My perspective on ministry and the world has led me to some strong convictions about the relationship between Bible translation and church planting. I believe that an understandable and accurate Bible translation is "an essential tool" for effective church planting!
I assume that our readers agree that church planting is a key part of missionary outreach, advancing the cause of Jesus around the world. Church planting fulfills all of Jesus' expectations for His followers as stated in what we call the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). Church planting is the full-orbed embodiment of Great Commission ministry, for it involves going, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching/training.
But how does a missionary accomplish those things without an accurate Bible translation in the language understood by the local people? As I think back on how my strong convictions on this subject have developed, two personal conversations stand out in my memory from my years working with Bibles International:
First, I spoke to a leader in another mission agency, seeking to promote the possibility of our assisting them with Bible translations for languages they encounter on their fields. His (paraphrased) response was, "Our missionaries just use their English Bibles in their preaching and teaching, explaining its meaning in the local language as they go. That's working fine for them, so I don’t think we would be interested in doing Bible translations, with all the time, work and expense that would involve." Really?! Instead of giving the people God's Word carefully translated into their own language, is it sufficient to maintain a long-term strategy of translating the text impromptu as you preach, hoping that you will get it right the first time it comes out of your mouth?
Second, in conversation with a missionary church planter in the Philippines, he explained his frustration with using inadequate translations in a certain language. "As a church planter wanting to teach God's truth accurately, it puts me at a great disadvantage to have to use a Bible translation in the local language that is only a paraphrase of God's Word or a translation full of errors. I have to re-explain everything!" He expressed his great excitement about the fact that, finally, someone (BI) had produced a careful New Testament translation based on the original Biblical language text. "This will make all the difference in my ministry!" he exulted.
I say again, an understandable and accurate Bible translation is "an essential tool" for effective church planting. It is essential for the following reasons:
We have observed that too many Bible translators focus on producing translations that can be clearly understood by the local people, with a willingness to sacrifice a bit of accuracy in the process. But the whole purpose of "translation" is to communicate in the local language what the original speaker said. A Bible translator shouldn't decide what he himself wants to say; his work is to accurately convey what God said when His inspired message was first given to man.
I believe that church planting requires a Bible that is both understandable and accurate. That's why I believe in the way Bibles International does Bible translation!