Feature

New Wineskins

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I just returned from my first C&MA General Council as a National Office worker and have a fresh, deeper understanding of our fifth Core Value and the role it plays in mobilizing our forces for “pushing back the darkness.” Council reaffirmed my conviction that the local church is the crucial link uniting fully devoted disciples to God’s harvest fields—wherever these fields may be.

Council delegates were treated to several live interviews of international workers, military chaplains, church planters and International Ministries’ regional directors. After prayer, each person or couple was given a lantern as an encouragement to continue pushing back the darkness in their present or future place of ministry. All of these workers’ commitments were a natural outcome of the ministry of a local Alliance church, where God used pastors, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders and many devoted men and women to disciple and mobilize them toward fulfilling the Great Commission.

Also, I returned from Council with the conviction that completing the Great Commission here in the United States will require from many of our local churches the use of “new wineskins,” or ministry models. This in turn will require a fresh look at the harvest fields where those churches are located.

U.S. demographics are changing at a pace that will challenge even the most proactive missional churches in our denomination. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in May that between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population (50.5 million) grew by 43 percent, or four times faster than the total U.S. population (308.7 million) growth rate of 9.7 percent. The bureau had previously stated that “more than half of the growth in the total population in the United States between 2000 and 2010 was due to the increase in the Hispanic population.” In contrast, the Asian population (17.3 million) grew at an even faster rate of 46 percent, which was more than any other major racial group in the country. We also need to track immigration trends as conflicts in the Middle East and central and south Asian countries escalate.

All of this implies that as our churches become more effective in reaching their local communities, the group of “fully devoted disciples” mobilized by our churches for local ministry will be increasingly multiethnic. This trend is already reflected by the fact that approximately 800 of the 2,042 total U.S. C&MA churches (38 percent) are non-Anglo and more than 40 percent of our membership is reported by non-Anglo churches. We currently have 35 languages, including English, used in our ministries across the nation. Also, there are six Intercultural Districts within the 28 U.S. Constituted Districts and 10 ethnic associations reaching the growing immigrant population. This implies that there will be a growing number of multiethnic missionaries sent by our churches for greater global impact in pushing back the darkness that still engulfs many countries.

Before we get too busy developing all sorts of new wineskins, we first have to get busy praying to the Lord of the harvest. This was precisely Jesus’ advice to His disciples in Luke 10:2: “‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’” (emphasis added; cf. Matt. 9:37–38). All, especially those in leadership, should make this prayer our highest priority. Jesus would not ask us to pray for something God would not be willing to answer.

Furthermore, we must be just as zealous and devoted to equipping and mobilizing multiethnic disciples in this country as we are in our efforts to send workers to other countries to do the same. New models for leadership development will need to be implemented in order to more closely resemble what was happening in Antioch during the beginnings of the New Testament church (read Acts 11:19–27 and 13:1–3). There, members of an ethnically diverse group of disciples were prompted by the Holy Spirit “while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting” to appoint two of their own to carry out a specific calling. “So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off ” (Acts 13:3).

Can we risk doing less?

Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully devoted disciple. (Matt. 28:19)

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