In this second of 3 introductory episodes we interview Paul, who along with his wife Linda, worked among the Ata people in Papua New Guinea (See the Ata Story at AccessTruth.com). We ask the question:
In ministry, particularly in church planting, how important is it to have a long-term view? What are some things we should be picturing?
Simon: Hello, and welcome to Lessons from the Field. Lessons from the Field is a podcast about cross-cultural ministry. Specifically, long-term. And specifically, amongst unreached people groups. There are some small exceptions to that, that will come up one day I’m sure. But, for the moment we’re-
Brad: Who knows what we’re going to talk about.
Simon: Yeah, that’s right Brad. My name’s Simon, this is Brad. Sorry we didn’t introduce ourselves then, but we are going to be starting off these first few episodes of the podcasts laying a bit of a foundation about our core values in missions. Last time we talked about unreached people groups and the greatest resources needed in cross-cultural ministry around the world. And we talked about how there are a couple of billion people who have no access to the gospel. And how there’s a huge need for work as for people to invest their lives in communities around the world where there is no access to the gospel; and invest their lives to see a church planted there.
Simon: Today, we’re going to be talking about some strategies. Particularly, the long-term strategy. We’ve got Paul back, who we interviewed last time. And Paul is going to answer the question of: In ministry, particularly in church planting, how important is it to have a long-term view and what are some things we should be picturing? What do you think about that Brad?
Brad: It flies on from our last conversation about when Paul was talking about people- when we’re talking about reaching out to the unreached, it’s a certain type of person, someone willing to commit long-term was I think the way Paul put it. And so we’re focusing a little more on that right? This long-term, playing the long game, which is kind of the counter culture to everything that kind of pushes us to get things done quickly; to get the tasks completed and get some runs on the board, get a result that we can show people quickly. And we’re going to push against that a little today, maybe with some things we’ll talk about.
Simon: We’re talking about investing in communities and the term investment has a bit of a connotation of long-term work. So, let’s hear what Paul has to say about how important it is to have a long-term view and what are some things we should be picturing.
Paul: In terms of what is really important, what do people need to be picturing, what do they need to have in mind before they head out and get involved in any ministry. But particularly, if you’re talking about church planting and being involved in reaching the neediest people groups and seeing a church planted; it’s absolutely paramount that you have a picture in mind of what it is that, not what you as an individual or perhaps a team or the agency, or what their goals are, but, what are God’s goals? What’s God’s intention? What does He desire to see take place in any given community? And to have, not the details, because we don’t know how that’s all going to play out. And the people themselves, believe as themselves, the church themself. They have to be part of seeing that take place and taking God’s word and apply it in their own situation.
Paul: But, those who go initially, those who are the initial church planters, it’s very important- it’s critical, that they have in mind and that they have some understanding of the principles that should guide the way. It’s in any endeavor. If we don’t have a goal; we just set out… Then probably nothing of any significance will take place.
Paul: So the broad principles from God’s word, the way God Himself works, and then how that’s played out in His story, His narrative in certainly the Old Testament, but then as we come into the New Testament; And then we get lessons from those who have been church planting down through history and we see the things that have actually worked. And by worked I’m not talking about numbers or physical things, but what’s worked in terms of saying, “Church is planted, believers that have gone to maturity that value God’s word and are able to stand on their own two feet and reach out”. So those who start that, who are the catalyst for that happening, need to have a picture in mind of where it’s heading; So that the work they’re involved in, and the things they do, their hours, actually feed into that. And they can prioritize things properly.
Simon: So before we jump into discussing this Brad, I just wanted to say who Paul is. Because I realize that he gave a little information about himself in the last episode, but if people haven’t listened to that- Paul and his wife, Linda, worked in Papua New Guinea a couple of decades ago, amongst an unreached people group there, a tribal context. They we’re there for a long time. You can tell he is passionate about that long-time thing. So I just wanted to say that because we’ve been talking about how these people have experience from the field, hence the name Lessons from the Field. So I thought I should probably mention that.
Simon: So, we’re talking about how important is a long-term view.
Brad: Playing the long game right? Yeah, I think we were talking before about how we need to push against that- sorry, not push against, we want to advocate for that. But, pushing into short term-
Simon: The utilitarian, get the numbers on the paper, bring it back to the church leaders saying, “this is how many people got saved”.
Brad: Right, as long as I’m showing some results that appear okay then I’m getting something done. But, I think the building analogy is really helpful when thinking about long-term missions, long-term church planting, seeing a community grow in maturity, and strong foundations laid, is another building analogy there, right?
Brad: When we’re using that kind of thinking, thinking that our Father really is a master builder. He really is the master builder. And it doesn’t take you long to know that God’s not in a hurry. God’s not in a hurry right? We are and we rush on ahead and sometimes don’t pay the right attention to detail to things that we should. But, if right at the beginning we have a strategy in place, and think really intentionally about how we’re going to proceed. And what does it mean to see a community of people firstly evangelized. How do I learn to communicate to them? How do I learn that language, that culture, then evangelizing them and then helping them grow a community of believers that grows to maturity in Jesus?
