I enjoy Latin American culture. It is complicated, unique, fascinating. Latinos are known as warm, vibrant, and gracious people. As a Texan, where Anglos have ceased to be a majority and three out of every ten Texans speaks Spanish, 1 I feel a greater connection to my Latino friends than maybe those not from the Southwestern United States. Indeed, our “national” food in the Lone Star State is a marriage between cultures: Tex-Mex. I’ve even begun to teach myself Spanish over the last few years. I not only find it a beautiful language but one that better connects me to my Latino friends. So, when I was asked to go to Central America to connect with potential church planters, I jumped at the chance.

Last week I had the privilege of being a part of Plantadores, the first Acts 29 Network Conference held in Spanish-speaking Latin America. The conference was hosted in Guatemala City at Casa de Libertad, an Acts 29 member church led by Pastor Francisco Bendfeldt. He and Jay Bauman, an Acts 29 pastor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are co-directors of the fledgling Acts 29 Latin American region. In my two days spent at the conference, I was blown away by what I experienced.

The first thing I noticed was the passion Francisco and his team at Casa de Libertad had for planting gospel-centered churches all throughout Central America. It’s been said that much of Latin America is experiencing a wave of Protestantism unseen in a history dominated by colonial Catholicism. Today, Latin American countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, and others boast of a population that surveys itself as 40 to 50% Christian. But these numbers can be somewhat misleading. The predominant Christian influence is Pentecostalism and, from what one hears, most is of the dangerous prosperity gospel. For example, I was told that 90% of Guatemalans who identify themselves as Christians believe that the ‘health/wealth’ message of the prosperity movement is sound biblical, Christianity. This notion was affirmed in many other conversations with Hondurans, Venezuelans, and other Latin American pastors at the conference. This only served to deepen the resolve of Francisco and his team to develop and commission church planters from Casa in addition to raising the call to Central and South Americans to plant gospel-centered churches.

[L-R] Me, Byron Vaughn, Jay Bauman, Phil Taylor, Francisco Bendfeldt

The vibrancy of Christianity, which had been located in North America for the last few centuries, is now shifting to places like China, Africa, and the countries of Central and South America. This should call us to greater fervency to see gospel-centered works planted in these regions (and others) – even more so when we see the Spirit stir up men young and old who desire to plant churches in these areas. To wait is to allow other works to hamstring new converts through things like prosperity theology, the chains of legalism, or other harmful teachings. To enjoin the Acts 29 church planting movement (among others) is to be a voice for gospel-centrality, the sovereignty of God in salvation, and the multiplication of local churches. And with around 50% of all Hispanic adults in the US being foreign born, 2 helping plant churches in Latin America may be a chance to impact the United States for the gospel in the future.

It is for reasons like these, that my gratitude only deepened for Francisco, Jay, and the other men and women gathered for the purpose of planting gospel-centered congregations from Mexico to Argentina. It’s also why it felt, from an Acts 29 Network point of view, somewhat an historic moment to conclude the conference with an invitation for my fellow Latin American brothers to not only plant churches but to do so with Acts 29. From what I’m seeing and hearing from my Latin America friends, it seems like something really hopeful may be afoot. Oh that the Spirit of God would not only stir up a movement of church planters committed to planting healthy churches but believers in the United States and elsewhere who would be willing to give aid to that cause for the good of Christ’s church and the glory of God.

UPDATE (3/11/15): For a report on this conference from The Gospel Coalition

Notes:

  1. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/01/24/in-2014-latinos-will-surpass-whites-as-largest-racialethnic-group-in-california/
  2. http://www.pewhispanic.org/2014/04/29/hispanic-nativity-shift/

There are usually standard parts to a sermon. Introduction, body, and conclusion is a popular way to think about a sermon’s form. Preaching the biblical text also has standard elements known as exposition, illustration, and application. Each of these parts are important for a sermon. I want to address the application element. Often I hear applications that focus on the hearer as individual – something he or she can do by themselves to practice. However, I want to encourage preachers to not only have individualistic but corporate applications in their sermons. In other words, give your hearers practical steps that can only be accomplished by being a part of the local church. Let me give you some reasons why corporate applications are needful:

1. It affirms our identity as a people of God than merely individuals who Jesus saves.

Corporate applications better interpret the portions of the New Testament where Americans, weaned from birth on hyper-individualism, often read the “you” in the biblical text as singular when, more often than not, it’s plural. In Texas, we make this corporate distinction by saying “y’all” instead of “you.” Giving corporate applications continually points your listeners back to the “y’all-ness” of God’s work in Christ. More than picking out individuals who need to zip to Heaven when they die, Christ comes to redeem a people unto himself for kingdom work until he returns to consummate that kingdom. Consistently giving corporate applications continually tutors your listeners into this corporate gospel identity.

2. It encourages congregants OF a local church to live and serve in community AS a local church.

When we only give applications that can be accomplished without interfacing with the community of faith we hamstring the truth that God saved us to live in covenant community with him and his people. However, preaching corporate applications encourages attenders that engaging in the local church as followers of Jesus isn’t something peripheral or optional, but essential and vital for their spiritual formation. It helps them see that attending a local church service isn’t the same thing as being part of a local church. Therefore, preach sermons that demand living in community as a local body of Christ.

3. It mirrors the same spirit of application in the New Testament.

When one sees how many “y’all” applications the New Testament puts before us, having corporate applications within your own sermons better reflects the biblical nature of application. This doesn’t mean no applications for the individual as individual exist in the text of Scripture. They do. But adding ways your congregants apply the message “in community” rounds out a more biblical approach to applying God’s Word. Frankly, we should have applications-as-community because the New Testament applies itself in the same fashion.

I once had a woman come up to me and say, “Yancey, I really like your preaching except for one thing.” When I asked as to what that one thing was she answered, “Your sermons consistently demand I be a part of Clear Creek Community Church. But I like hearing sermons I can apply just on my own. I like messages where I can do them by myself.” For her, a message wasn’t practical if it demanded engagement with the local church. I want to argue, that preaching sermons with applications that rarely, if ever, necessitate one’s involvement in God’s covenant community aren’t nearly practical enough.

When you preach this Sunday, be sure in your applications to include the y’all.

This is my response for professed “mature Christians” who say they aren’t part of a local church because churches are full of hypocrites. Consequently they justify their three buddies at Starbucks every other Thursday as their “church.” Listen, don’t let your illusion of ideal Christian community keep you from experiencing actual Christian community within the local church. Are churches full of hypocrites? Yup. Join us. We have a seat for you. If you love Jesus, you have to love what Jesus loved. And, despite her foibles and faults, Jesus loves the local church.