Friday, June 24, 2011

Strengthening the disciples

Acts 18:18-23

One of the patterns in Paul's ministry is that he stays in touch. In these verses we see him returning to Jerusalem, where the Jesus movement started, and then to Antioch, to the church that sent him out initially. Then he returns to the churches he planted on his missionary journeys to check in and encourage them.

Here's the basic model Paul follows:

1. Go to a new place where they haven't heard about Jesus.
2. Proclaim Jesus and gather those who respond to the message.
3. Start a church -- that is, equip this group to continue meeting.
4. Equip leaders in the areas of teaching, hospitality, leadership, etc.
5. Deal with problem issues.
6. Move on to the next place and repeat the process.
7. Write letters or come back to visit to encourage the church.

This is a fascinating model of church planting that is being rediscovered in our day as a dynamic way to start healthy churches. Too often, we have followed a model that looks more like this:

1. Equip a key person to know as much as possible.
2. Send them into a new place where people haven't heard about Jesus.
3. Have that person invest every possible resource to gather a large group around them.
4. Have that key person serve as the leader of a new church -- preacher, teacher, leader.
5. Have that key person stay in that place as long as possible. Five years is good, twenty-five is better.
6. Agonize over why the church doesn't continue growing and doesn't seem to produce more leaders. Instead it remains passive and dependent on the same key person.
7. In the majority of cases, this model totally fails and the church never outlasts the initial key person who tried to found it.

Why did Paul's model work -- producing a church that grew in just 200 years to take over the Roman Empire -- and ours, with the benefit of so much technology, wealth, and information, has a mixed track record at best?

If you're fascinated by this question, you might want to look up an old book by Roland Allen called Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? Allen takes this question head-on. It's a fascinating read, especially since Allen's ideas were written in the early 1900's and he recognized that no one would pay any attention until the later half of the 20th century. He was right.

Allen recognized that what we have done in our missionary methods is not to create churches, but to create dependent groups. We have not developed leaders and moved on; instead we have injected pastors who most often came from a different culture and had a disconnect from the context in which the church was planted. Paul developed indigenous leaders who came from the context in which the church was planted.

One lesson to learn from this is that maybe most of us are called to serve within our own context. In our own community. In our own culture. Maybe God wants you to catch fire where you live and then draw people like yourself to come and catch fire with you.

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