Planting a church is an adventure, a journey, a process, a series of steps one after another. Jesus encouraged us to count the cost of being His disciple (Luke 14:28). Surely this principle applies as well to the vision of planting a new church.
The following is an attempt to outline the steps a church planter often encounters in the journey of planting a new church. It is not an exact template that we can mechanically follow in the process. God loves and uses a variety of personalities, gifts and ideas as He pleases. At the root of everything is total surrender to the will of God under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Without that continual surrender, nothing “works.”
May God guide as you “survey the terrain” and “count the cost” of planting a new church. May He fill you with hope, courage, vision and faith to dare and to do for His pleasure. May He wonderfully demonstrate through you His ability “…to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” for His glory” (Eph. 3:20 ESV).
When I was much younger, my friends and I would often drive our motorcycles at dangerous speeds, seeing how low we could get as we went around curves in the road. I wrecked my bike one time, with only minor injuries. Some of my friends were not so fortunate however, and experienced serious injuries. Some are still suffering today from the injuries they received back then.
There I've finally introduced the topic - suffering. All of us have suffered from ill-made decisions, be it relationships, how we spend our money, extreme sports, cheating at school and in our taxes. I think most of us would say there is little merit in suffering for the causes we mentioned above, other than helping us learn valuable life lessons. It does little to help point people to Jesus and to see His kingdom advanced.
The next tier of suffering is one most of us are also familiar with. It is suffering from the hard things that life brings: death, sickness, loneliness, etc. These sufferings are often difficult for us to understand because we can't quite see how this could be part of God’s good plan for us. And so we struggle to understand how God could be good in the midst of our suffering.
But there is yet another tier of suffering that I think we need to keep in mind. So far, both kinds of suffering I have mentioned are experienced by both believers and non-believers alike. In fact, the believer has the advantage over the unbeliever when experiencing these kinds of sufferings.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 says: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” We grieve, yes, but in the midst of our grief we can still have hope. Not only do we have hope, we have a loving Father that uses these painful situations to refine us, to make us more like Jesus. When we respond to these extremely difficult things with hope, the world takes notice; it can be a powerful testimony to point people to Jesus.
But unfortunately, many believers stop right here. We are grateful that Jesus walks beside us in our sufferings, but we don’t often ask ourselves how we might walk alongside Jesus in His sufferings. Paul says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24).
These sufferings seems to be different from the first two types of suffering in one main way – they come as a direct result of choosing to follow Jesus. Somehow, we have come to think that simply trusting in God’s goodness despite the hardships we face, is taking up our cross and following Jesus. But we have already seen how that following Jesus actually gives believers a distinct advantage over the unbeliever. Can we call having an advantage in life, cross-bearing?
What if the kind of suffering that is precious in God’s sight looks a lot more like Jesus’ own journey? J.H. Yoder in The Politics of Jesus writes: “The cross of Christ was not an inexplicable or chance event, which happened to strike him, like illness or accident. To accept the cross as his destiny, to move toward it and even to provoke it, when he could well have done otherwise, was Jesus’ constantly reiterated free choice. He warns his disciples lest their embarking on the same path be less conscious of its costs (Luke 14:25-33)” (p. 129).
What is our view of suffering? Do we follow Jesus mainly for the help He provides us to get through the hardships of life (and He does!), or do we, like Jesus, like Paul, see the way of the cross as the means by which His kingdom advances? How we answer that question will dramatically affect the course of our lives.
Imagine that overnight all Christians became expert evangelists. The next day, all of us went forth boldly proclaiming Jesus to all of our friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbors. Surely, it wouldn’t be long until every person on the face of the earth had heard the gospel, right?
Unfortunately, no. Although it might be hard for us to imagine, there are some people so removed from the Gospel and isolated by barriers of language and culture that they still wouldn’t hear the Good News even if every Christian actively shared Jesus with everyone they know.
These people are Unreached People Groups (UPGs). Although other, more technical, definitions exist for UPGs, I like this one because it helps us see people and places rather than just numbers and statistics. The majority of UPGs live in Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. However, surprising numbers of these people have moved west to North America.
If it’s hard for us to imagine a village in the mountains of Nepal having no contact with Christians, it is much more difficult to imagine that, behind the drawn curtains of the apartment building beside Walmart, lives a woman who is just as unreached as her relatives in the Himalayans.
THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR
When immigrants or refugees move to the United States and Canada, they inevitably come with high hopes for a new life. They want something better for their children, and they are determined to do what they can to make their dreams a reality. Some of them press on courageously for years – overcoming tremendous hurdles. Others gradually lose hope that their own lives will ever be rich and meaningful. They abandon language study and throw themselves into working hard to provide for and protect their children. They spend years in jobs that most of us would barely endure for a season, going only from home to the workplace and back again.
