Tag Archive | Church Planting

Recently I’ve been writing about the book of Acts and Christianity’s tendency to treat it like a history book and not a roadmap. A brother stopped by and asked a great question: How has the book of Acts informed how you live your life? It’s a really important question because we can spend so much time talking about the book but not really living out what it’s instructing us. On Friday, I wrote about how Acts convinced me that God’s power is for today and how Acts has helped me understand apostolic passion. Today I want to take a look at a couple more ways Acts has helped me and our house churches.

Acts Informs My Evangelism- It’s hard to read the book of Acts without understanding the primary goal of the church was to carry the Gospel to every man, woman, and child they could.  Jesus starts the book by commanding the apostles to take the gospel to Jerusalem, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the Earth after they’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit comes, the apostles take the Gospel first to Jerusalem (Acts 1-7), then to Samaria (Acts 8), and then begin the process of taking the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. Once the Holy Spirit indwelt the church, moving the Gospel from one place to the next became the priority of Peter, James, Stephen, Phillip, Barnabas, Paul, Silas, Timothy, and many others.  They were intentional. They were committed. They were unapologetic about the message of Jesus and His claims, even to the point of being threatened with death and killed.

While I am not the world’s leading expert on evangelism, I can tell you that Acts has informed the way I approach evangelism and the way in which I train others to approach it. We are following a resurrected Jesus that has been given all authority over Heaven and Earth and has commanded us to go and make disciples. The degree to which the apostles were willing to lay down their life for the Gospel speaks to the critical nature of it reaching people. We’re not apologizing for bringing our message or trying to hide the fact we want people to know about Jesus. We follow the examples of the apostles who were lovingly forward about the Gospel because they believed it changed men and women now and saved them for eternity.

Acts Informs My Church Planting- Ever since a faithful friend of mine in college challenged me to build a church planting strategy out of the book of Acts I’ve been mining my strategy (at least in part) from this book. Almost every single page is full of churches getting started and then being supported by the apostles. Peter preaches the Gospel in Acts 2 and a thriving church is born. Phillip shares the Gospel with Samaritans and a new church is born. Every city Paul walks into almost inevitably has a church started because lost people have come to Christ. While there are definitely other parts of Scripture that tell us what the church should look like (Ephesians, 1 Timothy and Titus spring to mind) Acts shows us how the apostles planted and watered the churches in real life, not just in theory.

Because of the book of Acts, our practice here in our house churches has been to see church planting happening in the context of men and women turning to Christ. This is the reason church planting is needed–churches are birthed where people are born again. Any other type of church planting is just moving existing Christians from one meeting to a new one. We don’t plant churches for new believers to come to. We lead people to Jesus and start churches when they do.  When new churches are started, we follow the methods of discipleship and church formation we find in the book: We teach them to devote themselves to the Gospel, to fellowship together, to eat together, and to pray. We don’t always set up elders immediately for every church, but we do believe shared eldership is necessary. We try to maintain a healthy balance between serving the body and proclaiming the Gospel. Though we’re not great at it yet, we have a high value for continuing to move and plant new churches, believing that the harvest is plentiful and we need more laborers. If the moving the Gospel is the priority of the church, how we start churches should be impacted by that priority.

These are just a few of the ways Acts has impacted how we live out our lives on mission. I could write for days about how Acts has informed what we do. But what about you? How has Acts impacted how you do what you do?

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I Believe Acts is More Than A History Book…

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…I believe its an instruction manual.

There’s a big swath of Christianity that would disagree with me. Acts is history, they say. It’s meant to describe the earliest days of the church. It’s meant to link Jesus to the work that was carried on first by Peter, then by Paul, they’d argue. In some circles the book of Acts is just an inspired record, having more in common with the book of 1 Chronicles or Judges than something containing instructions to be learned from.

