During a Bible study in Southeast Asia James* asked people to raise their hand if they had been persecuted for their faith. After no one raised their hand, he asked the question again, and still no hands were raised.
Confused by the response, James tried a different approach. He asked if anyone in the group had been sent to prison for their faith, or suffered physical pain for their faith. People raised their hands.
James explained that this group didn’t consider trials to be persecution. “They saw persecution as a normal part of their faith,” he said.
James, an International Mission Board (IMB) missionary in Southeast Asia, shared this experience during the Sept. 18 Embrace Southeast Asian Peoples USA Training at Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.
Southeast Asia is home to 347 unreached, unengaged people groups (UUPGs), and 218 live in areas of high government restriction. Among the 347 people groups, 13 live in extreme physical conditions, 32 in areas of high social hostility, and 263 are without access to Scripture in their heart language.
Through its “Embrace” emphasis the IMB is helping churches all across the country engage unreached, unengaged people groups in Southeast Asia and throughout the world with the gospel. UUPGs have a Christian population of less than two percent and no church planting methodology that is consistent with evangelical faith.
Reaching these people groups is not easy. “Are you ready for persecution? Are you ready for it for national brothers and sisters who come to faith? When you share the gospel and people come to faith, persecution is going to happen,” James said. But persecution is not an excuse to stay home.
“Missions in its purest sense means going where the gospel is not,” said Phil Nelson, IMB church missional strategist. “Jesus said to make disciples among all people. We have our marching orders straight from Scripture.”
North Carolina Baptists are on a journey to embrace 250 UUPGs by the year 2021. About a year and a half ago Old Town Baptist began its journey to share the gospel among the T people in Southeast Asia. “If they don’t have access to the good news of Jesus they can’t fulfill the passion of the heart of God,” said Mark Harrison, missions pastor at Old Town. During the training Harrison shared how God led Old Town to the T people and how God affirmed their obedience along the way.
“You have to be convinced this is what God wants you to do or you will not succeed. If you do this just for novelty or fun or anything else, that will not sustain you,” Harrison said.
Believers are called to share the gospel among unreached people and to then make disciples of those who come to faith in Jesus Christ. James said believers would not be as effective as possible for the Kingdom without a strategy and process for working among unreached people.
During the training James walked participants through a process known as T4T (t4tonline.org) that is being used all over the world and resulting in thousands of new churches. During the T4T (“Training for Trainers”) process a leader meets with a small group of believers, training them in how to share their testimony, how to witness to lost people and how to disciple believers.
The goal of T4T is to train and disciple a believer so that the believer is able to start other T4T groups that will result in more T4T groups. The expectation is that everyone who is discipled and trained in a T4T group will in turn witness, disciple and train others who come to faith in Jesus. “It’s about multiplying disciples and leading to a church planting movement,” James said. “Everyone who is saved knows enough to go and share their faith.”
T4T encourages leaders to think strategically about reaching various population segments and casting a vision that gives everyone in the people group opportunity to hear the gospel. “We like to bask in the glory of a movement in one area when there are still more lost people to reach,” James said.
A reproducible process
Foundational to the T4T process is reproducibility. Trainers must teach people in their groups evangelism strategies that they can then not only use themselves, but also teach someone else how to use.
Trainers must train people in effective discipleship and how to study and feed themselves from God’s Word.
Accountability is also a key T4T component. Everyone in a T4T group is challenged to share the gospel with people every week and to share those experiences with their group. James said if people are not held accountable they are less likely to actually put into practice the evangelism and discipleship lessons they learn in the group.
Equip and release
Engaging unreached people groups will take time and Robert Clark, who is training leaders in Southeast Asia, encouraged believers not to be discouraged if people do not immediately come to faith.
“We need to go with expectancy,” he said. “But it’s not a one-man show. God will use you, and other people and other things, as part of the process of bringing people into the Kingdom. Wherever a person is, we can help him take one step closer to salvation in Jesus.”
Equipping and releasing believers to share their faith among lost people should be a key component in any strategy for reaching UUPGs. However, Clark said many churches fail to live out the truth of the priesthood of all believers. When that happens, “our strategy to reach the world is to come hear our pastor,” Clark said.
“The pastor becomes the superstar of the church and that puts a lot of pressure on the pastor. A lot of pastors burn out because they live under a burden God never intended them to carry,” he said.
“The pastor’s role is to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. It is not about bringing more people to us; it is about equipping and releasing people into the world,” Clark said.
“Equip and release lay people to start new churches in new places and continually repeat that process generation after generation.”
To learn more about engaging unreached people groups in Southeast Asia and throughout the world visit ncbaptist.org/gcp or imb.org. The Baptist State Convention’s Church Planting & Missions Development Group will host a series of T4T training events next year across the state. More information will be available soon at ncbaptist.org/gcp.