How we think about our God-given responsibility to reach the unreached has changed and developed over the years. It continues to grow in response to lessons we are learning from the front lines. This is our best attempt to share our thinking at this time.
We believe that mistakes are some of our best teachers. We encourage our teams to fail safely and not to waste their mistakes. Our mistakes have played a significant role in shaping our philosophy of mission. Here are are a few lessons we have learned:
- Cross cultural audiences often do not understand (or worse – they misunderstand) the messages given them by the missionary. Worldview assumptions about how life works, and cultural circumstances life’s lessons were drawn from, are so different between the missionary and his audience that confusion and misunderstandings are common, and interest in what the missionary says lags.
- Cross cultural audiences often do not make a connection between doctrinal truths and their cultural beliefs and practices. The result is syncretism.
- The teachings of the Bible have far more to offer people of other cultures than what is being presented. While cultures are rich with attempts to meet the needs of its society in practical ways, Christianity is viewed as discussing spiritual beliefs in church. The result is disenchanted believers looking outside the arms of Christianity any time they need practical assistance with critical issues. This results in syncretism and backsliding.
- Church plants often do not have a core of spiritually mature members (who appropriately apply biblical teaching in real life) who are equipped and able to lead others in an intentional process of developing spiritual maturity. This results in a constant need for policing, church discipline, revivals, etc.
- Lacking spiritually mature members, some congregations choose leaders based on their possession of culturally approved leadership traits – such as ability to control others, education, wealth etc. Respected leaders that lack spiritual maturity can easily mislead large groups of people and give false impressions of Christianity.
AFM’s church planting philosophy is our best attempt to address each of these problems. We believe they are also addressed in 1 Corinthians 3 where Paul talks about laying the Jesus foundation and then building on it – building with materials that will stand the test of time. Jesus said that wise people take what He taught and apply it to their lives. He said that this was like a person who builds their house on a rock. AFM believes that effective church planting requires that we lay a solid foundation of truth (in Christ) and help people build their lives on it. We believe this should be an intentional process that sets a consistent pace people can follow and prioritizes the steps most critical to seeking a genuine reconciliation with God through Christ. This includes dealing with worldview level assumptions about the spiritual world that may not be addressed in typical doctrinal presentations, that may actually derail reconciliation, and presenting truth in a fashion most likely to be understood, practiced, remembered by our audience ,and easily shared by them with their friends.
Spiritual maturity is developed when people consistently and appropriately apply biblical principles to their daily lives. When a group of believers apply biblical truths to the needs and circumstances of their lives and allow those truths to guide their relationships together a new culture begins to develop. The power of cultures is that they ensure a shared life experience for their participants today as well as similar life experience for new generations tomorrow. Since life experience is the foundation of both worldview and maturity development, new life experiences based upon the relevant application of biblical truth are essential to the formation of a biblical worldview and the development of spiritual maturity.
In order to ensure that the evangelization of a people adequately results in the formation of a biblical worldview and the development of spiritual maturity we choose the following approach to the church planting process:
1. Become Cultural Insiders – We believe that we cannot preach or teach until we have earned the right to be heard. In order to do this we:
- Learn the Language (both the trade language and heart language of the people) to a level three on the LAMP scale which allows our missionaries to begin to understand abstract concepts and spiritual ideology.
- We do an in-depth (300-600 pages) worldview analysis. The purpose of this exercise is to assist our missionaries in the process of becoming seen as cultural insiders because of their deep insight into the culture.
2. Develop Contextualized Discipleship/Worldview Evangelistic Curricula – We believe that maturity is a process and so Discipleship/Evangelism must be a process. In order for this process to be effective it must demonstrate deep insight into the worldview of a given people. This process is as follows (EV=Evangelism):
- EVI – Hunger Development Tool. a) The first task of an AFM missionary is to look for spiritual thirst (the woman at the well) or hunger in a given culture. This is a place of unanswered questions or deep dissatisfaction with the answers that the culture provides to a question. b) The Hunger Development Tool provides a bridge to spiritual conversations and leads to the next EV step.
- EV II – Biblical Foundations and Gospel in a Nutshell. This set of lessons is designed to build enough understanding of foundational biblical narrative so that the gospel can be presented, understood and responded to.
- EV III – World View Shift. A chronological survey of scriptures designed to effect a biblical worldview shift. The focus of these lessons is to guide new converts into a deep understanding of a biblical worldview, to begin to understand and appreciate aspects in their culture that resonate with a biblical worldview and to confront unbiblical aspects of their worldview with biblical truth.
- EV IV – Complete Christian Culture. The goal of these lessons is to address every aspect of the new member’s lives. Topics such as healing and wellness, initiation rights, marriage, respect for elders, birth and death are addressed. New members are introduced to a complete culture that is more satisfying than their culture without Jesus and a culture that enriches and enhances their culture.
- EV V – Leadership Development. This is the leadership development curriculum for the church plant. As new members develop spiritual maturity they begin to use EV I-IV with others and learn to lead within their cultural context.
The following diagram illustrates how AFM’s church planting philosophy impacts our strategy:
3. Engage in Worldview Evangelism.
- This is the careful process of taking the written lessons, testing them for effectiveness, refining them and then implementing the process outlined above.
4. Nurturing New Believers to Spiritual Maturity.
5. Developing Leaders and Multipliers (trainers of trainers).
6. Phasing out of the project – allowing national leadership room to grow.
7. Providing ongoing mentoring and support – we send missionaries back to their project for at least five years after a missionary has left.
There is only one thing more exciting than thinking about how to obey Jesus’ call to disciple the nations and that is wrestling with how to prepare people like you to do this work effectively. We look forward to the opportunity to serve your calling.