Like wind in the sails of a boat, I have seen how mission information has the power to move the Body of Christ to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission to disciple all nations. Leaders desperately need this kind of information, but often they are too busy to gather the data and analyze it. You can provide a vital service by placing this strategic mission information in their hands. As Bob Waymire, a highly respected leader in mission research, says:
The right information the right hands at the right time has a powerful effect.
This “right information,” because of its powerful effect, has been likened to a “prophetic message.” Here I explain how to develop a “prophetic message” or national challenge from research information. I also created a short video that outlines this process.
The Prophetic Message in Mission Research
As far as I can tell, the term “prophetic message” was first applied to mission research by Jim Montgomery, who began his missionary career in the Philippines. In 1989 Montgomery published a significant book entitled DAWN 2000, which includes an entire chapter on “the prophetic message.” Although Montgomery was likely the first to apply the term “prophetic message” to church planting, he was standing on the shoulders of biblical prophets, other mission pioneers, and Jesus himself.
Jesus shows the way
The best example I’ve found of how to use research information to develop a prophetic message is found in Matthew 9:35-38. This passage significantly shaped Montgomery’s understanding of how to use research information to develop a prophetic message. Let’s familiarize ourselves with this passage.
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
In this passage we see Jesus taking three distinct “actions” regarding mission information:
First, we see Jesus gathering data about his ministry area. “Jesus went through all the towns and villages…. He saw the crowds.” Following Jesus’ example, while doing ministry, you can gather data that will be used to mobilize others in the Body of Christ. Gathering data is sometimes called Field Research.
Second, we see Jesus analyzing the data and drawing conclusions. I will say much more about this.
And third, we see Jesus communicating the “prophetic message” to his disciples, calling them to action.
Analyzing Mission Information
We will mainly focus on analyzing mission information as this helps us hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches (Rev. 2:7). Montgomery identified two categories of mission information, drawn from this very passage, that are building blocks for the prophetic message.
The Harvest Field: The Community or Country
We will call the first building block of information the Harvest Field. Note that is this comes from the last two words of the passage.
The Harvest Field represents the context for making disciples. I like to think of Harvest Field as a Community or Country – although I have some colleagues who have multi-national regions or entire Continents as their “Harvest Field.”
This Matthew 9 passage guides us in analyzing the Harvest Field. First, Jesus noted that the harvest was plentiful. How did he know this? Well the previous verse mentions that “he saw the crowds”– multitudes of people were coming to Jesus. This indicates that they were receptive. It is important to determine how receptive people are to the Gospel. Realize that “receptiveness” can change over time and should be reassessed.
Jesus also identified the needs of the people in his “Harvest Field.” A colleague pointed out to me that Jesus met the people’s spiritual needs, as he taught in their synagogues and preached to them the gospel of the kingdom. He also addressed their physical needs (healing every sickness and disease), he was moved with compassion by their psychological needs (as they were harassed and helpless), and he saw their need for servant leaders (for they were like sheep without a shepherd).
So then, a second part of our analysis seeks to identify needs in the community we are seeking to impact with the Gospel. This reminds me of what Paul wrote to Titus: “Our people must learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful” (Titus 3:14 NASB). Fruitful ministry meets people’s needs in a wholistic way – the same way that Jesus did.
In further analyzing the Harvest Field, we want to find out the population of a region, identify people groups that live there and their religious affiliation. We will also want to know about the cities, towns and villages in an area and their respective populations. This requires us to have up to date demographic information. Fortunately, this kind of information is widely available today.
The Harvest Force: The Church or Institutional Research
Jesus points to a second building block that we need to develop a prophetic message when he says, “The workers are few….” Montgomery also refers to “the workers” as the Harvest Force. We can also think of the Harvest Force as the Church – with a Big “C”. Our research about the Harvest Force begins with gathering information about local churches but goes deeper to include missionaries, Christian organizations, theological training institutions – all the human, material and organizational resources that potentially can be mobilized to make disciples.