Still others seek out friends from their homeland and sequester themselves in communities where they can shop at an Indian grocery store, eat at an Indian restaurant, and work at an Indian-owned hotel. These people enjoy their lives and surround themselves with friends, but like the others, they remain unreached unless someone reaches across the barriers of language and culture to bring them the Gospel.
COMING TO US - GOING TO THEM
These unreached peoples in North America do have one advantage over their friends in the homeland. They could decide to go to church if they wanted to. However, even if I can imagine myself a refugee in Egypt, I cannot imagine myself walking into a mosque with an open, seeking heart, much less finding anything in the Arabic words and unfamiliar rituals that would draw me back again. No matter how sincerely I went, without understanding, I would never embrace Islam. Plus, I wouldn’t go to a mosque if I were spiritually seeking, anyway. Even if I had wandered from my Christian upbringing, in a foreign land and already uprooted from everything familiar, I would go back to my roots. I would search out a church. I would try to fill my hunger in the ways familiar to me.
How can we expect anything different from the refugees in our towns? Their lives have been shaken, and though they seek peace and truth, they will tend to look for it in the places they have been taught to look. Does this mean their ears are deaf to the Gospel? Not at all! Even while they turn back to the religion of their childhood, they may realize that this religion has disappointed them. But where else can they go with their questions?
They can go to a Christian friend who has extended generous love and hospitality. They can go to a church that speaks their mother tongue. They can seek for answers in a Bible translated into their own language. They can find truth in a Christian home.
But they will not have these opportunities unless the Christian friend extends love and hospitality, opening their home to someone different from themselves. They cannot go to a church that worships in Arabic unless Arabic-speaking Christians haven’t been isolated as single converts in English-speaking churches. They can’t pick up an Arabic Bible unless it’s there on the shelf beside the English one.
It’s clear, then, that our responsibility as English-speaking Christians in North America is great. We have been passive for too long, hoping they will come to us. They have come – to our neighborhoods – but it is up to us to invite them into the Kingdom of God. We must actively seek ways to befriend and help the foreigners among us. This isn’t as hard to do as it sounds. We must open our doors, move out of Christian enclaves into cities, study a new language, and order Bibles in Hindi and Turkish and Arabic and Cantonese.
If we wait for the day we all wake up feeling unusually evangelistic, we’ll be waiting a long time. And even that won’t be enough. The Great Commission has always required action, intentionality and sacrifice. Go. Preach. Disciple. Do it in the uttermost parts of the earth. And do it here – in Ephrata and Mechanicsburg, Sarasota and Warsaw.
--H.L. (from a recent Near and Far issue)
He was desperate. Fate, it seemed, was on his side. He was an immigrant, living in a foreign land, and unable to provide for even the basic needs of his wife and children. “There is no God but God,” he told me as he poured out his troubles, “I need patience to endure God’s testing.” Despite the words affirming God’s goodness, in reality he displayed little hope.
He is only one of many. We don’t have to look far to see that we live in a world groaning under the impact of sin. A friend of mine is coming to the end of life. He has nothing and no one to care for his needs. This month I heard that an acquaintance is in prison for stabbing his wife who was cheating on him. Another friend’s life on earth ended. He faced the ultimate result of sin –death. Yes, sin and its effects are reality.
Closer home, the reality of sin is evident in my own life. I struggle with my own fear, discouragement, disillusionment, pride, selfishness and other forms of sin and brokenness. I long for wholeness.
This isn’t new. Sin’s curse has affected everyone since our first parents ate the fruit in blatant defiance to God’s simple command. The world has been groaning with the reality ever since (Romans 8:22).
God’s Word doesn’t gloss over this fact. It confronts the certainty of sin’s curse with startling explicitness. A complete book of the Old Testament bemoans the brokenness.
This book, Lamentations, expresses the raw emotion of a prophet who witnessed the devastation of the century --an enemy nation had conquered and completely destroyed Judah. Jeremiah (the assumed author) experienced the loss and pain brought on by the sins of generations past. He lamented the abuse, devastation, suffering, and loneliness. With painful honesty he details this dark night of Jewish history.
People respond in various ways to the truth of our broken world. Some attempt to deny the fact by attempting to make life work for themselves. They try to create a “safe” little world in order to isolate themselves from the harsh reality of life, often at the expense of others. Others, overwhelmed by the reality, give up on life and simply “check out.” Some, like me, tend to vacillate between the two extremes. Thankfully, there is a better way.