Simon: Yeah, it just sounds like a long job when you say it like that. In Australia, we, most churches nowadays, employ people full-time, as their life, to invest in the church community. And to do all of this work, and I think it’s a bit backwards to suggest that in this place where there is no gospel whatsoever, can be done any differently, let alone quicker.
Simon: So we’re talking about, Paul mentioned having a picture of God’s goals and how important that is. And how that informs our view that we need to do this long-term.
Brad: Yeah and I think right at the beginning, God is a communicating God. He communicated with us. And He didn’t leave anything on the table. He gave his Son right? Who communicated us most perfectly and most completely. The Father couldn’t have communicated to us in any better way than He did in his Son. So we need to think, “How are we going to go and how are we going to communicate effectively?” And it is using that investment word again, It’s going to take a lot. It’s going to take a lot and it takes a long time.
Simon: Yeah, I really liked how he specified that although, we should have a picture of God’s goals, we can’t know the details. As humans, we’re so tied up in the here and now, and the physical world. It’s hard to even imagine that there’s anything except physical stuff sometimes isn’t it? We all just get a bit caught up in surviving. And so having the picture of God’s goals to build His church, can sometimes seem so abstract that we just don’t take enough time to take it seriously.
Simon: So Paul was saying, have a picture of God’s goals and not necessarily down to the minutia, the little details. Just understand from the New Testament, how He’s building His church and how the church grows to maturity. And then he talked about if you don’t have any goals, then you won’t see any results. And that’s tied into the same thing, with humans just being consumed with surviving. If we don’t have this picture of God’s goals, then we’re not really going to move towards anything. And I think that’s perhaps one of the things that’s hindered our prosperous thriving church in the west, from engaging with cross cultural ministry long-term, is that we haven’t really gotten this goal in mind and so we’re not seeing any results. What do you think about that?
Brad: I think that’s right. And I think we can develop these goals correctly and have those, but I think you just said then, about moving along, well that’s the process right? So you can have these goals, but how do you do it? I was reminded when were talking there Simon about a guy who engaged with our organization, who ended up in Indonesia. And he brought his whole family from the other side of the world. So, he had some good goals actually, but he had no plan. He had no strategy, so you end up stalling pretty quickly. To get that momentum and that ability to keep moving towards those goals, he needed to have a plan and a strategy.
Simon: Paul used the word, principles. He said the principles back up the goals. So, if you have no principles then you can’t move that goal anywhere.
Brad: Right, you have to have them both right? You have to have a plan, a strategy, based on really sound principles. And that’s that building analogy again I just start thinking about as I’m talking about that. Who goes out- well we’ve probably seen it, right? Where something you’re looking at, and you go, “Well, that isn’t going to be standing for very long”, or when a decent storm comes along… Even Jesus gave us some great analogies of those sort of building structures and about our own life. So using those analogies of building something…
Brad: I actually was catching up with a buddy of mine who has started church planting in a region of Australia. And the Lord’s done really great things there. And one of the things he talked about that really stuck with me was when he’s about his daily work, he’s thinking about the children in his church and what sort of church they will have for their children. And I thought, “Wow, I never think like that”. I thought, “That is super helpful and generationally, he’s thinking long-term. He’s putting things in place now that are going to last, so he’s not interested in fads. He doesn’t latch on.” He said, “Ordinary is good. Just do the ordinary really, really well and then when you look back over twenty years, you’ve gotten something extraordinary that God’s done.” And thinking long-term like that I think is helping push us towards a goal. Then when maybe things aren’t happening, that we’re going to write home about too quickly because we’re just doing the ordinary, doing it well and playing the long game.
Simon: Just something that popped into my mind while you were talking about doing the ordinary there, is that as western churches focus on these results, sometimes missionaries writing home can seem a bit boring. Especially, in those first couple of years at least, while they’re getting their bearings, learning language, etc. Churches are expecting monthly updates, and you’re like “Well I still haven’t figured out how to say this word”.
Simon: What else do you have there?
Brad: I was thinking about being a coworker with God, actually. He’s called us to be coworkers. It’s a co-mission, right? He’s given a co-mission, and we’re coworkers. And this being instead with the Spirit, I was thinking when you were talking before Simon, about not knowing all the details. And that for somebody like myself, which is probably why I didn’t get very far when I was learning the guitar, I needed to know the theory behind everything rather than just learning tab chords. I used to get so tied up in all the detail, it would paralyze me. When we’re a coworker with God, we need to trust and know that He’s not in a hurry. Don’t get out of step and start rushing ahead because you want to start taking shortcuts, to see the presence of something when there’s no real solid foundation. So, coworkers with Him, instead with His spirit, and playing the long game, the long-term, so that we can see a community of believers growing in maturity, reaching out in their own communities and beyond.
Simon: Great, well everyone that’s the second part in our three part introductory episodes to Lessons from the Field. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little chat that we’ve had. By all means, please let us know if you have any other questions. We have a website, Lessonsfromthefield.org. And of course, you can always listen to us on Spotify, iTunes, and through the website. Hope you have great day. God Bless and see you next time.