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The Song of the Gospel

My granddaughter Kara just returned from a trip to Nicaragua with her college choir and was stunned by poverty unlike any she ever experienced. During a visit to a small hospital in Managua they saw patients crowded into rooms that held 10 at a time, many on beds without sheets. Particularly distressing was the realization that despite such deplorable conditions these were the “lucky” ones able even to receive care.

Our hearts cannot help but be burdened by such stories, but what is the answer? Years ago, I was on a trip to South America that similarly awakened me to the tremendous poverty in our world. I was overwhelmed by it. I could not imagine any amount of money ever addressing such an ocean of need.

Through a friend I came to recognize that there was no human solution. The one and only hope to the crises of our world is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is not blind faith. The pains of this world stem from a spiritual cancer in the heart of every person—rich and poor alike. The gospel not only diagnoses this disease, but provides the cure that heals past, present and future.

[blockquote_left]The gospel gives significance and meaning to our past hurts. Through Christ, suffering will not just be recompensed, but redeemed.[/blockquote_left]The gospel gives significance and meaning to our past hurts. Through Christ, suffering will not just be recompensed, but redeemed. It will be swallowed up into a greater glory—and in some miraculous way will increase the joy of eternity. The hint of this is seen in the cross. Christ’s sufferings not only brought our healing, but increased His glory. So it will be with all suffering. It won’t just be forgotten, but filled with real purpose and real value.

The gospel gives the present life purpose. Social programs and government policies can never address the root issue of the heart. Only the love of Christ can penetrate our souls and prompt us to truly love our neighbors. The gospel propels us to begin living the Kingdom of God here and now. In Latin America more wealth is concentrated among fewer people than almost anywhere in the world. How will these resources ever be unleashed to meet the needs of the Latin people unless the love of Christ softens hardened hearts? And how will hearts be softened if they do not hear the gospel?

Finally, the gospel provides lasting hope for the future. It is a hope not in some spiritualized eternity disconnected from the material world, but a future where this very world is healed and restored to its created purpose. A future of perfect peace where love and justice reign.

During their visit to the hospital, Kara and the choir sang for the patients. One song in particular expressed the gospel hope for that future day when all things will be set right. As they sang, an emaciated teenage AIDS patient looked up to heaven, his eyes brightened and joy broke out on his face. The gospel—its promise for the future, its joy in the present and its grace for the past—found holy expression.

Spiritually, the world suffers just like that young boy. But the gospel infuses past, present and future with meaning and power. With such a message of hope, how can we not give everything we have to proclaiming it (maybe even singing it) to our world in need?

 

Construct Inviting Facilities

Christian apologists often say that their purpose is not to reason a person to faith, but simply to help clear the forest of some questions so that people can get a clear view of Jesus.

The fourth principle of Encounter with God—Construct Inviting Facilities—does much the same thing.

It is true that the church is formed of people not buildings. Likewise there are certainly cases where the focus on church buildings becomes more about increasing the comforts of the saints than equipping them for ministry. Nevertheless, facilities can be vital tools to enhance evangelism, corporate worship, training and discipleship.

This is definitely true in Latin America where the physical presence of the traditional church is a central theme in Latin culture. Visit any plaza in Latin America and you will find the traditional church at the center of town. Deep in the psyche of most Latin Americans, even among the nominally religious, a physical building is an important indicator of legitimacy.

This is especially true in the urban professional levels of society where evangelicalism is often regarded as the religion of the poor and ignorant. For much of its history the physical presence of the evangelical church contributed to this misperception.

Most evangelical churches were located in poorer communities with extremely humble facilities. Praise God for these churches. Yet, the almost exclusive focus on this segment of society to the neglect of others helped foster this stereotype. Moreover, though the churches in lower income areas often contained fervent and faithful believers, they had a difficult time reaching demographic segments beyond their own.

The Encounter with God approach of developing simple, but nice centers for worship and discipleship helps break down such stereotypes and bridge barriers between social classes.

The presence of an inviting facility forces reevaluations of long held misperceptions. Many times the building enhances curiosity and openness to the gospel message.
Moreover, the right facility can help foster a greater mix of social classes. Encounter churches seek balance between providing a place inviting to urban professionals, but not so ornate as to intimidate others. Encounter churches are unique in their diversity. Lower, middle and even upper income people worship together in many churches.

In a world prone to stringent social and economic stratification, this can be a tremendous testimony to the unity in Christ.

The Church is not a building, but a building can help a church better be the church– uniting people of every social level to bear witness to the power of the gospel to change lives and transform nations.

Pick a Strategic Location

Not long ago a CMI staff member was sharing a prayer request with men from his home church regarding a CMI project in Latin America. The need involved the funds to purchase a strategically located piece of property for a new church. The price tag: $360,000.

