The Current Global Setting Calls for Lay Missions
world is undergoing seismic changes—the mapping of the human genome, the
collapse of the Soviet Union, the frenetic growth of human knowledge, the
development of wireless and satellite communications, the explosion of the
Internet. Sometimes we can almost feel it shifting under us. Some changes
are frightening. but much is exciting. On one hand the door to traditional
missions is closing in country after country. On the other hand, there are
enormous opportunities for non-traditional mission workers if we have the
eyes to see. I believe God is trying to tell us something. The world has
shifted radically. So too should missions.
the past 200 years God has enabled an unprecedented explosion of
donor-supported missions. He enabled this through two unique
factors-Western colonialism and industrialization. Colonialism provided
three critical ingredients to this missions expansion: 1) access, 2) a
medium of currency exchange, and 3) a degree of stability for proclaiming
the gospel. Industrialization provided one equally vital ingredient—increased
human productivity, which gave people greater discretionary funds to
support missionaries if they so desired. Up to 100 years ago, it wasn't
possible to fund an army of mission workers and most missionary groups
worked in some manner to contribute to their own support.
K. Smith of Western Seminary in the January issue of EMQ states that
"historically, missions from the West began when those nation were
not wealthy. The Moravians worked to support themselves wherever they
went, even selling themselves into slavery to reach the slaves in the
Caribbean. For years William Carey received no financial support in India
but worked in various jobs to support his Bible translation efforts. His
lifestyle in India was little different than it was when he was a cobbler
in England. In fact, only in the last century have missionaries felt it
necessary to be fully supported from the homeland." In the last 100
years, "full-time," donor-supported workers with all the
attached overtones have become so much the norm that today this defines
the very word "missionary."
the world has undergone a massive shift. With the fall of the Berlin Wall
in 1989, the last colonial empire, the Soviet Union, collapsed. Once
again, a new crop of countries sprouted on our maps. Gone forever are the
colonial empires which provided missionary access.
nationalism defines this new era. Nations want self-determination and
self-development. Christians of all people should understand these
longings of the human soul. It is no surprising that these new nations do
not want foreign culture or economics or religion imposed on them.
Furthermore, they have no way to perceive Christianity except as a foreign
religion which threatens their culture. Most have no concept of a personal
relationship with God nor of the gospel's power to lift and ennoble
culture without forcing it to Westernize. Understandably, most nations
refuse to grant missionary visas. We must understand that this refusal to
grant missionary visas is not primarily Satanic, but simply nationalistic,
though there is Satanic influence.
over 80% of the world's population live in nations which restrict
missionary visas so that traditional missionaries cannot reach them. But
they welcome Americans with needed professional skills. Today over
4,000,000 Americans live and work overseas. Why? Because nations want help
to develop. And as we know, that need is real and in many cases desperate.
And what is the greatest physical need of these nations? Genuine business
and economic development. No other developmental progress can be sustained
without it. Without substantial economic development, these countries will
never escape the cycle of dependence on other nations.
more traits characterize the new global situation. First, there is a
growing consensus that freer economies are better than controlled
economies and that representative government is better than totalitarian
government. Second, these forces are combining with modern communication
and transportation technologies to fuel exploding international trade of
goods and jobs. And third, because of American ascendancy, English is now
the world's trade language. In a word, the world is globalizing with the
U.S. at the center whether we like it or not.
does all this mean for missions? The door for missions is wider open than
every before, but it is a different door. It is a door for lay missions.
The door for vocational missions is mostly shut and closing further. But
nations are welcoming and sometimes begging for qualified people to help
them develop. A few years ago the president of Kyrgyzstan stated that he
wanted 7,000 English teachers.
give them what they want and need in Christ's name! Because servanthood is
central to the Christian life, our hearts should naturally be moved with
compassion to bring them the skills they need as Christ's representatives.
What an exciting time for missions! Imagine the possibilities if the
Church caught this vision. We could deploy tens of thousands. And if we
send the right kind of lay people, they can enter all sectors of society
and impact whole cultures with the gospel of Christ. As professional
religious workers, missionaries cannot do this. Only lay people can.
this mean donor-funded, vocational mission workers are no longer needed.
No! Never! Would to God that more Patricks, Taylors, Amy Carmichels,
Gladys Aylwards, Jim Elliots, and Don Richardsons were going. These are my
heroes. We need to deploy more. But they are specialists.
reality is that for over 100 years we have emphasized
"full-time," vocational, religious workers and neglected
regular, everyday Christians. I propose that we need to shift our emphasis
to deploy vast numbers of effective, missions-committed lay workers. I
believe God is urging us in this direction through the current world
situation. Because of the unique contribution of tentmakers or lay mission
workers, we would need thousands more even if there were no limits on
missionary visas. Let me explain by exploring the compelling, timeless
Biblical reasons for lay missions or tentmaking.
Biblical Reasons Call for Lay Missions
is currently backing into tentmaking primarily to gain access to closed
countries. Missionaries are using secular roles to obtain visas. The
result is hybrid missionary-tentmakers with attendant ethical tensions. In
many cases we could accurately describe this as "stealth
missions" and missionaries' secular roles as "covers."
Thankfully, the concept of "platform" is replacing
"cover," though this still implies that the job is primarily a
means to accomplish something else. This tension is easily resolved by
genuinely going as a lay person.
use of secular roles to obtain access is very understandable in light of
history. Because of colonialism, industrialization, and specialization,
vocational, donor-supported missions has become the paradigm of
missions today. When countries began to close, it is no surprise that in
our commitment to reach the world we simply tacked on secular roles in
order to obtain visas. And it is no surprise that we've done this without
thoughtful reflection on Paul's rationale for tentmaking.
the consequence is that we have forfeited the power and genius of Paul's
strategy. Gaining access never motivated Paul to make tents. In fact, it
never occurred to him because he could go wherever he wanted as a Roman
citizen. Paul found other benefits so compelling that he chose to work for
a living rather than accepting donor support.
