Fellowship International has been shifting from a church planting model to a disciple-making model.
Ben Porter is the new director of Fellowship International, the mission agency of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches. The agency sends out missionaries both nationally and internationally to unreached people groups (where less than two per cent are Evangelicals). Porter has been mentored into the position over the past few years, and is now using his passion for strategy and vision to implement models created under the previous director, Dave Marttunen.
“What I’m trusting God with,” Porter says, “is the implementation plan of this new vision. I’m coming in to say, ‘Here’s the game plan for us to attain the goal.’ ”
Porter plans to meet individually with Fellowship International’s almost 90 missionaries to learn their strengths, gifts and passions. “It’s a sensitivity to what [God wants] them to do so I’m not fighting against God. I want to be in line with what God wants them to do and [how that works] with our vision.”
Fellowship International has been shifting from a church planting model to a disciple-making model which is designed to send people to people rather than people to pastor. While the end goal is to have more churches, Porter explains, it is important to use a model that can reproduce and grow on its own.
“It’s very easy to replicate a small group 100 times versus build a building and try to bring people to an amazing preacher and sustain that. It doesn’t mean you can’t grow to that – it’s just a different way of doing it out of the gate. The bottom line is that we’ve switched to an exciting new model which is, at the centre of it, reproduceable.”
Porter explains that “as non-believers are coming to know Christ through reading the Scripture and internalizing it in these small groups, they begin to realize that what is modelled in this group” can then be reproduced among their friends and family.
Since Porter’s appointment became effective in June, new systems for recruitment (broadening the recruitment and communication window), training (at the master’s level and through free YouTube-style videos) and coaching (experienced missionaries coaching new missionaries) have been developed.
Fellowship International’s coaching is “missionaries coaching one another, keeping each other on track for the vision and the goal of disciple-making movements. So, through these coaching circles that we are developing, everybody is going to be connected to everybody, learning from each other, praying for each other, in community with each other – locally and globally.”
“In the Great Commission a lot of people will put the emphasis on ‘go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ [Matthew 27:17–20], but often times you run past that sentence where Jesus is saying, ‘I am with you always.’ Every step, every breath, He is with you, always.”
“If you focus on ‘I’ve got to plant a thousand churches,’ it’s on you, and the fear of failure goes down deep, and you really believe you can’t do that.” That fear is wrong, says Porter, because the disciple-making model is trial and error. Failure is involved.
“Despite rejection, or what the world would say is failure, you’re not [actually] failing because you are being obedient and your identity is in Christ.” He adds that being “willing to take the risk and be obedient to see what God is going to do is incredibly exciting.”
Porter takes inspiration from Acts 11:5–9, which records Peter’s vision of a sheet coming down from heaven, full of animals that God’s people were told in the Old Testament not to eat, but that Peter is now instructed to eat. Global evangelism is not usually the first thing that comes to mind here. Porter explains: “It wasn’t just about [the] foods. Peter had to make a decision: Am I willing to be obedient to then love?”
Everything comes back to love – including Porter’s experience in 2010 as co-founder of Love Is Moving, a young adult initiative based since 2015 at The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Porter lived in Willowdale, Ont., in those years, working first as a family therapist and then pastoring a congregation. Being mentored and growing as a leader in that time helped equip him for his new role as director of Fellowship International. He now lives in Guelph, Ont., where the agency has offices.
“If you want to join in global evangelism, the question that should be put in front of you is: How could you begin to think through your participation in the work of sharing the gospel? That’s a lifestyle change – it’s a worldview change from sitting and listening to the preacher to, ‘I have the Holy Spirit, I can go out.’ “
“It’s about me being genuine and allowing the Holy Spirit to work through me.” Porter says we need to ask ourselves, “if Christ has died for me, then how am I going to live that?”
Global evangelism is an enormous task. Porter says that “the workers are few, yes, but there could be a lot more participating.”
“How would you catalyze those two billion Christians? Because if you could do that, you would really unlock evangelism on a whole other scale.”
Bethany Brown is an intern at Faith Today and a translation student at the University of Ottawa.