Saturday, May 27, 2006

Reflections on Training in Russia

What a wonderful experience it was to be with the Russian people last week. I worked with over 70 pastors and church planting leaders in 2 days of intensive training. I then preached in one of the Russian churches.

One of the pastors in the training commented that he had been talking to his associate about aggressively planting churches. However, as he and his associate talked to others they said he was crazy. He told me "This training is confirming what I believe God has been telling me to do, even though others have been telling me I'm crazy. It also gives me some tools to obey God and move in this direction."

The pastor who hosted our training event told us that this was confirmation to him that God wanted his church to plant 100 churches. Many other comments like these affirmed that we were doing what God wanted us to do.

We now have our training material "The Essentials for Starting a Missional Church" de-Westernized and translated into Russian. Before we left, there were 3 new invitations to come back and offer this training to Russian leaders. God's church is alive and well all over the world. What a blessing and priviledge to fellowship with and serve His Body from other parts of the world!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Missional Church Planting in Eastern Europe

This coming week I will be in Nizhny Novgorod (Russia) leading a national church planting conference. I’ve been researching the situation in these former Communist cities and my heart breaks for the people. There appears to be great need and great spiritual hunger. There appears to be significant leadership needs in the churches. There is great oppression from the Orthodox Church toward all evangelicals and most of the evangelical churches are struggling greatly. There is enormous social need.

One of the most striking things to me is that it appears (in my pre-trip research) that the evangelical churches are trying to be more “Western” than relevant in their culture. It reminds me of Sherwood Lingenfelter’s book Transforming Culture. Lingenfelter made this observation:

A few years ago some missionary colleagues and I attended a Sunday morning worship service in a large evangelical church in Cameroon’s capital city of Yaounde. The African pastors led us in a familiar service, selecting songs from a standard evangelical hymnbook and preaching an inspiring, doctrinally sound message, given in English and translated into French. We missionaries, a few white faces in a sea of black believers, enjoyed the service thoroughly.

As I walked away praising God, it suddenly occurred to me that this service was almost identical to those I had experienced in North America. Momentarily stunned, I wondered why I should feel as comfortable in Africa as if I were at home.

Lingenfelter goes on to raise some important questions. He says, Why is it that in the process of establishing churches in non-Western nations we transfer our culture of the church? Are missionaries planting biblically founded indigenous churches, or are they transferring their culture of Christianity to every nation of the world?

He concludes, It is difficult to find in the two-thirds world a truly indigenous church. Most churches reflect more the culture of the missionaries who planted them than they do the culture of the new believers. Missionaries have succeeded in bringing a biblically informed worldview, but one that is thoroughly contaminated by their culture. Is it possible to bring a truly transforming gospel, or are we always limited to reproducing our own cultural reflection of Christianity wherever we carry the message?

As I prepare to train these Russian pastors I’m asking the question, “What does a missional church look like in their context?” It certainly should be grounded in Scripture but how can I present the Word without my Western spin? Is that even possible?

This week I was at the GlocalNet Conference and one of my friends said that when he started working around the world and studying other cultures he began to discover and underline different portions of the Bible. He said that he realized that reading the Scriptures through Western lenses caused certain passages and teachings to stand out to him more than others. However, when he began to read the Word in other cultures, with lenses influenced by other cultures, different passages and teachings began to stand out. He concluded that we need believers from “all nations” and all cultures to help us truly comprehend the full counsel of God. We need the whole Body of Christ to inform our hermeneutic.

My conclusion is this. Missional churches must be global – they must be engaging the world as much for their benefit as others. Missional churches must be indigenous and contextual, but in order to do this we must increasingly realize how our immediate culture contaminates our understanding of the gospel. Only then will we be faithful to the gospel and culturally relevant too!

Finally, missional churches should have a noticeable transformational presence in society. There appears to be a resurgence of interest in communist socialism in some sectors of Eastern Europe because the influx of Western culture and Christianity is not necessarily making the world a better place for these struggling people. What would it look like for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done among these people?

Global, contextual, and transformational, by being faithful to the gospel. That’s my understanding of a missional church. What do you think?