Paul work for a living as a policy?
first, did Paul really reject donor support as a policy? This is a
critical question. I realize you may think, as I did, that Paul took
support when he could and worked when he had to. But the New Testament
record suggests otherwise. The NT specifically reports that Paul worked in
Galatia, Corinth, Thessalonica, and Ephesus (1 Th. 2:9; 2 Th. 3:7-8; Acts
20:31-35; 1 Cor. 4:12; 9:6 [refers to Paul’s ministry with Barnabas
which took place in Galatia}).
the pivotal text is I Cor. 9 where Paul defends himself against the
Judaizers who attacked his apostleship because he worked for a living and
did not receive support like the other apostles. Paul first gives the
strongest rationale for donor-support in Scripture and then proceeds to
say three times that he made no use of this right and never intends to
(vv. 12, 15, 18).
is important to notice that I Cor. is written from Ephesus during Paul's
third journey. This statement covers most of Paul's recorded ministry.
This means that working for a living was Paul's standard operating
procedure. Adding further weight is the statement that Barnabas also
followed this practice. Yet Barnabas not partnered with Paul since their
split after Paul’s first journey. Apparently Barnabas maintained the
same strategy after the split.
advances this argument further when he is forced again to defend his
apostleship in II Cor. He argues that far from undermining his
apostleship, his working in order to make the gospel free actually
authenticates his apostleship in contrast to the false apostles whose
motives are polluted. The cost he paid showed the high value he placed on
those he won to Christ. Because he loved them like a father, he wanted to
provide for them, rather than they for him (2 Cor. 11:7-11; 12:14-16). In
his final comment on this point, Paul says he is going to continue this
one problem text comes in the middle of Paul's defense in 2 Cor. He says
he "robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to
serve you . . . (because his) needs were supplied by the brethren who came
from Macedonia." (10:8-9) But this text does not undermine our
conclusion. First, our interpretation of this text must be controlled by
the larger argument of 1 Cor. 9 and 2 Cor. 11 lest we make Paul
contradictory. Second, the statement is deliberate hyperbole. Paul is
using exaggeration to shame the Corinthians. Third, Philippians clarifies
this statement by informing us that “no church entered into partnership
with me in giving and receiving except you only.” (4:15-16) This
they did once or twice while he was in Thessalonica plus maybe once while
in Corinth. Thus the Philippian church is the only one which sent support,
and then, only a few times. Finally, Paul would have had no need to defend
his not taking support if it had not been his standard practice.
NT adds several additional insights into Paul’s practice. First, how
much did he work? In 2 Th. 3:8, he says he worked "night and
day." Understand that Paul knew nothing of our twentieth century
American idiom. He is not telling us he was a workaholic. He is referring
to the two shifts of the Mediterranean work day-"night"
referring to the late afternoon-evening shift after the long, midday
siesta, and "day" referring to the morning shift. Putting
"night" before "day" is merely Hebrew custom as in
Genesis 1. Paul is simply saying he worked full-time.
this practice was so important to Paul that he made a point to pay for
meals rather than accepting normal hospitality (2 Th. 3:8). Third, did
others on Paul’s team also work? This had to be true for Paul to argue
the way he did in 1 and 2 Cor. But does the NT explicitly confirm this?
Indeed it does. According to 2 Th. 3:7-9, Silvanus and Timothy also
worked. Eight times Paul uses first person plural pronouns “we,”
“us,” and “our.” “You ought to imitate us; we were
not idle when we were with you, we did not eat any one's
bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and
day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we
have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to
imitate.” (2 Th. 3:7-9, 1:1; 1 Th. 2:9)
reading of the NT data makes it clear that Paul made a practice of working
for a living rather than accepting support. Further, his strong statements
make it clear that he did this for strategic reasons.
1: To provide credibility to the gospel
first reason Paul gives is this: "We endure anything rather than put
an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ." (I Cor. 9:12) What
obstacle? Mistrust of his message. If Paul had made his living by
preaching, people would have doubted his message because they questioned
his motives. But no one could say that Paul preached in order to make a
living! No one could say, "Paul, you make converts because you get
paid to" as was stated about missionaries in Taiwan. Rather he funded
his own ministry. In addition he paid a great price in other ways to bring
the gospel—imprisonment, beatings, stoning, shipwreck, frequent danger,
toil, loss of sleep, hunger, and exposure (II Cor. 11:23-28). No one could
doubt Paul's love, or his absolute certainty of the truth of the gospel.
This, I believe, is why he made such a point of boasting that he made the
gospel free of charge. (1 Cor. 9:15-18)
obstacle is still valid today, especially in unreached cultures. People
know money is so powerful that they always suspect ulterior motives. They
ask how missionaries make their living and wonder if they work for the
CIA. Some have unfairly thought missionaries were lazy. The same doubts
exist in the U.S. Godly lay people often have more impact than pastors
because they are not paid to share Christ. I remember how students
responded to my strong talks on quiet time and Lordship in InterVarsity.
They half-humorously told me that quiet time was easy for me because I was
paid to be spiritual. In other words, I didn't live in their world with
their pressures and I was rewarded for cultivating spiritual disciplines.
Everyday Christians have greater credibility because evangelism is not
their vocation. They don’t get paid to do it.
