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.’
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.
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.
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
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,
Recently 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.
Missional community is a buzz word right now.
The phrase was meant to describe a Christian group who were not just committed to each other, but to Jesus and the lost. The goal was to live on mission as a people in a way that drew others to Jesus. Like most buzzwords, though, it has begun to be applied to lots of different things to the point where it can mean just about anything. I find in these circumstances, examples are far better at giving meaning than definitions.
Case in point: Our house churches this Wednesday did a fantastic job on living on mission together.
My awareness of this began on Wednesday over my lunch hour. My friend Josh and I had needed a chance to catch up. We were able to catch up for lunch, tell each other about what the Lord has been doing in each other’s lives, and encourage one another. Make no mistake, true missional community means continuing to encourage each other because the mission can be hard sometimes.
Fast Forward to after work. A couple of the families from two of the house churches had decided to get together that night, but due to circumstances it was going to be me, the children, and the wives of all the families, but none of the men. So, I asked my wife if after we had dinner I could go and take care of some yard work a neighbor had flagged me down and asked for. So after eating together (missional communities eat together a lot!) the ladies allowed me to take off and go help the neighbor with the hopes of preaching the Gospel to them. Here is another facet of missional community: serving the lost out of the love of Christ in ways (we hope) give us opportunities to share the good news.
One of the reasons I happened to be the only guy at our dinner on Wednesday night was that Josh, who I had mentioned before, had to meet with a guy he has begun a discipling relationship with. I wasn’t there and can’t speak to what happened there, but the important thing to note is that missional community is about more than just serving. It’s about sharing the Gospel AND discipling those who come to Christ. The mission isn’t complete until we’ve made disciples.
I was forced to return earlier than I planned from helping neighbors. The neighbors I had gone to help weren’t home and shortly after that a big storm rolled in. I ended up on my front porch with my kids and several of the kids from the other families, while the ladies got a chance to encourage and fellowship with each other. For me, this is part of missional community as well–serving the body so each part is strengthened to share the Gospel.
The storm passed. One of the families left. Josh arrived from his meeting to pick up his family. After spending some time together enjoying our kids and talking, Josh and his family left to put their kids to bed. We thought our day was pretty much done. We put our kids to bed and began the process of winding down for the night.
At about 9:00 PM, my wife realized that she had a missed text on her phone. A neighbor and someone that’s been part of our church had been trying to get a hold of us. Her neighbor and friend had a window broken out of her front door by a disgruntled “guest.” Our friend and her neighbor were looking for some help fixing the situation. I sent my wife over to help (long story, but she was better in this particular situation) expecting her to help fix the door and have her back by 9:30.
Instead she returned around 10:30. She told me the story. When she arrived, it became clear that the situation was much larger than she thought. My wife realized that we might need to bring in a professional, but didn’t know who to call at that hour. We had a friend who repaired auto glass professionally that was part of yet another house church we hadn’t seen that day. She called him to get a recommendation about who to call. Instead, he came over, assessed the situation, and miraculously had the right tools to make the door secure that night. Tim, our friend, was the perfect blend of consistent and flexible that night. With the door secure, our neighbor and her children could rest easier knowing she was safe. This was yet one more example of serving the community with the hope of getting to share the Gospel.
I laid down in bed that night thinking of everything that had happened. Encouragement between the body. Discipleship. Attempts to serve the lost. Prayer. After going through the list, I was thankful that the Lord had allowed our body to pursue mission the way we have.
I don’t write this to boast in our house churches. Rather, I write this so that you can have a window into what missional community might look like on a given day. How do you get here? Find a group of people who love Jesus and want to walk out mission. Give yourself to encouraging the body and attempting to serve the lost around you. Always have the name of Jesus and the Gospel on your lips.
Often we think the workers are many and the harvest is small, but when we venture outside of our fellowships, we find that the harvest is great and the workers are few. If your community is truly committed to being a missional community you will find needs and as you try and meet those needs you will have the opportunity to share the Gospel. I guarantee it.
It’s a story that I hear over and over again.
Go down the street to a church that has had a measure of success and grown fairly large and talk to the people who have been there since the beginning. Those people will tell you about the days when the church was small. In the days when the church was just planted, everyone knew everyone else. It was like a small group. They knew each other like family. “Man, I miss those days,” is how I hear people sum up those beginning days.
What changed? Well, the church was able to attract people. More people kept coming. They had to get a building. Then they had to get a bigger building. The number of people caused the feeling of family to disappear. There were small groups, sure, but they didn’t feel the same. There was more business that needed to be attended to. The pastor was busier. Those who were around at the beginning had responsibilities to help the new people who were coming.
They grew out of that season.
There is a way to grow without losing that close-knit family. You can make more disciples without giving yourself to keeping the doors open and the lights on. It starts with a commitment to meet as a house church, to birth more house churches instead of growing large, and to make disciples who make other disciples instead of growing a crowd. Not all church plants have to lose the spirit of family and discipleship.
It’s a path we chose.
