When seminary graduates tell Bishop João Carlos Lopes they want to be a pastor, he replies that he doesn’t have a church appointment for them, instead he has a challenge. Using the community church planting model, Bishop Lopes invites future pastors to find a person who is willing to host a church gathering in their home or place of business. As the gospel is preached and relationships are formed, the church grows and new churches are planted. To date, Bishop Lopes has helped with 130 churches and 70 church plants.
“Church planting doesn’t happen in the pastor’s office,” Bishop Lopes said. “Church planting happens on the street where the unbelievers are. New pastors have all the time in the world plus a salary to go share the gospel. I challenge them by saying: ‘You’re a Christian. You’re on fire for Jesus. Otherwise, you would not have gone to the seminary. So go, you do your work, and we will pay for you to share the gospel and later we will give you the title.’”
Bishop Lopes oversees 200 pastors and 10 district superintendents in the state of Parana and Santa Catarina in Brazil. In addition to presiding over the administrative business of the church, he is responsible to care for his pastors physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Bishop Lopes believes that discipleship is all about forming relationships. As his pastors seek to reach unbelievers, he’s created systems to strengthen them within Christian community. He created fellowship groups of five to provide space for his pastors to make friends, talk about their families, and engage in life’s journey together.
“Planting churches requires conviction and sacrifice,” he said. “When somebody says, ‘I want to go plant a church,’ we have systems in place to care for this person, because it’s a very strong fight against discouragement.”
Bishop Lopes personally encountered Christ and accepted his call to preach at 17. After serving in the army, he earned a bachelor’s degree at 23. At age 25, he became an elder within his church and at 27, he came to Asbury Seminary.
“I came to Asbury Seminary to further my education so that I could give leadership and teach pastors in Brazil,” he said.
Bishop Lopes has served as a Bishop in the United Methodist Church in Brazil for 24 years. He received an M.Div. and Doctor of Missiology from Asbury Seminary in 1989 and 1990 respectively. In addition to planting churches in Brazil, Bishop Lopes has equipped pastors to plant churches in Peru, Panama, Kenya and Manchester.
“We hope that many leaders, pastors, and Latin Americans, especially Brazil, will make themselves available to plant new churches,” Bishop Lopes said. “To me, effective evangelism comes with church planting, because when Jesus said, ‘Go and make disciples,’ he also said, ‘Baptize and teach them.’ Where does baptizing and teaching take place? In communities and in churches.”
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