by Daniel R. Sanchez
“The mission field” at home is becoming increasingly responsive to evangelism and church-planting. This article tells how the Southern Baptists have carried out an effective ministry among U.S. ethnic groups.
"The mission field" at home is becoming increasingly responsive to evangelism and church-planting. This article tells how the Southern Baptists have carried out an effective ministry among U.S. ethnic groups.
Seventy-five million persons in the United States classified themselves as ethnic in the last census. Ranging from the earliest inhabitants, the American Indians, to the most recent arrivals, the Vietnamese, many of these groups have retained much of their cultural traditions and language.
One thousand missionaries of the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board are serving among these groups representing thirty-three different languages and numerous dialects. These missionaries have utilized the following principles in reaching language culture persons with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
GIVING CHURCH PLANTING THE HIGHEST PRIORITY
In spite of the fact that there is a multiplicity of needs in the fields where language missionaries are serving, church planting has been given the highest priority. In the annual long-range strategy planning sessions, missionaries are asked to evaluate their work in terms of the new units of work which they have organized.
Numerous approaches are used with the view to establish new congregations:
1. Home Bible fellowships.There are hundreds of these throughout the country.
2. House churches. Many Bible fellowships evolve into regular worship services in the homes.
3. Missions or daughter churches. The language churches are encouraged to start daughter congregations in their geographical area.
4. Multi- congregational churches. In metropolitan areas where there are large concentrations of ethnic groups and the cost of buildings is prohibitive, several congregations pool their resources and purchase a building. Worship services are held separately in the various languages; however, they do get together for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, fellowships, etc. These multi- congregational churches have been instrumental in starting congregations among previously unreached ethnic groups.
5. Multilingual crusades. Holding evangelistic services among several language groups simultaneously utilizing translation systems. Following the crusade, work teams remain to cultivate the new converts and form new congregations among them.
6. Laser teams. Sending a team of persons from four or five different ethnic backgrounds to penetrate a new community by conducting surveys (telephone, house-to-house, social relationships, etc.) with the view to discover a nucleus of evangelicals or sympathizers around which to form a -new congregation.
7. Radio congregations. Utilizing radio programs to preach the gospel to a particular language group and forming a spirit of unity among the listening audience, encouraging them to come together and eventually establishing a local congregation among them.
Because of the high priority given to church planting, special efforts are made to insure that all of the activities from evangelism to Christian social ministries are utilized as a means to either establish or strengthen a local congregation.
One of our recent studies indicates that ethnic congregations have an average of four different types of ministries to their communities. These range from providing food and clothing for the needy to the establishment of kindergartens and locally owned credit unions. It has become evident to us that where missionaries have concentrated on reaching people for Christ and establishing churches, these congregations have in turn responded to the needs of their communities in more effective and nonpaternalistic ways.
The two main goals of our missionaries can be summed up in two words: evangelize and congregationalize.
COMMUNICATING THE GOSPEL THROUGH EXISTING CULTURAL CHANNELS
1. Language. Ever since the inception of missionary work among ethnic persons, there has been an inclination to utilize English in communicating the gospel. The argument has been that these persons live in the United States and should learn the official language. Experience, however, has taught us that ethnic persons respond much quicker to the gospel if they hear it in their own language.
Missionaries have discovered that this principle holds true even among ethnic groups that have become bilingual. By distinguishing between the language of trade and the language of the soul, missionaries have successfully utilized the the group’s mother tongue to communicate about things that are closer to a person’s heart.
Utilizing the language of the people in the spoken and written work has been a major factor in reaching ethnic persons for Christ. Language missionaries feel that their main task is to evangelize and not to Americanize.
2. Social Relationships. Reaching family groups and close friends of new converts has proved quite successful in working among ethnic groups. Many of our ethnic congregations are composed of several large families. The First Chinese Baptist Church in the middle of Chinatown in Los Angeles has discovered that it can best reach the older adults by reaching the young people and training them to win their parents for Christ. They now average over a thousand in their Sunday morning worship services.
3. Art Forms. Providing opportunities for cultural gatherings with the purpose of cultivating the friendship of people of a particular language group has also produced excellent results.
An Indonesian missionary in the San Francisco area invited Indonesian persons through a newspaper article to celebrate a holiday which has special significance to them. More than two hundred showed up. They had a wonderful time of fellowship. He got their names and addresses, and proceeded to visit each one of them. To date, this missionary has established two Indonesian congregations in the San Francisco- Oakland area.