I regularly encourage people to begin meeting in homes, encouraging each other, witnessing to lost people, and making disciples. I do this because I see it as the apostolic pattern in the New Testament. As I’ve encouraged people to take these steps, I’ve seen two very distinct responses: One group seems to submit more and more to Jesus and biblical truth, the other group throws out the baby with the bathwater.
Having watched people, this transition is hard. Tradition (buildings, sermons, clergy, etc.) rather than the Lordship of Christ has been what has “kept people in line” for most of their lives. This realization that the tradition doesn’t have the support of the New Testament can cause people to throw off all restraints, including God-ordained ones. So not only do they get rid of buildings, sermons, and clergy, but they throw out sound doctrine, Scriptural purity, any kind of spiritual discipline, and commitment to other believers. These are quickly ship-wrecked in their walk with the Lord, because they aren’t just getting rid of traditions, they are getting rid of Christ’s lordship over their lives.
Which brings us to the topic of anarchy. The idea of anarchy is borrowed from the realm of government. It means a society without a government or more specifically a land not ruled by a king. The Church for a long time has submitted to illegitimate heads (think the Pope or abusive evangelical leadership structures) but the cure for the church is not “losing its heads.” The cure isn’t anarchy. The cure for the church is recovering submission to its true head: Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 5:23).
Instead of anarchy, instead of calling believers to throw off all restraint, our task is to call men and women to submit to Christ more fully and express that in ways that grow ever closer to the pattern we see in Scripture. We’re not looking for anarchy. We’re looking for the true headship of Christ expressed in His body. This is more like a reformation, where the very operating system of the church is reformatted and brought closer to it’s original design, than a free-for-all where we can pick and choose what parts of the Gospel we like or not.
So let’s test our previous assumptions. But let’s test them, not in the light of “doing whatever is right in our own eyes,” (Judges 17:6) but in relationship to Christ’s Lordship that we understand through a diligent and faithful study of God’s word. Let’s submit to the Kingship of God and find life and power beyond our understanding. Let’s pursue a reformation of the church and the removal of illegitimate kings, but let’s not throw away the kingship. Let’s just give it to the Man who deserves it: Jesus.
Once, when asked what he would do as the pastor of a church in a city, Billy Graham shared this strategy:
I think one of the first things I would do would be to get a small group of eight or ten or twelve men around me that would meet a few hours a week and pay the price. It would cost them something in time and effort. I would share with them everything I have, over a period of years. Then I would actually have twelve ministers among the laymen who in turn could take eight or ten or twelve more and teach them. I know one or two churches that are doing that, and it is revolutionizing the church. Christ, I think, set the pattern. He spent most of his time with twelve men. He didn’t spend it with a great crowd. In fact, every time he had a great crowd it seems to me that there weren’t too many results. The great results, it seems to me, came in his personal interview and in the time he spent with the twelve.1
So, I’ll ask again…why aren’t you starting a house church?
1This quote is famously captured in Robert E Coleman’s important book, “The Master Plan of Evangelism.
It was a normal Saturday. I was mowing the lawn when a woman I knew from a previous church walked by me and struck up a conversation. Much of the conversation was just the normal catching up, but then she turned to tell me a bit about one of her relatives who had been fiery for Jesus but was now struggling to find purpose and had stopped meeting with believers altogether. She asked me to pray for him, which I did.
I sat there, praying, and a thought hit me that seemed to be spontaneous enough that I should consider whether the Lord was inspiring it. This is what I heard: “There’s a certain kind of disappointment that can paralyze a man’s soul.”
As I pondered the thought, I realized that often we can have high expectations for God to move and for things to change, but there are two different responses in the heart of men. One response is to continue to press in more. The other response is to become heart sick when you don’t see the type of Christianity you’ve been believing for lived out among a group of people. Proverbs talks about this when it says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life,” (Proverbs 13:12).
This is the danger that so many of us risk running into. If we truly believe in apostolic Christianity, we run the risk of being disappointed if it doesn’t take root with our church. We can have a vision for revival and a move of the Spirit and when it doesn’t come in the time or the way we thought, we can become so heartsick we backslide. We can want to be a part of a house church so badly that we suffer in our walk with Christ when one doesn’t materialize. This isn’t just a theory, I’ve watched it happen with young men and young women who I thought were among the fieriest people I knew.
Disappointment makes our heart sick. So what do we do? Do we stop believing? Do we set the bar really low so no one can be disappointed? Not at all.
Instead, we press in to the heavenly vision that is given us. We also need to set our hearts on Jesus and not our vision. We take refuge in being loved by God regardless of whether we see everything we thought we would see. Often, those of us who are heartsick end up that way because the love of Jesus is not alive and active in our hearts, only the love of our vision. With the seeming death of our vision, we at best backslide and at worst walk away from our faith.
Friends, carefully guard your hearts so that your vision for Christianity and your life serve Christ. Make sure that Christ isn’t serving your vision. It’s the only way to protect your heart from this particular type of heart sickness.
And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.