March 2017

Africa: Preparing for the next missions ‘epicenter’

March 2 2017 by Kevin Rodgers

Historian Richard Bulliet suggests that early Muslims recounted the story of the spread of Islam as if it had one center, like an inkblot diffusing outward from a center that remains set and inexorably stained.
In contrast, when we look at the story of the spread of God’s Kingdom, we see something more like shifting epicenters of earthquakes. Sudden, tectonic shifts occur and then shock waves go out from the center to spread the gospel far and wide.

IMB Photo
On the horizon: Sub-Saharan Africa, projected to encompass 40 percent of the world’s Christians by 2050, described as the next missions “epicenter.”

Once the waves subside, the Kingdom quakes again. The epicenter moves to a new location and shock waves ripple out from there. Interestingly, many of the quakes in history have tended to be more intense, longer lasting, and farther reaching than the previous, as if we are moving toward a final culmination of history.
Thinking of the spread of Christianity in those terms, Jerusalem and Antioch were the first locations in the early church where believers spread out in successive missionary ripples from their initial epicenters. Later, the heart of the Kingdom shifted to North Africa, which later gave way to Rome, then Constantinople and eventually Northern Europe and the United States.
The process was similar in each place: The gospel came with great dynamism, was followed by a huge missionary sending push, then successive waves and aftershocks eventually subsided until the next event in a different place. Often, the center was squelched by some physical, religious or cultural opposition such as Islam in North Africa, barbarians in Rome or secularism in the West. In each case, the Kingdom seemed as if it had been stopped and then suddenly the next epicenter emerged in a new place.
For decades, missiologists Andrew Walls and Philip Jenkins have been reminding the world that the epicenter of Christianity has subtly moved from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere. Recent data from the Pew Research Center, meanwhile, indicates a decline in evangelical Christianity in the North and the West while the number of believers is drastically increasing in the South and East. One of the most pronounced examples of this shift is Sub-Saharan Africa. Pew projects that nearly 40 percent of the world’s Christians will reside there by 2050.
The West, it seems, may no longer be the center of significant Kingdom growth. When one considers the pattern of Christianity, the history of Christian witness in Africa, and the statistical predictions of Africa’s exploding Christian population, it seems clear: Potentially one of the greatest waves in all of history could be carried out by the African church. The beautiful feet that bring good news to the last unreached people groups in the farthest corners of the world could very well be African feet.
As someone who has spent half of his life in Africa, that brings me great joy because I believe African Christians are not only some of the sweetest people on the planet, they’re also some of the most zealous, toughest and most resilient. They have the heart, the passion and the DNA to finish the task and lead the worldwide church to the very culmination of history before Jesus returns.
Yet, this realization also gives me pause. Although Africans embody many of the necessary qualities to lead the next wave of missions advance, they will need to be theologically equipped for the task. It’s necessary to ask, not as a matter of paternalism, “Can they go into all the world?” and if they go, “What gospel will they export?” The window of opportunity is temporary and the African church needs to be mobilized now. Perhaps the greatest gifts we in the West can give to them, and in turn give to the Kingdom, are the gifts of mobilization and theological education.
We need to co-labor with the next generation of African missionaries who will take the gospel to the ends of the earth, but we also need to help them find ways to be self-sustaining and unlock their own resources and potential in the African church.
In addition, we need to partner with them in theological education and help check the natural drift toward Neo-Pentecostalism and syncretism. We must come alongside them and contribute to African thinkers, writers and theologians by working with African seminaries and providing theological education at the grassroots level. Developing African theologians, church leaders and missionaries will increase their missionary impact with breadth and depth as they ripple out from their own epicenter.
The Lord has well positioned the African church to finish the task, and we are poised to be the facilitators, the mobilizers and the equippers who empower them to complete what we helped perpetuate as a part of our country’s own ripple effect. Let’s not ignore the signs and the rumblings but prepare Africans to lead out in the next great Kingdom movement.
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(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kevin Rodgers and his wife Suzie have served in Eastern and Southern Africa for the past 20 years. He currently leads church planters and theological educators as they seek to empower the African church to finish the task. He holds a Ph.D. in missions from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a master of divinity degree from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.)