Upon hearing this, an American pastor present in the room exclaimed with astonishment, “What kind of property costs $360,000?” He could not reconcile how a church in Latin America could justify spending that kind of money for a piece of property.

It was an expensive price tag to be sure, but not uncommon for a sizeable, well-located property in a major Latin American city. That said, it was still a downright bargain compared to the $6.8 million lot that the astonished pastor’s own church rested on.

The American pastor’s surprise reveals much about the common perception of the typical Latin American church. In fact, for most of the evangelical church’s history in Latin America, local congregations were primarily located far from the principal avenues.

“Before the Encounter program,” says Peruvian pastor Luis Palomino, “evangelical churches were located in little streets, not important streets, and people who were converted to the Lord many times had difficulty in finding the church where they even made a decision for the Lord. But having a church in an important artery of the city, I think that makes a difference.”

“As I visit with believers from Encounter churches,” remarks CMI’s Craig Murray, “it is remarkable to discover how many of them came and heard the gospel at that particular church simply because they saw it when they went about their day-to-day activities. In a sense, a strategically located church can remove one of the most difficult physical barriers to people coming to a church.”

Though such properties are usually more expensive, the costs of failing to secure a strategic location are immense. Dollars may be saved by selecting a less prominent property, but such a choice can result in tragic losses in terms of evangelistic effectiveness, church growth and overall gospel impact.

“The location and the facility of a church are important markers of credibility in Latin American society,” says former missionary and current CMI board member Mark Searing.

For this reason, Encounter with God churches are located on principal avenues, visible to the masses passing by every day. They are located near bus lines and major traffic routes of the city so that they are well known, easily found, and readily accessible.

Strategic locations may come with higher price tags, but when viewed in the light of their long-term gospel impact they are bargains!

Team-Based Ministry

Encounter Elements

Part 7: Team-Based Ministry

One of the greatest sports upsets of all time occurred during the 1980 Olympic Games when a collection of college and amateur hockey players from the United States upended a juggernaut team from the Soviet Union en route to claiming the gold medal. The Soviet team boasted some of the greatest international players of that time and their dominance earned them the nickname “The Red Machine.”

In the face of overwhelming odds, the U.S. team succeeded not because of their talent, but because of the quality of their teamwork. What they lacked in talent and experience, they made up for in intensity and chemistry. U.S. coach Herb Brooks meticulously selected the players he wanted, turning down some gifted players for the sake of achieving the exact mix of skills, speed and mental discipline that he knew would be needed to have a chance against the Soviets.

In ministry, as in sports and business, an effective team is critical. But in many cases we follow a lone ranger approach. In an effort to cover as much geographic territory as possible, or to launch as many new projects as possible, missions agencies and churches have sent out individuals to start new works trusting that they would develop a team at some point.

In contrast, the Encounter with God Movement believes that team ministry is essential from the very start. It was a team of people that developed the initial Encounter church in Lima, Peru. The same team-based concept was transferred to successive daughter churches. Even today, each new church starts with a senior pastor and at least one assistant, and often more, who share in the pulpit ministry, as well as the rest of the ministry of the church.

The multiplied effectiveness of a ministry team can be the difference between a successful church plant and a false start. A more diverse skill set develops more well-rounded ministries that lead to more rapid church growth. In addition, team ministry that shares the pulpit encourages church members’ commitment to the church and not to individual personalities.

The positive benefits of team ministry are likely the reason that Jesus and the early church made consistent use of teams. In commissioning the disciples to preach the gospel throughout Israel, Jesus sent them in pairs. Likewise, many of the earliest recorded missionaries, such as Peter and John, Paul and Barnabas and later Paul and Silas, functioned in teams.

Their example is a good model for us. For as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work….”

Unrelenting Prayer

The development of a church is a direct attack on the devil. It is a frontal assault on what Satan considers to be his territory. Unless proper preparations are made and needed “supplies” are provided for those involved in the battle, the attack will fail. The fundamental preparation and the critical “supplies” come from prayer.

Relentless prayer is marked by four characteristics. It is intentional, intense, intimate and inspired.

“Intentional” prayer plans specific ways to involve as many people as possible in prayer. Many Encounter churches have started as home prayer meetings. Using this as a foundation, they move to larger facilities but maintain the emphasis on prayer. Often the members meet for early morning prayer or conduct all night prayer vigils. The basic premise for the church is that nothing is accomplished without prayer.

“Intense” prayer is marked by tenacity. It does not stop after the first year or two of existence of the church. Tony Evans, in his book “The Battle is the Lord’s” states, “If you and I are going to see this thing work, prayer cannot be an addendum to our day or week. It must be the controlling agenda of our lives. We need to pray when we feel like it and when we don’t.”

