Every generation has its share of “look what God has done” kind of events. He is God of minor and major miracles in provision for His people and in explanation of His Gospel. But, in terms of His mandate to take His Gospel to all people, no generation surpasses the one we live in. On the heels of the reformation a new wave of Protestant missions was launched. From the middle of the 18th century to nearly 1900 Europeans, especially the British, led that movement. In the late 1800’s through the late 1900’s the movement continued on the back of American missionaries. WWII itself spurred what might be called the greatest sending effort, in terms of numbers, that the Church has seen.
By the end of the 20th century the Spirit had birthed something profoundly different. More missionaries from more nations, all of them non-Western, were going throughout the world. This was an incarnation of the fact that the Church of Jesus had spilled out from its Western roots to nations all over the world. The tens of millions of Christian’s worldwide demonstrated what the Church of 1,900 years had not seen in fullness. The Church had now been planted with power and permanency all over the world. The Church of Jesus was from every tribe, every tongue and every nation!
Into this new blessing the Ukrainian Church was born! In the last decade the power and permanency of the Gospel has been demonstrated in and through the Church in the Ukraine. From 1,000 churches in the early 1990’s we have grown to over 9,000 churches. From tens of thousands of Jesus followers, to something approaching 1,000,000 Protestant believers. And, from hundreds of missionaries sent around the world to thousands. Two years ago several denominations got together and asked two questions.
- What does God want for the Ukraine?
- What would it look like when God does what He wants in this nation?
Together they concluded that what God wanted was to see every man, woman and child in the Ukraine to have a repeated opportunity to be reconciled to God. As one measurement of this they are believing God for two things. One, to see 28,000 churches planted in the Ukraine. One church in every village and every neighbourhood of every city. And, to participate in their part of World evangelization by sending 10,000 missionaries.
This vision is not new to the Body of Christ. I personally have seen it other times in my history here on Earth. It is a vision that has been picked up by National Churches in the Philippines, India, Guatemala and others over the last thirty years. In 1974 the Church in the Philippines knew that God was asking them to reach their whole nation, and in their lifetime! At that moment there were less than 4,000 churches in the nation. Knowing what they did about their nation, they knew that by the year 2,000 there would be 50,000 places where churches needed to live and tell the Gospel of Jesus. By faith, and with decades of hard work ahead, they claimed this vision for themselves: to see 50,000 churches in the Philippines by the year 2,000. And, praise God with His power working through them they did indeed plant 50,000 churches by the year 2,000!
In the mid 1980’s there were no more than 150,000 churches in India. But, in those days leaders in the Church in India began to ask the same two questions that Ukrainian Church leaders asked two years ago. The answer to the Church in India was clear. In order to reach their nation they would need to plant 1,000,000 churches. Over the last twenty years more than 250,000 new churches have planted, and they have raised up more than 100,000 evangelists/church planters. They are well on the way to seeing their nation discipled.
What are some of the principles that these other Churches have to teach leaders and Churches in the Ukraine?
When God moves He moves through indigenous peoples.
We have seen this word as primarily one for missionaries to other cultures. But, it is the most important way in which God operates through the Church of Jesus at all levels. In every village and in every neighbourhood in every city there needs to be ordinary people, transformed by the cross of Jesus living His way for all to see. In every vocation, on every street and in every leisure activity there needs to be the incarnated witness of the power of the resurrection of Jesus through the people who are His followers. These people, all of them, tell their unique grace testimonies (Ephesians 3:10-11) and so tell the story of the resurrected Jesus, as they become the incarnation of the Gospel. In this way, the message of reconciliation offered by God in His Son, is seen, touched and heard in every one of the Ukraine’s context’s of human relationships. We become the incarnation of the Gospel story declaring through our growing obedience to our Heavenly Father and His Word that the grave is indeed empty!
When God moves He moves through greater Church unity.
There is much that can divide the many expressions of Church in any nation. But, nations that more fully disciple their nation with the Gospel of Jesus do so because they have understood the deep and eternal realities that unite them. Organizational diversity continues. But, the unity that comes from understanding what yet needs to be done in the mandate of God to Christ’s Church captivates their attention. This is no less true in the Ukraine. If there are 1,000,000 Protestant believers in the Ukraine, it means that there are some 47,000,000 Ukrainians who have yet to fully understand and respond to the offer of reconciliation to the Heavenly Father. The issues that divide pale in comparison to this reality! Even where deep theological convictions remain.
When God moves He moves by multiplying new churches, not just growing existing churches.
This is the lesson we learn from the book of Acts. Not so much that church planting is taught, nor even described. But that it is assumed! As the Gospel went out around the Roman world through the Apostles, and through the movement of ordinary members of the Church, people responded to the Gospel. When they responded, they were then the Church, and steps were taken to organize them into communities, i.e. churches.