In the heart of the book of Lamentations we find the hopeful alternative to both isolation and despondency. The author says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is [his] faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).
In verse 20 Jeremiah says that his “soul continually remembers [the affliction and wonderings, the wormwood and the gall].” He doesn’t deny or even minimize the suffering and calls out to God to take note. But he doesn’t stay there. He “calls to mind” the reality of God’s never-ending love and mercy. “To call to mind” is to remind oneself of something. How easily we forget! It takes a conscious effort to bring oneself into the reality of God’s mercy.
God’s mercy is not an abstract concept but rather a current, ever-new reality. “It is new every morning.” Do you feel like you have exhausted his mercy yesterday? Don’t fear; you have a fresh supply for today. Do the unredeemed places in your heart discourage you? Do the sins of others bring you pain and loss? God’s mercy is just as real as they are.
The ability to live well in the broken, sin-cursed world comes neither by denying its reality nor by sitting in the swamp of despair but rather by reminding ourselves again, as the prophet of old, that God’s mercy is a present reality and is enough for all that we face today. It was true then and it is just as true now. May you experience that reality today!
I always look for those corn stalks on Mondays. I meet a co-worker at 8 am and we walk 45 minutes to language class. Along the way, in front of a small pharmacy, are two stalks of corn, surrounded by a few blades of grass, hemmed in on both sides by concrete. Occasionally, I see the owner faithfully watering his plants and it encourages me to take even the smallest opportunities. Maybe this farmer dreams of a field of corn; but while dreaming about what could be, he plants his two little seeds and faithfully waters them.
I dream of a room full of local friends who have found Jesus; I dream of practicing midwifery; I dream of speaking the language fluently; I dream of being FULL of the Holy Spirit, my tongue and mind under His complete control. And more.
But, oh, the faithfulness part of it. It’s praying with the 17 yr. old in my living room. It’s getting out the door to visit someone when I want to sit in a heap. It’s responding in love to my three-year old's same questions over and over. It’s biting my tongue when I want to be negative. It’s extending the apology and the forgiveness, again. Faithfully watering my two seeds.
--Written by a DNI mother.
At the recent REACH Conference, various individuals shared significant interest in DNI's vision to plant churches in Quebec. One brother shared the following story.
"Some years ago, I heard (second-hand) the story of a Gideon Bible distributor in Quebec who was distributing Bibles in a high school, until he was stopped by an irate school administrator. A week later the same administrator called him and said, "Whatever that book was that you were distributing, it's totally changed the atmosphere of our school. Can you come back and ensure that every student gets a copy who didn't the last time?" That anecdote illustrates both the spiritual ignorance and the spiritual hunger so common in Quebec."
God is at work, but the harvesters are few. Please pray that God will raise up a team of committed believers to pioneer a church plant in this lost province.
Want to access all the previous Quebec Tidbits? View them here
It is my goal in this little article to encourage you in DOING God’s WILL – to accomplish His plan, purpose, and design for you. It is surprisingly simple and is not only the means to an end but is actually an end in itself – doing God’s will. It is simply to GIVE THANKS to your Father. After encouraging us to rejoice and pray, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for THIS IS THE WILL OF GOD in Christ Jesus for you” (ESV, emphasis added).
My thinking on this subject of giving thanks was challenged recently in Ephesians 5. Verse 3 exhorts us not to be covetous and verse 5 warns us that a covetous person (an idolater) will not inherit the Kingdom. Sandwiched between these two is a little phrase in verse 4: “but rather giving of thanks” (KJV)!
Covetousness is a selfish or greedy desire for what I do NOT have. Thankfulness is an attitude of contentment and pleasure for what I do have. Covetousness and giving thanks are really opposites and reflect a core difference in our focus. It is also significant that giving thanks causes us to look to someone else – the Giver. Covetousness focuses selfishly on Me.
Thanks and Praise are such powerful things! Remember what happened to Paul and Silas in jail when they were doing God’s will by praising him? It seemed to be the catalyst for God’s power to come flooding down – their bonds were released and a household was saved that very night.
As in any other area of doing God’s will, I challenge you to take a little time to plan, asking, “How can I in practical ways and times fulfill this will of God – giving thanks - in my life?” Maybe for you, this is a necessary step of obedience in order to experience the power of God in new ways in your life.
“I love you Daddy!” My little girl Hadassah came running up to my desk and gave me a big hug. Then she plopped down in my lap, eyed my chocolate raisins sitting on the desk, threw her arms around my neck and gave me a sweet little look. “Daddy, what is that in your jar? What are they for?” I laughed at her schmoozing and let her have a handful. Off she ran, stopping at the door to give me a wink and another “I love you Daddy!”
