By Bishop Jill Duff
New Wine was birthed by an outpouring of the Spirit in Chile. Across the majority world, church planting movements are being fanned into flame by the Spirit of God. Wonderfully, churches across our nation are waking up again to church planting as a normal part of mission strategy. But it’s been asleep for 100 years. In the meantime, the world has moved on. Is it because our eyes are still glued with sleep, so we rarely lift our sight beyond our Western borders to humbly look to our brothers and sisters for wisdom on this topic?
As the Bishop of Lancaster, I hold the brief for church planting, mission and evangelism across Lancashire (the Diocese of Blackburn). I’ve been passionate about church planting for 25 years since my brother-in-law was involved in church planting in Central Asia among unreached people groups. I realised there was a richness of wisdom in international church planting movements that we’d overlooked in the UK and the West.
Much of this wisdom starts in the heavenly realms. A Church Mission Society article about the new Executive Director of Asia, Rev Dr Chan Nam Chen, says: “He started small, spending a considerable amount of time fasting and praying, and asking God to lead him to those who were ready to receive the gospel.”
Five years ago, I started interceding seriously for the North West of England, then the UK, then beyond. Since that point, I’ve started to live with a vision of beacons being lit and fanned into flame by prayer. In the space of a few years, 10 different people mentioned this picture to me. At the point when I thought I was going mad, my spiritual director emailed me out of the blue to say: ‘Jill, I had a picture of you, fanning beacons into flame by prayer’.
Beacons have become a picture for me of children, men and women, on fire with the Spirit of God, naturally shining the light of Jesus into the communities they find themselves in. Not just geographical areas, but also networks and people groups. Jesus said, ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden’ (Matthew 5:14).
New Wine’s strapline is ‘local churches changing nations’.
This is depicted vividly in a wonderful scene from the 2003 film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. When the battle is at its worst, a little hobbit manages to climb up and light the beacon. Then you see some amazing cinematography of beacons being lit across the hills. The wizard Gandalf says, “Hope is kindled”.
As well as interceding, one of the first things a cross-cultural church planter needs to do is to learn the local language. On the day of Pentecost, people were amazed because they heard the wonders of God in their own language. What if the Spirit enabled people across our country to hear the gospel in their own language?
In seventh-century northern Britain there was an incredible flowering of mission. You may have heard of St Hilda — she was abbess of a mixed monastery in Whitby that sent out bishops and evangelists all across Britain. You may not have heard of Caedmon. He was a tongue-tied cattle herder in the monastery. He found it very difficult to make himself understood. But one night he had a dream that he could sing a heavenly song about the creation of the world.
When he woke up he could remember the song. He told the steward, who told Hilda. Hilda invited Caedmon to sing his heavenly song at the feast. This was the start of an incredible ministry — Caedmon would sing the gospel in the local language in words that the ordinary people could understand. It was the first example of the gospel in the local Anglo-Saxon language.
I keep discovering Caedmons. Often they are tongue-tied like Caedmon or evangelist Smith Wigglesworth. Then it’s as if when the Spirit of God comes upon them in a fresh way, they are released to sing the gospel in their own language. This seems particularly the case in urban areas where I’ve lived and ministered for 15 years.
New Wine’s strapline is ‘local churches changing nations’. What if, in our day, we were to experience the release of Caedmon, called out and encouraged by Hildas and empowered and set on fire by the Spirit of God? Then we’d have truly local churches, in every ‘language’ of our country, causing a Spirit-led earthquake to shift the tectonics of our nation.
Finally, what then should we do? Pray! 20th-century Chinese church leader and teacher Watchman Nee said: “Our prayers lay the track down which the power of God can come. Like a mighty locomotive, his power is irresistible, but it cannot reach us without rails.”
Finally, what then should we do? Pray!
Church planting movements have always been accompanied by high levels of intercessory prayer. There is no shortcut, as much as we in the West would like to rely on our clever schemes. There is no shortcut to asking God to shift the powers and authorities in the heavenlies so that people can hear the gospel in the own language, so gifts can be released, so that beacons can start, not just in the obvious places but in the darkest and most forgotten places in our country.
“Britain is covered with a blanket of unbelief,” said missionary Lesslie Newbigin when he returned to the UK from India in the 1970s. Let’s pray that this blanket is lifted off our nation in our generation. Let’s raise our horizons; listen to the Spirit of God who is moving powerfully internationally and catch his breath for our nation.
Jill Duff is the Bishop of Lancaster. She will be speaking about church planting at the New Wine Regional Leadership Conferences in Leicester and Leeds in March 2019.