HOUSTON–Whether preparing for the international mission field or struggling to start a neighborhood outreach in your city, the Acts 1:8 SENT Conference offered ways to equip those wishing to heed the Bible’s admonishment to go and tell.
Held at Houston’s First Baptist Church April 17-18, the conference’s 40-plus workshops led by experienced teachers, International Mission Board missionaries, seminary professors, lay leaders and the staff of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention gave conference participants a wide selection of courses from which to glean missions insight.
In more than a few of the sessions a unifying theme arose: Understanding and appreciating the worldviews of people of a different culture is the beginning of establishing a relationship with them and, ultimately, sharing the good news of the gospel. And Texans need not travel abroad to mingle with people of a different perspective. The nations have come to the Lone Star State.
Some, Barbara Oden would argue, live just across the street from any church. In one of her first efforts to begin what has become a flourishing apartment ministry, Oden discovered a large pocket of Korean immigrants in need of English as a Second Language classes. By taking note of the needs and interests of the apartment residents, Oden was able to earn their trust. Once she established a respectful relationship the residents accepted her offer to participate in a Bible study at the complex. One thing led to another and the Bible study was soon a church.
Oden, a resident activities consultant, works with the SBTC to promote missions to those living in apartments. Citing a report from 2000, she said 96 percent of apartment dwellers do not go to church.
From her first efforts in the 1980s to draw apartment residents to faith in the Lord and a fellowship of believers, Oden said several of the then-teenagers are now in full-time Christian ministry. Getting onto the premises of a complex and garnering management permission to host constructive activities and a Bible study is no longer the problem. Getting the church members, she conceded, to invest themselves into such a ministry has been the challenge of late.
But discovering how another group of people view the world, how they celebrate life, how they grieve, and how they interpret the motives of strangers–all can lead to mutually respectful relationships and even friendships. Once a foundation of trust is laid, missionaries can begin to communicate the truths of God’s word in a way that will be understood.
Repeated more than once at the SENT Conference: “You have to earn the right to be heard.”
REACHING YOUR CITY
Jack Allen, the Nehemiah Church Planting Professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, drove that point home during his presentation of “God’s Guaranteed Way to Reach Your City.”
“God’s plan is so ridiculously simple but people are so infinitely complex,” Allen told the workshop participants.
Citing John 13:34-35, Allen reiterated Jesus’ proclamation to his disciples that they were living under a new commandment. By living out Christ’s admonition to love their fellow believers, God will draw the lost.
“That’s what Jesus is talking about. They’re watching!”
When non-Christians look at the church, Allen asked, what do they see? Bickering? Hypocrisy? Churches being operated like godless corporations? Their conclusion, Allen said, is reasonable: “Your God’s not worth knowing.”
But what speaks volumes to non-believers is witnessing the loving relationships within a church body–and by extension the body of Christ–living in loving, congenial relationships with one another. When that loving kindness flows out of the church body to the surrounding community the walls that once stood as barriers to relationships and witnessing begin to crumble.
Allen asked the group to discuss among themselves the ways Christians minister to one another. Answers included prayer and communication. Actively praying for and with people who share a concern can have a significant influence, Allen said. Do not give the pat “I’ll pray for you” response to concerns but instead pray immediately with the person.
Listening without interruptions is also a key element in ministry. Being a good listener is often the spiritual gift of merciful people. Taking time to listen, he said, demonstrates care for the speaker.
Allen encouraged the group to take these means for loving fellow believers and use them to minister to the lost. For example, he said, if a Christian listens to lost people, they’ll talk long enough to reveal clues about how the gospel can most effectively be communicated to them.
MINISTRY ACROSS CULTURES
Two of the workshops covered the topics of “Cross-Cultural Ministry” and “Planting Churches among Non-Anglo People.”
“The Bible tells us that the cross is an obstacle. So our challenge is to reduce or eliminate all other barriers so that the only one left is the cross,” said David Alexander, SBTC church planting associate and coteacher with Chad Vandiver of the SBTC People Groups Champions Project.
In teaching the workshop on church planting, the two men gave a broad overview of the factors that form the worldview for non-Anglos. Having been raised by white parents as missionary kids in foreign lands and now working in the United States, Alexander and Vandiver used the term “third culture” to describe their perspective on the world. By understanding and operating within the worldview of the people being reached, missionaries can avoid frustration for themselves and confusion for those hearing the gospel.
What might be considered a simple question00”Do you want to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?”—can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on the worldview of the one being questioned. A Hindu, Alexander said, could say “yes” and simply add Jesus to the millions of gods he already worships. An immigrant to America may say “yes” as a means of fitting into the new culture. And a Mexican with even a modicum of Catholic upbringing will also answer “yes” because, David explained, “who wouldn’t want to?”
As missionaries begin to comprehend the society in which they have placed themselves, they gain vital insight into how to share their faith and understandably.
For some missionaries the study guide for learning about a culture is nothing more than a blank slate. There are 6,475 unreached and unengaged people groups in the world according to statistics from the International Mission Board. For detailed information about the number of people groups in the world and how many still have not been reached with the gospel, visit imb.org/GlobalResearch/.
During their presentation on “Cross-Cultural Ministry,” Eric Perking, former IMB missionary to Uruguay, and Larry Riley promoted the concept of churches adopting and unreached or engaged people group and making them the focus of all international missions outreach.
Mentioned more than once throughout the conference was the perceived ineffectiveness of “hit-and-run” mission trips. U.S. teams, sometimes with little planning and foresight, travel to another county with the well-intentioned plan of sharing the gospel while meeting a physical need in a community. Without at least a broad understanding of the culture in which the group will be working and a long-term plan for drawing people to Christ and discipling them, such trips bear little to no fruit in the long run.
Perkins and Riley, staff members of Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, told of their church’s efforts to reach and engage the Toposa people of southern Sudan. After meeting with an IMB representative from that region, the church began the process in 2007 of meeting and establishing relationships with the people whose lifestyle has changed little in 700 years.
During the three mission projects the teams met a man of peace as mentioned in Luke 10:6. After gaining entrance into the community of between 400,000-700,000, the church members discovered a believer among them. The man had come out of Sudan as a refugee and had heard of Christ (Riley and Perkins discouraged use of the phrase “mission trip” because it connotes a vacation or one-time visit with no continuing relationships).
With little information about the culture and worldview of the Toposa people, the mission team’s primary goal was to establish relationships to best understand how to share the gospel. Perkins said asking a lot of questions has two-fold benefits. It is a source of information and it demonstrates an interest in the people and, by inference, care and concern for them.
By becoming “wholly invested” the church hopes in the long-run to establish a Christian community among the Toposa. Perkins and Riley emphasized the greatest impact mission teams could have are those that disciple believers and rise up leaders with a people group.
Preparation before a mission journey is key to success, they said. Not all problems can be foreseen but most can be averted with good planning.
In preparing for any mission trip, Perkins and Riley said it is important to consider what being lost means. When empathy for those who don’t know Christ guides the preparation and execution of a project, then missionaries have a sense of urgency for the mission and a desire to do it well.