CHURCH PLANTING LESSONS: START WITH BELIEVERS OR NONBELIEVERS?

For most of my ministry life, I refused to even build relationships with believers inside the communities I was working in. Why? Because I thought I was simply obeying God and the Great Commission by reaching nonbelievers. I would have networks of believers outside of the communities I was working in, mostly white Americans (because that was my network) because I thought it was my job and best practice to recruit them to reach other cultures. It took years for me to realize that I was not the best person to reach certain people and especially people from other people groups. Some people would consider me an expert when it comes to cross-cultural ministry because I have been doing it for so long, but one thing I realized is that no matter how much I study and learn from a culture, I will never be from that culture! Cross-cultural barriers are huge barriers, probably more than you think!

It was about 5 years ago when I was challenged by someone who has much more experience than I and who was successful when it came to church planting. This guy focused oversees, and in the middle of Starbucks as I was trying to pridefully impress him by how much time and effort I spent reaching nonbelievers, he politely slammed his fist on the table and said, “EVERY CHURCH PLANTING MOVEMENT STARTS WITH BELIEVERS!” Yikes! What? That was crazy to me. He went on to say that just about every movement documented (there are hundreds of them)…started with believers from within that people group, meaning outsiders might have come in and trained and equipped insider believers, but most movements do not happen by outsiders reaching nonbelievers from that people group by doing cross-cultural work. That banging on the table woke me up! I changed everything I did and started investing in believers from the people groups I was feeling called to reach. If there were not believers from that particular people group, then I found someone from a near culture to that people group. I basically had to start from scratch because of my ignorance and because I hadn’t spent any time building those relationships before. All of the sudden when I trained believers from people groups I was trying to reach, I actually found hungry and open nonbelievers! Nonbelievers of people groups that I have said and many others have said, “well that group is just to difficult to reach.” It opened the doors wide open realizing that it wasn’t that these people groups were closed to the gospel, but that I just wasn’t the right person to reach them.

Most oversees missions organizations would agree that this is the best practice oversees, but for some reason I have not seen it implemented as much here. I do not know how I missed it, but I know this, for whatever reason many of us well-meaning church planters (I authentically mean that), are compelled to be the ones to do the “work” inside cross-cultural communities. I know this was the issue for me. I LOVED working with other people groups. It was exciting! Maybe it was pride in me that I wanted to be the one to reach people. I do not know all the reasons, but I hope this encourages you. Working with believing partners to reach people cross-culturally does not mean you have to stop hanging out with different cultures of nonbelievers.  Because my Insiders have started so many Discovery Groups, I am meeting more people cross-culturally than I ever have before. I am involved, but I simply am not the one doing the church planting. Also, I never tell people to stop hanging out with or reaching other cultures. My wife and I have different people groups over to our house all the time. I simply ask and challenge people to make working with Insiders a priority. But, to make it a priority, different thinking and a time of transition needs to take place.

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