Matthew 22:36-40 details very simply the two greatest commandments. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
So what exactly was Jesus calling us to when He said that? My daughter Hadassah really does love me, but in the story I shared, how might her reaction have been different had I told her that she may not have the chocolate raisins? As humans, we find it naturally easy to show and express love when we get the chocolate raisins, but we don’t tend to love very well without them. Yet Jesus’ way is so much bigger than that. He is calling us to love others the way that he loved us. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12 NKJV).
It is easy to love when it is reciprocated. That feels great! But the call is higher for a follower of Christ. “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:4-8a NKJV). Obviously, for us as followers of Jesus Christ, we are to love with abandon, without regard to the response.
I’ve been so convicted as I’ve read the Bible and realized that my love isn’t what is described. Sadly, I don’t spend nearly as much time loving people who won’t be able to reciprocate my love as I do loving people who give it back. People like my family, my church, and my friends all give back to me when I am loving towards them. But what about the homeless people who live across the street and won’t ever repay my love in any way? What about the folks that need Jesus desperately, and yet are angry that we share Jesus with the people in our neighborhood? The people that need our love the most often are the very ones we forget about, ignore and avoid.
As followers of Jesus, one of our primary goals is to help others see who Jesus is. I cannot think of any more powerful way for that to happen in our neighborhoods than for us to love in the way the Bible describes. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 NKJV).
Teachers sometimes use the technique of "show and tell" with their students to enhance the learning process. In training His disciples Jesus used the "tell and do" technique as He prepared them to go out two by two in ministry.
"These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: '...go...to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons..." (Mat. 10:5-8 NKJV).
Go...tell...do. All three are vital components of advancing His Kingdom. Any one without the others is deficient.
"Go"...We need to make contact, rub shoulders, observe, listen, ask questions, communicate, visit people in their homes, eat their food. This isn't "rocket science" and doesn't require a voice from heaven. "Go make disciples of all the nations" (Mat. 28:19). "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). As someone once asked, "What part of 'go' do we not understand?" It should be obvious that the gospel cannot "come" to people unless Christian witnesses "go" to people. One foot in front of the other. One person at a time. One gospel presentation at a time. One invitation at a time. The first word in "gospel" is, after all, "go"!
"Tell"...Making contact and friendships with people is essential, yet if we never open our mouths to share the gospel, people will not be saved. We are not good enough that people will get saved by watching us. Jesus was...and even then people did not get saved merely by watching Him. He was compelled to announce the gospel. Why? "Now faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God..."
But..."how shall they hear without a preacher? (Rom. 10:17,14) Let's ask the Lord of the harvest to empower us to follow His example of abundant, courageous, creative, persistent sharing the gospel everywhere we go. Let's ask Him to give us a clearer grasp of the wonder of the gospel so we, like Paul, will be eager, ready and unashamed to share the gospel (Rom. 1:11,15,16).
"Do"...Telling the gospel without "doing the gospel" will not cut it. Words need to be reinforced by deeds. People want more than words. Caring for people is confirmed by caring about real needs. As we care for people and their needs, we can pray, we can instruct, we confront demons, we can share the gospel, we can invite them to follow the Compassionate One. Deeds of kindness demonstrate genuine love. We become the hands and feet of Jesus. Through us He touches them and expresses His care for them. Kind deeds done in Jesus' Name confirms the words we share. Both words and deeds need each other in order to communicate God's truth and love.
"And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons...they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover...And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through accompanying signs." (Mark 16:17,18,20)
This year let's renew our commitment to go, tell and do. And may the Lord be pleased to confirm His Word and bring forth fruit.
Recently, Radi-Call published a challenging article titled "Reflecting Christ in the Workplace." It didn't take long for this article to spark discussion. One reader comments, "Can you think of some Scripture where the apostles exhort the churches to be active in sharing their faith? Are there texts you can point to that encourage personal evangelistic effort? Did Paul call upon the Corinthians or Galatians or Philippians to do the work of evangelism? Where do we find in any of the epistles an apostolic call for congregational evangelism?"
As a fellow blog writer, I jumped at the opportunity to reply to this reader's comments. This devotional is a modified version of my answer.
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First of all, let us consider the Great Commission Jesus gave to His disciples right before ascending into heaven (Matt. 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16, Luke 24:47).
If we obey the other commands of Jesus, we cannot overlook this clear commission. Just look at how His followers responded to His clear command: “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through accompanying signs. Amen” (Mark 16:20). May we follow suit.