When I assisted with the nationwide church census in Romania, we gathered information about the number of believers, average attendance, the church’s location, its denomination, the year the church started and contact information for the church’s leader. From this information we determined growth rates. And we identified communities without a single church – over 10,000 in the whole nation. Alongside this information we also compiled a Directory of Christian Organizations and Christian workers. This information was very helpful in determining what resources were available in various parts of the county to make disciples.
Facts, Factors and Future Trends
Once we have the FACTS for the Harvest Force and the Harvest Field, we can compare information for different regions or denominations and begin to see where there is greater fruitfulness. Sometimes as I’m doing analysis, I exclaim, “Wow! I wonder what is happening here to produce so much fruit?”
Unfortunately, the FACTS alone are not sufficient to answer these deeper questions. We need to discover the FACTORS that help or hinder growth. To discover these GROWTH FACTORS, it is necessary to talk to the people closest to the situation and find out what they are doing – or better put, what God is doing. How exciting this is to hear their stories and discover how God is at work! We also discover what fruitful practices or methods workers are using. What we are doing here is known as a case study.
Sometimes people have effectively used FUTURE TRENDS to clarify what to do. For example, in the Philippines, church leaders projected that there would be 50,000 barangays in the country by the year 2000. (A barangay is the smallest administrative area in the Philippines). Establishing a church in every barangay became their national challenge.
What Does God Want?
Once we have identified facts and factors for the Harvest Field and the Harvest Force, we want to seek God’s Perspective. Lay the information for the Harvest Force and the Harvest Field side by side with the Bible and ask: what does God want? Meditate on the data. Pray over it. Call out for insight. The goal is to see the Harvest Field and the Harvest Force the way God sees them. This is powerful. Doing so brings new insights. Needs emerge. Compassion is stirred. People are motivated to act. Which leads to…
The Call to Action
Note that Matthew 9 concludes with a specific call to action. “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his Harvest Field.” In this context, strategic prayer represents the next step Jesus’ disciples needed to take. Prayer is always a good place to start. But it is not the only thing we must do.
The “call to action” has also been called the “prophetic message” or the “national challenge.”
The Call to Action emerges as leaders of the Body of Christ wrestle with “what is it going to take” to accomplish what God wants. Oftentimes the call to action involves setting goals for a specific number of churches planted – or better yet, the number of localities or people groups to impact – training workers or sending out cross-cultural workers. If you have not done so already, bring together leaders of the body of Christ, to learn what insights the research uncovered, then to pray and to wrestle with what it is going to take to do what God wants.
As leaders come to a consensus of what to do, it is time to share this call to action with the Body of Christ. Many have found it that articles, reports, booklets, prayer guides or short videos have a big impact. Publishing lists of locations without any church or maps are powerful ways to share needs with the Body of Christ and her leaders.
A Deeply Spiritual Process
Discovering the “national challenge” or “prophetic message” is a deeply spiritual process which drives you to God. Recently I was impressed by this verse in 1 Kings: “God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore.” (1 Kings 4:29 NIV)
When you know the facts, you have understanding.
When you identify factors, then you have insight.
When you know what to do, then you have wisdom.
In Solomon’s case, God gave all this to him because he asked. And God can give all of this to us if we ask. As James 1:5 reminds us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (NIV)
So, ask God to show you the great things he wants to do in the Harvest Field (Jer. 33:3). “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7).
I have briefly shared how to use research information to develop a prophetic message or national challenge. As you start to implement what you have learned, I believe you will find it helpful to have other resources to guide you.
First, the Global Research Team of One Challenge, on which I serve, is available to help you understand the times and know what to do. It is our dream that God would raise up a team of mission information workers in every nation of the world to provide the Body of Christ with accurate, up-to-date information to guide Kingdom Impact on a permanent basis. Perhaps you will be a part of one of these teams. Toward this end, we offer training, consulting, coaching and mentoring. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org to explore how we can work together.
Second, our website, www.OCresearch.info provides additional tips and tools to gather and analyze information to develop effective ministry strategies. This article links to resources that I have found most helpful in using research information to develop a prophetic message.
May God give you wisdom, insight and vast understanding as you provide Body of Christ and her leaders with the strategic information needed to make disciples in His harvest field.