Monday, January 22, 2007

Nurturing Your Church into A Sending People!

Part 1

- Mike Fritscher, Pastor

Cottonwood is a rural church in north Texas. It stands on a 21 mile stretch on Hwy 6 between the towns of Dublin and Hico. That stretch of highway boasts of about two homes per mile! When JonAnne and I first drove up on the place in 1984 we couldn’t even see the building because of the growth of trees and brush around the fence lines. Even today the parking lot is more of a pasture than anything and the buildings are small and nothing special. The cemetery next to the church and the smell of dairy cows is a continual reminder that this city boy from New Orleans is still in the middle of nowhere! But the God who does extraordinary things is not limited to what some would deem as an insignificant place in the middle of nowhere.

As a seminary student in the mid 80s, I came to pastor and preach to the thirty or so men and women who gathered here on Sundays and Wednesdays. With 18 months remaining of seminary I just knew that I would soon be gone to pursue the life long dream of suburban ministry in major metropolitan areas of the country. But with graduation completed and the look for what was next, God said “stay” and I died to boyhood dreams of a significant ministry in the city. After all, what kind of significant impact could a small church have in the middle of rural Texas? A place where the attendance was never over thirty except for the yearly homecoming? In exchange I asked God for two things. That God would satisfy us with His presence and that this small church called Cottonwood would love one another! God answered those prayers!

Sometime in 1989 we began to ask God, “Lord what could You do through a small rural church?" With attendance hovering at 40, we also began to ask that God would bring hungry families who wanted to move on in their Christian life. I began to preach a message that spoke of God’s desire to conform us into the image of Christ and a pursuit of the glory of God in our lives. This life would simply reflect God’s glory as we sought to love God with everything we were and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The body began to grow, as broken, hurting people with a hunger for the things of the kingdom began to come!

In 1998 God began to do a work that would bring God’s glory and His mission front and center in the life of Cottonwood. I had lost interest in “missions” years before after an unpleasant trip overseas, so the extent of Cottonwood’s missions was a yearly offering to an organization that would “send” the missionaries for us. Through a series of events I invited Mike Stroope to come and share with our body on what God was doing in the nations. That winter Sunday in 1999 Cottonwood responded to the message of pursuing God’s glory to the ends of the earth. Mike’s challenge was simple: “If you will pursue God’s glory to the ends of the earth God will fill up everything in between!” An hour and a half of discussion and prayer ended with a resounding “yes” from the 150 gathered that evening.

Within a few months our hearts were turned toward a country in SE Asia with the distinct belief that there was an unreached people group with Cottonwood’s name on it. Two trips later we adopted an unreached people group in Southeast Asia and began sending our folks on short term trips. Within the year Cottonwood sent three couples to live amongst this group of 1.4 million who had never heard the name Jesus!

Now, eight years later we have sent 125 of our people on short term trips to SE Asia. We have one couple and one single living there with one family and a couple of singles preparing to go. We have seen a church growth movement amongst these people in which several thousand people have come to the Lord and now meet in several hundred underground churches. We have adopted the Tarahumara of Mexico, an isolated and unreached people group of 80,000 people spread across a canyon system that boasts of three eco systems and villages that one can only get to by foot. We have sent 100 of our people during the last six months to feed 900 families corn, potatoes and beans who were effected by a recent drought and famine conditions. We are preparing to send a team to this region that will spend their lives reaching this group for Christ. With the adoption of the island of Zanzibar, a beginning work in Botswana Africa and continued work amongst the Navajo of Arizona we have truly become a sending community, having sent over 400 people to these various areas!

Just last week I sat and prayed with 12 young men and women who are called to pursue God’s glory to the ends of the earth. This year, the Lord willing, we will send three families and two singles to the various works Cottonwood has adopted. There are nearly 30 people in our body who have sensed a call to the nations. With this call on our lives as a church, our people are increasingly seeing themselves as a sent people! Whether it is across the pasture, state line, border or ocean we are truly becoming a sending community! Two weeks ago we had seven nations represented in our Sunday morning service: Peoples from Taiwan, Mexico, Mainland China, Liberia, Ghana, Tanzania and Kenya! God is truly filling up everything in between.

Next time we will speak more specifically to how we nurture our church into becoming a “Sending Community”.


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