Important Elements in Congregational Establishment
As we study the Pauline model of evangelism and church planting, several things come to the foreground. (This is not intended to be a comprehensive treatment of Paul’s approach.)
The true gospel of grace was taught. There is no need to advance beyond this point if the gospel of grace is not taught. Any other gospel will damn and not save (Gal.1:11f)! Salvation was won by Jesus Christ and, hence, the alien sinner must access God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8, 9; Rm.3:21f; 1:16, 17). That saving faith involves trust in Jesus as God’s Son who died, was buried and was bodily resurrected (I Cor. 15:1-4) culminating in one’s repentance of sins, confession of faith in Jesus and, then, faith identification with Jesus’ saving death, burial and resurrection in the waters of baptism when sins are washed away and the Spirit of God comes to live in the new Christian (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:3-5).
Synagogues were exploited where Jewish attendees (strong in the OT Scripture) polarized into believers and unbelievers. Jesus said, Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Without doubt, the messengers of Christ need to speak the truth in love, but speak the true, nonetheless. To hide any part of the essentials of the gospel is not to preach the gospel. But, when the messenger does so, the message will separate the sheep from the goats and the wheat from the tares. If done correctly, it will be the message that accomplishes the spiritual surgery! God does not need any assistance in redrafting the message—He just wants the ancient message preached.
Elderships were appointed in every church (apparently, from a composite of Jewish men who were converted from the local synagogues and/or men on whom the Apostles laid their hands leading to them receiving supernatural gifts from the Holy Spirit according to His will qualifying them for teaching and leadership). It is to be noted that when no synagogue was present where a church was planted, an apostolic representative remained behind, in one case, to ground the church and watch for the wolves, which is evidence by Luke in Philippi on Paul’s Second Missionary Journey. One of the critical needs in a 21st Century church-plant would be the mentoring and preparing of preachers, teachers and leaders on the local level. For such to take place now (since miraculous impartation of gifts by laying on of hands died with the last Apostle), evangelists in a 21st Century plant would need to commit to stay in any given location over a matter of years and not a matter of months.
There is not the single thread of evidence that Paul’s church-plants received outside financial support from Jerusalem and/or Antioch of Syria. Such can easily foster a paternalistic dependence on the part of the members of the church-plant creating an environment contributory to the dwarfing of the spiritual growth of church members and potential indigenous leaders in the church-plants. Check the NT for yourself and see, if anything, Paul’s church-plants were the ones who sent financial aid to him from time to time and to needy saints in Jerusalem. To break with this clear element in Paul’s method is to invite serious consequences of dependence on outside congregational support and/or decision-making in the plants, which, very often, never move beyond that dependence. If a congregation remains dependent and/or dwarfed spiritually, do you think they are contemplating planting other churches? Church plants need to be self-propagating, self-financed and self-led as quickly as possible. Ultimately, congregations need to grow to the point that they are self-theologizing. Instead of being defended by the evangelist and/or outside church leaders against false doctrine, they become capable of standing their own ground in the word of God and not to be cast to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Eph.4:11-16). What a joy to see children grow, but, if the average child is handed everything without any effort on their part, there is a great danger they will remain dependent and crippled long after they should have become independent and walking with the Lord as mature Christians! This is true with church-plants as well. Instead of seeing them remain dependent on the teachings of others, the Hebrew writer’s admonition was for his readers to go on unto perfection (Heb.5:12). It is from those God blessed and homegrown, indigenous Christians that the future preachers and leaders of the church should be born.
Churches Paul planted were germinal and, hence, Paul assumed, correctly, that churches he planted would evangelize the regions around about them and plant other churches. This is why in Colossians 1:23 that Paul could say that every creature under heaven had heard the gospel by A.D. 62. Paul planted churches in hub-cities and his church plants would evangelize the spokes of the wheel. It is a tragedy, indeed, when congregations of the church exist for half a century and fail to plant other churches. Many seem to, unwittingly, aim at becoming mega-churches instead of planting mega numbers of churches! Just imagine how our training and teaching programs in the local congregations would change, radically, if members understood that they were being prepared to function in new church plants which needed teachers, preachers and leaders. We could get our spiritual exercise from church planting and not church hopping. It would erase the spectator mentality and engage members in being prepared for works of service in a spiritual body where every joint supplies (Eph.4:6). How many capable preachers and teachers are sidelined in huge churches each Sunday and not used? In terms of the parable of the talents, only God knows how we will be judged on the final day for keeping those talents buried when untold millions remain untold!