3/2/2017 9:27:33 AM by Kevin Rodgers | with 0 comments

Dear absent church member

March 1 2017 by Daryl C. Cornett

Dear Absent Church Member,
Today I saw your empty seat as I stood to welcome the people to worship. I wondered to myself what it was this week that had kept you away once again from gathering with other believers on the Lord’s Day.
I love being your pastor, but I must admit that I experience sadness every time I see your empty seat. I visit the older members of our church in their homes because age and sickness has taken from them their independence and mobility. They long to be able to do what you so easily seem to give up most Sundays.

Daryl C. Cornett

I’m not aware that you’ve been ill or that you’re experiencing some kind of crisis – maybe you are. If so, I sure wish you would let me know. In your hardest times you need to draw closer to God and allow others to lighten the load of your burden rather than withdraw. However, it seems from your Facebook posts that most of the time you’re simply busy chasing other things.
I used to think when you would disappear for weeks at a time that maybe I had done something or said something to upset you. But I’ve learned over time that kind of thinking has mostly been my own insecurity. My conscience is clear. But if I have done something, then in a spirit of Christian love, I beg you to talk to me.
As a younger pastor I used to feel irritation when you were absent. Your lack of commitment frustrated me. But now my feelings have turned more to grief because I’ve come to realize your absence is not really about me. It’s about you and what you are foolishly trading to keep up with this world. It’s about what truly captures your heart and what you value most.
I see your beautiful children whom you love with all your heart. Yet you’re setting them up to care little for God’s church. One activity after another displaces any real commitment to the Lord’s Day. I understand that everyone occasionally has something special that comes up, takes a vacation or a trip to visit family. But this is different. You cram your family with so much activity revolving around the kids that devotion to God is consistently squeezed out. Your kids are learning that church is something the family does only when they have one of those rare Sundays off from the activities. And even then, because everyone is so ragged out, on some Sundays you just can’t get out of bed.
This letter is not to fuss or to shame. I want you to know that my heart is jealous for your devotion to God. I just feel that something is wrong. How can you say you know and love Christ, yet find worship and participating in ministry so unimportant? How can you claim to be His yet have such little desire for spiritual growth and discipleship? Please understand these are not so much criticisms as genuine questions that give me great concern for the well-being of your soul.
You know that I’ve preached to you the grace of God. Your church membership, giving, attendance and service don’t earn you favor with God. It’s all about faith. But I’ve also repeated over and over that real faith is always a faith that follows. God’s Word teaches us that a genuine believer bears the fruit of the Holy Spirit in his life. I know you’ve heard that at least a few times.
I’ll never rant in the pulpit about your absenteeism. I’m always going to preach to the ones who are present. But I want you to know how much I care about you. I want you to understand that my greatest joy would be to see you love God and His church and to observe you growing in Christ. No matter what is going on in your life, I’m always your friend. But it’s part of my calling to tell you when things aren’t right. You’re part of the flock God has entrusted to me, and every sheep is precious. You’re not just a number.
God loves you and so do I. He has already loved you in Christ with a love that needs no further demonstration. He’s given you everything in Christ. How I pray that you will wake up to how great His love is for you and how that should shake up and reshape the life you now live. I pray that if you truly know Christ, that you’ll come to your senses like the prodigal son and run home to your heavenly Father who stands with open arms.
Until then, I will still be praying for you and possibly sticking my nose in your business. After all, I’m your pastor.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Daryl C. Cornett is pastor of First Baptist Church in Hazard, Ky., a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and former associate professor of church history at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tenn.)

3/1/2017 9:37:23 AM by Daryl C. Cornett | with 0 comments

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