Updated: Nov 28, 2022
“Should I Stay or Should I Go?”
A Humble Response to the 2022 International Friends Church Multiplication Conference
By Erik Nilsen
I had not planned on attending the conference this year. Two years ago, at the last conference, I was a graduate student at Barclay College with a far freer schedule and few responsibilities outside completing a master’s degree. In fact, the 2020 conference directly contributed to finishing my degree, as Jeff Reed’s workshop on planting digital churches inspired the topic of my capstone project in which I conducted a study on such a church. For that, I am extremely grateful to him and to the organizers of this event. Two years later, however, the season of life had shifted.
After finishing college (the first time) and returning home to southern California in December 2019, I had felt a call to international missions and had contacted EFM to apply for the Teaching Abroad program in China. By March the next year, certain global events prevented such an endeavor. Upon learning EFM was cautiously optimistic about sending teachers for the 2022-23 school year, I reapplied, only to be thwarted once again by outbreaks of disease and political conflict in the nation I intended to serve. Perceiving that God may have closed those doors to me in the meantime, perhaps it was his will for me to remain home and faithfully serve my own community for this season.
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce… Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:5,7)
Accordingly, I volunteered in the youth ministry at my home church to teach and train students for discipleship, so that they might grow in wisdom and stature before God and men as Jesus did. Upon praying for a full-time job to pay off student debt, a man from my Bible study acquainted me with his former coworker, a plumber and AC repairman—a job with long hours and packed schedules. Expecting to be unavailable for the conference this year for those reasons, I did not register. At least, not until Jim personally invited me to attend and journal a response.
The speakers at this year’s conference did not mince words. Ed Stetzer, preaching passionately on the Great Commission, declared, “The guarantee of the Great Commission is the promise of Jesus for all time.” As God swore by his own name to Abraham to make good his promise of an heir, so Emmanuel promised to be “God with us,” even to the very end of the age. In his exegesis of the Parable of the Talents, John Muhanji exposed the lie that “God wants our churches to stay small and humble,” a deception rooted in complacency rather than obedience. While I confess that I personally prefer the intimate community of a small congregation to that of a megachurch, there is indeed a world of difference between a small, sending church and a small, sterile church. Multiplication, not mere maintenance, is an expression of stewardship and our obedience to the command, “Be fruitful and multiply.” As Matt Macy exclaimed in his Luke 10 Vision webinar, “It is not okay that 25 percent of people worldwide currently have no chance to hear about Jesus!”
To that end, the reports from the Yearly Meetings were encouraging, particularly out of Latin America and Africa. Mexico Yearly Meeting announced their ambitious Vision 32 project, with the goal to plant churches in each state of Mexico by 2032. Bolivia Yearly Meeting has begun to undertake their first independent cross-cultural mission as they eagerly evangelize an indigenous people-group in the rural parts of their country for Christ. In the second general session, Aaron Mupenda reported that Rwanda and Uganda Yearly Meetings have partnered together to bring the gospel to South Sudan. Edward Favour, formerly an employee of the Uganda Revenue Authority and currently a graduate student of biblical translation at Barclay College, has been called to plant churches in his own country with a goal of planting at least one thousand within his lifetime. Clearly, there still is a great people to be gathered, and that is gathering even now.
Nevertheless, Sam and Becky Barber urged us not to forget or neglect those peoples and places that have already heard the gospel before. Serving in Belize, they described their mission field as “over-evangelized, but under-discipled.” In the developed world, many have heard the sales pitch, but disciple-makers have yet to follow through. Kathi Perry, quoting the earlier Jeremiah passage, noted that what historic Quakerism has done best was to ask, “What does the community need, and how can we serve it?” While “no one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God,” (Luke 9:62), loving our neighbors as ourselves requires our intentional cultivation of a relationship and mutual discipleship with them, even if our neighbors are already church-going Christians in our hometowns. Else, that member of the body of Christ atrophies, as is the case already among the post-Christian societies of western Europe and North America.
This is the tension I currently live in, and for which reason I invoked the song by punk rock band The Clash in the title of this article. What doors has God opened for me? What doors has God closed for me, at least for now? How can I most faithfully serve Christ where I am currently, and when will I know he has called me elsewhere? Here am I, Lord! Send me where thou wilt!
Señor nuestro, ven. Urunk, gyere. Panginoon namin, halika. Bwana wetu, njoo. Mwami wacu, ngwino. আমাদের প্রভু, আসুন। हाम्रो प्रभु, आउनुहोस्। ព្រះអម្ចាស់នៃយើងអើយ សូមយាងមក។
Maranatha. Our Lord, come.