Apostolic Church Planting
FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS,
volume 13, number 40, October 2, 2014
For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost,
At the end of his second missionary journey, where Paul had earlier answered the Macedonian call and taken the gospel into Europe, first establishing churches in Macedonia, then making his way down through Athens to Achaia and the church at Corinth; Paul stopped off briefly in Asia Minor at Ephesus, the center of the worship of Diana, the false goddess, where the Temple of Diana stood, one of the wonders of the ancient world. His second journey ended around 52 A.D. Less than a year later, leaving from Antioch Paul made a direct bee line to Ephesus. Obviously he saw something strategic about that city. We know, from reading Acts, Ephesians, Colossians, and Revelation that at least ten churches were planted through the epicenter church at Ephesus. We also know that Paul stayed in Ephesus two years and God did mighty deeds there, turning that city upside down (Acts 19). After two years or so, Paul went back into Macedonia and then to Achaia, strengthening the churches as he went. He retraced his steps, leaving Europe at Philippi, meeting up with his fellow workers at Troas. From there he made his way down to Miletus, calling for the Ephesian elders to meet him there.
Okay, by now you are asking, “What is the point of recounting Paul’s travel itinerary?” Most scholars believe Paul’s third missionary journey was from 53 to 57 A.D. The first two years were at Ephesus and since we are told by Luke that the Ephesian elders met Paul at the end of his journey, around 57 A.D., this means that a number of former pagan worshippers of Diana, sorcerers, and exorcists, became elders in the church of Jesus Christ within two years, or no more than three years, after their conversion. Is that the way we typically do things in the western church? Is that the way mission organizations train leaders? We see something similar when Paul told Titus to appoint elders in every church on the island of Crete. Paul wrote Titus during what some scholars call his fourth missionary journey, his first journey to Rome, between 59 and 62 A.D. Paul did not wait long to train and deploy church leaders.
There is the Apostolic methodology and then there is our methodology. We take years to train church officers, often taking men out of their cultures, rendering them irrelevant to their former communities when they go back to serve them. I mentioned last week that Good Shepherd/Operation Mobilization, India Ministries has a vision to touch the lives of 25 million people with God’s love by 2025. They hope to do so mainly through planting churches. They now have 3000 churches, so how do they hope drastically to expand this number in eleven years? First of all, Good Shepherd Community Church does not consider a group a church unless it has at least twenty adult members and a pastor. Second, they are not expecting one pastor per church. Most pastors now shepherd several congregations. They limit a pastor to no more than seven congregations! Wow. Can you imagine the work load these pastors must have? Good Shepherd/OM India presently train their leaders at their headquarters in Secunderabad where I was teaching. Their students spend nine months per year in the field and two months in Biblical and theological instruction at the Good Shepherd/OMI headquarters. They have one month per year to go visit their families in their local towns or villages. Good Shepherd/OMI plans to expand their training centers to many regional venues, thus making it easier to train more potential leaders at less cost.
So here is how it will work-let’s say a young man from a particular village comes to faith in Christ out of a Hindu background. Those who led him to Christ will immediately engage him in ministry. The new believer will learn the basics of discipleship-how to pray, how to read and study the Bible, and how to witness the gospel to the lost. If the person is unable to read, then they will teach him the Bible stories so that he can communicate them to others. As the new believer engages in ministry, the leaders will look for evidence of spiritual gifts. If one shows promise as a preacher or evangelist, then they will direct him in one of these areas of service. The new believer will then undergo a very intensive training program, day and night, for three months. Then he will be sent out into the field with supervision, but he will be expected to preach or evangelize. He will be completely dependent upon God’s provision of his basic needs. He typically will reach out to those in his own community.
There is a vital, underlying rationale why this is working in India and why we seldom, if ever, see it being done in the western church. It is the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit convicting, converting, sanctifying, and propelling people into ministry. When the Holy Spirit is powerfully working then ministry flows. To be sure, there is always the issue of heresy and division that can sabotage any movement of God, but the Apostle Paul dealt with these things in his epistles. What we find in India and other places where the Spirit of God is mightily at work is an energy, an intensity, and intentionality of action. God is on the move and the people get on the gospel train and ride it as fast and furiously as they can. The prospects of planting all these churches and reaching as many as 25 million people is not as far fetched at it may sound. This amounts 1000 people in each church. We must keep in mind that India has 1.2 billion people so there is much, much work to be done; but statistics show that 1 million people per year are coming to Christ in India. That’s 2740 people a day! What a mighty movement of God! He is doing great things.
What can we learn from our brothers and sisters in India? First, this mighty work in India is clearly a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. They did not manufacture this, nor can we in the west. Think of the groundwork of missionaries like William Carey, “Praying” Hyde, and so many, many more who labored for decades with little or no outward evidence of success. These saints were plowing fallow ground, sowing gospel seed where no one had sown before, seeing very little harvest. But now, in due time, the Sovereign One has ordained the harvest that has begun and we rejoice. Second, I pray that the work of God in India will provoke us in the western church to a godly, sanctified “jealousy”, not unlike what Paul said the Jews would experience when the gospel came to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11). I pray the remarkable success of the gospel in India will move us to pray earnestly, to search our hearts, to see our coldness, unbelief, lethargy; and to ask the Holy Spirit to visit us once again, as He so marvelously did in the First and Second Great Awakenings (1735-1755, 1792-1863). And third, we must pray. Pray first for the purity of the gospel to continue, that God would prevent the devil from sowing seeds of heresy, division, and strife. Pray for God to sustain our Indian brothers and sisters when they face increased persecution which is most likely to come. It is already there in many places. And then pray for the Holy Spirit to come down upon us, for Him to raise up fervent, fearless, Spirit anointed men who will spend and be spent for the sake of the gospel. The Indian church understands what we have most likely forgotten-we are in a spiritual war. The church is not a country club. It is a base of military operations where God’s people are to be trained, equipped, and deployed to take the gospel to the nations, beginning in our home towns. Indeed, the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses, and we are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). May we, therefore, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that our labor in the Lord is never in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
1. For an enlightening and challenging look at this in more detail, I commend to you Roland Allen’s Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s Or Ours?