2: To identify and connect with the people
leads into the second reason Paul chose to work—identification with
everyday people. In 1Cor. 9, Paul says that though he is free from all
people, he has made himself a slave to all in order to win the more. Paul
applied this principle to every situation, contextualizing the gospel for
Jews and God-fearers (Ac 13:16-41), for secular Greek thinkers on Mars
Hill (Ac 16:22-34), and for political rulers (Ac 24-26)]. But in this
passage where Paul states this principle, he uses it to explain why he
worked for a living and gave up his right to support. He did it to
“become all things to all people.”
work is so central to human life, working for a living is one of the most
profound ways of identifying with people. Paul was one of the people. He
shared their joys and struggles. He genuinely depended on his earnings. He
knew what it was to be tired at the end of the day, to be cheated by
customers, to wrestle with ethical issues, etc. No one could say,
"Paul, you don't understand what it's like to have to work."
gospel calls for the most profound turn-around of a person's whole being
and this takes time. People do not simply hear the gospel once or twice
and make a decision. Regeneration is a process though we may not see the
whole process. People must come to see the credibility of the gospel, the
compelling Lordship of Jesus, God's rightful claim on their lives, their
own culpability before God, and God's gracious offer of pardon. Finally,
they must surrender to Jesus' gracious reign. Though God can greatly
accelerate the process, he does not bypass it because doing so would
violate our humanity.
is why identifying with people is so important. The first task in a new
people group is to authenticate the gospel. An unreached people group does
not yet have a company of Christians in whom they can see the reality of
the gospel in all of life. They need to see Christians who validate the
gospel by their integrity, servanthood, love, joy in God's grace, and
words about Christ. Only everyday Christians can show them. At work,
tentmakers are constantly being observed. Working for a living allows them
to incarnate and authenticate the gospel in everyday life.
our fascination with mass evangelism methods, the gospel basically travels
along networks of relationships through friends, co-workers, and family.
Seldom does a person just come to a meeting, receive a Bible or tract, or
hear the gospel once, and come to Christ. Almost everyone who comes to
Christ at a crusade is brought by a Christian friend. Further, a decision
at a crusade is often only a turning point which leads to real
understanding and conversion later as other Christians follow-up.
provides natural, ongoing contact with people along which the gospel can
flow. Even when tentmakers do not yet speak the local language, they share
professional vocabulary and interests with their co-workers. Missionaries
must create such contacts. People need both authentication of the gospel
and ongoing input as they process the gospel. This is why the gospel
travels relational networks. In unreached groups, the gospel can actually
spread rapidly through such networks if we do the right kind of
evangelism. In addition, lay people can infiltrate all sectors of
society-agriculture, health care, industry, banking, services, education,
government, etc. They can impact the whole culture with the gospel.
3: To set a pattern of everyday discipleship and witness
To model godly living in all of life
third reason for working was to set an example. By working Paul modeled
discipleship for every aspect of his converts’ lives. In fact he states
that modeling is pivotal to his strategy. He repeatedly points to his own
example and tells people to imitate him. Phil. 3:17: Brethren, join in
imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us.
I Cor. 10:31-11:1: So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do
all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the
church of God, just as I try to please all men in everything I do, not
seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be
imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
the particulars Paul calls us to imitate: to live lives which promote the
gospel versus being enemies of the cross (Cf. Phil. 1:27-30), to give up
rights where it will help to draw people to Christ, to do everything for
God’s glory, to live ultimately for the hope of heaven versus earthly
gratification, and to count every gain loss for the sake of knowing Christ
even to the point of sharing in his sufferings and death. (3:7-10) Can you
imagine the impact of Christians living this kind of life with this
worldview? If even a minority lived this way, the impact would be
To model a godly work ethic
writes to the Thessalonians that “with toil and labor we worked night
and day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have
not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate (2
Th. 3:8-9).” Paul set a pattern of a godly work ethic in an indolent
society. The Roman empire suffered from a poor work ethic. Paul says many
of his converts were idlers, thieves, drunks, adulterers, prostitutes,
etc. (1 Cor. 6:9-10) So important is this issue to Paul that he mentions
it seven times. (Ac. 20:53; Eph. 4:28, 6:5-9; 1 Th. 2:9-12, 4:11; 2 Th.
3:7-10; Col. 3:23; Tit. 3:1)
does this relate to our modern situation? Earlier I stated that business
and economic development are ultimately the biggest physical need around
the world. What is my rationale? Simply this: the ultimate reason people
do not have adequate food or health care, cannot meet natural disasters,
cannot read, and cannot rise above poverty is the lack of economic
development. Without adequate economic development, a nation cannot
sustain any other area of development like transportation, health care,
communication, etc. The only immediate hope in these situations is
charity. The receiving nation is on welfare, which just underscores the
believe the major root of this problem is lack of a good work ethic. A
decent work ethic has been torpedoed in the former Soviet Union. The
people say, “We pretend to work; they pretend to pay us.” Lack of
trust is destroying productivity in many nations. In Zambia, it required
over ten times the work time to sell my brother some hardware he needed.
The clerk had to find the hardware because customers were not to be
trusted. Then it took two clerks to check him out to prevent either one
from cheating. It is impossible to build a productive economy with such
“working hard to get ahead” is not a good work ethic. A morally good
work ethic means working hard to genuinely serve one's boss (as if one is
serving Christ), one's customer, and one's fellow-workers, as well as
one's family, and those in need. Thus a Biblical work ethic includes
diligence, excellence, honesty, and servanthood. Such an ethic inevitably
tends to create a productive and a just system.
am fascinated by Max Weber's conclusion that a society needs a critical
mass of Bible-believing Christians to produce a successful market economy.
Why? Because a market economy requires high levels of honesty, trust, and
hard work. If this is so, we very much need godly, missions-committed lay
people in every people group to seed that group with a godly work ethic.
To model lay witness and ministry
let me narrow your attention to Paul's call to imitate and join him in
advancing the gospel. This theme rides on the surface or just below
through the entire book of Philippians.: I thank my God in all my
remembrance of you . . .thankful for your partnership in the gospel . . .
