The Four Pillars of Missions Strategy:
Reaching, Planting, Training, Touching
Assemblies of God World Missions is not only universal in its geographic scope but also comprehensive in its character.
The distinctives of our worldwide mission are not formulations of a strategy committee; they are based on careful observation of what the Spirit of God led our early missionary leadership to do and what successive leadership has reaffirmed and maintained. Our strategy for worldwide missions has been to cooperate with the Lord of the harvest, who is fulfilling His promise to build His church.
Four words describe our mission: reaching, planting, training, and touching. These are not four separate objectives, but an integrated and comprehensive God-given plan. They represent the four activities of our missionaries: evangelizing, establishing churches, training national church leaders, and demonstrating Christ’s compassion to poor and suffering people. These are the four biblical mandates we strive to obey. A strong and mature indigenous church participates in and supports each of these four aspects of our mission.
Regional directors Russ Turney, Richard Nicholson, Mike McClaflin, and Ron Maddux express how each of these priorities are essential to fulfilling the Great Commission.
Reaching: Proclaiming the Message of Hope
By Russ Turney
The elderly man’s wrinkled face caused him to look older than his 75 years. But it was his words, not his face that captured my attention. He said, “This is the first time I’ve heard this message.”
By living in a little village on a small island, he had missed hearing the gospel for 75 years. After hearing about Christ’s love and forgiveness, he responded by asking the Lord to change his life. He wanted to be a Christian and to know that he would be able to enter heaven. This man is typical of many who are coming to Christ in this generation. He had searched for answers but nothing had satisfied his deepest needs until he met the Savior.
Jesus was clear when He instructed the disciples to “proclaim the gospel to all nations.” Matthew tells us it was a command. Luke records it as a promise from the Father as the Holy Spirit provides power to witness in the most remote places on earth. Jesus went to the villages bringing a message of hope to lost people who needed forgiveness. He set the example as a shepherd searching for one sheep lost in the darkness.
Today, it is not difficult to recognize the lostness of humanity in every culture of the world. When people stand for hours praying in front of Buddhist statues in Bangkok, one can see the futility of their prayers. People spin prayer wheels in Mongolia believing the attached written prayers will go into the atmosphere and the spirits will respond favorably. People march around sacred sites with precision to ensure they do not offend the spirits. Animistic beliefs often cause people in Asia to call on shamans and witch doctors to perform incantations in hopes of getting relief from their sicknesses. Fear dominates the lives of millions of families in every culture. As one watches these events and others like them, it is apparent that people are spiritually lost, confused, and desperately needing the Truth.
Evangelism is a response to the lostness of mankind that comes from the heart of the Father. God so loved the world that He gave the greatest gift — His only Son. His great compassion means even the worst of sinners can find forgiveness. His plan is so clear that even a child can understand and receive salvation. His Spirit provides the power to effectively bring hope to the most remote places on earth. Jesus’ commitment was so great that nothing could stop Him from completing His work and providing a way of salvation for all who will call on Him.
Today, the gospel is going to all nations. Within Asia Pacific we have seen the greatest growth during the past few years. Twenty years ago there were less than 6,000 congregations with 1.5 million believers. Today, there are more than 23,000 congregations and well over 4 million believers. During this time of unprecedented growth, evangelism continues to be a high priority. Evangelism is occurring through outreach ministries, compassion efforts, literature distribution, personal witnessing, media ministry, and friendship evangelism. Many opportunities exist for effectively sharing the gospel.
In the Philippines, every district is involved in a program called Summer of Service in which Christians give 6 to 10 weeks of their summer to reach other villages and communities. This involves going house to house, sharing the gospel, and praying for needs within those homes. People often experience answers to prayer as God heals the sick and families invite Christ into their lives.
Asia Pacific Media Ministry produces feature-length movies that missionaries show in several countries. Millions of people in the Philippines, Cambodia, and Mongolia have viewed these family-based, moral-value oriented, Christ-centered films. National churches have reached many families through this ministry.
National churches respond during times of natural disasters and national crises to help hurting and displaced people. In Thailand and Indonesia national churches have reached many with the gospel while responding to the needs of refugees and those impacted by the tsunami of 2004. When people experience unusual distress and personal crisis, they are often ready to accept Christ. In times of desperation, they find the gospel alone can provide eternal answers.
I have often heard national pastors say, “Thank you for sending missionaries to our country. I would not have found Christ had they not brought the gospel.” Through the efforts of missionaries, many people have accepted Christ and have become some of the finest pastors and evangelists in the region.
