Thursday, January 12, 2012

Church Planting in the Bicol Region of the Philippines

Stimulating and Nurturing a Church Planting Movement in the Bicol Region of the Philippines Part I
By Dr. Dave Johnson
Assemblies of God Missionary to the Philippines

What is a Church Planting Movement (CPM)? Do we have one in the Assemblies of God in the Bicol region of the Philippines? If not, how to we start one? If so, how do we nurture it? Some of these questions have been on my mind as I’ve studied a book by the International Missions Board of the Southern Baptist Convention entitled Stimulating and Nurturing Church Planting Movements (2001) that deals expressly with this subject, and its contents form the outline of this article. As I study, I am also reflecting on the current situation of the Assemblies of God churches in the Bicol Region of the Philippines where my wife, Debbie, and I have served since the year 2000. The assessment written below represents only my personal opinion.
            Let’s begin by defining, according to the authors of this book, what a CPM is. They contend that a CPM “is a rapid and exponential increase of indigenous churches planting churches with a given people group or population segment.” Generally speaking, I agree with their definition, but I have some questions about the idea of being rapid. I will deal with this in Part II. 
Before I attempt to answer the questions raised in the opening paragraph, walk with me through the ten essential elements of a CPM that the authors list as important. I will cover six of them here and the rest in Part II, which will also include an overall assessment as well as suggesting where we might want to go from here.

1. Prayer
Prayer must be an important element in all aspects. We simply cannot live without it. I cannot measure, at this point, the prayer life in our churches so I will only state that I am challenged to grow in my own walk with God.

2. Abundant Gospel Sowing
In our own ministry, we have conducted about 700 Good News Rallies over seventeen years in the Philippines, with more than 475 of them being in the Bicol region. In conjunction with these rallies, we have also spoken in some high schools and colleges, participated in Book of Hope distributions, passed out hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of tracts, have given away thousands of Bibles (mostly New Testaments) funded almost entirely by Light-for-the-Lost, and other forms outreach, including disaster relief.  Many of our churches are faithful with their own evangelistic efforts, especially evangelistic Bible studies, and mothering new churches. We thank God for every bit of seed that anyone has sown for Christ in our region. Yet many, if not most, of the 5 million people in our region have still not come to Christ.  I am also reminded that any seed that we have sown that is not faithful to the Word of God and glorifying to him will not bear the fruit we wish to see.  We must continue diligently sowing if we expect an abundant harvest, and we must ensure that the seed we plant is the Word of God shared in a manner and timing that he chooses. He is, after all, the Lord of the Harvest.

3. Intentional Church Planting
According to the authors of the book I am reading, Stimulating and Nurturing Church Planting Movements, as well as simple logic, planting churches intentionally must precede a church planting movement. The first AG church was planted in the Bicol region around 1960. Through the years pastors, with help from a few missionaries, have faithfully planted and nurtured and today we have 208 churches in the region. Probably most of them have been planted through the mother/daughter church planting concept, and we have been heavily involved in assisting them here. Many pastors have a wonderful vision for church planting, but many do not.  And, like all evangelical groups, we lose some churches that die or leave the denomination. I have no idea what our attrition rate is, but I believe that if we could cut that rate in half and couple it with aggressive church planting, the number of churches would rise dramatically. While we thank God for every person in every church, the question of whether we have a CPM, as defined above, cannot be answered yet.

4. Scriptural Authority
            The authors contend that participative Bible study and Chronological Bible Storytelling are two of the methods mentioned.  Both have the advantage of getting everyone involved, but one evangelical missionary mentioned that the Chronological Bible Storytelling, to date, has not been effective in Bicol. Most pastors are quite adept at leading Bible studies that appear to be quite interactive.  In our house church planting program an interactive Bible study is done in place of a sermon. I will explain the nature of this program and the reason for doing a Bible study in Part II. These valid methods, however, do not negate the value of traditional preaching—a biblical hallmark of Protestantism that God has used mightily in the Assemblies of God. But whatever method used, the Bible, and only the Scriptures, must be our authority.

5. Local Leadership
            The authors contend that local preachers, not missionaries, must lead the way in planting churches.  Thank God for this biblical missiology that he gave to our forefathers long before my generation came on the scene. Out of the more than 4,000 AG churches in the Philippines, only one is pastored by a missionary—and this is a special church dedicated to children. But even here his Filipino staff does a lot of the speaking. Our role is to come alongside as evangelists, mentors, teachers, and role models. Do I do this well? Only God can answer that question but in my own estimation there is a lot of room for improvement! Our goal must be, in the words of the late J. Philip Hogan, to mother, not smother the national church.

6. Lay Leaders
The authors contend, and I agree, that training lay leaders is an important key to church multiplication. Ideally, they should be drawn from the same social group as the target for a new church plant and should live in that community. Full time pastors may arise from this group, but the majority will be bi-vocational lay church planters (I Corinthians 1:26-29). From where I sit the AG in general, and that includes us in the Bicol region, have not done this well in the past.  But we must focus on this in order to have a CPM. The current General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God in the Philippines, Rev. Rey Calusay, has stated that the day of the expert is over and that the future of church planting is in the hands of the laity. The reason is simple.  The number of laity is much, much greater than that of the credentialed clergy. The AG as a whole is a clergy driven movement, and this must be modified if we are to have a CPM. The leadership of the AG in the Bicol region has taken notice of this and begun to act.  I will share the details in my next post.

Summary of Part I
Do we have a CPM? While we still cannot answer this question, but we can summarize what we have covered thus far. The level of prayer among the churches in the Bicol region has never been assessed, but it seems fair to say that we must continue to grow in this area. Have we sown the gospel abundantly?  To the extent that we have sown the Word of God, I believe the answer to the question is yes, although, again, we must continue to sow. Are we intentional about church planting?  We cannot answer this question just yet but a tentative answer would be that some churches are and some are not. Are we grounded in Scriptural authority? I believe that we have done well here.  Some have gone into error, but the vast majority of our pastors (and hopefully the missionaries that currently serve them) faithfully declare the Word of God. Are we using local leadership? Again, I think it’s fair to say we have done well here.  Have we mobilized the laity? In the past, I believe that we have not given this sufficient focus and have suffered for it.  However, the future might be different. This issue, as well as dealing with the four final essential elements stated by the authors, as well as some assessment and plans for the future will be the subject of Part II in my next blog. Stayed tuned.

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Copyright 2012 Dr. Dave Johnson 

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