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more . . . so that
you may . . . be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the
fruits of righteousness . . . to the glory and praise of God. Only let
your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that . . I may
hear that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by
side for the faith of the gospel, etc. (including suffering). Do all
things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be . . . children of
God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation,
among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of
life, etc. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of
Christ . . . I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call
of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature be thus minded . .
. Brethren, join in imitating me . . . (1:3-11, 27-30, 2:14-16, 3:7-21)
Paul consciously called his followers to imitate him in incarnating and
proclaiming the gospel.
what did they observe to imitate? Was it only his preaching to crowds or
his miracles? Or did they see him witnessing in his everyday work? The
answer is both. It would be impossible to imagine Paul's looking for every
opportunity to share Christ and then being silent at work. Though Acts is
long, Luke is very selective, reporting only the facts needed to
communicate his main points. Paul's practice of work is not one of them,
so his data is limited. But I believe it is clear. In Ac. 18 Paul found
Aquila with his wife, Priscilla, and stayed with them because they were
tentmakers like him. Luke describes Aquila as a Jew who had been expelled
from Rome by Claudius, the Roman Caesar. Acts uses the term Jew to refer
to non-believing Jews. Apparently Paul led them to Christ in the workshop.
19 gives us a fascinating window into Paul's activity. Luke tells us that
Paul daily argued for the gospel in the hall of Tyrannus. Then he tells
how people carried away Paul's “handkerchiefs” or “aprons” to heal
and deliver people, the only time this practice is mentioned in Acts. But
what are these “handkerchiefs” or “aprons?” A leather-worker's
apron and the cloths with which he wiped his hands and mopped his brow.
Apparently Paul engaged the hall of Tyrannus during the siesta break when
the hall was free. He went over in his work clothes and taught, and then
returned to work. Acts 20:31 takes us further. There Paul says he
admonished the Ephesians night and day with tears obviously including his
work time. Those he admonished cannot be limited to Christians.
Undoubtedly, interested people visited Paul in his workshop in all stages
of spiritual progress from seekers to leaders.
working for a living, Paul established a pattern of lay witness and lay
ministry. He could speak with authority about on-the-job evangelism
because he did it. No one could say, "Paul, you don't understand the
pressures, mistreatment, exhaustion, drudgery, ingratitude, and ridicule
we face." Paul lived in their world. He made it normative for every
Christian to evangelize and
the early years, Paul's churches never saw a professional, donor-supported
worker. They expected everyone to witness simply because they belonged to
Christ. Only years later after the churches had grown, the pattern of lay
ministry was established as the norm, and leaders were proven, did Paul
instruct them in the pastoral letters to support leaders who labor in
preaching and teaching. Paul's strategy immediately produced
self-supporting, self-directing, and self-reproducing churches. This is
why the gospel exploded in those early years and why Paul could say he had
fully preached the gospel throughout Asia Minor and Macedonia and that
there was no longer any room for work in those regions. (Rm. 15:19,23) He
had planted churches which were penetrating their people groups. His task
power of modeling
working for a living was an incarnational missions strategy! Paul modeled
everyday discipleship. He showed his disciples what he told them. Instead
of apologizing for modeling, Paul recognized the power of imitation and
called people to imitate him.
remember my 2-3-year-old daughter visiting me in my attic office. She saw
me writing with a pen and wanted to do the same. Being a wise father I
gave her a pencil instead. But would that do? No! She had to have the pen.
"Monkey see; monkey do!" People learn more strongly by imitating
than any other way.
powerful is modeling that we cannot escape reproducing ourselves in
others.. During a lesson on culture to a group of Christians from a South
American Indian tribe, Jacob Loewen explained that people of every culture
have one or several cultural universals-such as social organization,
education, economic organization, religion, and material culture-at the
center of their way of life. He
asked the national Christians whether, after 20 years of contact with
Western missionaries, they could identify the central component of the
missionaries' way of life. "Money!"
was the unanimous and unhesitating response.
The surprised instructor asked if the missionaries really taught
about money. Of course not-they speak of God and religion.
But the missionaries present grew increasingly uncomfortable as the
national Christians supported their conviction with numerous damning
"devastating accuracy the Indian Christians one after another
recounted personal experiences that showed how money was the ultimate
yardstick (value) in both the material and spiritual areas of the
missionaries' life and culture."
nationals had also had a little contact with Communist propaganda, and
were able to identify political structure and economics as the centers of
the Communist way of life. Loewen
brought the conversation closer to home, asking what had been the central
feature of their grandfathers' lives.
"War," was the prompt response.
The first-generation Christians explained that, though their
ancestors had not enjoyed killing, it was the only way to acquire spirit
power. "And what if they
had been Christians?"
as much as blinking, the teachers responded:
"The Spirit of God, because he . . . "
Just then an audible gasp by one of the missionaries caused the
speaker to hesitate for a moment, but he continued:
". . . because the Spirit of God is the most powerful of all
now," [Loewen] continued, "that all of you here are Christians,
is the Spirit of God the axle of your Christian way of life, too?"
they responded, obviously subdued, "our axle now is . . . is
come? Are you not children of
your ancestors? If the axle
of their Christian life would have been the Spirit of God, why is it not
is our axle now because that is what we have learned from the
missionaries." (from the
Introduction of Culture and Human Values by Jacob Loewen)
inevitably tend to become like their leaders. Most do not rise above the
level of their leaders.