While in the South Pacific nations of Fiji and Samoa, national leaders reminded me that this was one of the uttermost parts of the earth Jesus had in mind when He promised power for witnessing in Acts 1:8. In both nations the national church has seen great growth in the past 40 years. The former general superintendent of Samoa, Max Haleck, was a young businessman in the 1950s. When a missionary began holding evangelistic services in a theater, Max came to hear the gospel and God powerfully saved him. He then used his transportation business to bring people to church, and over the years has helped thousands of people to come to Christ.
Today, Fijian and Samoan churches are sending missionaries to other areas of the Pacific. Reaching the 1 billion people within the Asia Pacific region will require the united effort of national churches and leaders as well as mission personnel. Through partnerships an accelerated proclamation of the gospel reaches many remote areas.
From Mongolia to Malaysia, from Vietnam to Vanuatu, from Japan to Jakarta missionaries, national pastors, and committed Christians teach and preach the gospel.
Scripture encourages us that all tribes, languages, people, and nations will respond in these last days. On the Day of Pentecost the disciples spoke in many known languages. People in the crowd said in utter amazement, “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?” (Acts 2:7,8). This was an encouragement to the Church that the message of salvation is for all people. John encouraged us in the Book of Revelation that God will fulfill this promise. The great host in heaven will include those from every people group on earth (Revelation 7:9).
More than 700 least-reached groups exist within the countries of Asia Pacific, and reaching them is a priority. Until every village, language, and people group has received the gospel, the work of the church is not complete.
When people become involved in missions by either supporting others or by going themselves, they are helping to complete the work of the Church and fulfill God’s promise that the gospel be preached to the entire world. This generation is committed to completing the task, and when that occurs, the end will come.
Planting: God’s Plan for Expanding the Kingdom
By Richard Nicholson
After graduating from Central Bible College in 1968, my wife, Cynthia, and I, with 6 Central Bible College students, launched a new church plant in La Grange, Illinois. In later years of missionary ministry in Argentina and Paraguay, Cynthia and I were involved in 16 more church plants. Nothing has brought greater reward or more personal satisfaction in the ministry than our involvement in those church-planting experiences.
Wherever church planting is a priority, the church thrives. Church planting releases a spiritual energy that is unique and that invigorates the national or local church or the person who engages in it. Here are some samples of what is happening around the world:
- The Nigerian Assemblies of God has recently set a goal to plant 500 churches a year.
- The Kenyan Assemblies of God is planting 8 to 10 churches every week.
- The Indian Assemblies of God has recently launched an initiative to plant 7,000 churches in the next 3 years.
- In two decades the Cuban Assemblies of God has grown from 89 to more than 7,200 congregations and 500,000 believers.
- Recently the Honduran Assemblies of God set a goal of planting 100 churches in a year. Last year, they surpassed the goal and planted 120.
- The Korean Assemblies of God has planted hundreds of churches worldwide, mostly among Korean expatriates.
Spirit-filled people around the world are planting churches, sometimes in seemingly impossible situations:
- In Argentina, Rosa Spagnolatti, a married woman, has planted at least 36 churches herself, not counting numerous home groups.
- In Siberia, missionary Michael Chowning has planted churches in some of the most remote cities and villages in the world.
- Several years ago Joil and Leah Marbut set a goal to plant 100 churches among the Shuar people who live in the Amazon jungle. Joil reports that he is considering raising the goal to 1,000 churches.
Church leaders have said concerning the four pillars — evangelism, church planting, training, and compassion ministries — that almost all religious groups participate in evangelism and compassion ministries. Within the Assemblies of God, we do all four as integrated components of our mission with an emphasis on church planting and training.Our focus is planting churches. We now have a growing network of almost 300,000 Assemblies of God congregations around the globe. With 2,000 Bible training centers worldwide, we are prioritizing the preparation of leaders for those new and growing congregations.
People can plant churches in a variety of ways. Some churches are the spontaneous outgrowthof home groups or Bible studies. Some emerge out of underground or clandestine meetings in restricted countries. Others are the result of a few believers sensing God drawing them together for a purpose. After Pentecost the Early Church wasscattered through persecution. Churches also sent Spirit-filled believers to take the gospel to other areas or people groups.
