Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Fields Are White For Harvest But the Labourers Are Few ...

When I read the latest copy of the Newfrontiers magazine, I suspected that it would provoke some reflections, and hence therefore greatly enjoyed reading Mark Heath's thoughts on "Parachurch Organisations". Briefly summarised, Mark finds some agreement with author Steve Tibbert in that training is best done in the local church, questioning whether people with a heart to go to the nations should be handed to missionary organisations and finally agreeing that execeptions such as Wycliffe Bible Translators do exist. Mark has five questions - two of which caught my attention. He asked; "Are we ready to take over (from parachurch organizations) ... at the moment I doubt it". And secondly he noted Newfrontiers passion to plant churches. This however has an inevitable result: "But this means many churches with small memberships. There is no way that they can sustain a fully comprehensive set of ministries".

These are valid thoughts. The answer I believe is to be found in Terry Virgo's 'Firstline'.

He wrote; "After searching the Scriptures, we found she has an absolutely vital role to fulfill. The local church should be a strategic centre for the advance of Christ's kingdom on earth ... Church planting was strategy number one".

That suggests to me that church planting will ever and must always be our number one passion - that is the high calling upon us. But as Mark noted, excessive church planting without due care and attention given to making the church the strategic centre for the advance of Christ's kingdom will indeed result in many churches with small memberships. While church planting must always be our strategy number one, I would ask - should the task of those staying "at home" be to make the sending church that strategic centre? And does that task of making the church a strategic centre involve more than the more well-known serving gifts such as passing the offering bowl round or collecting up the tea cups?

Terry wrote: "Those who love the local church and see it's vital significance in God's strategy will regard the local church as the key centre for such things as worship, prayer, prophecy and healing. The more local churches engage in these God-given ministries the quicker we shall return to Biblical norms and extra-curricular activity won't be required!".

So I want to approach Steve Tibbert's article trying to envisage possible answers, rather than trying to see the questions.

1. Is There a Place For Learning from Other Strategic Centres?

Terry Virgo actually asked this question during his "Half Time Team Talk" at the Leadership Conference in Switzerland in 2003. He noted that Newfrontiers, as yet, has not produced "mega churches" on the scale of some and asked whether lessons could be learnt from them. I realise that the very term "mega church" raises negative connotations - I think when that term is used, it is most accurately summarised by something Terry said; "Once the local church discovers her true calling, she rises to her true significance. She is a dwelling place for God's Spirit. She is corporately the light of the world, a city set on a hill which cannot be hid". Or in other words, the issue is more than numbers. The question is are those numbers being trained and nutured to become fully mature disciples, themselves capable of discipling, rather than just seats in pews?

Can we therefore learn from the biggest church in the world - Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea? Two things impressed me as I read their website. Their passion for prayer is as famous as the church itself. And secondly while Dr Yonggi Cho is the senior pastor, perhaps what is less known is that he has 527 pastors assisting him and 100, 113 Elders and Deacons!

I remember my pastor, Dr Jebb went over to Korea to visit Dr Cho's church and came back hugely impacted by the passion for prayer that he saw there. Prayer Mountain is renowned over the world and this spirit of prayer is something that we desperately need to learn if we are to see strategic centres come forth from which to send church planters out.

Doctrinal and ecclesiastical differences aside, my point is that there surely is much to be learnt from the wider body of Christ. And who can deny that Yoido is a church that cannot be hid?

2. Is there a Place for Raising Up New Ministries Within the Local Church?

The most recent edition of "Connect" - the Newfrontiers newsletter - carried a report from John Hosier on behalf of the Ephesians 4 Forum. It was interesting to read that he gathers theologians to address key issues head on. But the glaring word that stood out to me was "twelve of our teachers". Twelve? In a family of churches the size of Newfrontiers, are there really only twelve teachers that can be gathered? Now I could have misunderstood the situation and this forum may deliberately be small, but this spoke to me of the need for the raising up of ministries to see this "strategic church" come forth.

It was Jesus Christ who said that the fields are white for harvest but the labourers are few. Is there any excuse for coming across a church of frustrated members who are not being used, and a leadership team who keep a tight reign on opportunities to exercise spiritual gifting? I don't think so - not if we are to see these strategic churches come forth.

Mark concluded: "Personally, I think that we will never be without the need for groups of Christians working together with common goals across local church boundaries, and because of this, there will always be organisations that in some sense will be "parachurch"". This may be true, but I can't accept that this is an excuse to not try and see the church become that strategic centre that Terry Virgo envisaged. Can it be really true that God blesses His church by raising up gifted individuals to work in parachurch organisations such as Wycliffe Bible Translators or UCCF and not bestow gifted individuals in the local church? No that cannot be. Surely the question is rather, are pastors and elders using those gifted individuals in their churches to their best?

