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Prophetically Speaking

Mar 4, 2024

The Legacy of Tom Julien (1931–2023)

Tom Julien was a prophet. Not in the Old Testament sense of revealing God’s will to His people, but in the church-era sense of revealing how God’s perfect and unchanging Word reshapes how we engage with a broken and changing world.

Sensing a call to vocational ministry, yet discouraged with how his denomination viewed the Bible, Tom broke with expectations and attended a non-denominational Bible college. That’s where he became lifelong ‘best friends’ with his future wife, Doris. And that’s where several close friends introduced him to a ‘second love’ – the Grace Brethren Church (now the Charis Fellowship).

During the 1960’s, Tom’s prophetic gifting emerged in significant ways during his first years as a missionary to France. Failing in his efforts to ‘win souls’ with methods he’d learned as a church planter in the US, he was driven to take a fresh look at both the Bible and French culture. That journey led him to convert a crumbling, 14th Century chateau into a safe place where believers and non-believers could engage in meaningful spiritual conversations. In Tom’s own words:

“The Chateau experiment was to see whether, in a de-Christianized region with no evangelical testimony, new churches could be planted more effectively from a neutral bridge than from an organized church. Unbelievers would first be introduced to relationships rather than religion. In those relationships, Christians, like seeds, would be able to germinate. New believers would be introduced to the church as a community of believers rather than as an ecclesiastical organization.

“By that time, we were convinced that even though people have many methods for reaching the lost, God has but one — the person. This conviction was formulated into what became known as the Chateau Principle: the effectiveness of any evangelistic method is in direct proportion to its personal, or relational, context. Effective evangelism had to be incarnational. We realized that the Chateau as a property was incidental to the concepts we were discovering. The Chateau strategy could be applied equally in a rural or urban area. The principles, not the place, were the basis of the strategy.”[1]

Today, we are applying the Chateau Principle in a multitude of creative ways around the globe. Thank you, Tom, for reorienting how we as believers engage the world where Jesus plants us!

During the 1970’s, Tom was leading our Europe team down the exciting path of starting churches with the first Chateau converts. Yet efforts to transplant American forms of church were proving unsatisfactory and unsuccessful. These experiences led Tom to pursue a deeper understanding of the glorious essence of the church. Again, we cite Tom’s own words:

It is only as we read Paul’s letters that we begin to fathom the depth of the intimacy between our Lord and His Church. Paul calls the Church a body in which the life of the members is dependent upon the head. She is not collection of body parts. The Church is a spiritual building, growing up into a temple, in which the Lord dwells through His Spirit. She is not simply a pile of stones. The Church is a bride, the object of the eternal affection of the Lord, who is bringing her to perfection through His love. She is not a parenthesis in God’s plan for the ages. The Church is a household; she is a family of believers, each having an intimate relationship with the Lord. She is not primarily an institution.

Though it may sound incredible, the Church as the Body of Christ is in a real sense the second incarnation of Jesus Christ—a spiritual incarnation. In His first incarnation Jesus procured our redemption; in His second incarnation, He proclaims this redemption.”[2]

Today we apply Tom’s insights as we train cross-cultural workers to plant the essence of the church, not cultural expressions of the church. Praise God with us that this glorious essence is taking root and producing fruit around the world!

By the 1980’s, Tom was confronting a new challenge. The Juliens had returned to the US so Tom could become Executive Director of Grace Brethren International Missions (now Encompass World Partners). To his dismay, he discovered what he termed ‘the great divorce’ — an unfortunate separation between local churches and their global mission. With typical prophetic insight and passion, he wrote:

“Missions is not what the church does for the missionary, but what the church does through the missionary…This [is] a new way of looking at churches — seeing that the church, as the focal point of God’s plan, is in the world to fulfill her mission, not merely to maintain her existence…This [is] a new way of looking at missions — seeing that the mission of the church is to make disciples of all nations and gather them together into local communities, not merely to support missionaries…Moreover, [this is] a new way of looking at the missionary — seeing him or her as the vital link between the church and the nations of the world and as an indispensable element for fulfilling the church’s mission through teamwork.”[3]

Tom’s prophetic insights ushered in a fresh and meaningful era of local church–mission engagement and significantly altered the way our movement pursues the Great Commission. Again, thank you, Tom!

Space prevents us from tracing how Tom’s prophetic insights helped our movement navigate the turbulent 1990’s and begin building a global movement in the 2000’s. We hope to share those stories in the future. For now, join us in thanking God for Tom. And let’s pray for a ‘double measure of Elijah’s spirit’ as together we assume the mantel of prophetic responsibility of applying God’s perfect and unchanging Word to a broken and changing world.

Written by Dave Guiles for the Year in Review 2022–2023. Dave has served various roles with Encompass World Partners, the cross-cultural ministries arm of the Charis Fellowship. They include twelve years as a church planter in Argentina (while also coordinating our ministries in all of Latin America) and twenty-three years as executive director. Recently he moved into an expanded role as coordinator of the global Charis Alliance while still serving North American churches as a mission mobilizer.

[1] Julien, Tom. 2000. Seize the Moment: Stories of an Awesome God Empowering Ordinary People. Winona Lake: Grace Brethren International Missions, 56.

[2] Julien, Tom. 2011. The Three Princes: Lifting the Veil on the Unseen World. Winona Lake: BMH Books, 104.

[3] Julien, Tom. 2006. Antioch Revisited: Reuniting the Church with Her Mission. Winona Lake: BMH Books, 25.