previous story is a very sobering. But the flip side of that is very
positive. In my former life I served with InterVarsity Christian
Fellowship. I remember arriving on campus at Johns Hopkins University and
finding the Christians very intimidated by the campus. Academic demands
are very high and the gospel is viewed with disdain. To them two things
seemed impossible 1) that they could give significant time to God's
interests and still fulfill the academic demands, and 2) that the gospel
could win people on that campus. I pulled 12 students together into a
discipleship group and we began to study Scripture. We made a very simple
agreement that we would attend all meetings and that we would seek to live
out what we learned. These students began to take small steps of faith,
first giving time to seeking God and serving God. They also began taking
small risks in evangelism. As time passed they discovered they could be
good students and set God's Kingdom first, and that God did bring students
to himself. Do you know what happened to the Christians who came after
them? For them it was much easier. When they arrived on campus, they saw
it was possible to give real time to Christ's agenda and that they
could win people to Christ! They stood on the shoulders of those who had
gone before. They traded on their faith.
implications of modeling for missions
is why modeling is critical in missions. We need to fully enter people’s
world to incarnate the gospel and establish a model of everyday
discipleship and witness. We need tentmakers or lay mission workers
who are trailblazers in the workplace, who know how to honor Christ in
their jobs and how to integrate work and witness. We need models of the
highest integrity, quality work, true servanthood towards employers,
customers, and co-workers, genuine caring, compelling love among
Christians, and deep joy in Christ.
missionaries cannot provide this not because they aren't Christ-like, but
because they are not in the workplace. They can't speak to workplace
issues, because they don't face them. The only exceptions to this are
missionaries with strong previous work experience in which they integrated
work and witness and lived distinctly Christ-like lives. However, even
they cannot model workplace Christianity or address the unique
pressures of the target culture. But effective tentmakers can. They live
in the people's world.
4: To Create Rapid Church Multiplication
planted churches very quickly. He often left churches after only a few
months or less and then appointed leaders on the return trip. (Ac.
14:21-23). The longest he ever stayed was 2½ years in Ephesus, which he
used as a base for his team to strengthen the surrounding churches and to
plant more. In just 10-12 years, Paul planted 10 churches that we know of.
Others, like Laodicea, Colossae, and Hierapolis, were launched by members
of his team or by other churches. Probably many of the churches of
Revelation were started by his converts. Paul's strategy produced a blitzkrieg
of rapid church multiplication. Paul expected new Christians to take
responsibility immediately and for leaders to surface quickly. Acts shows
that Paul never ran a local church, but rather coached them into
immediately indigenized the Church
Paul practiced immediate
indigenization meaning he immediately gave leadership to new, local
Christians. You cannot do this if you have to wait to train and fund
workers. You can only do this by fully engaging lay people. Paul believed
in people’s potential and in the Spirit’s power. He knew the Spirit
transformed and energized every Christian to make disciples. So he
expected them to do so, and they did! No wonder Paul’s churches spread
the gospel so rapidly in the first century.
Paul played a
coaching-mentoring role to birth churches under local leaders. His letters
show that while his authority was real, it was not absolute. Paul
painfully recognized that it was entirely possible for a church to refuse
his direction because they were ultimately in charge. This made their
responsibility real and forced them to grow.
Paul’s churches were self-governing,
self-funding, largely self-feeding (digging into the Old Testament
and Jesus’ teaching for themselves), and self-multiplying almost
from the beginning. Paul taught, but did not control. He gave minimal
structure—probably only baptism, Sunday communion and teaching, and
multiple elders. Other development was left to the churches. The churches
never had to get rid of a foreign pattern because they never had it. The
churches began indigenizing the gospel from the beginning.
partnered in church planting
Paul began partnering
with new local Christians from the outset. The book of Acts and the
greeting sections of the epistles show how attached Paul was to indigenous
leaders and his genuine partnership with them. Because of the Spirit’s
power, he really believed in them, expected them to carry responsibility
right away, and collaborated with them as peers. As evidenced by
people’s names and scattered statements, ethnicity seemed to make no
difference to Paul. When a person came to Christ, they were part of the
Family, and promising people were invited into Paul’s church-planting
team as co-workers.
What takes this to the
next level is the size of Paul’s “missionary” team. Over a period of
10-12 years Paul recruited about 24 identifiable people into his
church-planting team plus others who are probably never identified in the
New Testament. Paul added 2-3 people every year to his team from the
local people groups. Only Silas came from Jerusalem. The rest were the
“Turks,” “Berbers,” “Kazaks,” and “Spaniards” of his day.
But how could he add
people so fast? Because Paul’s team followed his pattern of working for
a living. Paul confirms this in II Thess. 3:7-10 by using the words
“we,” “us,” and “our” eight times to explain that he, Silvanus,
and Timothy worked in order to give the Thessalonians an example to
imitate. Paul’s “missionary” team was actually a tentmaker team.
A recent article on the
breakthrough among the Mongolians described the genius of Ghengus Khan’s
army. The Mongol army was the most mobile in the world because they took
their supply line with them. Family and herds traveled just behind them.
This enabled them to quickly penetrate deeper and deeper into enemy
territory. Paul did the same thing. By building a working lay team, he
took his supply line with him.
Think of the
implications: Paul led a totally mobile, self-funded mission team. They
could quickly plant churches, move to new cities, and add promising people
because they embraced local believers and used a lay ministry strategy.
They did not have to wait for members to raise support or go to seminary.
Paul provided the most effective training—apprenticeship
to himself. It was Paul’s lay missions strategy which generated a high
momentum church planting movement and rapid expansion of the
Not all vocations are
as portable as Paul’s, but we need to think about how we might apply
this insight. For one thing, it offers the solution to funding workers
quickly in the Third World and to avoiding paternalism. And again, it
carries with it the power of incarnated Christianity. Can you imagine the
impact if we fully developed this approach to church planting.
proves the power of lay ministry
genius of a lay ministry strategy has been proven every time it has been
tried. A most striking example is the relative growth of three U.S.
denominations over 200 years.