Church plants often reflect theintentionality of a sending mother church whose goal is to reach locations through satellite congregations. Individuals or teams may have a God-given passion to form a new body of believers in a specific geographical area. Michael Chowning describes a mother church as “a church, reaching, impacting, and influencing its community; disciplining and equipping the saved; and empowering people for ministry. When leaders stay within their local regions, they are more likely to succeed because they have a support base. They have a healthy local church that gives them the necessary tools to be successful.”
In 1968 our church plant in La Grange, Illinois, resulted from the vision and passion of our mother church in nearby Naperville. This church, pastored by Robert and Karen Schmidgall, was a 1-year-old congregation of fewer than 75 people. They gave us two families who lived near our suburb, purchased an old Swedish Covenant church for $10,000, and helped us refurbish it. Can anyone doubt God’s blessing on the Naperville congregation that has grown to more than 6,000 congregants in recent years?
Regardless of the method used to start a new congregation, one element that is evident is the transmission of the church planter or congregation’s DNA to the new group of believers. If the mother church is evangelistic, the satellite congregation will be evangelistic. If the planting group is committed to discipleship and training new believers and leaders, the new congregation will share those same characteristics. If the mother church encourages the working of the gifts of the Spirit, the daughter church will do likewise.
Church planting is not only a collection of individual believers or groups of believers but it is also the transmission of new life from one group of believers to another. While teaching a church-planting and evangelism course at River Plate Bible Institute near Buenos Aires, Argentina, my core message to students was, “Just start, somewhere, some way. After you plan, trust the Holy Spirit and work hard, and the church will grow.”
Ralph and Frances Hiatt planted dozens of churches during their ministry in Argentina. Several have grown to more than 10,000 members. Ralph is a father figure to the pastors of these churches.
The miracle of church planting is the fact there may not be a church in a community today, but tomorrow a person can plant one. It may start small, but it is destined and designed to grow.
The guiding principles of church planting are:
- Church planting is indispensable to evangelism and is the heart, passion, and plan of God for the extension of His kingdom in this world.
- Church planters will experience the miraculous provision of the Spirit. God will bring partners and release resources that will help accomplish the work.
- Church planting can be spontaneous, but it is primarily intentional.It is often the result of the vision and passion of a church or person who is committed to targeting a specific group or community. It involves sharing the gospel, investing financial resources, praying, releasing families or team members to participate, assessing and planning with clear focus, and committing to help make the church plant successful.
- A church planter is a parent figure who receives his reward as he participates in the miracle of a new congregation that will demonstrate the Kingdom in the community where it is planted.
- Church planting is an adventure. Whether one plants in the inner city, a thriving suburb, or a rural village, reaching unreached people through planting a church is the thrill of a lifetime and worth every effort and investment.
Training: Cultivating the Church for a Harvest
By Mike Mcclaflin
In one of Christ’s insightful discourses found in John 4:34–38, He balances the need for evangelistic endeavor (verses 35,36) with an ongoing awareness for those whose earlier work had made significant contributions to the advancement of the Kingdom (verses 37,38). In the team effort in missions, we need to accept the fact we stand on the shoulders of others.
The crop-producing process can be divided into four phases:
- Land preparation.
If we link human activity, skill, and personality to these four, we would have a grid that looks something like this:
- Land preparation — intuitiveness, insightfulness, strategy.
- Planting — timeliness, availability.
- Cultivation — patience, endurance, exactness, thoroughness.
- Harvest — urgency, travail.
Harvest, whether in a scriptural context or related to the ebb and flow of life events, usually indicates a planting followed by an activity that results in benefit or reward.
Of the four phases mentioned above, none requires more patient effort than cultivation. Cultivation involves spacing growing plants, removing weeds, preparing soil for irrigation, and applying fertilizer and insecticides.
Having grown up on a farm, I remember the long, tiring hours spent in the fields making sure we accomplished these critical aspects of cultivation. The effort was worth the cost, as evidenced by consistent, bountiful yields from my father’s fields.
In a strategy designed by the Holy Spirit, Assemblies of God forefathers established local, self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing (indigenous) national churches as a core value of evangelism. Growing churches that are mature enough to trust God for their needs has made Africa one of the great modern-day miracles of church growth.
The fervor with which our African brothers engage in spreading the gospel is evidenced everywhere. In our exuberance to see multitudes won to the Kingdom, however, we must not forget that evangelism is only a part of the responsibility we carry in fulfilling the harvest. Our goal is to get people to heaven.
It is in this arena that the parallel process of cultivation takes place. In the church, we call cultivation training.