I have a few problems with that line of reasoning…

First, Luke clearly sees the book of Acts as a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. Go ahead and read Acts 1:1-2. Week in and week out the same people who teach that Acts is just inspired history will teach the book of Luke without issue. Granted, Jesus was perfect, the apostles weren’t. I get it. While not perfect, Luke clearly paints the apostles as changed men when the Holy Spirit has come upon them. They are the continuation of the work that Jesus started. The Bible is also fairly good at pointing out in historical narratives good examples to follow or bad examples to avoid. Acts clearly paints the apostles as an example to follow.

Secondly, I believe Paul when he says that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.” No one arguing that Acts is divinely recorded history would argue that it isn’t Scripture. Many will argue that Acts is Scripture in one breath and argue that we shouldn’t draw conclusions from it in the next. If Acts is Scripture (it is), then Acts is both inspired and useful for teaching and correction.

Lastly, Paul argued in several places throughout the New Testament that we are to follow him as he followed Christ (see 1 Corinthians 11:1, for example). For the first century believers, Paul lived a life for believers to see and pattern themselves after. For us, post-Paul’s death, Acts is one of the only places we can actually see his life lived out as an example to follow. We need to make better use of it.

Why is this such a big deal?

The book of Acts is crazy. It tells a story of a people who had their lives turned upside down by the resurrection of Jesus and then were radically filled with the Holy Spirit. These people started as a small group of people hiding and went on to become a missionary force that would convert the Roman Empire. Acts should convict us about what is possible when God is central and convict us about the places in our hearts where He’s not.

Not only that, but there are truths about the nature of the church that are designed to show us how the church should operate. Acts is a record of a missionary church planting movement that multiplied at incredible speed with minimal complexity. While we want to balance the truths found there with the truths found elsewhere in Scripture, we’d be foolish to ignore the tremendous story of the expansion of the church just because it was presented to us as a historical record and not as a systematic teaching.

We have to learn from the book of Acts. We have to sit at the feet of the apostles as they are presented to us and learn how to follow the risen Christ by the Spirit like they did. We cannot keep believing Acts isn’t for us. It’s for us and our children and people in the far future (Acts 2:39). If we believe that we can learn from Acts, we will begin to live like the apostles and early church did then, following Jesus by the Spirit.

If we can believe it is an instruction manual and not history, we can begin to enter into the lifestyle of apostolic Christianity and not just relegate it to the past.

Photo Credit: William Henry Margetson by Waiting for the Word

Awe

I’ve been combing through the book of Acts lately trying to understand what made the early church such a dynamic movement. This isn’t the first time I’ve done it, nor will it be the last. It’s a bit of an obsession with me. You’ll have to deal with it.

A few days ago I stumbled across something that I had missed in other translations. Acts 2 describes the coming of the Holy Spirit in the upper room and the message Peter preached in an attempt to explain it. When Peter finishes declaring the Gospel, many, many people come to Christ and the first church is born. This infant church begins practicing what I’ve taught as the four essentials of church for a long time (devotion to the Gospel, fellowship, eating together, and prayer).

What gripped me, though, was the next verse. It wasn’t the description of what the church did–it was the description of what the church had.  Here’s what Luke records:

And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.

-Acts 2:43

What struck me as I read it was the translation of the word “awe.” I’m used to that word being translated as “fear.” Whenever the word is translated as fear in relationship to God, we often understand it as “the fear of the Lord,” which Scripture over and over again defines as a healthy spiritual reality, despite what modern teachers tell us.  Here in the English Standard Version, the translators chose the word “awe.” I like this translation because I think it clearly states what Luke is trying to describe. In those early days, everyone was in awe of what God was doing.

As I started to dig into this word, I found that it was translated from the Greek word “phobos” which is where we get the word phobia from.  This word is used across the New Testament to describe two seemingly different realities. One is the fear of something that is dreadful, but the other is a fear of God that spurs Christians to grow in proper relationship to Christ.  So while I don’t doubt that fear is a proper translation, as I’ve thought about “awe” as it’s translated in Acts 2, I’m wondering if awe might be a closer English word to what Luke was trying to describe.