Comparison of Church Growth: 1750-1950
Baptists built the most lay- oriented movement; Congregationalists, the
least. Congregationalists required Bible college or seminary plus
apprenticeship under a senior pastor before preaching. Methodists allowed
greater lay initiative. But Southern Baptists encouraged the greatest lay
involvement. They required the least formal training and used
bi-vocational and lay pastors to pioneer new churches.
less the requirement for formal training and the greater the involvement
of lay people, the greater the growth, the faster the mobilization, and
broader the impact.
This is essentially what we have witnessed with the growth of house
churches in China, with the growth of small-group driven churches in
Korea, Colombia, the U.S., and other countries, and with the huge impact
of the relatively small Moravian movement, etc.
effectively deploy lay people you have to mentor them, model for them,
support them, and give them responsibility-ownership. You don't have to
give them money or status. In fact, that will generally torpedo their
spiritual lives. This is why Paul tells us never to appoint novices to
ecclesial position. Giving people genuine responsibility and ownership and
expecting them to deliver are the secrets. Paul immediately expected new
believers to produce. In fact, he never pastored any of his churches, but
quickly appointed local leaders.
The impact of
over-using vocational missionaries
modeling is so powerful, our pattern of sending “full-time,”
vocational religious workers is replicating itself all over the world. As
a consequence we have marginalized the primary workforce of regular,
everyday Christians. We've developed a whole theology around this
approach. Because vocational religious workers are “full-time” and
have received a “special call,” they are the really important players.
Since regular Christians have not received this call and are only
“part-time,” we cannot expect that much from them. Instead they are
relegated to second string status where many simply cheer and warm the
bench. By implication, lay people don't have the same God-given potential
nor the same empowering by the Spirit. Can you imagine suggesting this to
dependence on vocational religious workers creates a second problem—over
dependence on money. Since we need “full-time” workers, we must find
money before we start any ministry. This tends to kill church growth
momentum. In addition, it makes Western paternalism almost inevitable
because of our relative wealth. We can send financial peanuts overseas and
have it balloon into a large sum which can fund whole divisions of Third
World workers. Relatively small sacrifice gives us enormous power. But
even with the best of intentions, the elephant eventually squashes the
mouse with which it dances.
lay ministry strategy is the solution to both these problems—the
marginalizing of the major workforce of everyday Christians and the
problem of paternalism and dependence.
are effective today.
forever drop the objection that lay people cannot be effective and even
plant churches. Paul and his team did it, powerfully. And tentmakers are
doing it today.
to Israel a started a company with the conscious purpose of planting a
church. Ken gained high credibility in Israel because of his genuine
servant heart and his quiet, open witness to Christ. Even before he
returned to Israel to start his company, he was frequently introduced in
Israel as a " Christian engineer." Ken started his company in
Tiberius because there had been no significant church there for hundreds
of years and because there was a tremendous need for industry. So he
started essentially the first industry in the city. He deliberately hired
Jews, Arabs and Christians in order to provide a setting in which witness
could take place. Ken struggled against great odds in the beginning.
Before he left for Israel, his partner absconded with the manufacturing
equipment he had bought and set up for test production. As a result, he
had to use his wife's oven to bake the pvc onto his antennas. Ken's
company supplies most of the antennas for Motorola cell phones. Orthodox
Jewish extremists attacked him repeatedly. At one point they threw stones
into his home, one of which struck his wife. Another time they sought to
incite a riot with his workers, but instead of abandoning him, they
defended him. The little hotel the Christians rented for the fellowship
was burned to the ground. Several times the rabbis slandered him and
launched criminal investigations against him. They even accused him of
kidnapping Israeli children and selling them to N. Africa. But God blessed
and the church grew in sync with his company-when there were 30 in the
company, there were 30 in the church and when there were 300, there were
300 in the church, of course not all the same people. Ken repeatedly asked
government leaders how he could help them and did so. He was awarded the
Decade Award for the best firm of the decade and the Kaplan Prize, the
highest award for industry. These were presented by the Prime Minister in
the hall of the Knesset before Israeli dignitaries.
up teaching fifth grade at a secular international school in Lima, Peru At
this time, almost fifty years ago, Peru was largely unevangelized. But
Ruth managed to find a small, evangelical church nearby where she offered
to teach a Sunday School class to which she could invite her students.
Though she had perfect freedom to preach the gospel in class, she did not
do so because it would have violated her educational task. Instead, she
freely shared her life in Christ, and invited her students to her Sunday
School class. Most of them came and most became believers. So respected
was Ruth in her work, that she revised the curriculum for the whole school
during her second year. Ruth also reached out to colleagues through
friendship and evangelistic Bible studies. A number of colleagues found
Christ as well as a number of staff. Then in her "free" time
Ruth went to the university in Lima repeated the same process and started
the Peruvian "InterVarsity" movement. Some of these have become
national and international leaders. Soon the Peruvian movement was going
strong and had helped start the Ecuadorian movement and Ruth felt she
could move on. So she sent her résumé throughout Spanish-speaking
countries in Latin America, but to her surprise, no offer came. So she
finally accepted an unsolicited offer from an international school in
Brazil to serve as principal. Once again she repeated the same process,
winning students, faculty, and staff to Christ and starting the Brazilian
"IV" movement. In the middle of her work in Brazil, the
International Fellowship of Evangelical Students asked Ruth to leave her
job, go on support, and give full-time to the student work. So after
turning down an offer to double her already good salary, Ruth transitioned
from tentmaking to donor-supported ministry. By the time she left Brazil
there were student fellowships on 30 college campuses. At the invitation
of IFES, Ruth then moved to Spain where she pioneered the Spanish and
Portuguese university student movements. Let me just observe, that if Ruth
had started such Christian fellowships in the larger ethnic communities,
they would have been churches.