This too is the lesson that we learn from the Philippines and from India. In order for people to respond to the Gospel the Gospel has to come to their village. There are many ways that can happen. But, the most effective has always been a group of people geographically close to them in another village or city, and ultimately people from their own village or city. This way the Gospel can be seen and felt not just heard. This way the Gospel is perceived to speak their language and live in their culture. And, so it was in both the Philippines and India. Every man, woman and child in those nations can be reached when there is a body of Jesus followers, i.e. a church, in their midst. Indeed some churches will grow quite large, but their largeness is not for themselves. Their largeness, filled with resources, is a tool in the hands of the Spirit of God to be invested in the lateral declaration, incarnation and planting of the Gospel and churches in villages and neighbourhoods within their reach. Recent research has shown as well, that churches that live this kind of life, multiplying new churches, grow three times faster themselves than churches that simply get bigger!
When God moves He moves by impassioning people to pray for their place.
This is a mystery filled with blessings. When I commit to pray for specific people in a specific place, my own heart is more moved than before to be a part of the resource that God uses to doing something about it. I cannot pray for people and faces that I know without my own heart being moved and compelled to be apart of the answer. But, something more than this happens as well. As I become apart of the answer to the need of the people in that place for the Gospel, the people themselves become more responsive to the Gospel. And, we are left with the mystery. Was it God answering my prayers, or was it people seeing more of the Gospel through me than they had ever seen before, and thus, become more responsive because of a greater incarnation of the Gospel before their eyes. Finally, and this is the greatest of the mystery, God Himself acts in response to my prayer.
Such a movement of prayer, orchestrated by the Spirit of God and focused directly upon God’s concern for the nation, is a powerful tool. This kind of prayer begins to penetrate every village and neighbourhood through the churches already there, or close to the place. Rather than places being prayed for, specific people and families are prayed for, and cared for. This kind of prayer moves the Church in the nation towards greater unity, because it consistently reminds us that the divisions among us pale in comparison to the 47,000,000 Ukrainians who still need to be called to reconciliation to the God our Father, through Jesus.
Today is a unique opportunity provided by the sovereign work of God in the world of our day. And, no other nation holds more of the opportunity than the Church in the Ukraine. A greater sense of cooperation between the historic denominations, and them with the many new denominations forming in the nation can be a great tool in the hands of the Spirit of God in the winning of this nation. And, the kind of unity that it demands is really quite simple.
First, we must become a movement of Churches willing to believe God together for the full discipling of this nation, and in our lifetime! History demonstrates two very important realities. One, the Church is always bigger than we think. It is always more than just those people who believe exactly what I believe. It is instructive to remember that Scripture, not theology, is inspired. What God says, comes without error. What man says about God always comes with some error!
Second, we must be willing to pray together. Such a movement does not ask us to pray about ourselves, but about what is left to be done in the nation that we know that God wants us to do. This does not mean that we do not pray blessing upon neighbouring churches and denominations, for we do. But, what it means is that above all else we join our prayers with the heart of God. God who wants every man, woman and child in the Ukraine with an opportunity to hear, touch, feel and be given the moment to be reconciled to God.
There are many ways in which we can pray together. The most fundamental is for churches in one neighbourhood, city or village to find one day a week or a month to begin to pray together, as leaders and members about the place where we live. Further, we can find occasional moments and places where greater numbers of churches and leaders can come away for a day or more ONLY to pray about our nation, its villages, cities and neighbourhoods. Finally, denominational leaders can do the same, setting aside times when they meet with the leadership of other denominations ONLY to pray about the places and people who have yet to hear the Gospel.
Third, we can own goals together. All of us can join with the Antioch leadership to affirm our belief that this is indeed what God wants: to see 28,000 churches planted and 10,000 Ukrainian missionaries sent by 2015. Along the way, when envisioning seminars or other activities are offered, we can all attend with the renewing expectation that though we will each continue to plant our kind of churches, God is pleased with our coming together. And in His pleasure we will find renewal for our continued obedience, and greater penetration into the lost of the nation.
Finally, we can redouble our own efforts to be apart of the people who God uses to fully deliver the Gospel to 47,000,000 Ukrainians, and in our lifetime! We can teach more churches to plant more churches. We can train more leaders with their first commitment being planting new churches. We can begin to hone all of our resources to bear the message. Our bulletins, our sermons, our programs can all be more focused upon this task.
This is the day of our opportunity in the Ukraine and beyond. Such a window of opportunity will not remain open forever. Those of us of the Antioch movement are praying that God will build a crescendo of commitment, unity and resourcing to this task in the next years. For is has never been more true than now that, you are writing the history of your nation!