Monday, April 03, 2006

What Kind of Churches Do We Plant?

Let me begin by stating a few salient facts. First, I am a Baptist. I am not ashamed of that. I am not ashamed that God saved me through the teaching/preaching ministry of a Baptist church. I am not ashamed to have been called to preach under the preaching of a Baptist preacher. He was a "Landmarkist." The particular Baptist denomination where I was at that time had statements that were so exclusive in their nature that I could not continue there.

Second, I am a Baptist missionary. I am not ashamed that God called me to missions through the ministry of a Baptist missionary and her husband. I am not ashamed to be a Southern Baptist missionary. I take joy in that.

Third, I have been a church planter and continue to participate in church planting, though my role is much larger. It's one of those things that cannot be equaled in other walks of life. The joy of seeing souls come to faith in Christ is incomparable. The satisfaction of seeing a church formed is unspeakable.

So that leads me to an important question: when a Southern Baptist missionary sets out to plant a church, what does he have in mind? What is the "final product" that any SBC M wants to see?

Logically, we want to plant Baptist churches. I happen to live in a megacity somewhere in South America. I happen to be able to plant Baptist churches. Those churches suffer mild persecution (mostly emotional), but they can paint a sign with the words "Baptist" on it and their non-evangelical neighbors will understand that it "ain't mainstream."

Now I don't plant Southern Baptist churches. I don't live in the United States; the SBC is not here, except incarnationally through its missionaries. My national brethren would not appreciate me planting an SBC church when they are attempting to plant churches that affiliate with their own convention.

That is as simple as it gets. But I want to complicate the matter a bit. First, the least complicated thing is the following scenario: SBC missionary V lives and works among a people group in a closed country. They are antagonistic to evangelism, church planting, and open Christianity. They cannot post their name on a sign. What do missionary V and his team do? They plant baptistic churches; that means the church is baptistic in doctrine, but not in name. To openly identify it as "baptist" could jeopardize the entire church planting effort.

SBC missionary Z, on the other hand, works among a people group that is ever-so-slightly tolerant of evangelicals. But the people group has no concept of denominational ties. Their fledgling work has been what we could describe as "independent." Missionary Z has the opportunity to work with and train some national church planters, none of whom are Baptist. What kind of church does Missionary Z then plant? Does he impose his origin (Baptist) upon the group, or does he teach and promote baptistic doctrine?

This is my humble opinion: SBC missionary Z should plant New Testament churches, which I believe will be baptistic in nature. He can later return and shore up the doctrine and reveal his Baptist origin in that subsequent teaching. But if this is a New Testament church, and we hope it is, that church will still have the responsibility to choose whether or not to be identified as a Baptist church. Missionary Z cannot force that upon them.

For that matter, neither can I require that the churches I help plant choose the name of Baptist. It is a matter of local church autonomy. The chances are that they will choose the name of Baptist, because we wield much influence. But I cannot require it. I will not require it. I will only seek to be baptistic and hope that the name "Baptist" finds its way on the sign. Anything more could be construed as paternalistic and counter-productive to the missionary enterprise.

Kevin, from Somewhere in South America


J. A. Gillmartin said...

Well said. Do you get criticism for that position from anybody back home (don't read IBM).

Nationalist churches are stronger churches, or so I was taught in Missiology.

BTW I resonded to your comment on the Blogger comment post at The CRIB.

Kevin, Somewhere in South America said...

Bro. Gillmartin,

No, I have never had any criticism from anyone back home for that position. Most folks understand the principle very well.


Baptistfundi said...

I'm with you brother!


GuyMuse said...

This is my humble opinion: SBC missionary Z should plant New Testament churches, which I believe will be baptistic in nature.

Your humble opinion is mine too! More than likely the Baptist background of missionary Z will be a major influence on these NT churches being planted. They may, or may not ultimately choose to identify themselves as "Baptist," but they are most likely to reflect "baptistic" characteristics on the things that really matter. That has been our experience over the past 6 years.