We love people in order to share the gospel with them, and we share the gospel with them in order to plant a church. We plant a church in order to start a CPM, and we do that in order to “finish the task” and glorify God (and bring Jesus back). I say, let’s let go of all the “next things” that we think may happen. Let’s focus our attention on who God has brought us today. Let’s obey regardless of whether a CPM starts or not. It would be like building an ark whether the floodwaters came or not.

Now I’m left with the question of the vision. Are we sure that God told us that He was going to start church planting movements all around the world? How long do you suppose Noah would have worked on the ark without seeing evidence that God was getting ready to bring the storm? How long will our people (trusting the vision as it’s been cast by our organization) continue to pursue a church planting movement before they should start to question that vision? If it’s from God, we should never give up. If it’s just a good idea, we should change course immediately.

Our regional (and organization-wide) mission and strategy is to “facilitate a Church Planting movement among people groups and/or population segments greater than 100,000 people and less than 2% evangelized. In past posts, I’ve taken issue with the definitions of “people groups” and “evangelized,” and I’ve voiced my confusion over the seemingly random numbers that guide our strategic decisions.

My question today is this: where are the church planting movements?

Church planting movement (CPM) is a term the refers to those instances in which multiple church-planting churches are planted among a people group. Such an occurrence would certainly be an act of Almighty God, and would transcend any program or campaign that we could initiate. This is how it happened in certain parts of Asia fifteen years ago.

Eleven years have passed since the CPM strategy was adopted by the board. Faithful men and women have poured their lives into the people to whom they’ve been called. They have been trained, equipped, led, encouraged, and prayed for. They have learned language(s), adapted to culture, and made efforts to partner with other Great Commission Christians in an effort to facilitate a CPM. Despite all their efforts, the IMB’s missionaries to Western Europe have not yet seen such a movement.

Where are the CPMs?

Everyone seems to have a theory as to why we haven’t been effective at fulfilling this vision. “We don’t pray enough,” many have said, or “we’ve gone about it the wrong way.” Some have suggested that we haven’t cooperated enough, others say we’ve cooperated too much. I’ve heard our current situation blamed on poor language skill, not enough “broad seed sowing,” and sin.

These theories are usually followed up with solutions. A book to read. A model to study. A formula to follow. We need to fast, pray, repent, work harder, or bring over more personnel. “If we only had 50,000 more people praying, then we’d see a CPM.”

I refuse to believe that the reason we aren’t seeing Church Planting Movements is that we just haven’t gotten it right yet. I’m tired of seeing good, faithful people feel pressure to produce something that is totally out of their control. We have people on the field that feel like complete failures because they haven’t seen God re-create what He did in Asia, and it weighs heavily on them. It’s time to re-evaluate our strategy and goals.

I had a great conversation the other day with a colleague about prayer. As missionaries, we know that prayer is vital to our work, and consider raising prayer support a major part of our work. I think that if you asked any of us on the field how many people we wanted praying for us, most of us would say, “As many as possible!”

But our conversation got me thinking about prayer in our missions endeavors. We say that prayer is important, but why is it important? We say that we need all the prayer support that we can get, but what does that mean?

I recently read an article about Church Planting Movements. In it, the author outlined the “12 reasons we aren’t seeing church planting movements in Western Europe.” At the top of the list was “lack of prayer.” If we had more prayer, he reasoned, we might really see God move.

So how many people do we need to pray, and how often? Where do we get the idea that more praying is better? Yes, I know that the purpose of prayer is to change our mind, not God’s,
but why is it better to have five thousand people praying than to have five hundred? Where do we get the idea that more is better?

Have you ever noticed that we celebrate the new year, but we never really mourn the end of the old one? Maybe it’s our optimistic nature. We look forward to a new year, a fresh start, another chance. We make resolutions and goals. We anticipate the great things that are bound to happen in the coming year.

I think we’d do well to close the year with a day of mourning. Make it December 31st; that way it’ll really give us something to look forward to on January 1st. It would be a day where everyone takes time to consider the passing of time. Most of us do it anyway, but we reflect alone and try to cheer ourselves up with a kiss as the ball drops and watching bowl games.

Every year is full of things that dramatically affect our lives. We meet new friends, argue with family, learn new skills, waste money. Why not take a day to remember loved ones who died, new ones who were born, and all of the books we read? (If we really want to mourn, we should think of the hours of our lives we wasted watching “Prison Break.”)

For believers, a remembrance is a part of life. The day we forget where we were when we met Jesus, and where we were headed without Him, is the day we lose our understanding of the power of grace. Repentance and confession require remembering the sin in our lives. Our memory of the wrongs we’ve committed and the consequences of our actions are what keep us from making the same errors over and over. We do it before we take communion, why not take a day for corporate reflection?

I’m not saying we should dwell on the past, but I do think we ought to remember it. What better way than to make it a holiday? We could have parades with bands playing the year’s music, and floats that depict the year’s events. Everyone could dress in black, and we could give apology cards to people we wronged. We could start a tradition of only eating leftovers and deleting all of the year’s email. Who knows? We might even get another day off work. Of course, we would need a catchier name than “Mourning Day.” That would never work.