I spent last week in Brazil speaking at the Fiel Conference in Aguas de Lindoia, a small resort town 100 miles outside of Sao Paulo, and in Salvador, a seaside city in the northeast. Spending seven days in a massive country of 200 million people hardly makes one qualified to pontificate about the “state of the church” there, let alone the nation as a whole. But hopefully a few reflections are still permissible—both for the benefit of those who have asked for my thoughts, and (more helpfully) for my own benefit as I think about what I saw and learned.
Let me summarize my (still forming) thoughts with four words.
1. Encouraging. Of course, the weather was sunny, the terrain beautiful, and the people warm and friendly. But in addition to these delights, I was very encouraged by the health and maturity of the church I encountered in Brazil. True, most of the country is still Roman Catholic (and often syncretistic) and health-wealth hocus pocus is running rampant in too many places. And yet, the church is growing in Brazil. Good evangelical, strongly biblical, Calvinistic churches and ministries are growing. If we run low on vibrant, conservative Presbyterians in the United States, we’ll be able to find scores of new ones in Brazil.
One person I talked to remarked that he thought the indigenous church in Brazil was as strong as anywhere else in the non-English speaking world (I imagine the Koreans might disagree). There are good seminaries with good scholars training good pastors to shepherd good and growing churches. From what I heard, more pastors are needed along with more confessionally orthodox professors trained at the highest levels of the academy. But I saw first hand, and learned first hand, from top notch Brazilian pastors and scholars. The conference was run by Brazilians. The first Brazilian systematic theology book has just been written. Brazil is a strong missions-sending country. The church has a growing appetite for good teaching and good books. I thank God for the work of the gospel in Brazil.
2. Faithfulness. I also thank God for missionaries and local leaders who sowed the seeds for the gospel harvest now growing in Brazil. Fiel Ministries is just one story, but it’s one worth noting. This was the 30th anniversary of the Fiel Conference. Over the past several decades Fiel has published good books, invested in new technologies (videos, blogs, social media), established good partnerships with ministries in the States, and helped support local pastors. And there are other ministries, publishing houses, seminaries, and denominations doing similar things. Will God allow you to see the same results in the little town or among the unreached or barely reached people you’re now serving? Only God knows. But if we stick around and if we keep sowing and if we keep our hand to the plow, God will certainly do more than we have eyes to see.
3. Evangelism. Speaking of sowing, whenever I get the privilege of rubbing shoulders with brothers and sisters from around the world, I’m inevitably impressed by their commitment to evangelism and a bit embarrassed by my own. What a joy it was to hear about the tens of thousands of R.C. Sproul books that were distributed by Brazilian Christians during the World Cup. And what a greater joy to hear one pastor speak of the more than a dozen new believers he was baptizing into his church as a result of this evangelistic outreach. Is a large scale book giveaway the best way to reach the lost in this country? Maybe, maybe not. But I can think of worse ways. Like not dreaming, planning, strategizing, or sharing anything at all.
4. Resources. If there is one thing I am always reminded of when I speak in another country it’s the importance of good training and good resources. What a gift theologically sound, pastorally wise, devotionally rich Christian publishing is to the world. Never underestimate the power of the printed word. And don’t underestimate the growing influence of the internet. Through the translation of good English materials and through the increasing production of their own online resources, the Brazilian church seems ahead of the curve when it comes to utilizing the web for the cause of Christ and the health of the church.
Which leads me to one final caution. While it’s certainly appropriate that those of us in America would tweet and blog and author books about issues affecting our immediate context, let us labor to think broadly and biblically about what we write. General works of theology, accessible commentaries, basic stuff on Christian discipleship, thoughtful pieces on pastoral ministry–these are the sorts of blogs and books that may not make you a bestseller or king of the clicks in America, but they will make you relevant to Christians twenty years from now and to Christians all over the world right now. Let’s keep the main things the main thing.