“Intimate” prayer signifies a clear knowledge of each request. It begins with a heart focused on God, not one merely going through the motions. It ends with praying in specificity and not with generalities, such as “bless this church.” Winning a city for God begins with prayer, but it is specific, thoughtful prayer that is the intimate form of communication that the Bible models.

“Inspired” prayer prays for great things. Acts 4:23–31 is a powerful example of this. Peter and John were commanded by the rulers, elders, teachers and high priest not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. When they were released, they “went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them” (v. 23). What follows is an “inspired” prayer that provides us with a clear example of how to claim victory in very difficult situations. Inspired prayer believes great things.

The earliest roots of Encounter with God, like all great movements of the Holy Spirit in history, began with unrelenting prayer. So, too, the power of a church and its people begins and ends in prayer. If prayer is foundational, the power of God is unleashed in great ways in a church. It is strengthened for battle and Jesus promised that “the gates of Hell” will not stand against His Church.

Focus on the Capital City

In 1954, Roy LeTourneau began a road building project in the Peruvian jungle for his father–famed industrialist R.G. LeTourneau. Roy and his crew started the project by steaming boats of equipment up the Pachitea River and landing them at a site that they called Tournavista. From there they began the long arduous task of building a road from the middle of nowhere toward civilization.

Yet even in this remote jungle location, Roy found it crucial to be in constant communication with people in Peru’s capital city of Lima. Utilizing a corporate plane, he flew back and forth from Tournavista to Lima continually. He quickly realized the power and influence of that one city on even the remotest parts of the country.

In the fifty years since, the influence of Lima has only grown. Today, one-third of Peru’s population resides in the capital city. It is the center of government, commerce, education and communications. The same is true of the capital cities in virtually every other country in Latin America.

The massive size and influence of these urban centers are the primary reasons why CMI focuses its ministry on the capital city. It has been said that in Latin America, everyone has at least one contact in the capital. It truly is the hub of the nation. While hundreds of people move into the capital each day, change and influence radiate out.

As such, the capital city is a crucial beachhead for discipling the entire nation.

“In Latin America,” notes international evangelist Luis Palau, “it is an absolute fact: if you reach the capital city you can touch the whole nation. It’s amazing. In Latin America the capital city has enormous influence in contrast to the USA where Washington is influential but New York in some ways is more powerful. Not so in Latin America. In every single republic the capital touches the nation.”

“If we reach the cities, then the cities themselves will reach out into other areas of the country,” says C&MA Missionary David Peters. “For years in Latin America we worked in the smaller towns and villages, trying to evangelize the country in that way. As North American missionaries we felt that this was the way to go. But if we can go into the cities, into key cities, and plant strong churches in those cities, then the people in those churches go out and evangelize their family members who live in the small towns and the villages.”

Mobilize Urban Professionals

In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul says that “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Such a statement was a radical thought in the Roman world where the lines between the powerful and the powerless were drawn with extreme rigidness. Paul’s message of equality for those in Christ was revolutionary. In his day, those with power, wealth and privilege were often deemed as more favored by God. Thus writers like James admonished the early church not to show preference to the rich over the poor.

However, when we survey the majority of the missions landscape today, we find almost a reverse tendency. Much of the evangelism in many parts of the world has been in remote villages and among the poorest in society. The middle and upper classes are often devoid of any gospel influence. Praise God that so many of the world’s needy are hearing the gospel and responding. These people need to be reached.

Unfortunately, the lack of a cross-social balance in missions can create dependency. With few exceptions, people from the poorer segments of society are ill-equipped to effect nationwide transformation. This is not a reflection on them personally, but on the social realities that limit them.

So, how can you affect nationwide impact? Pastor Walter Perez of Buenos Aires, Argentina points to two key factors: “If we want to change a nation or continent for God it has to be done by national people and national leaders. That requires a strong national church. To have a strong national church you need resources and you need leadership. And people who have the ability to lead and finance the work are generally found in the middle class in Latin American capital cities.”

This is why the Encounter Model places a strong emphasis on mobilizing the urban professional segments of society. When won to Christ and properly challenged, they provide the necessary leadership and resources to advance the church throughout their nation. Moreover, they are better equipped to reach both up and down the social ladder to reach everyone with the gospel.

In addition, as a strong national church emerges, the believers in a nation are better equipped and end up doing a better job of helping the displaced and suffering people in their countries. A strong national church can prick the conscience of a nation and effect long-term social change.

The gospel is for all people. Mobilizing urban professionals is one of the most effective means for unleashing its power to change lives and change nations for God.

Concentrate Resources

In military strategy, one of the biggest concerns is spreading forces too thin. Doing so, increases the territory covered, but also reduces effectiveness. History is replete with examples of powerful militaries rendered weak because they tried to hold too much territory too fast.
The same can be true for people. Everyone knows people who are so busy doing so many things that they are incapable of accomplishing much of anything. We likewise say that such a person is “spread too thin.”