In Africa, people know Pentecostals for their emphasis on the enabling power of the Holy Spirit as demonstrated across this vast continent. It is exciting and often overwhelming to see the explosive, regenerative birth of a new church in the most unlikely places. Yet this Spirit-led fervor can, if not properly cultivated, lead to heartbreak and division. The enemy can exploit this fervor to bring great harm to the Church.
As a missionary force in Africa, the backbone of our ministry has training at its center. Early missionaries planted churches and built Bible schools almost simultaneously. Spirit-filled pastors who have been trained to examine Scripture and exhort sound doctrine are a potent force. Nevertheless, unsound doctrine and false teaching can divide, destroy, and wither the seeds missionaries have planted and germinated.
Early in our history, most of our Bible school instructors and administrators were missionaries. As the church has matured and become increasingly indigenous, teachers and leaders of our resident schools are primarily well-trained, capable Africans. The missionary’s role has changed to one of support and specialization. In countries where the church is still in its infancy, leadership and core staff may still be primarily missionaries.
One of the positive outgrowths of the modern missionary movement is the growing number of missionaries coming from receiving nations. African missionaries who receive national church support are increasingly responding to the need for trainers in schools located in nations other than their own.
The levels of training at our resident schools vary. In the early years, every school offered diplomas through a curriculum primarily designed to equip pastors to interpret Scripture and offer effective care. With the growth and maturation of the church it became evident that schools must provide a higher level of academics for Africa to have a part in the academic world.
In the 1960s and 1970s, AGWM developed degree-granting schools. In most nations where there is a strong national church we have at least one degree-level school. For these schools to hire nationals capable of teaching on a bachelor’s-degree level, however, their nationals’ academic level needed to rise. The expensive solution for many years was to send qualified national workers overseas to complete graduate studies. In the 1980s and early 1990s AGWM realized that the African church had reached a point where it could support its own master’s degree-level schools. We prayed, partnered, and met this challenge. AGWM now has five master’s-level schools in Africa.
In 2003, the late veteran missionary John York and key African leaders established Pan-Africa Theological Seminary at West Africa Advanced School of Theology in Lomé, Togo. This school offers a Ph.D. level program in the African context and completes the residential training program in Africa.
As grateful as we are for the progress in our residential Bible schools, these schools, however, present only a partial solution to our training needs. For example, Angola and Mozambique each have more than 4,000 churches and about 1.7 million adult believers, but only 600 to 700 trained pastors. Our residential schools cannot keep up with the demand to train pastors. In addition, not every pastor can afford to spend 3 years in a residential program. The situation demands that we find other solutions to meet our training needs.
Extension schools offer options that allow a pastor to stay close to his place of ministry while taking resident classes for short periods at strategic locations. Today in Africa we have 140 extension schools with more than 4,143 students.
With this system, a mobile faculty travels to population centers or other areas with church growth needs. It is not practical to build a resident school at every wellspring of revival. Yet in increasing instances, we must endeavor to cultivate and train wherever the harvest is growing. Practically and relationally, the extension school strategy is finding favor with our national churches.
In recent years AGWM created Africa’s Hope — a multifaceted ministry with training help, curriculum development, strategic partnering, computer-related opportunities, and library and book support — to assist our missionary and national churches to meet training needs. Spirit-filled, trained leaders are Africa’s hope.
Training — the core of our strategy — is critical and effective in every national church worldwide. The fact the Assemblies of God leads the world as a mission body with the most Bible schools is a testimony to this fact.
To underscore the critical nature of the patience, endurance, exactness, and thoroughness of this cultivating process, in principle we could say that the last Assemblies of God missionary to leave the African continent will probably be a Bible school teacher.
Touching: A Perspective on Compassion Ministries
By Ron Maddux
I served as a missionary in Asia for 30 years. Most of that time I was involved in evangelism and church planting. As a young candidate missionary I chose to do evangelism and to avoid social gospel endeavors. But I discovered that the gospel must also include a demonstration of the love of Christ. I came to realize that while Jesus came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10, KJV), His life and ministry demonstrated the love and compassion of God.
Jesus’ inaugural address (Luke 4:18,19) serves as a model for our Spirit-empowered mission. As Pentecostals, we are uniquely equipped to perform ministries of compassion while maintaining a proper focus on evangelism.
In forming a basis for compassionate outreach, we must consider these four points:
- Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of compassion.
- Jesus’ vision statement included compassionate ministry.
- Jesus’ ministry was Spirit-empowered.
- The Pentecostal missionary is best equipped to maintain an evangelistic focus when performing compassionate ministries.