Why else would the New Testament say the following:

  • So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. (Acts 9:31)
  • Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others… (2 Corinthians 5:11)
  • Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
  • …submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)
  • work out your own salvation with fear and trembling… (Philippians 2:12)
  • And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile… (1 Peter 1:17)

Now go back and look at each of these passages and in the place of fear, replace it with awe. It’s not that fear is the wrong word, so much as it doesn’t touch the depths of fascination and respect that our English understanding of fear communicates. Imagine the church multiplying because it walks in the awe of God, persuading others about the reality of Christ because our hearts are awestruck by who He is, purifying ourselves because we’re so caught up in awe of God. Imagine a body of believers who conduct their lives in awe throughout their time on Earth…that is so awestruck by what God is doing in other believers that they submit to the Christ they see in each other!  Living in the awe of God has a powerful influence on the way we live our lives.

I still believe that the church needs to return to the practices of Acts 2:42, but I’m starting to wonder if the church doesn’t desperately need to recover the “awe of God.” What if instead of just repeating the practices of the early church, we did them out of the awe of God and what He is doing?

Now awe is a funny thing. We can’t produce it in ourselves. God produces awe of Himself in the human heart, but we can learn to walk in it. We can hunger after the kind of experiences the early church had. We can seek to encounter the same Christ that worked miracles among the early church. We can lay aside our lesser fascinations and begin to fix our hearts again on the one we are supposed to live in awe of–Jesus. As we do, awe will grow. We’ll encounter Him more. As we encounter Him, our awe will grow.

When we have this awe of God glowing white hot in our hearts, it’s terribly easy to declare the goodness of Jesus and stand against persecution. Others will see it and turn to the Lord as well, especially as God shows up in the midst of those circumstances.  In some crazy sort of way, as we experience the awe of God in our hearts, it whets the appetites of those around us and quickly others become hungry to encounter Jesus.

Friends, I’m writing today to encourage you to get an awe of God. If you’ve lost it, if you’ve never had it, or if you just want more of it, go back to God and ask Him for it. He will give you more awe if you ask.

Who knows? It may even be the start of a church planting movement like we see in the book of Acts.

 

What I Learned From Praying with an Underground Church Planter

The other night, I had the privilege of praying with a brother who has started a house church network in an African country where the people in his churches can be killed for accepting Christ and becoming part of the church. I hope you’ll understand why I don’t give you many more details.

Our goal was to pray for the brother. We’ve supported him some financially, but we thought that it would encourage him to pray together over the phone.  There are needs that frequently come up, there is constant persecution in many areas, and there are economic realities that make life difficult for anyone, let alone someone trying to plant churches full time. Our brother’s life is not an easy one.

Yet, when we got on the phone, the brother was constantly praising the Lord. He was doing it so much that we felt obligated to join in praising the Lord with him.  When we praised the Lord with him, though, it was different. Our words were a bit more wooden. They didn’t have a natural feel coming out of our mouth, they felt hollow, even forced.

It provoked me a bit. I realized that my brother who lives in persecution and with less than me is better at praising God, though I lead a more comfortable and less stressful life. Why? My guess is my friend from Africa has had to learn how to praise God Himself, and not just praise God when circumstances are good. My friend has learned God is worth praise for who He is, not only for what He does. So he always has praise for God. Me, not so much.

So I’m on this journey, now, of not being a spoiled American. I’m going to start asking God to help me to learn how to praise Him for who He is in addition to what He has done for me. I think it’s an area I need to grow.

How about you?

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

On The Road to Multiplying Movements

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And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number

-Acts 5:14

But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.

-Acts 12:24

There was a season of early church history where believers were added to the church. Adding speaks of taking people who didn’t know Christ and attaching them to the church.

There came another season in the church, however, where the word of the Lord was being multiplied. This described people not just joining the church, but becoming workers like the ones who led them to the Lord and bringing other people to Christ as well. It wasn’t just one more lost person joining the church (as glorious as that is!) but it was one person leading three people to Jesus who each led three to five more to Christ.  One person was in some way responsible then for fifteen or more people coming to Christ.