Shotgun Missions

The same applies to missions. Frequently, churches use a “shotgun” approach in missions strategy–trying to cover as much territory as they possibly can. The logic is that reaching new territories means touching more lives. However, the same limitations that govern militaries and individuals apply also to missions work. Rarely are there sufficient financial resources and adequate personnel available to be effective when people and resources are spread too thin. Attempting to cover a broader expanse can debilitate the entire enterprise.

Stronger, Faster

In contrast, one of the key concepts of the Encounter with God approach to missions is a firm commitment to concentrating human and financial resources in a limited arena. This means beginning with one church in one city. This initial church has a capacity to develop more ministries, reach more people and achieve greater impact than it would otherwise be able to dream. Such churches advance and develop much faster, quickly becoming partners in future expansion efforts. The result is reproduction by multiplication rather than simple addition.
Over time this concentrated focuses produces a network capable of generating the resources and leadership required for sustaining reproduction without dependence on outside resources. Strong churches of this nature will reach new territories and hold greater promise of discipling entire nations for Jesus Christ.

Take Small Steps

In Jesus’ last words to His disciples, He commanded them to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
In fact, the remainder of the Book of Acts relates how this was precisely the manner in which the gospel went forth—step by step from the epicenter in Jerusalem. It spread to Samaria and other parts of Judea. When persecution began, the church took another step to the city of Antioch. From there Paul and Barnabas carried the message progressively step by step westward through the Roman Empire.

First Steps

In a similar way, CMI believes that this “small step” approach remains the best way to disciple nations for Jesus Christ. Concentrating missionaries in urban centers is an effective way that this can be done. This does not mean missionaries shouldn’t go to remote places if the Lord calls them there. It does mean that redeploying a substantial number of missionaries into cities may be the most effective way of taking the gospel to that country.

Maximizing Steps

When a missionary is sent from North America to the jungles, a huge step is taken. That step results in a tremendous gap in all areas—including housing, food, transportation, language and culture and in the ability to establish understanding between peoples of such diverse backgrounds. When a missionary from North America is sent to a capital city it is a smaller step. Some adjustments to culture, another language and they’re soon at work.

Future Steps

When the people of the city are won to Christ and challenged properly, they can go to the secondary cities—again a small step. These people in turn can go to the provinces and those of the provinces can go to the jungles.
Each group taking only a small step in systematically reaching their country with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A Biblical Foundation

Whether you have personally visited them or not, it is likely that you have seen pictures of skyscrapers like the Sears Tower or the Empire State Building. These colossal structures tower above the skyline, dominating the other buildings around them. On any given day, hundreds of people will come to marvel at the heights to which they stretch. They are truly amazing sights.

But while nearly everyone would want to ride to the top to take in just how high these man-made marvels reach, very few consider going down to look at their foundations. In truth, as impressive as they are, they are only as good as their supports.

In the same way, to truly understand Encounter with God, we must look at its foundation. Essential to the Encounter Movement is its deep connection to three biblical foundations that guide and undergird all other concepts and principles.

Great Commission Oriented

First and foremost, Encounter is Great Commission oriented (Matt. 28:18-20). The intent of the Encounter with God Strategy is to, as the Commission states, “make disciples of all nations.” This demands a balance of evangelism and discipleship. Reaching new people with the gospel is essential, but there must also be a commitment to maturing each new believer if we are to keep the Lord’s command.

Local Congregation Centered

Discipleship is best done in the context of the local body of believers. In fact, this is  the one institution that Christ established. Likewise, when the Apostle Paul conducted his missionary efforts his primary method was the establishment of local congregations that were responsible for furthering the cause of the gospel in their city and region. Social and educational missionary work is valuable, but CMI believes that a strong local church will be able to provide these same types of ministry to its own community more effectively, thereby enhancing its testimony and drawing more people to make decisions for Christ.

Pauline Model of Missions

If you were to get a map of the ancient Roman Empire and then note the cities where Paul initiated ministry, you would find several commonalities between them. In almost every case, Paul concentrated ministry in cities of significant influence. Locations such as Lystra, Derbe, Ephesus, Philippi, and Corinth were centers of commerce, transportation and education. Paul focused his efforts in planting churches in the major urban centers of the Roman world, ultimately moving toward the city of cities – Rome itself. Analyzing Paul’s strategy, Roland Allen writes that “in his hands [these strategic centers] became the sources of rivers, mints from which the new coin of the Gospel was spread in every direction.” Similarly Encounter with God is a strategy that seeks to maximize the crossroads of culture, planting churches in those locations that will have the greatest impact in spreading the Gospel message.