4. Cultural Values and Aspirations. As language missionaries have begun to understand the cultural values and have identified with the goals and aspirations of the people with whom they work, they have been able to gain their confidence and to lead them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
DEVELOPING LEADERS FROM AMONG THE PEOPLE
After years of service among ethnic groups, missionaries began to realize that if they were to leave the field, there would be no local leaders to take their place. This called for a reinterpretation of the missionary’s role. What emerged was the concept of the catalytic missionary who trains local leaders and places the work in their hands as soon as it is feasible.
1. Full-time Pastors. Today, approximately 96% of the twelve hundred Spanish- speaking congregations have Hispanic persons as their pastors. The percentage is even greater among the Asian-American, Arabic and European groups. A significant number of these pastors have obtained a college and seminary education. These pastors are not only better equipped to understand the idiosyncrasies of their own people, they also serve as inspiring examples for ethnic young persons who are considering a ministerial career.
2. Bivocational Workers.The training of ethnic lay ministers has also played a key role in the development of ethnic congregations. In urban centers as well as in rural areas, missionaries are devoting the bulk of their time to the training of local leaders. Eugene Wolfe, in the heart of metropolitan Los Angeles, and Jack Comer, in the middle of the Navajo reservation, are examples of what missionaries are doing as they utilize seminary extension materials as well as locally trailor-made courses to train ethnic lay ministers.
Austin Toledo, a Navajo lay preacher, is a good example of this approach. He drives a bus for a living and is the pastor of Indian Baptist Church at White Horse in the Navajo Reservation. He was the interpreter for the missionary until one day God called him "to do his own preaching. " He meets once a week with the catalytic missionary to study the Bible and discuss the progress of the work. The church has experienced significant growth since Mr. Toledo became its pastor.
Over nine hundred of these ethnic lay persons are serving as pastors across the country. Many of the new congregations have been started by them without the utilization of funds from mission agencies. We feel that much of our expansion in the future will depend on the continued implementation of this principle.
3. Community Leaders. Through scholarship and other programs, many ethnic young persons from our congregations have been encouraged to secure a college education. These young persons have become leaders in their communities where they serve as doctors, lawyers, etc. One of the added blessings has been that many of these professionals provide strong leadership in our ethnic churches. Developing local leadership at all levels has greatly enhanced our ethnic work.
DEVELOPING CONGREGATIONS THAT ARE IN TUNE WITH THE CULTURAL CONTEXT OF THE PEOPLE
1. In Worship – Self-expressive. The congregations that are growing the fastest are those in which the language and style of worship reflect the culture of the people.
Indigenous music is now being composed in many of our congregations. The use of guitars is now being permitted by the older members of the congregations. In view of the cultural revitalization that is taking place among ethnic groups, these changes in worship styles are enabling many of our ethnic churches to attract people that otherwise would not have been interested in a church that seemed foreign to them.
2. In Church Government – Self-administering. Ethnic churches that have achieved self-government have demonstrated a new vitality and maturity. By adopting a style of government that is culturally compatible, they have witnessed a greater degree of involvement and participation on the part of church members.
As a result of the experience that they have acquired in their congregations there is now a greater number of ethnic persons who are members of the executive boards of the institutions and agencies of the denomination.
3. In Finances – Self- reliant. The utilization of mission funds created a spirit of paternalism on the part of mission agencies and of dependency on the part of the recipient ethnic congregations.
Many strong self-supporting ethnic churches have now been developed. They have discovered that there is more to it than simply being able to foot the bill. A new spirit of dignity and maturity is evident in these churches.
Among the congregations where mission funds are still being invested, a detailed plan for achieving self-support has been adopted and each congregation is expected to move closer to this goal every year. In situations where the economic base of the community would make it virtually impossible to have a full-time pastor, the itinerant preacher concept is being reinstituted and local lay ministers are being utilized.
One of our needs continues to be that of recognizing the local financial patterns and building our stewardship programs around these, rather than seeking to impose upon them a pattern of giving which is totally foreign to them.