Jesus’ Ministry Was a Ministry of Compassion
Of the 36 recorded miracles of Jesus, 33 were miracles of compassion.
Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine at the wedding of Cana (John 2:1–11), saved the wedding host from embarrassment. This miracle demonstrated Christ’s concern for a person’s emotional well-being. John 2:11 records an additional benefit: “He thus revealed His glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” This compassionate miracle revealed the nature of God — a glory that instilled faith.
Jesus cast out demons (Mark 1:21–26); healed the sick (Matthew 8:14,15); cleansed lepers (Luke 5:12,13); raised the dead (Luke 7:1–10); dispelled fear (Matthew 8:23–27); and fed the hungry (Mark 6:35–44). One cannot comprehend His earthly life absent from His miracles, or His miracles absent from His compassion.
Jesus’ Vision Statement Included Compassionate Ministry
In Luke 4, Jesus stood in the synagogue and read from Isaiah. This inaugural address would serve as His vision statement. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18,19).
The ministry of Jesus (and ours) is a ministry to:
- The poor — spiritually and economically.
- The prisoners — captives to sin and literal captives.
- The blind — those who are blind to the spiritual truths of the gospel and those who are physically blind (representing the physically infirmed).
- The oppressed — by Satan and by society.
The answer to all of these needs is the gospel. The gospel sets people spiritually free and lifts them economically, physically, and socially. Jesus’ ministry model was a perfect blend of Spirit-empowerment, evangelism, and compassion:
- “ ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me’ ” (Spirit-empowerment, Luke 4:18).
- “ ‘To preach the good news’ ” (evangelism, Luke 4:18).
- “ ‘To the poor … prisoners … blind … oppressed’ ” (compassion, Luke 4:18).
The model Jesus embodied did not dichotomize the message from the ministry. The ministry was a practical demonstration of His message. It was word and deed — a proclamation and demonstration of the love of God through the message and ministry of the Spirit-empowered Christ.
Jesus’ Ministry Was Spirit-empowered
Something significant happened in the life of Jesus before His declaration at the Nazareth synagogue. Luke 3:21,22 describes the coming of the Holy Spirit on Jesus: “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ ”
Luke 4:14 gives the practical result of that experience: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit empowered Jesus for ministry. His experience serves as the model after which we pattern church ministry.
The Pentecostal Missionary Is Best Equipped to Maintain an Evangelistic Focus When Performing Compassion Ministries
Throughout our history, the Assemblies of God has been cautious about its involvement in compassion ministries, fearing we would become like others who preach a social gospel of deeds only. Out of that concern, as a candidate missionary, I had determined to do evangelism and to avoid a social gospel ministry. Ultimately I discovered that such an approach did not fulfill the model or mandate of Jesus given in Luke 4. The Pentecostal experience that empowered me to preach the gospel also enabled me to maintain a proper focus while engaging in compassion ministries.
While Luke 4 demonstrates the model of Christ’s ministry, Acts 1:8 provides the means by which we stay on target: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses.”
The nature of the Pentecostal experience provides our ultimate focus in ministry — to be His witnesses. While Acts 1:8 shows that the Holy Spirit empowers us to be His witnesses, Luke 4 demonstrates that the Spirit anoints us to proclaim the gospel as we participate in compassion ministries.
As long as we remain filled with the Spirit, we will keep on target in our ministry. Showing compassion is not the question — it is the model of both Christ and the Early Church. The Pentecostal experience equips us to bless others through ministries of compassion as Christ did — accompanied by a proclamation of the gospel.
A Practical Application
God moves us toward the strategy of the Spirit. Early in my ministry I incorporated compassionate outreach into my overall program. Along with evangelistic campaigns and church planting, I participated in ministry through clinics, mobile medical units, and feeding programs. However, when we began to enter restricted access nations, I began to see compassion ministries as a strategy.
In many countries we cannot enter as a missionary organization. Instead, we must enter as a compassion organization. Through this strategy, we are able to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ in places and settings where we would otherwise be unable to serve. Ultimately, declaration accompanies demonstration. Through word and deed, evangelism and compassion can be integrated by the Holy Spirit’s power and anointing.
A strategy of Spirit-empowered compassion ministry can accomplish three things:
- Access — our willingness to perform compassion ministries helps us enter places we could not otherwise go.
- Accreditation — our deeds give credit to our message.
- Acclamation — ultimately, we acclaimed Jesus as Savior and Lord.