Our cities and towns are now teeming with different languages, cultures, and remote people groups. Why should we care about this? Because God does. His heart is for the nations. He has always had people groups in mind with His Gospel plan of salvation and transformation. John Stott stated it well, “We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God.”
In Matthew 28:19, the Great Commission challenges us all to go and make disciples of “all nations” – (pante ta ethne in Greek) best translated as “all the people groups.” Notice that this is not geographic, but focused upon the peoples themselves rather than lines drawn upon a map.
As we have seen an increase in diversity and the number of people groups who are entering the United States, it is incumbent upon us to consider how we may strategically reach the nations that God has literally brought to our doorstep. We often categorize missions as “here” (North America) or “there” (overseas). But, what if we took the Thomas Friedman “flat world” philosophy and applied it missiologically to reframe mission and church planting in a flat world?
Flat Missional World
In a flat missional world, we think both here and there simultaneously. Acts 1:8 states that we are to go and make disciples of all nations in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. This does not have to be a linear movement – it can now be simultaneous! We are currently living in an unprecedented time where we no longer have to fly around the world to engage Unreached, Unengaged People Groups (UUPG’s). We have an unparalleled opportunity to engage people both here and there from very difficult and remote places in the world where missionaries have been banned or heavily restricted.
For example, there are 2,276,600 Han Chinese peoples in the U.S. In a flat missional world, a church can reach Han Chinese people in their local community here while simultaneously impacting their relational networks there! We have seen multiple instances where a person becomes a Christian here and then leads friends and family to Christ over Skype there. This flat missional world provides access and opportunity with multi-dimensional impact.
Various models exist to engage and minister to this increasing diversity that has become the norm in North America – multi-ethnic plants, language-based plants, people group plants, outreach through a main campus, multiple ethnic churches simultaneously using the same building, refugee ministries, social justice or mercy ministry platforms, etc.
One model that I want to highlight is brilliantly strategic and multiplicative – both here and there.
St. Louis is home to a church planter, Pastor Joshua, who is using a 3-pronged approach to planting. He is planting a multi-ethnic church while engaging Bosnian peoples to plant churches – here and there simultaneously. For sensitivity to the ongoing ministry, the church will not be named and the church planter will be referred to as Pastor Joshua. Obviously, with the complexities of the cultural and relational dynamics, this is a long-term commitment and vision that will take strategic intention and time.
As the church launched a few years ago, they were intent on being a disciple-making factory. This visionary pastor takes Spurgeon’s words to heart: Every believer is either a missionary or an imposter. Since they view every believer as a missionary, then it follows that each member has a mission field. Covenant members are required to identify their mission field, and each small group is organized by like-minded mission fields. Every member is empowered and released to live a life on mission in their city; one of those mission fields is the large Bosnian population.
This church is located in St. Louis, which has the second largest population of Bosnians next to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia. Bosnian culture is very complex, and it is important to skillfully navigate in order to talk about matters of faith. There are less than 400 Bosnian believers in the world. An estimated 70,000 Bosnians live in St. Louis , and the Pastor knows of only 2 who have become followers of Jesus since moving to the city in the late 1990’s.
Part of the church’s strategy is to engage the Bosnian people in order to contextualize the Gospel and speak the vernacular of their honor-shame, highly relational culture. The church invests a significant amount of time developing relationships, listening and learning about a person’s story, their traditions, their struggles, and their priorities. One must be committed to the long-haul.
The church’s goal is not extraction evangelism, but rather seeking to enter into a web of relationships in view of a disciple-making movement. Only with time can one hope to enter the social silos of a Bosnian friend and discuss matters of faith. “Bait and switch” tactics will not work. They must trust that the relationship is genuine and isn’t based on the outcome of a religious conversation.
Pastor Joshua’s church found that traveling to Bosnia speeds up the time it takes to navigate these complexities and develop trust. When their Bosnian friends know that the church members have a genuine care for them and their people, then there is a sudden boost in relational capital. Reaching Bosnians here is closely linked to our serving Bosnians there. As they serve Bosnians in Bosnia, it’s amazing how many say, “We have family in St. Louis that you should meet.” These relational webs open up opportunities for friendships and sharing the love of Jesus. If we want to see an unreached group become reached, both here and there—two sides of the same coin—it requires time, travel, and trust.
This 3-Pronged Model of planting a church while at the same time engaging a people group to eventually plant here and there reminds me of a beautifully complex orchestral composition. Often the movement begins with a soft slow melodic section which builds into a thrilling grand triumphant crescendo. For a church planting movement to begin, the soft slow rhythm of disciples making disciples is vital before the rising swells of the heightened crescendo lead to a triumphant victorious finale.