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Coming from a strict Dutch Reformed family, he felt a great burden for “the Lost,” so he went high up the Andes Mountains of Bolivia to share the Gospel. The indigenous people have adapted to living at extreme altitudes. With hardly any water, they neither bath nor wash their clothes. Instead, they wear multiple skirts—as many as nine layers. When the inner layer rots, they tear it away and add another layer on the outside. 

When he came to the U.S., the missionary, called Don Pedro by the Bolivians, shared with his family how people were coming to Christ. His aging aunt said, “What a big adjustment it must be for the natives to begin to bathe when they come to faith in Christ.” Don Pedro didn’t have the heart to tell his frail and ancient aunt that they didn’t begin to bathe. He knew her conservative Dutch Reformed paradigm didn’t have room for life that was different from “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” an unBiblical but prevalent conviction in his conservative family and church sphere. 

The incident made a big impact on him, and he continued in overseas missions for a total of sixteen years and made it his life’s work to study missions, evangelism, prayer, and the proclamation of the Gospel. Most people knew him as Dr. C. Peter Wagner. He became one of the leading teachers in Fuller Seminary’s Masters and Doctoral programs. He was one of my doctoral mentors. Peter was born on August 15, 1930, and died this week, a ripe and active minister of the Gospel almost to the very end of his eighty-six years of life. 

Peter was a good friend, and as with many others who knew him, he was a great encourager to me. More than anyone I have known, Peter had a gift for celebrating differences in people’s denominational settings, often saying that “put all together we get a better picture of what the church should be than just looking at one part.” My other favorite memory of him was his sense of humor. Peter would always start his lectures and presentations with a joke. Most of them were utterly lame but hysterical because he would get so tickled at himself and start laughing his way along the story, usually barely able to finish. I can’t count how many times his jokes ended with everyone in tears of laughter, not because of the joke itself but because of his “delivery.” 

  

 

 

 

 

 

C. Peter Wagner laughing at his own jokes. 

 

Just a few weeks ago, on the way to the airport to go to Africa, I was able to stop by and see him in the hospital. He was weak in body but mentally as sharp as ever. He remembered me fondly (and said to his wife Doris, “One of my best students”!! and then said, “Look at you now—a Bishop.”) I was able to pray with him and anoint him, realizing from his weakness that he was likely not long for this world. While I was in Africa, he was transferred home on hospice care, where he went to be with the Lord on the twenty-first of this month. 

Peter laid out a banquet of information in his classes and in the more than seventy books he wrote. Always a learner, he would research many new topics. For years when he was studying intercessory prayer, he would carry a stack of 3 x 5 index cards in his shirt pocket. Any time someone brought up a prayer request, he would log it in with the time and date and make notes about the prayers that people prayed to address that issue. He always said, “We need to follow up so this can be accountable. I want to find out what we can learn about praying and getting answers.”  

There is an old saying that “It’s the tall trees that catch the wind.” Peter was no exception. One funny topic that we batted around was his sense that apostolic ministry disappeared from about the third century until he and a couple others started talking about it in 1985. I would smile and prod him saying, “That is news to centuries of Bishops who have been fulfilling apostolic ministry.”  Nonetheless, Peter was wonderful about encouraging and releasing leaders into the vineyard into which they were called, equipped to do more than they could have ever done without meeting him. Many of those leaders who were impacted are all across the Anglican Communion. 

Losing Peter is a great loss both personally and certainly in the world of missions. God, however, knows “that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.” He always has a plan and has designed many ways for the Gospel to go forward. 

It is interesting to me that just as Peter was retiring from teaching at Fuller, another Christian was rising with an amazing anointing for mission. Born in Taiwan, Ying Kai went to Hong Kong toward the end of 1994. Raised in Taiwan, Kai’s heart language was Mandarin. Hong Kong’s dominant language is Cantonese, which has many cognates but is quite different. He confessed that his Cantonese was not very good, but he was still able to plant a church. High-energy church planters talk about planting a church every five years or so. Kai and his wife Grace did substantially better than that, planting a new church every year.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ying Kai and his wife Grace

 

In 1999, he took a year-long furlough. During that time, his overseer pointed out that Hong Kong had 147 Baptist churches already. “Hong Kong doesn’t need you,” he said. But there are other places where there is desperate need. A businessman who was a church member invited Kai to go with him to a country that was notoriously hostile to mission work and church planting. Though he didn’t want to go, eventually he did. Riding the train, they passed factory after factory. The business man said, “That factory has 10,000 workers.” Another, he said, has 30,000. “These people need the Gospel,” he said. 

