I once started a forest fire. As a teenager I always had a lighter in my pocket to smoke a cigarette or a joint. One day, when I was a bored novice monk in Fresno, CA, I wanted to see if sparks could light some dry grass behind the Buddhist temple. Yea, I know, really stupid, but that’s what knuckleheads do. It was summer and windy, the flames spread too fast for me to stamp out and soon a huge tree was ablaze. The monks saw the smoke and heard the crackle of fire and ran to see what was going on and screamed in their language, “What the $!&@ is going on!!??”
After the fire department had put out the flames I found myself sitting before the head monk confessing to my pyrotechnics. I thought he was gonna beat me with a bamboo stick (Asian people were allowed to do that back in the day) but he simply asked one question, “Have you learned your lesson?” I said yes. Then he said, “Now you can go.” Thank the lord Buddha for being a passivist.
I learned a valuable lesson that day, never underestimate what a single spark can do under the right conditions.
You’ve heard it before that a little spark can cause a huge roaring forest fire. But it’s never about the actual spark, the spark itself is temporary. Sparks move on, sparks die. It’s the flames fueled by dry vegetation and the summer winds that causes the fire to spread uncontrollably.
God uses apostolic pioneers to spark movements of churches reproducing churches. But it’s never about the actual pioneer, they are meant to be temporary. Pioneers move on, pioneers die. It’s the flames fueled by faithful local laborers and the winds of the Holy Spirit that causes church movements to spread uncontrollably.
I’m a grown man now and don’t actually mess with fire anymore (except when I’m camping) but I continue to be passionate about spreading the flames of hope, redemption and justice offered in Jesus, the Creator of the universe. I desire to see communities of faith and the worship of Jesus among every people, tribe and nation. Today there are many like-minded people who have the same passion to plant churches and extend the fame of God globally. Current church planting strategy and missiology is divided into two camps, those who enjoy cozy controlled bonfires and those who want to light abaze the entire planet.
Bonfires require control. This is the traditional approach to church planting in both the west and in cross-cultural settings. Foreign missionaries learn about the people, if possible live among them, labor alongside them, teach them, teach them, teach them, teach them, teach them, teach them and eventually leave them.
Life becomes centered around the single bonfire / a group of people who have been extracted from their community and culture.
Activities revolve around how to make the fire bigger / attractional based programs, buildings and budgets.
The flames are kept alive by a single log / pastors and shepard’s become the only ones directing ministry.
The fire is simply maintained but never multiplies / people just go to church.
Forest fires must be released. This is the Kingdom approach to church planting in both the west and in cross-cultural settings. Foreign missionaries learn about the people, if possible live among them, labor alongside them, model with them a lifestyle of radical obedience to Jesus, assist them in living that lifestyle, watch them as they model it with others, and leave them to begin the process with someone new.
Every disciple walks around with lit torches / a group of people who practice their faith in their own communities and culture.
Activities revolve around spreading small flames into every dark forest around them / missional based paradigm, seeking after lost people and building relationships.
The flames are burning entire trees / apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers and shepards are equally releasing others into ministry.
The fire multiplies and entire communities and regions are engulfed / disciples reproduce disciples, churches reproduce churches.
What kind of fires are you starting? Are you the spark? Are you the flame? You are definitely not the Wind.