Dr. Phil – The strategies and methods to fulfill the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20 – “Go into all the worlds and make disciples. . .”) is as varied as the gifts/personality of the missionary, the society in which they work, as well as the times in which they are living. ICM’s unique strategy of fulfilling our part of the Great Commission is likewise influenced by the giftings of our team, the needs on the ground, and what we feel is a sustainable and reproducible model.
Since William Carey in the early 1800s (the beginning of the Modern Missions Era), missionaries were typically those who went for long periods of time to one location, lived with the people to bring them the Gospel. While this is of course still a valid approach in some fields, the season of mission work around the world is in a different stage than it was two hundred years ago. With few exceptions, there are believers and a representative church in proximity to most cultures and societies (of course there are some exceptions in certain regions of the world requiring frontier missions).
Ironically, it is actually the very success of missionaries over the last 200 years that has created a new need for a new approach. Well, actuality, it is not really “new,” for this “new” model was pioneered some 2000 years ago by one of the very first cross cultural missionaries. In the first century the Apostle (“sent one”) Paul would travel to a key city in a region, share the Good News, begin to gather new believers, then set up leaders and then only visit them periodically and follow up with written letters.
The longest he ever stayed in any one location was probably Ephesus (2 years) and Corinth (1.5 years). This was intentional so that they would not get dependent on him. He would focus on a certain regions and then teach, equip and release leaders to carry on the work after he was gone, often only after being with them for weeks or months (not years or decades).
In part, this is the rationale for our particular approach. We are called to equip and train church leaders in regions and then quickly transition to provide ongoing encouragement and coaching. While Paul used follow up letters (many of the New Testament Epistles) we use email and skype and while he went by ship, horse and on foot, we find it more practical to use trains and planes.
In his latest book(The Rebirth of the Church), Eddie Gibbs reflects on Paul’s missionary approach. His comments are relevant for our own strategy as we travel to various regions of the world to equip and encourage leaders and teams. He makes the point that, “Today’s churches need that kind of ministry just as much as first-century churches . . .This is particularly true for isolated rural churches and struggling churches. . .They need frequent visits by people with special gifts and insight in teaching Scripture and who can help them overcome denial and defeatism, gain fresh motivation and vision, and develop contextually appropriate ministries.” (p.118)
Basically, this what we do. Our strategy is based on a timeless model from the first century. So as you read reports from our Network Coaches working in their various countries realize that we are being intentional in our attempt to follow in the footsteps of Paul. Of course there are logistical differences, but our goal remains the same: We serve the global church by equipping its leaders and coaching their ministry teams so that they in turn can reach the unreached within their own society as well as helping them reach out to those that are in cultures and nations within their region and context.
Gibbs further outlines the challenge today, “Despite the greater ease and speed of communication today, too many congregations live for and by themselves. Shrinking and aging congregations need the stimulus of frequent contact with appropriate leaders who can provide much-needed insights and vision, together with the support of a network of churches facing similar challenges. New churches established by young leaders and consisting largely of first-generation Christians likewise need the support of mature leadership. Today’s churches need one another just as much as first-century churches did.” (p. 141)
In order to accomplish this, Paul and Barnabas, as well as the other early missionaries had another key tactic. They had people back in Antioch (and other cities) who had sent them out and commissioned them for this task. As part of our team, this is the vital role that you play as we together fulfill the Great Commission in parts of the world you may not personally be able to visit. Thank you for being a prayer and financial supporter. You are an integral part of this ministry as we equip leaders around the world. Our success is your success.