When we founded giveDIGNITY, it was not with the express aim to be a church planting organization. Seth and I are disciplers by nature, but we have always preferred to work in small groups or one-on-one to help new followers of Christ mature. We started giveDIGNITY to provide social aid that would enable us to evangelize participants in our programs and bring them into discipling relationships.
So imagine our surprise when God had other plans. Here’s how God “duped” us into planting a church in a marginalized community in Latin America—without us realizing it. God’s recipe follows:
Disclaimer: this recipe from the Almighty is tongue-in-cheek, and we know this was surely God’s plan and we’re happy, and blessed to be along for the ride. At each of these steps, we felt God’s leading and knew that it was the right thing to do. And honestly, this nascent “church” is one of our favorite times of the week.
We continue to call it a “bible study” instead of a “church,” because sadly the word “church” has very negative connotations in the community. It brings to mind images of judgmental people who keep undesirables out, pastors with questionable motives and character, and a lot of legalistic baggage. We invite the undesirables in, and ask church members not to be pharisaical in their attitudes toward others. We invite people to study the Word and worship. We encourage one another to love, which is the very basics of a church, they just don’t know it!
In the midst of all the emphasis in missions on “local leadership,” we have found that we have a distinct advantage as “gringos” leading the church in La Carpio. In a community where it is widely believed that pastors are only in it for the money (and doing as little work as possible to get it), being perceived as a “rich gringo” in charge disarms that suspicion. They know we don’t need their money and for that reason they can trust us. Possible ulterior motives for preaching what people want to hear to get financial gain are eliminated. They know we are preaching truth, and it interests them a great deal.
However, becoming “pastors” and leading a church has added quite a bit of activity to our already heavy schedule administering education, work, ESL, and violence prevention programs. As it continues to grow, it takes up more and more of our limited time. People who start out to plant a church reserve time for all the activities they know will come with it. We did not. We’re just trying to “squeeze it in” around other ministry activities, housework, home schooling, and the enormous amount of effort that simply living in a foreign country requires. But we don’t want to give it a “let’s squeeze this in” level of effort, we want to give it our best so that God gets maximum glory.
So we worry about both church and programs in terms of sustainability. What happens when we need a break and go on furlough? What if the Lord leads us somewhere else? How can we keep ourselves from burning out completely? How will the wheels keep turning in this constantly growing ministry that the Lord has begun in La Carpio if we aren’t there? When we started giveDIGNITY three years ago (really?!), we hoped we’d have a growing team of full-time missionaries by now, but that hasn’t materialized. So we will continue to trust in His plan and His timeline, and steward what He has given us to the best of our ability. It really all belongs to Him anyway.
Good thing we know that while the Lord uses us, He is not dependent on us to get His work done! We pray that one day, leadership of this church (and the various programs) can be handed over to locals, who will in turn be trusted because of our bestowing of confidence and authority on them. In the meantime, other foreigners are welcome to help us keep things afloat! Please join us in praying that God would be preparing these leaders with integrity, wisdom, and passion, and that He would raise them up in the proper time.
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Quote of the month
""At the margins is the only place the Church will have credibility."