So in conclusion, I don't think we will see parachurch organisations made redundant in the near future, unless God moves mightily in revival across His church. But I do think the argument that the New Testament church saw much that is done in parachurch today, accomplished among their ranks - i.e social action for the poor. I do think that is a model that we should be seeking to get back to. But we will only see this done when we get Terry's words into our hearts - that church planting is indeed strategy number 1. But those who don't go must be all involved in making the sending church, a strategic centre - a city set on a hill - a light that cannot be hidden.


Anonymous said...

Fair fair questions. I really enjoyed both yours and Marks articles. I love the way the two of you interact and compliment each other, perhaps even without planning to. I think Mark most definately has a point in his cautious criticism of the "chucking out" of parachurch.

Is this something that Newfrontiers are renowned for? The dislike of parachurch?

I love your vision on the other hand. It's clear to the reader that you know that we can't survive without parachurch at the moment, but you can see a time when the local church fulfills these roles.

Excellent articles - both yours and Marks. Thank you!

Dr S A J Burgess

Anonymous said...

A typical Newfrontiers - triumphalistic piece of writing.

Anonymous said...


12 is big enough for what that Theology Forum takes on.

Remember there's measure of gifting and I happen to know some of the guys on there and they have great theological experience and knowledge.

It should be noted as well, that they only prepare 3 papers a year, so if the work load is spread evenly, they will each only write 1 paper every 4 years!

Also note in the article, John explains how they then present them to the 12, as well as then present them to all the UK guys working apostolically for discussion and debate.

I've had some of these papers presented to me, most approach around 40-50 pages, and it's a serious undertaking! You also have to remember that every leader in Newfrontiers is already very busy leading a church, and almost all of those 12 on the theology forum are probably working apostolically in some sense, so even busier.

To even coordinate the diaries for 12 guys is hard enough, let alone more than that. Then of course the expense of meeting up [it's over a couple of days, accomodation, food, travel and so on].

I know there is some discussion about allowing the papers to reach a wider circle, but currently they are presented to church elders and other senior leaders in churches.

Dan Bowen said...

Thanks for that more in-depth info. I did suspect that there was a very logical explanation to it! I guess I was just taken up with the wider call to raise up a greater circle of ministries in the church and just seized on the Theology Forum as an example, because theology is one of my interests!

It was good to read that and learn a bit more about what goes on inside Newfrontiers! Thanks for that ...

Anonymous said...

Oh it seems the angry anonymous gentleman is back!! Horray! Let legalism strike again!

Unknown said...

Ho hum.

dave, UCCF...

Dan Bowen said...

I do think UCCF is the exception to the parachurch rule ...

I've thought about it a lot (especially remembering my experience at Birmingham) and I think that UCCF works BECAUSE they are committed to the local church as a whole and encourage unity in diversity.

Is that fair?

Anonymous said...

Yess ... thats a point. After all the model that we look to in these areas is the New Testament church. Yet there wasn't classic university and Christian Union situations in the NT were there?!

So as long as students do not become committed to CU to the exclusion of the local church, then it seems the work of the CU is very healthy and right for that time in their lives.

Unknown said...

Amen - i couldn't agree more, what we do in UCCF only works because we love the local church.

Anonymous said...

Anon for this one I'm afraid..


I've read your blog a bit and aware you work for UCCF and I think one of the problems doing work amongst students is that it varies from place to place, dependent on the people who are actually involved on the ground.

- in my University situation, the UCCF CU is very anti-unity towards the other CU [which is attached with Fusion]

- it is borderline anti-charismatic

- it encourages all of its members to go to a church which has been started by ex members of the CU
(they do not engage in any kind of unity with other churches in the town)
(they are also anti-charismatic)

- the UCCF CU here probably runs on a similar model to other CU's in that it has

i. weekly CU meeting
ii. weekly prayer meeting
iii. weekly small group / bible study meeting
iv. other socials perhaps?

This does not leave any room for radical commitment to a local church!!!! If you really loved the local church, there'd be less meetings

- A heavy focus in UCCF CU's is studying / teaching / preaching of the word

And I firmly believe that this should be taking place in local churches! [Mainly because I believe there is a lack of accountability, oversight etc...] - And also who gets the "rights" to teach either continuation or cessationism etc. It all gets messy.

For me, the only thing CU's should be doing is meeting up to pray, socialise and *partner with churches* for evangelistic events.

Unknown said...

Can't speak directly for the situation you're involved in. Though I know which one it is. And its a bit difficult to interact with anonymity.

