There are perhaps almost as many different approaches as there are teams out there seeking to respond to the needs of people groups with limited or no access to the Gospel. Over the last couple of centuries of the Church’s efforts to go to these groups, a great many ideas, plans, trends and programs have been tried. Each year, new innovations or at least new variations on older strategies surface. Some become widely accepted and influence the overall thinking of missiology, while others quickly fade into oblivion. Certainly, some of the things that have been tried are commonly judged to have been successful. On what basis would we judge whether any given part of the Church’s efforts have been effective or successful? Is it numbers of converts, ordained leaders, and buildings? How many is enough? Translation; what quality, how much is it used and for what? If it is spiritual life, how is that measured? How about longevity – how many years, or generations?
Considering these questions has led us as a team to look for some solid ground from which to determine what is actually ‘effective’ or ‘successful’. The journey for us has been to try to understand what God desires to see accomplished in a given individual or group. It has allowed us to look at many different efforts around the world, from the past and present, and to ask relevant questions, which help us to assess which strategies are truly effective in seeing an individual or group grow on to maturity.
The W.I.L.D. (Word. Identity. Life. Discipleship) framework that is outlined below is designed to help our understanding of how Truth produces life, growth, and fruit, and to help to guide us as we share Truth and plant churches. It takes the approach of considering each point with a particular person or a group in mind and is in the form of questions.
God’s Word for the church
Are they able to access the Bible in a form that clearly and faithfully communicates God’s revelation to them?
Are they having God’s Word presented to them in a way that allows it to enter and engage their hearts at a worldview level?
Are they learning to give God’s Word its proper place and authority?
Are they growing in their ability to correctly understand God’s Word as His complete Narrative, with Jesus Christ as the heart of the story and its interpretive key?
Are they increasingly able to make use of God’s Word as He intends for His children and His Church?
Identity of the church
Are they increasingly clear about – and able to articulate – their true identity from God’s perspective?
Are they learning to see their story embedded in the larger Narrative of the Church, stretching back to Pentecost and forward to Christ’s return?
Are they growing in their understanding of the bonds that unite them to the global/local Body under Christ as its Head?
Are they learning to view others according to truth, and rejecting the divisions, biases and tensions that often define the wider society?
Are they growing in their understanding of how to appropriately represent the Lord in their current spheres of contact and in others He might lead them to be involved in?
Life of the church
Are they experiencing a deepening relationship with Jesus, learning to depend more completely on Him in different areas of their lives, and gradually seeing their values and behaviour change as a result?
Are they gaining clarity about the true purpose for which they exist, and are they increasingly able to identify those things that hinder their life in Christ?
Are they increasingly able to make good decisions based on their understanding of God’s local and global purposes, and to use their time, money and other resources accordingly?
Are they learning to shape the form of what they do to serve whatever function they are convinced will lead to the fulfillment of God’s objectives?
Are they growing in their commitment to reproducing the life they have in Christ, are they equipped with the resources and skills to do so, and are they prioritizing opportunities where there is real need and hunger?
Discipleship in the church
Are they seeing all other ties, loyalties and commitments being increasingly defined by their primary relationship; disciples of their Master, Jesus Christ?
Are they being helped to apply the general truth from God’s Word to their own specific real-life situations?
Are they able to access regular, godly input and genuine friendships that intentionally help them along as they follow Jesus in the walk of faith?
Are they being encouraged to function in the areas in which God has gifted and given them abilities so they can develop in their service to Him and His Body?
Do they have access to defined pathways that offer Bible-based resources, practical instruction and relational discipleship to adequately equip them to serve the church locally and globally?
Church planting takes time
Following the New Testament pattern of carrying out the Great Commission by establishing mature churches takes time. The Apostle Paul and his co-workers spent months establishing churches in a culture they were familiar with, using a language they knew, among people who had at least some knowledge of the Old Testament. It takes longer to plant a church cross-culturally among people who speak an unwritten language and who have little or no understanding of God.
A picture of church planting
Below is an example of what the process might look like to plant a church among a minority group which has no Bible translation in their language. This timeline fits many of the church planters that we have worked with. Every situation will vary, but the steps outlined provide a picture of a church planting process that has proven effective.
The first opportunity for people to see Jesus is in our relationships with them. Relationships grow in the years spent studying the culture and language, and preparing for teaching. Trust develops as church planters give medical help, promote community development and teach people to read and write their own language. As soon as the church planters pass the required culture and language learning ability level, they begin to prepare Bible lessons, tailoring them for the culture. They teach through the Bible, using a chronological method, trusting God to enlighten minds and prepare hearts for the presentation of the Gospel.
Chronological Bible teaching
The first story is the first story – Creation. Then key Old Testament accounts are presented chronologically. These lessons teach the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, God’s love for man, and His plan for a promised Deliverer. By hearing and reviewing the main Old Testament stories, the people receive a firm Biblical foundation. Having laid such a foundation, when the church planter teaches the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, the people should have a clear understanding of why Christ died and what He did on the Cross for them. Those who place their trust in Him realize that salvation is God’s free gift to them. This provides a solid foundation for ongoing discipleship.
Translating the Scriptures
Placing a quality translation of God’s Word in the hands of Christians is essential to cross-cultural church planting. Having a translated Bible allows believers to individually look to God to guide and teach them.
In the evangelistic stage of ministry, cross-cultural workers translate key Old Testament and New Testament passages into the language of the people. These are used to teach the stories in the chronological Bible lessons. The cross-cultural workers also prepare literacy primers and begin teaching the people to read so that they will be able to use the translated Scriptures.
The goal is to translate the whole New Testament into the language along with key Old Testament passages. Bible translation consultants assist throughout the process. Translation checks are ongoing. Accuracy of meaning and understanding in the language is essential.