We’ll always take addition. We want people coming to Christ no matter how they come. But we strive for multiplication, where disciples are made who can make more disciples  and the math of multiplication takes over. Eventually, when the body learns how to multiply in a healthy way, we can see movements of people coming to Christ.

Here’s the path to multiplying movements1:

Multiply Disciples

Multiply Leaders

Multiply Churches

Multiply Movements

We continue to work towards multiplying disciples. When multiplication of disciples begins, those responsible for the multiplication are functional servant leaders.  When the functional, servant-leadership is multiplied among multiplying disciples, we start to see churches birthed. As churches are multiplied, we begin to see movements. As these movements grow, we even seek to multiply them where they are happening for the glory of Christ.

All of this starts with beginning to make disciples. You can’t get to movements without churches being birthed and you can’t get to churches being birthed without servant-focused leaders being formed. And servant-formed leaders are birthed through multiplying disciples.

So if you want to get to movements, begin discipling people.Begin asking yourself how do I multiply disciples. Discipleship is where movements start.

Prayer Request:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,

Lumbard-Ric-16Recently a brother in Christ who is dear to many of us hear in Iowa suffered a massive heart attack. Rick Lumbard is the Director of Wind and Fire Ministries, a man of prayer, and a servant of the Lord that has been used in a number of peoples’ lives throughout our city and the state.  He currently is unconscious and in a hospital in Des Moines. Would you join us in prayer for Rick as we believe for healing for him? He has a wife and several children that would be thankful for the prayer support.

Sincerely,
Travis

The Life is in the Seed

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Churches can be so simple that they can be planted easily. But how do you instruct someone to plant a church in a few hours or a few days? Yesterday, I wrote about the power of the Gospel to transform broken men and women into the church.  Today, I think it’s important to acknowledge a truth that we often forget: Churches are planted and grow because the life of the church is in the seed of the Gospel.

Jesus often described the Kingdom of God growing like a seed. In the Gospel of Mark he describes it this way:

Jesus also said, ‘The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.’

Mark 4:26-29

Notice something important here. The Kingdom grows, but the man who planted does not know how it happens. It happens while the man is asleep or awake, night or day. There is literally nothing he can do after he has planted the seed to make it grow faster.

Often, when we talk about church planting, we are talking about a very man-driven idea. We are talking about not just sowing seed into the ground, but going out and forcing that seed to grow, reproduce, and stay healthy, all in our own strength. Going back to the seed analogy, we don’t often trust the genetics of the seed to grow a healthy plant.

This is why we have such a hard time believing that a church can be planted in hours or days or weeks. Instead, because we feel like we must create an environment for believers to flourish, we stay very involved creating perfect scenarios for believers to succeed. Undoubtedly some  will flourish in this type of environment, but they won’t multiply and reproduce well.

It’s important to stop here and say something very clearly: There is power in the Gospel of Jesus to change people. This power doesn’t stop changing people once they’ve decided to become a believer. After someone decides to follow Jesus, the Gospel continues to have a transforming affect on them. In fact, it’s critical that believers continue to draw their strength from the good news of the Kingdom because when they stop, they begin to be deceived. We never graduate from receiving life from the Gospel, we just continue to find new places where it changes us.

This is part of the reason why Paul was able to move on from the churches that he started–he trusted the power of the Gospel seed he had sown into each church’s life. Undoubtedly persecution and the need to spread the Gospel played a part in that decision, but ultimately Paul came to a place where he could trust the Lord with each of the churches he started. He recognized it wasn’t his oversight or preaching but the Gospel that he sowed into each believer that would cause them to continue to move toward Jesus.1

Paul and company truly believed that “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns,” (Philippians 1:6). So they would entrust a church to the Lord, believing that a living, resurrected Jesus would continue to move them toward Himself by the power of the Gospel. The Gospel that they had sowed initially (the beginning of the good work) would continue until Christ returns.

Friends, we can plant churches in short periods of time, not just because the training is simple or the follow up is good, but because the Gospel has power to transform people. When the Gospel is living and active in a person’s heart, they move towards Christ and towards each other. They may need reminders and encouragements and these can be given, but the strength to walk the Christian life comes not from leaders or elders or programs, but the Gospel’s ability to make us real disciples.