Most CU's are not anti-charismatic at all - your situation is not "normal" by any stretch of the imagination, and you probably know that.

As you'll have picked up the CUs I'm working with a generally charismatic theologically, whilst being places where both continuationists and cessationists are welcome (though, honestly I don't think there are very many cessationists around today - or at least I rarely meet them)

The CU's I work with do have a weekly teaching aimed at evangelism training/equipping for students (so its still Bible teaching but with narrow application).

Cell groups are very mission focussed, and a number of students are also in church groups - and many are very involved in wider church life. And church life isn't all about meetings (is it?).

There is a need to teach because God's word bring's new life to people... I don't want to see CU socials - the university already has a social life for people to be involved in.

In terms of meetings I wouldn't want anyone in the CU to spend more than 5 hours in a "CU meeting"- and the most involved person in any of my CUs doesn't exceed that - which still leaves time for church life and also for the vital engagement in studentdom. 168 hours a week - with 5hrs in CU meetings, perhaps the same in church activity... still leaves lots of spare time, even for a BSc student.

Further, in terms of accountability the CU's I work with are held accountable by, to take one example the pastors of these six churches: Charismatic Anglican, FIEC, Vineyard, Charismatic Baptist, NewFrontiers, Pentecostal plus myself on a regular basis... with whom they share a warm active partnership in student mission. The other major town on my patch enjoys a similar relationship albeit with a slightly different church mix.

I will grant that CU-church relations dont always work perfectly... no relationships do... since every situation involved people with sinful natures and is inevitably affected by the history of the situation (and yours has a particularly messy history on *all* sides).

Any potential problems don't void the value of doing the ministry - otherwise we'd give up church altogether since there are countless poor examples of church. Rather ministry is always about reforming from within and reaching out...

Dan Bowen said...

I can't comment on the situation you two are discussing, and wouldn't want to interfere anyway but I think some important points were touched on that deserve a few thoughts.

I do appreciate the "anti-charismatic" point from the Anonymous person. I found the same kind of thing in Birmingham CU. Yet I don't think that was an explicit "anti-charismatic" attitude. I wonder whether the point was that UCCF and the CU were focusing on unity around the gospel hence controversial issues were left to a secondary place. Not always ... I remember that the President (a good friend of mine) banned the chorus; "Father of Creation, unfold Your Sovereign Plan" because of it's "explicit restorationism". I didn't see the problem with it really ... ;)

But it did leave me wondering. Unity around the Gospel clearly works well within UCCF and the CUs. It is an extrodinary phenomeon! Exciting and unique - to see hundreds of students, a complete cross-section of denominations worshipping God. Yet we obviously all went off to our churches on Sunday to take up the very important 'secondary' issues that of necessity are left at the door at CU.

I must confess I am not familiar with Fusion, but while I do appreciate and value the unique phenomenon of seeing students united around the gospel for the sake of mission, something within me winces at the doctrines that must be left of necessity at the door for the sake of unity.

Can't unity work in diversity? Do we have to have situations where some things are off the agenda - like baptism or the Holy Spirit - for the sake of unity? I don't know. Maybe it's just me rambling but it seems to me that the Psalms celebrate unity as a rich wonderful thing ("How good and pleasant it is ... it is like oil").

Unknown said...

i refer the debate to a CU i work with studying 1 Cor 12-14 before easter, inevitable pro-charismatic for exegetical reasons. eagerly desire prophecy - its a commamd.

i dont think you have to leave the issues at the door - but we do have to try and understand one another. and the higher we prioritise the gospel the more easy it should be to live with other differences - knowing that our unity survives such things.

.... how can we ignore charismata, election etc,... these things matter!

Anonymous said...

To our beloved angry anonymous person:

Dear Seemingly Unhappy and Definitely Unnamed,

I'd be interested in hearing the alternative to "typical triumphalism", so long as it does not cause me to despair of all hope. But I'm genuinely concerned that the alternative (what?? "unique defeatism"? "Learning to Love to Lose", or "The Bride In a Headlock"?)

...I'm afraid that a steady diet of the alternative to "typical triumphalism" could cause me to leak joy, and I need all of that I can get these days - strength for the journey, a song in the night, you know - all that superfluous stuff. If I lose those "trinkets", I become somewhat neutralized.

I know. You are mighty in your position that all victory is vicarious and ethereal and must ever be deeply theologically correct by the correct definition of a few. No room for literal triumph - preposterous, that would be! That's okay. You are welcome here anyhow.

Unless Dan says otherwise. ;-)

Just whomping me. I'm just a joyful pastor's wife, who loves to be on the same team as the Man on the white horse...winning is my destiny. Triumph is my goal in life...please forgive!! I'm so ashamed...