As new creations in Christ, we are His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:17-21). Some might say ambassadors are a select few. However, this passage is clearly talking about anyone who is in Christ (vs. 17).
1. We are a new creation; the old has passed away (vs. 17).
2. We are reconciled to God; therefore we have the ministry of reconciliation (vs. 18).
3. What does that ministry look like? We are ambassadors (advocates) for Christ, pleading–imploring–that people be reconciled to God.
4. Why do we do this ministry? Because we have become the righteousness of God through Christ! (vs. 21) This is WONDERFUL NEWS! And what do we do with amazing news? We tell others about it! This Good News, the Gospel, is not reserved for a select few. It abounds in the life of every true believer.
A shining light
This Good News must shine forth from every Christian, as stated in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14).
One might argue that the light is not proclamation, but simply our good works shining forth. However, when paired with Romans 10:14, we know this is not the case. Our works are not enough for the Gospel to shine into people’s lives. Listen: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14) Notice that one cannot believe in the Gospel without hearing. Good works without the Good News will only cause people to think we are good people. And that is not going to change their lives.
The life of Jesus only confirms this. No Christian can out-live Jesus in holiness and good works. Yet His works were not "good enough" to transform those around Him. He needed to proclaim the Good News in order to explain the Good Works. And so must we.
The early church
How did the early church carry out evangelism? The book of Acts reveals lay people–not just the ordained–proclaiming the Gospel as a lifestyle. Steven was appointed to serve the widows, not as an evangelist. Yet he was martyred for proclaiming the Gospel! (Acts 6-7)
Saul was vehemently persecuting the church, which resulted in the scattering of the church. And what happened? “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). Apollos, an eloquent man, mighty in the Scriptures, was proclaiming the word all across Asia (Acts 18:24-28).
Let us now turn to the early Anabaptists. They were bold proclaimers of the Word and their doctrine spread like cancer all throughout Europe. How did it spread? Through the faithful witness of every believer.
Quoting the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia:
“The Anabaptists were originally intensely evangelistic. Their only hope of expansion was by this method. Since they controlled no political units as the Reformers did, they had to win others. However, the main reason for their strong evangelistic program, as Franklin H. Littell has clearly shown, was their acceptance of the Great Commission of Christ as their action program. Kenneth S. Latourette has pointed out that the Anabaptists were the only group in the Reformation period to carry out the Great Commission, and that the Free Churches have always been in the forefront of missionary and evangelistic action. The Reformers were not evangelistic (in the strict sense), partly because they adopted the principle of the territorial state church, and the principle that the ruler determines the religion of his people. Thus they were immobilized by political boundaries and the state church concept, whereas the Anabaptists had full mobility.”
Read the rest of the GAMEO article here.
Why is it so hard?
Let’s be real. If you’re like me, you sometimes struggle with sharing the Gospel. Why is evangelism so hard, if it’s so exciting?
Evangelism is proclaiming Christ as King, which automatically proclaims Satan as dethroned. And Satan does not like that. He will make every attempt to stop this message from going out. He will implant every doubt he can in your mind so that you will keep this Good News a personal secret. He will offer you every excuse that He can to keep this message from being proclaimed in every corner on the earth.
It isn’t popular these days to talk about sin and a need of a Savior. Who likes to be told they are lost? Who likes to be told they must submit to Jesus as Lord? Yet this must be shared in order to get to the Good News–that they can be forgiven and set free!
However, we must remember that the Great Commission is not a burdensome command. It is an amazing invitation from Jesus to join in His mission of reconciling men to Himself. We are His voices, His ambassadors, pleading the cause for which we live and die (2 Cor. 5:17-21). And that cause is to see our Commander-in-Chief receive what is rightfully His–the souls of men from every ethnicity, which He bought on the cross!
Applying it to your life
Are you wondering how this command should affect your life?
1. First, it starts right where you are. Get to know your neighbors. Build friendships with unsaved people. The Gospel carries most impact when backed by true, loving friendship.
2. Next, it goes way beyond your current location. For those of you who live in North America: did you know that 81% of the US population lives in an urban setting? It is about the same for Canada as well. Maybe God will call you to give up the countryside for a city–because that’s where the people are. It is incredible how God is using immigration and the current refugee crisis to bring the world’s unreached people groups to our doorstep!
3. It goes way beyond North America. Most of the world’s unreached people groups live in the 10/40 window. And those who have never heard the Gospel are usually unreached for a reason…they are hard to reach. Maybe God is calling you to go–across the ocean, far, far away from everything that is familiar to you.
But it starts, right where you are...
-- Written by: Ian Miller