4. In Missions – Self- multiplying. Many of the new ethnic congregations have been started by ethnic churches without the use of mission funds. The Mandarin Church of Los Angeles started out as a daughter congregation of the Anglo church in Hollywood. The Mandarin Church in turn has started two daughter congregations: one Chinese, the other English-speaking. This type of church multiplication has produced very healthy growth and has resulted in the spiritual maturation of the sponsoring congregation.
5. In Training – Self-efficient. Experience has taught us that the quickest way to stifle a church is to try to impose upon it some program or organizational structure simply because it worked back home. Our missionaries are constantly being reminded that they need to concentrate on principles and not methods. In training, the principle is Bible study. The method, however, should be one which the people find to be efficient for themselves in whatever form, at whatever time and in whatever style is natural to them.
An American Indian church in the Northwest did away with all of the organizations. Starting from scratch, they programmed only the activities that they felt would be meaningful to them. The forms have changed drastically, but it is interesting to note that they still carry on the basic functions of a New Testament church.
6. In Buildings – Self-managing. It has taken us a long time to discover that church buildings ought to be of such size, architectural style and cost that the local people feel that it is their building and have the confidence that they can manage it. In the past, we have been very unreasonable by constructing buildings that look out of place in the community and are so costly that the local group cannot even afford to pay the cost of electricity.
Many of our missionaries are encouraging groups to build their own buildings. If mission agencies help, it is in the form of a small grant for materials or in some instances, through matching funds, thus avoiding the impression that it is being built for them.
ENCOURAGING ETHNIC FELLOWSHIPS
One of the greatest needs of ethnic groups is that of fellowshipping with one another. Because many of them live in isolated areas and belong to relatively small evangelical congregations, they have the tendency to feel lonely and insignificant.
A significant factor in the development of ethnic work has been the ethnic fellowships which are held on a local, regional, state and national level. The Spanish Baptist Youth Camp in Texas, for example, attracts over two thousand Hispanic young people every summer. Many young people have become pastors and church leaders as the result of the inspiration received at these meetings
FORMULATING AND IMPLEMENTING LONG-RANGE PLANS
Through a detailed study of the census and of our language congregations and missionary ratio, we have developed a Language Evangelism Index which lists in order of priority every town, city, county and state which is of strategic importance for the expansion of our work. In addition to this, local studies are made by the missionaries. All of this information is reviewed carefully in planning sessions. This results in the setting of goals and action designs.
After the goals for a ten-year period have been selected, new missionary personnel is classified and deployed in keeping with the long-range plans. This is not always easy for many would rather "suffer for the Lord" in Hawaii than’ in Alaska, or in some isolated reservation.
Financial resources are also allocated in accordance with the long-range plans. One of the strongest impulses that we fight against is that of distributing the resources evenly to each state. The needs are vastly different; therefore, the resources must be allocated according to agreed upon strategy.
Each year, our long-range plans are updated. Evaluation of the implementation of the strategy takes place through the monthly missionary reports and the regional missionary conferences. This evaluation ordinarily results in the readjustment of plans to fit changing situations.
Through long-range strategy planning we have been able to focus on areas of the country where our work has been very limited. We have also been able to initiate work with new language groups every year, without neglecting the groups among whom we have worked for many years.
MAINTAINING SENSITIVITY TO THE HOLY SPIRIT TO RESPOND TO UNFORESEEN OPPORTUNITIES
In spite of all the detailed long-range planning, at times new opportunities present themselves in such a tangible way that we must interpret it as the Lord trying to tell us something. The unexpected arrival of the Vietnamese refugees is a perfect example. They were not on anyone’s priority list. However, when they started arriving, in a cooperative venture with the Foreign Mission Board, a Vietnamese missionary was assigned to work alongside our home missionaries in each of the resettlement camps. Many of our language missionaries assisted us in the securing of sponsors for the Vietnamese families. Funds were shifted and plans were modified. As a result. of this, thousands of Vietnamese were resettled and over 25 Vietnamese Baptist congregations have been established.
Our results with other newly arrived groups have been quite similar. Today there are over 30 Cuban Baptist churches in Miami alone.
This flexibility in planning has also been a factor in being able to relate to responsive groups. By being sensitive to what the Lord is doing among certain groups, we have been able to concentrate our resources where the greatest response is taking place.
It is our desire that this synthesis of principles that have proven fruitful in reaching ethnic persons for Christ may be of help to others who are carrying out the Great Commission.
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