As an undergraduate student Jim Slack studied law and was headed to Harvard to study international research law.
After spending several months on a special assignment with the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) following college graduation, Slack never made it to Harvard, but did find his way to seminary.
Slack graduated from seminary, and he and his wife headed to the Philippines with the International Mission Board (IMB), where they served 25 years.
Slack, now serving as IMB global evangelism and church growth consultant, is also helping lead the Great Commission Initiative (GCI).
GCI is focused on helping encourage church planting movements throughout North America. North Carolina Baptist pastors, church leaders and directors of missions recently participated in GCI training (Phase 1) at Caraway Conference Center, where they learned strategies for church planting and reaching unreached people groups with the gospel.
What is GCI?
GCI is an outgrowth of a meeting held in February 2003 in London, England. The IMB and North American Mission Board invited church planting strategists from key urban areas in the United States to explore how the Christian faith was growing throughout the world, due in large part to church planting movements.
Church planting movements occur when churches are planting churches within a specific people group or population segment, and doing so rapidly.
Southern Baptist leaders learned during the London meeting that while other areas of the world were experiencing Christian growth through church planting movements, North America was not. GCI began as a way to understand why – and to do something about it.
“We can’t go where Jesus wants us to go the same way we’ve been going there. If we can’t get out of the church building, and witness and use lay people to plant churches, then we can’t get there,” Slack said.
Slack acknowledged that only through the work of God’s Holy Spirit is a church planting movement possible. However, churches must be equipped and willing to go wherever God sends them in order to reach people.
“The Great Commission is to make disciples inside each and every people group,” Slack said.
Slack explained that in the Great Commission, the word “nations” means people groups, not countries or nations. With that in mind, believers must be willing to make disciples of all people groups, whether they live across the world or across the street.
GCI training allows participants to develop a personalized strategy for reaching and discipling the people to whom God has called them to reach. The training conferences are held in three phases: missiology, church planting movement strategies and orality.
In Phase 1, participants learn about the Great Commission, practical skills for learning where unreached people groups live in their communities, and how to conduct research about different cultures in order to best understand and then disciple various people groups.
Phase 2 is devoted to understanding the church planting movements throughout the world, and Phase 3 is focused on applying oral communication strategies and storytelling. North Carolina Baptist leaders who participated in Phase 1 training learned how to see the world through the eyes of a missionary and how to develop tools to research the diversity of areas where they live.
Phil Frady, director of missions for South Roanoke Baptist Association, said the training would help churches in his association reach people who “have not only been far from God, but far from our churches.”
“The GCI training is giving us a fresh approach to assisting our churches to both honor and preserve our current ways of doing church, and bridge the gap to a fresh generation of disciple-making church groups that really help us move down into the layer of darkness that we are not currently reaching,” he said. “Our existing churches are working hard, but they are only touching the perimeter of where light ends and darkness starts.”
Jarrod Scott, pastor of Green Pines Baptist Church in Knightdale, said GCI provided compelling evidence for the need to adopt church planting strategies.
“It was refreshing to really examine our state with missionary eyes and to consider what it will take to impact lostness among us,” he said. “I left resolved to pray and work differently to see the nations know the name of the Lord.”
While believers are commanded in Scripture to reach the ends of the earth with the gospel, they are also called to reach their neighborhoods and communities; their Jerusalem.
“What we do in our Jerusalem will become our Lord’s starting point,” Slack said.
As America’s population continues to become more diverse, the need to reach people groups is more important than ever before. Since 1970, the United States has experienced the most concentrated and highest era of population growth in its history. From 1970 to 2005, more than 35,000,000 people moved into the country who were not from a Protestant background.
Many of America’s 100 largest cities are already composed of more than 50 percent minority and ethnic people groups. Within the next 10 years, Slack said this would be the case with almost every one of America’s 100 largest cities.
In order to make disciples of all people, Slack said leaders must be willing to help equip other leaders, especially lay leaders.
“We will never get soul winners by teaching them to be soul winners in the classroom. We teach them by doing,” he said.
Tim Ahlen, GCI executive director and pastor of Forest Meadow Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, led the training with Slack and challenged North Carolina Baptists to be willing to forsake the comfortable in order to reach the lost.
The good, comfortable things in life – and in church – often become idols that lead to a consumer mindset focused on reaching and pleasing people inside the church walls.
Referring to the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15, Ahlen said the priority of believers must be impacting lostness and advancing the gospel. Too often believers spend all their time with the 99, the saved, and little time with the lost. Just as Jesus went after the one lost sheep, so must believers.
“How do your strategies reflect that priority? Does your life reflect biblical priorities?” he asked. “When you work that out in your life, you’re going to have to ask yourself some questions about your priorities.”
To learn more about Great Commission Initiative training, visit www.mygci.org.