Discipleship was an indispensible dimension of church planting. Jesus not only brought the man of salvation and the message of salvation, but the method of world evangelism. We certainly must never compromise the man or the message, but why have we surrendered the method Jesus employed? Jesus approached a group of simple Galilean fishermen and challenged, Follow me and I will make you to become fishers of men (Mk.1:17). The reason this is not in wide use today in congregations is that it takes time to disciple someone who will become able to teach others also (2 Tim.2:2). We live in the world of the instant and speed—Internet speed, instant coffee and fast food. Disciple making and leadership training take time—there is no short cut. But, to neglect to disciple those baptized is to fail in world evangelism. What is the lowest common denominator in soul winning? Someone might say, “Well, it is a Christian messenger sharing the gospel with a lost soul.” I disagree with that equation. I believe the lowest common denominator in evangelizing the world is a Christian messenger sharing the gospel of grace with a lost soul with a disciple training at the messenger’s side. That transforms a ministry, which adds souls to one which multiples souls and disciples able to teach others to teach others until Jesus returns. Paul taught and planted churches with the likes of Timothy, Titus, Silas, Luke and numbers of others at his side. He was winning souls, planting churches and, yet, preparing messengers. Any church plant or congregation deleting this vital element is eliminating the key to world evangelism!
Financial support was sent to Paul from time to time and he worked with his own hands on occasions to supply physical necessities. This would mean that messengers today might need to dirty their hands while reaching the out to the lost. It might mean that the retirement we have worked so hard toward needs to be used to finance us in the field preaching Jesus. Frankly, I believe the return of Jesus would look much sweeter, indeed, from the field of battle rather than from a beachfront condo. Would you give your retirement to support the Christian you know best (you) in the field helping plant a church? Are you an elder or former elder who could relocate to a field where a church is being planted and put the church-plant fifteen years ahead by your maturity, wisdom and knowledge? Can preachers serve as vocational missionaries preaching with grease on their hands? Have we formalized the proclamation of the gospel into something Paul would scarcely recognize? Are we getting ready to go when we should have long since gone?
There were preachers and evangelists who could serve (short to long-term) in grounding the church after Paul’s departure. (This fact is evidenced by Luke’s extended stay in Philippi; Timothy’s work in Thessalonica & Berea; etc.) The Antioch Initiative Team has been frozen awaiting an evangelist to take up his work in Valley Cities. No doubt, we have been praying, searching, interviewing, planning, etc. I say, frozen, because we know there is little need to have a campaign in those three towns unless someone remains in the region to follow-up on campaign contacts through one-on-one studies & interactions, visiting, teaching and preaching. Hence, we have been holding at bay a large number (we think) of campaigners awaiting the location and placement of the evangelist in Valley Cities. Campaigners from various parts of the U.S. have been reading and following developments in this vision of planting churches in NE Pennsylvania. Could we have added a Pauline element and campaigned much sooner? Absolutely! How? We needed a person like Paul who could go and remain in a town for a shorter to longer period of time evangelizing. Then, we needed and need those who could go and remain for other increments of time in those same towns to assist in grounding the new Christians and continue to follow up on campaign contacts. In that way, the congregations we are seeking to plant could, potentially, be planted long before the permanent evangelists are located and placed in the fields. Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke planted the church in Philippi and Luke remained behind to seek souls and ground the new Christians. Could you be a Luke in this work? Could you commit yourself and your family to pull your motor home to a hookup in a targeted city and stay there until relieved? Just because you have retirement and desire does not mean you are like Luke. What do I mean? I mean are you strong in the word of God and will you teach the same gospel taught by Paul? But, if so, I challenge to you to step forward! What better way could you spend these years of your life than to become a vital element in multiple church planting in the Northeast and other parts of the U.S.A?