Passing the baton on: the next step in church planting

‘We have the baton. We’ll take it from here!’ said the Kaobu [1] leaders. They knew our team had been working to reach every Kaobu village with the gospel, but now they were telling us they would do the rest. What a wonderful thing to hear!

Our team was formed in 2004 to catalyse locally led church planting movements among two related people groups in the Mekong region.

There were no known Christians among these groups, and no one was sharing the gospel with them. They were hard to reach and had long-standing traditions of spirit worship.

Initial research trips into the area frequently saw locals running to their huts with fear of the strange foreigners who were there prayer walking. Local legends said white people would eat their souls and steal their children. Not a great starting point!

It helped that our team was determined to encourage and support Christians from nearby tribes to share Jesus with these groups. As no one in these groups reads or writes, we used a completely oral approach to evangelism, discipleship and church planting. This included raising up leaders who were also illiterate farmers. We would leave the issue of literacy to others who would come later.

Training for discipleship

In mid-2005 people began to turn to Christ. By 2012 there were over 1,000 Christians in these groups and numerous churches. In monthly training sessions for the leaders, we used Bible story sets, along with radio broadcasts and media to train disciples. As the numbers grew in each village we told them only to send their three or four leaders for monthly training. We did not appoint leaders because as outsiders we felt we didn’t really know the true situation. As it turned out, the first leader we would have chosen did not follow Jesus for long.

As churches and leaders grew, they planted new churches. At training sessions, we modelled worship, prayer for healing and deliverance, Bible story-telling and practising the stories so that everyone could retell them. Even before the pandemic in 2020, our team had entered into the final phase of the church planting model ‘Model, Assist, Watch and Leave or Launch’. We had already shifted our main efforts to a different group in the region.

Handing over

In 2018, it was clear the time had come for our team to move on. Over 150 disciples attended the conference that year. From the beginning, we had emphasised that the baton was in their hand so the transition was actually natural and relatively easy. The way we did things the leaders knew it was their movement. Although their spiritual fathers may be in a neighbouring country, they didn’t consider it a foreign movement. They didn’t expect anything from us. They were truly Three-Self churches – self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating.[2]

We had taught them how to gather, and their churches were growing in number, health and the knowledge and grace of God. The leaders were meeting monthly on their own and had been doing a yearly master plan with us for several years. They began doing their own annual plan and would show us for input and comment, but not for approval or funding. They funded their own existence and expansion. In fact, they sent donations to us several times.

In 2022 I spoke to one Kabou man whose story encouraged me greatly. Around 2005 I led a prayer walking team to his village. Shortly after that, people started turning to Christ. At that time he was the village headman, or leader, and pressured the new Christians to stop following Jesus. Later, however, he too was converted and later became their pastor. He said over half the village had become Christian, but they are praying for and reaching out to the remainder to come to faith too. After hearing about our team’s fruitful drug rehabilitation ministry elsewhere in the region, they recently started a similar ministry to help people in a village where they want to plant a new church.

In the Leave/Launch phase, we still need to be available to give guidance just like the apostle Paul’s team in Acts. For example, some church leaders called recently with questions about the theology of medicine. One teacher had told them they would lose their salvation if they were vaccinated. Each phase of this church planting movement has brought them different questions and problems as they grow into the fullness that God has planned for the Kaobu church in the Mekong region.

Pray with us for:

  • Pray for Kaobu churches to continue growing and spreading to the remaining villages
  • The Kaobu to have God’s heart for other groups around them yet to hear of Jesus
  • Fruit from the drug rehabilitation ministries

Notes

1 Name of people group changed for security.

2 The three principles were first articulated by missionaries Henry Venn, and Rufus Anderson in the late 19th century.

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