Let me begin my musings in this article by offering a couple of disclaimers. First, while I have had the privilege of planting churches over a 20-year period and am now coaching and consulting planters for seven years, I still feel like a VERY GREAT novice at the task. I am continually reminded that the greatest heroes we have in the church are those apostolic individuals who are “sent” by Christ and the Church to open up new frontiers, new entry points for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done through starting a new church. It is my opinion we need to celebrate and elevate these heroes much more than we do. Secondly, the world and culture continue to change rapidly, so beware of believing that methods and strategies which worked five years ago in a particular context will work again if you’re focused on reaching a similar culture and context. With these disclaimers in mind, here are some biblical principles to reflect on in starting strong churches in a culturally specific context.
First, the planter MUST be called by God to the particular culture and context. We have found across the years that starting strong churches requires GREAT planter persistence! It also requires that the planter KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt it is ALMIGHTY GOD who has placed them where they are, not the district or denomination. Just like Jeremiah, the planter must hear God Himself affirm, “Before I created you in your mother’s womb, I knew YOU. Before you were born, I set YOU apart to plant” (Jeremiah 1:3-4)…in THIS culturally specific context with this clear ministry focus group. As General Superintendent Jerry Porter so powerfully puts it, “I’ve got to know that I’m in the right town shedding my blood because every planter WILL shed blood!”
Second is the issue of contextualized training. The task of delivering planter training that is contextualized to fit the various cultural contexts of North America require us to insure every training principle we use is rooted in Scripture. The Bible is the one book we know that is transcultural. One of the highest compliments I received last year was from an African-American church planter who attended New Church University and wrote, “As an African-American pastor in an urban context, I thought NCS might not meet my needs. I was pleased to be wrong. What I learned really crosses racial and contextual lines.” The goal we MUST have in all planter training is that the components we deliver MUST be rooted in scripture and be transcultural.
Third, in the planting process our culturally specific focus may change over time and this is greatly affected by timing. Jesus clearly understood this. His specific call and context at the beginning of his ministry was VERY different than at the end. At the beginning, he had a very narrow focus when He sent out His disciples. He told them, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). It was not that Jesus did not care about reaching Gentiles. Jesus simply knew that at the beginning, if he tried to reach everyone he would effectively reach no one. Most churches are effective, only when they focus their limited resources and attention on reaching a specific group of people, and they do it on purpose! However, LATER Jesus told this same group of disciples that they were to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), literally “all ethnics.” For Jesus, the issue of reaching everyone was never one of desire; it was simply one of timing. The ministry focus of Jesus began very specific and narrow. Then, his ministry base broadened as resources, people and timing allowed.
Fourth, the culturally-specific nature of a planting ministry may lead you to a VERY specific calling. Peter and Paul were key church planting leaders in the early days of the Christian faith. Paul summarizes their distinct, culturally-specific callings this way, “For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:8). While it is the call of every Christian to “make disciples of all nations, all ethnics,” some may live out the call of Christ throughout their lifetime to a culturally specific group. That being so, such people must continue to work hard NOT to be limited or narrow in their thinking, praying or love for “all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). While Paul had a specific calling as an apostle to the Gentiles, he could still write with GREAT passion, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).
Finally, you need to become as expert as you can in your cultural context. Reflect on the seven questions below to help you better understand your target and the ministry focus group you are trying to reach.
1. How large is your ministry area? (You need to define your target geographically).
2. Who lives in your area? (You need to define your target demographically).
3. What are these people’s characteristics? (You need to define your target culturally).
4. What previous religious background do they have? (You need to define your target spiritually).
5. How many non-churched people live in your ministry area? (You need to define your target numerically).
6. Are you clear on the culturally specific group God called you to reach?
7. How can you become an expert in the life-style, preferences, and needs of this group and really connect with them? If the ministry you lead really connects with a clear, culturally specific ministry focus group, you will never lack an audience in which to minister!
Our prayers are with you as you apostolically expand the Kingdom!
by Larry McKain
New Church Specialties