The Rise of Indigenous Jesus Movements | Joel News

The Rise of Indigenous Jesus Movements from Joel News
Posted on August 21st, 2011
JOEL NEWS INTERNATIONAL 784 | 17 AUGUST 2011

It’s a growing global phenomenon: the rise of indigenous ‘Jesus movements’ in the Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist parts of the world, and among Jewish communities and tribal cultures. Many people come to faith in Jesus and start following Him, but choose to remain within the cultural contexts of their birth. They don’t convert to (western) Christianity and churches, but form small groups that often multiply and develop into a movement.

An inspiring example are the Jesus followers within Judaism. “Increasing numbers of Jews are learning to follow Jesus faithfully and form small groups for fellowship, but stay within their traditional synagogue communities,” says Gavriel Gefen (photo), who is part of this grassroots movement in Israel. He recently also visited a movement initiated by a Muslim follower of Jesus who is a tribal chief. “This movement has since spread throughout his country and beyond. During my visit, I met a number of Muslim religious leaders who are fervently devoted to Jesus. I also witnessed some of them teaching publicly about the forgiveness of Jesus to large groups. It was very powerful.”

“Thousands of Muslim men were taught on the forgiveness of Jesus.”

“One Muslim training center I visited had thousands of men. One of the senior teachers there follows Jesus and teaches openly about Him every day. He is so traditional that it is understood he is not seeking to convert anyone to Christianity. He is challenging them to reclaim Jesus as the Word of God, the renewer of their faith, and the one without whom their people have no hope. The vast majority of Muslims in that training center do not follow Jesus; yet, a good number of them do and also serve in village mosques throughout the region. During my visit, a number of men returning from their service in different villages shared reports with each other. They had been teaching about the forgiveness of Jesus. In some of these villages, those who have accepted Jesus now meet together in small groups.”

“It was clear that these men know Jesus in all his fullness,” reports Gefen. “The testimony of their lives is not one of compromise. It is not their objective to avoid persecution. The way they live out their faith is not an easier, less authentic way, as some people might accuse. Rather, their path of following Jesus is a harder one and a higher one. By remaining within Islam, they are not seeking acceptance for themselves. They seek to express to their people that Jesus accepts them right where they are, and that they can faithfully follow him within their community and their family of birth.”

“The Kingdom of God grows like yeast from within and confronts the culture with the message of Jesus.”

“When a Jesus movement like this is born within another culture, the believers there will go through their own process of confronting their culture with the message of Jesus,” explains Gefen. “There will be some cultural expressions and traditions in which they can rightly continue only by redirecting the focus and giving them new meaning. In this process of renewing their culture, they may discover that there are some cultural expressions in which they can no longer engage as followers of Jesus. I believe that the message of Jesus was never intended to be spread by means of cultural conquest. I am convinced that Jesus’ message will increasingly spread among peoples of other faith traditions only as God’s kingdom grows like yeast from within.”

John Ridgway, an international consultant to pioneer missions organizations, explains that this is a basic missionary principle: “Our tendency has often been to draw individuals out of their family and community and ask them to join another community that professes Christianity, rather than to disciple them in their own context where they can reach their own family members, relatives, friends and work colleagues.” Jesus and Paul modelled this kind of indigenous mission and ministered to people right where they were. “If the Samaritan woman had been extracted out of her own community, it is doubtful that such an impact (many Samaritans started following Jesus) would have occurred.”

“Outside control of indigenous Jesus movements leads to disaster.”

“If these people remain faithful to Jesus, the potential for impacting the major blocks of unreached peoples in the world is enormous,” says Rick Wood, editor of Mission Frontiers, who dedicated a special edition of his magazine to these movements. He also issues a warning to the western church: “These indigenous Jesus movements need to be left to flourish on their own without the kind of outside influence or control that could rob them of their indigenous character, multiplication potential, and even endanger lives.”

Historian and missionary Rebecca Lewis agrees. “Attempts to judge and control Jesus movements by Christian leaders residing in other cultures have almost without exception had disastrous consequences.” She draws more lessions from history by pointing out potential pitfalls of Jesus movements. Lack of access to Scripture in their own language for example can lead to syncretism, so it’s crucial to provide this.

“Jesus movements are characterized by reproductive discipleship.”

Robby Butler, who served at the US Center for World Mission, studied Jesus movements and points out some common characteristics. “They cultivate scattering to family, friends and workplace (for multiplication), which maximizes the church’s local engagement. They equip reproductive disciplers rather than entertaining passive church audiences, and focus on obediently going where Christ is not yet named.” He also observes that these movements generally don’t start orphanages, but prefer adoption. “The leaders are increasingly opening their homes to needy children, and their example could lead toward the placement of all needy children in families.”

“The effective Indian leaders I met have abandoned the ‘driven-ness’ common among Christian workers to become relaxed, relational disciplemakers. Instead of living to ‘prove’ their worthiness and need for a building and a salary, these leaders are becoming bivocational and discipling just a few, who disciple others, in more generations than they can track. The result is a more effective testimony to the abundant life Christ offers now.”

Butler gives a few examples: “One man has a disciple in each of twelve districts of his state. Each month they all meet in a different district for five days of prayer and planning, learning from and supporting one another in their oversight of rapidly multiplying house churches. Together they estimate that 100,000 people have been baptized through this network. Another man once worked 16-hour days overseeing a region for his denomination. After learning to multiply disciples through house churches, he encouraged 100 fellow pastors to start house churches; 619 were started in three months’ time.”

Source: Gavriel Gefen, John Ridgway, Rick Wood, Rebecca Lewis and Robby Butler, quoted in Mission Frontiers, May-June 2011

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