with 5 others to China on an exchange program. He taught English and
studied Mandarin. Within a short time the other 5 had either left or been
expelled because of discontent, immorality, or unruly behavior. As a
result, three Chinese students asked Joe, "Why aren't you like the
others'?" So Joe invited them to visit and he would tell them. That
evening they appeared bringing several others. Over the next few weeks Joe
led three to faith and began discipling them. When his contract expired at
the end of the year, he returned to the US, very concerned for these new
believers. But almost as soon as he arrived home, he received a letter
asking him to return, because of his integrity and excellence. That fall
when he stepped off the plane, one of the three he had discipled met him
with a big grin and introduced a friend whom he had led to Christ. He
asked, "Do you have any materials? I want to teach Deng." During
his second year, officials asked Joe to teach a course on American
holidays to 60 exchange students going to America. Joe responded,
"But I can't talk about American holidays without talking about
Christianity." "That's okay," they answered. Later
authorities asked him to help them set up a program to recruit more
English teachers for China- "people just like you" they said.
Joe continues to work in China today.
and Beth” have
been tentmakers in Japan for about 15 years. Jim works as an engineer for
a corporation under contract to the Air Force. This could easily insulate
them from the Japanese people, but they have deliberately centered their
lives around reaching the Japanese. Their home is a constant parade of
Japanese friends coming and going seven days a week. Both they and their
children have opened their hearts and their home to the Japanese. They
teach conversational English and Bible several times a week. Barbie
teaches patchwork quilting and a women's Bible study. At various times,
they hold a weekend camp for Japanese young people. And hospitality is a
constant. “John and Beth” have befriended and witnessed to many
Japanese. Over these years, more than 80 have trusted Christ and joined
Japanese churches! Jim's job requires him to travel to the Middle East to
service high tech avionics equipment. Jim has repeatedly seized these
opportunities to do ministry as well.
Strategy of Evangelistic Expansion
Luke does not organize
Acts around Paul’s three missionary journeys. That is a foreign
construct imposed on the book from our missions viewpoint of home churches
and the field. Luke doesn’t view it that way. Why do I think this?
Because Luke clearly indicates the close of each section of Acts with a
refrain—some kind of summary statement like And the word of God
increased: and the number of disciples multiplied greatly . . . (Ac.
6:7) Sometimes it says “the church grew and was multiplied,”
other times, “the word grew and multiplied.” The summaries are
Acts 6:7. 9:31,12:24, 16:5, and 19:20. By the way, these summaries fit
perfectly the three stages described in Luke’s introduction: “You
shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and
Samaria and to the end of the earth” (1:8).
What is remarkable is
where the last three summaries come. They do not come where we would
expect, and understanding why they come where they do leads to startling
insights. Luke does not divide Paul’s mission into 3 journeys, but into
three advances. The first summary comes after Paul has returned
from his first journey, decided the Judaizer issue with the Jerusalem
council, carried that decision to Antioch and the churches of Syria and
Cilicia, and revisited all the churches he had planted in Phrygia and
Galatia. Then comes the summary.
At this point, he is at
the front of the gospel's advance. This front then becomes the new staging
area for the next thrust into Macedonia and Asia. The next summary comes
after Paul has started churches throughout Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia,
returned to Antioch, Syria, revisited the churches of Phrygia and Galatia,
and returned to Ephesus. Once again the new front of the gospel becomes
the new staging area for the next advance into Rome and Italy.
What Luke is describing
is a virtual military strategy in which the gospel advances to new fronts
and these then become the staging points for each succeeding advance. He
does not seem to see the “home church-mission field” concept. Nor does
he see the “sending church” as we do. I do not believe Antioch ever
sent Paul and Barnabas in the sense we think of it, nor that Paul reported
back to Jerusalem and Antioch because they were sending churches.
What does Luke see? He
sees the whole world full of peoples as both “mission field” and
“staging area” as the gospel advances. He seems totally blind to
ethnocentricity. To him the whole world is the mission field initially.
The gospel naturally advances with power into new territory. The new
territory then becomes the new front and new staging area for the next
advance. This process is repeated over and over and provides an ever
enlarging team for further advance into the world. And where did Luke
learn this? >From Paul.
Finally Acts ends with
a wonderful, non-concluding summary comment that the gospel is going
forward unhindered. What Luke is saying is, "Et cetera, et cetera, et
cetera." The story of Acts is continuing in like manner to the end of
history which means that Acts is normative for missions till Christ
let us return the entire Great Commission to the laity. Let us send them
to unreached peoples as full partners to vocational mission workers. In
fact, why don’t we give the job back to all Christians and become the
equippers who empower them for ministry? Is that not what we were meant to
be? Why not make lay missions central to missions today!
world is crying out for the deployment of effective, missions-committed
lay people who can help them in all areas, demonstrate the power of the
gospel, and reconcile them to the King of kings and Savior of the world.
Let us mobilize the tens of thousands of committed Christian professionals
Dave English, May 3, 1999
What Do We Need?
what will it take to produce effective lay mission workers? As you have
been reflecting on the missiology I've presented, you realize that we have
a serious challenge. Since modeling is the single most powerful teaching
method and inescapably produces disciples of like kind, then exporting
effective tentmakers is no walk in the park. How many American Christians
have worked out and lived a genuine Christian theology of work? How many
practice servanthood toward employer, client, and co-worker as central to
how they work? How many even practice true Christian ethics at work? How
many genuinely care for the needs of those around them? How many show that
their joy in God supercedes all other sources of fulfillment and thus
rises above all other goals? How many have integrated work and witness so
that they do appropriate, effective evangelism at work? How many are
impacting the ideology and practice of their professions?
need to recover a Biblical approach to work
we are honest, Christians have largely been neutralized in the workplace.