Kai realized that he was leading 40-60 people to the Lord each year in his church-planting model. That didn’t even make a dent in the population of the repressive nation he had visited. Convicted that he needed to reach all the people and not just a few, he looked at the Great Commission afresh and saw the pattern that God had already laid out a plan—and it was very different from what churches had been doing. He isolated these principles: 

• Go, not come. Jesus said, “Go!” Something stirred in my heart. Before, when I pastored the church, we said to people, “Welcome, our door is open.” We prayed for people to come. But Jesus said, “Go!”  It is very difficult to invite people to come. People don’t know what your church is; they don’t know you. They don’t know anything. It’s very difficult to get people to come. But Jesus said, “Go!” I was wrong. Instead of inviting people to come, I needed to go out and find them, to touch them, to talk to them. I think the first key word is “GO, not come.”

• Everybody, not just some. What does Jesus say next? He says to go to all nations. That means everybody. But before, we always chose people. We would think, “This person is very ugly. Don’t give anything to him. But this other person is very nice.” We tend to choose who we think will respond to the Gospel.  Jesus said, “Don’t just choose some. Go to everybody.” Jesus gave the example: one farmer went outside to sow the seeds. He is a farmer; he knows which soil is good and which is bad. But this farmer is very strange. He throws the seeds everywhere. Some of the soil is very shallow, some of the soil is very hard and some of the soil is choked with weeds. However, some of the land is good, and God multiplies the fruit 30, 60, and 100 times. Sowing the seed is our responsibility. Only the Holy Spirit can make the seeds grow. So don’t miss any chance. Don’t miss anybody. Even right now, the soil may not be good. But one day, God can change the soil; we never know. We can’t miss any chance. The second word is EVERYBODY, not just some.

• Make trainers, not just church members. Third, what did Jesus invite His followers to become? Disciples. Not simply church members. A disciple must learn everything that his teacher teaches him. Then he needs to follow and to teach other people. My previous way of doing things was different. As a pastor, I had hoped for my congregation to double in size, but that’s not what Jesus commanded. If you have many church members, you know that you only see some of your church members once a year. A lot of church members will try to find you if they are having a difficult time, but the rest of the year, you have little direct contact with them.  But this wasn’t what Jesus had in mind. He wants every person to become His disciple.  So go, share the Gospel with everybody, and lead them to become disciples. Essentially Jesus said, “What I teach you, you need to teach them, and let them obey.” Jesus teaches us to obey, then expects us to teach the disciples to obey also. They must obey all the commands, including the Great Commission. Then Jesus said, “I will be with you until the end of the world.” This is a promise. If we want God’s promise, then first we need to obey Jesus’ Great Commission.  A disciple should be a trainer of others. So the third key word is TRAINER, not just a church member.

(From t4tglobalmissions.org t4t is “Training for Trainers.”)

By focusing on training people who will in turn train people, Kai has articulated the difference between addition in the Kingdom of God and multiplication. He speaks about Training for Trainers. In November 2000, he began with about 30 people. In just three months, 200 people had come to faith in Christ and were meeting every week in small groups following the three principles above. The small group meetings revolve around three simple activities as well. 

LOOK BACK. Pastoral care. Trainees ask each other, “How are you doing?” and take time to minister to one another’s needs in prayer, biblical counseling, and encouragement.

Informal worship. Trainees praise God in a culturally appropriate and reproducible way. It could be prayer or singing, with or without an instrument or mp3 player. Some groups read the Psalms out loud.

Accountability. Trainees share in mutual loving accountability about how they have been following Jesus (obeying the previous meeting’s Bible lesson) and being fishers of men (witnessing to and training others) since the last meeting.

Vision casting. Trainees are reminded what God has designed them to become and what he plans to do through them.

LOOK UP. Trainees receive enough biblical content to obey and pass on to others. After a series of six basic discipleship lessons, participants learn how to do inductive Bible study by asking the following questions: 

  What does it say? 

  What can I obey? 

  What will I share with others?

LOOK FORWARD. Practice. Trainees spend time practicing what they have learned, gaining confidence and competence to pass it on to others. Goals and prayer. Trainees set goals for how to obey the lesson and to take the next steps in witnessing and training others; then they recommission each other through prayer.

These simple steps are bringing millions of people into a relationship with Jesus Christ. One leader told me that he would match the maturity of his leaders who are participating in these small groups, being equipped, discipled, and commissioned to share their faith, and debriefing the next week in comparison with Christians trained in any other environment. He said he is confident that they are developing deep maturity as they actually do the work of the Great Commission under the leadership of a trainer. The model has a lot to commend it. Obviously, there are additional things to talk about such as the sacraments and life in the Body of Christ that we understand from the historic church perspective, but we can sure use the fire, excitement, and fruit of this kind of disciple—making! 

I’m particularly proud of the front-line missionaries that we have who are actually doing this. The fruit is amazing, and there is much to commend it. With GAFCON and Global South cooperating in mission and ministry, this is the kind of approach that can be released. Even when very influential leaders pass away, God has arranged for others to pick up the Kingdom baton.

It may look a lot different, but Kingdom fruit continues.