And it all starts with a simple seed.

Photo Credit: Ready to Spring by Mike Lewinski

1I am not saying oversight is unnecessary. Paul set up overseers and commissioned others to appoint overseers. I’m only saying he didn’t understand overseers as the primary thing that fueled spiritual growth in believers. That started and ended with the Gospel.

How To Start A Church That Is Easily Planted

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The other day I shared an older post on Facebook about how house churches can be planted in a few days time. One of my friends and a regular encourager here at the blog wrote in and asked how someone can be trained in such a short time to start a house church. I think this is a fantastic question simply because it forces us to be clear on what makes a church a church.

In the book of Acts we see churches planted by simply by preaching the Gospel and lost people coming to Christ. Because there were many places where no one knew Christ, the preaching of the Gospel and the repentance of sinners was the only criteria for starting a church. There are a number of situations where Paul and his team would preach the Gospel, remain only a couple of weeks, and have to leave shortly thereafter because of persecution (see the examples of Antioch of Pisida in Acts 13:13-52 and Thessalonica in Acts 17:1-10). While this wasn’t ideal, there was something real enough that Paul deposited in those churches that it would sustain them in Paul’s absence.

That something is the Gospel.

If you think about it, Paul really only had enough time to teach them that. These were new converts, unschooled in the ways of Christ, that would have to hold up under persecution themselves when Paul got to leave.  He probably also gave them some basic instructions in how to grow in Christ and how to meet together. But much of it was done through modeling and teaching the basic tenets of the Christian faith. As long as they gathered together and gave themselves to telling the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the church would exist and thrive.

Fast forward several hundred years to now. We live in very complicated society that is seemingly filled with churches on every corner and an accessibility to the Gospel that is nothing shy of miraculous.  But the ability to plant a church with little but the preaching of the Gospel is unchanged. Where lost people come to Christ, we do our best to teach them basic discipleship strategies that we can copy down on the back of a napkin.  This keeps them growing in Christ and taking on the basic life of discipleship. Then we give them things to do when they and their newly found brothers and sisters meet as a church.

The point here is that the Gospel creates the church, especially in situations where there was no existing church before.  The Gospel doesn’t just save individuals, it drafts the people who say yes to it into a new family, known as the church.  This new spiritual family will most likely meet regularly (I suggest they do), but it’s their shared identity around the Gospel of Jesus that makes them the church. The life of the church plant is found in the seed of the Gospel. If the seed is real, a church will sprout.

Lastly, I’d say this: Paul didn’t abandon the churches he planted. So while a church can easily be planted in a manner of days or weeks, the task of supporting, resourcing, and parenting a church can go much longer than that. Though he couldn’t return to Thessalonica, he wrote several letters to them to correct problems in what they believed. Other times Paul would make return visits, appoint elders, or send other workers to do what he could not.  This kind of apostolic fathering is essential to the life of churches that are birthed in a quick amount of time.

A church can be planted quickly if it has the seed of the Gospel and some good soil for it to fall into. The power and identity of a church is found in the Gospel it was given.  Letters, leaders, and visits will supplement the Gospel, but can never replace it.  When a people believe in Jesus together and regularly gather to encourage one another in Him, a church is born. We help it mature by sharing our walks and lessons we’ve learned, but the Gospel itself is what makes churches.

May we never become so advanced that we forget that.

Photo Credit: Dawid Zawiła

Prayer Request:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,

Lumbard-Ric-16Recently a brother in Christ who is dear to many of us hear in Iowa suffered a massive heart attack. Rick Lumbard is the Director of Wind and Fire Ministries, a man of prayer, and a servant of the Lord that has been used in a number of peoples’ lives throughout our city and the state.  He currently is unconscious and in a hospital in Des Moines. Would you join us in prayer for Rick as we believe for healing for him? He has a wife and several children that would be thankful for the prayer support.

Sincerely,
Travis