They have been silenced by the pressures of tolerance and pluralism. Too
many of us are seduced by the values of self-fulfillment, materialism
recreation, and comfort. The joy of knowing God is not greater than the
pursuit of other gratifications. Research shows that there is little
difference between Christians' and non-Christians' practice of ethics at
work. Protecting personal rights is far more common than servanthood
toward others. And giving time and effort to meet the needs of so many
needy people around us loses out to more important things.
need to get fresh, clear grip on reality. Work is central to human life.
And it should! God is the Great Worker-the Creator, Sustainer, and
Redeemer of the universe! And He is still working. We are made in his
image and working is central to being like him. Furthermore, God gave us
the task of managing and developing the earth to His glory. This is called
the creation mandate and has never been revoked. All legitimate work is
part of this mission. What redemption does is to restore our capacity to
fulfill this mission. It restores our motives, understanding, and actions
so that our work once again advances God's purposes as vice-regents under
him. And when we get to the new heavens and new earth, I believe we will
finally work with complete God-centeredness and complete joy. We will no
longer have to fight evil and call rebels to God's grace.
work is always central to human life, the gospel must make it in the arena
of work. If it cannot redeem work and, by implication, all our everyday
relationships, it is worthless. We must re-sanctify work and learn to live
“full-time” for Christ in all of life. And we must learn to represent
Christ effectively. Let us champion those who make breakthroughs in the
workplace and begin to master the elements of glorifying Christ there,
like integrity, excellence, servanthood, love, and joy in God. Let's cheer
on those who become effective in integrating work and witness. (By the
way, I realize many of us can't imagine this happening because we don't
have a model for effective witness in today's relativistic, pluralistic
workplace. Let me just point you to Ruth Siemen's paper, “Workplace
Evangelism: How to Fish out Seekers” on our website, www.globalopps.org.
She has some answers.)
need to recover discipleship in other areas
what about family life? Christian divorce rate essentially matches
non-Christian divorce rate. Apparently we do not know how to build and
maintain lasting, committed marriages. Since there are so many repeat
divorces after teaching and counseling by pastors, obviously we do not
know the critical components of Biblical loving which produce lasting
marriages. Instead we have imbibed many of the culture's distortions of
love. In light of premarital sex rates among Christians, similar things
can be said about our understanding and practice of Biblical sexuality.
And how well are we doing at raising kingdom-committed children? To what
degree have we been sucked into the child-rearing mentality and practices
of our culture?
should also raise the question of how much we are impacting our overall
society and culture with a Christian worldview and Christian values. All
of us lament the moral decline of our culture, but much of the fault lies
at our feet. The words of John Stott have haunted me for years on this
issue. Commenting on Jesus' call to be salt in the world, he said that it
is the nature of meat to go bad. When it goes bad we do not blame the
meat. We blame the salt. So if our culture goes bad, it is no surprise. It
is the nature of human society to degenerate. It is the church which
serves as the conscience of society and which preserves and protects
society from degeneration. So when a Christian society declines morally it
shows that the Church has declined and lost impact in society.
the way, I believe that following Christ in these areas is far more
important to the gospel's credibility than the issue of the excluded
middle and the lack of miracles. Often, Christians long for these as
shortcuts. But the supernatural transformation of character is much more
demanding of and demonstrative of faith and ongoing power. This includes
our joy in God even in the middle of suffering. Supernaturally transformed
lives also provide the proper context for the witness of miracles and the
kind of faith which such lives demand and produce readily allow for
performing miracles as God leads. I believe it is because transformed
lives are so crucial to the gospel's credibility that Paul spends so much
of his teaching on issues of Christ-likeness and everyday faith even in
the middle of real pain.
should go just a little bit further and mention the challenge of impacting
the overall worldview of our culture. I would submit that along with
everything else we are exporting, the biggest thing we export is Western
ideology and worldview. Everywhere I went in Africa, I found that Africans
ultimately knew there was a Supreme Being, though he may have removed
himself from them. But after they went to university, many were no longer
sure. The began to doubt. The same observation extends to other aspects of
Western "enlightenment." Probably the biggest market for
Americans overseas is as teachers at all levels. Are we Christians able to
effectively engage Western thinking and replace it with a Biblical
worldview? Or are we simply exporting Western worldview and ideology even
with our Christian teachers?
of these deficiencies means we should lose heart. The One in us is still
greater than the one who is in the world and the gates of hell cannot stop
the advance of the Church. Also, God is the God of new beginnings who is
always ready to remake us when we ready for a fresh start. I believe that
we will make great progress if we will commit ourselves to working on
these areas personally, in the church, and in our missions agencies.
discussion does provide us a clearer picture of what we need in effective
lay missions workers and how to equip them. Essentially we need to recruit
and equip lay Christians with effective spiritual disciplines, Christian
theology and practice in the workplace (excellence, integrity, servanthood,
care for others), integrated workplace witness, effective engagement with
Western worldview, risk-taking faith, greater joy in Christ than in other
pursuits, and effective discipling and church planting.
our goal is the planting of self-sustaining, self-directing,
self-multiplying churches capable of penetrating their people groups with
the gospel, then I submit that we must produce witnessing churches and
salting churches capable of impacting their culture with the gospel.
Without this the church may grow for a while, but eventually it will
become an island of irrelevance and stop growing. The key is for the
church to live out a Christian worldview with thoroughgoing transformed
values combined with a thoroughgoing new view of the world and of life.
we cannot do this without mobilizing the laity, without returning the
great commission to them. Only they can engage the culture and workplace
because only they are there. Only they can work out and model workplace
discipleship where people spend most of their time. Only they can set a
pattern of lay witness and ministry. And only when they are fully
mobilized do we have the full force of workers deployed in the task. As
long as we keep missions as the domain of specially called, full-time
workers, we kill rapid church multiplication, as well as the full health
and independence of daughter churches.
Dave English, May 3, 1999
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