2005 goal has MBC church planters contemplating pancakes, waffles, tribes
By Allen Palmeri
February 8, 2005
JEFFERSON CITY – As the church planting department of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) strives to plant 100 churches this year, it does so with a philosophy that is designed to get more Missouri Baptist churches thinking a different way.
For John Mark Clifton, MBC church planting specialist in Kansas City, this means thinking about pancakes and waffles. For Ben Hess, MBC church planting specialist in St. Louis, it means thinking about tribes. Pancakes, waffles and tribes represent how the entire department is approaching its work, according to MBC State Church Planting Director Jerry Field.
“You take a pancake and you pour syrup on it and it flows evenly across,” Clifton said. “That’s how we think of doing church sometime—we just spread the Gospel in a city and the whole city gets it. But the city’s not a pancake. It’s a waffle. And each pocket of a waffle is a different, identifiable people group, and we have to be intentional about putting the Gospel in every people group.”
Clifton connects each pocket of the waffle to the New Testament word for “nations,” a Greek word that means “group.” It is the same word for a herd of cattle or a swarm of bees, he said.
“The reason church planting in the 21st century in the United States is so explosive is that we’ve got more swarms, herds and groups of people than we’ve ever had,” he said.
Clifton said when one looks at a waffle from above, one can see the empty pockets. This is how Field wants his church planting specialists to do ministry in a bid to reach 100 starts in 2005.
“In Missouri, those indentations represent different kinds of people groupings that we might call tribes,” Field said. “It might be cowboys, bikers or these young, postmodern, kind of antagonistic folks that are anti-institutional, anti-traditional anything. Instead of just saying, ‘One size fits all, come be a part of us,’ we’ve got to go to them and understand who they are so that we can present the unadulterated Gospel to them in a way that they can hear, understand and respond. That’s the approach that we’re taking.”
Tribe is the word that Hess, who served as a Southern Baptist missionary to Kenya from 1982-1993, prefers. Most of his work in Africa was done with three tribes who all communicated a bit differently.
“I had to learn those different dialects in order to communicate in their heart language,” Hess said.
He’s doing the same thing now as a church planting specialist, learning, like the Apostle Peter, to let go of his particular prejudices so that churches can be planted in several tribes. Hess said it is important for Missouri Baptist churches to apply principles from Acts 10, where God used a vision to help Peter overcome his prejudices against the Gentiles so that churches could be planted in different pockets of the waffle, so to speak.
“Finally Peter understood that God was saying, ‘Listen, I don’t care what your tradition is, I’m telling you that you’ve got to get over some of those prejudices that you have,’” Hess said. “And so Peter heard a knock downstairs and it was Gentiles who he would not eat with. He ended up starting the Gentile church, which is very important to us. If he hadn’t gotten over those prejudices, we’d never have heard the Gospel as the outsider Gentiles that we are.”
Hess noted how a friend, Randy Windham, a member of Cross Keys Baptist Church, Florissant, put this philosophy to work when he met a member of a biker tribe named “Big Jim.” Windham led “Big Jim” to Christ, and the biker, in turn, invited him to his house to meet other members of the tribe. Windham, like Peter, chose to get over his prejudices in order that the Gospel could be advanced in a waffle-like manner.
“Randy had to get over some things,” Hess said. “I have to get over some things. I love those guys, Randy loves them, and those bikers, they know when you love them. So you just have to get over those barriers that your culture, your worldview, has put up there and let God say, ‘Listen, I died for those people!’”
Clifton said when Missouri Baptist churches stop seeing pancakes and start seeing waffles, progress will be made. Directors of missions must work with strong sponsoring churches within their associations to fill up their waffle with the syrup of new church plants.
“Associations can really help us get the picture of the whole region,” Clifton said. “So the issue isn’t that we get our pocket filled up. The issue is that we make sure every pocket has the Gospel in it, every people group is reached.”