This is the last of a three part series on a few necessary ingredients I’ve seen for 21st century church planters reaching into North America. The first ingredient was Gospel Preaching — that is, we preach Christ. The Gospel Story has as its main Hero, Christ, God the Son. I encouraged you in the need to preach the Story because that is no longer known in our mission field. To tell someone they need to “receive Christ as Savior” has no context. To believe in Jesus for forgiveness without the Story is stranding people. We need to retell the whole Gospel Story because it is the only story that is compelling and cohesive, making sense out of life.
The second necessary ingredient of 21st Century church planters was Gospel Mission -- “We preach Christ to the unconverted” (2 Cor. 5:18-20; Rom. 5:6, 10). Missional Church is the rave now, as if no one planting prior to this decade were truly mission oriented. So we unpacked that briefly. The primary thought being that we are on a mission field in the USA. It is time for our planters to think of themselves as missionary evangelists and orient their lives and new works around that operating principle. “We are not in Kansas anymore, Toto.”
The final part of this exercise is Gospel Renewal — “We preach Christ to ourselves”.
Paul informed his protégé Titus that the gospel teaches us to live lives of ongoing repentance (to put off and say “No” to things that dishonor God and also our inordinate or over desires for what this world offers), ongoing Faith (Jesus gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify us for himself—as his very own!) and ongoing Following (“Yes” to live self-controlled-literally soberly-, upright and godly lives 2:11,12).
Ongoing Gospel Renewal is not a decrease of your desires and an increase of your will power to do better for God. Nor to be more faithful or more duty bound. It is not a matter of the will but the heart. We are always controlled by our deepest passions. People do what they love to do. And in launching a new church, it can easily become the thing we are most passionate about — at the expense of our kids, our wives, and even God. I know because I’ve been there and have a dozen T-shirts to prove it.
When Jesus is the true passion of your heart, your deepest joy and satisfaction, then all our other desire — (no longer “over desires” which control us) are brought into order.
Did you see how Paul helped Titus bring gospel renewal to his own life? This is what I call the Gospel Dance. Not a two-step of “Trust and Obey” or a One step of “Just believe” but a three step. It’s an ongoing renewal of Repentance, Faith, and Following in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
“The true secret to all ministry is spiritual power. It is not man’s genius, or man’s intellect, or man’s energy; but simply the power of the Spirit of the God of the Gospel. It is well for all ministers to bear this ever in mind. It will sustain the heart and give constant freshness to their ministry. A ministry that flows from abiding dependence upon the Holy Spirit can never become barren.
If a man is drawing on his own resources, he will soon run dry. It matters not what his powers may be, or how extensive his reading, or how vast his stores of information; if the Holy Spirit be not the spring and power of his ministry, it must, sooner or later, lose its freshness and its effectiveness. How important, then, that all who minister in the gospel should lean continually and exclusively on the power of the Holy Spirit. He knows what souls need, and He can supply it. But he must be trusted and used. It will not do to lean partly on self and partly on the Spirit (C H Macintosh, Notes on the Book of Numbers, 1861).”
Gospel Prayer is The Link to Preaching, Mission, and Renewal. “If preaching is mainly or primarily communication, then we should place a high premium on techniques; but if we want to reach the heart (the motivational level), the reality is only God can reach the heart. One of the means God uses to penetrate the heart is prayer. Martin Luther was asked if he had a choice between being a great preacher or a great prayer which would he choose. He said, a great prayer, because Jesus never taught his disciples how to preach” (Tom Wood, Church Planter Field Manual: Exploring).
Steve Brown, the president of Key Life and Seminary professor, once said, “Your commitment to praying in your sermon preparation needs to be greater than your commitment to your mortgage payment!”
In mission, Church Planting Evangelists ask God to save others. They also enlist the prayers of others to assist them in evangelizing others with the Gospel. “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ” (Colossians 4:3).
In renewal, prayer is vital because it deals with the affections of the heart. Jesus warned the religious leaders of his day that even though they were outwardly doing the right things their hearts were far away — hardened and cold. Religious people clean the outside and look right and pure but in the heart, the inside it is “like a dead man’s bones”.
Why is prayer so important to gospel renewal for a planter? I’ve found that prayer can be one of the first things to go in the life of a planter. Oh, they can keep the professional prayer life — the outside and external — ok, with prayer’s in the service or opening prayer in a small group; even the overused, “I’ll pray for you” farewell. But inside the cup, prayer is all but gone. And when we do privately pray, it is usually, “God bless my thing going on here. Bless this new work, make it grow.”
There are two types of renewal prayer: Interventive and Preventative. Interventive is how we pray when there’s a crisis or ongoing need. It’s how we pray when a child is sick or someone in the church is having a marital blow up. It’s our ongoing prayer list for the same things each week.
Preventative prayer is for our daily workout with God. It is the gospel dance in the soul. Ongoing time of repenting of my negative emotions and false beliefs (If I had more people coming then everything would be better or If God would send us some leaders we could really have a greater impact). Preventative ongoing repentance helps strip away my false saviors and idols.
It also informs my faith system with True Truth. Jesus really has done it all. I pray thankfully that He has lived the life I cannot live. His death has paid for my guilt and shame. His life now before the Father is one of intercession and provision. I have His Spirit in me. I have a True Midnight Friend, a Father, who knows what I need and is eager to give good things to me, his son. Even his own Spirit! With that, my new affections are to believe him and follow him. That is gospel renewal at its best.
In our new global, multi-ethnic, post-enlightenment, everything goes world what is a church planter to do? At the very least, Preach Christ, Connect People to Christ, and Renew the heart in Christ. Then Christ, who is head of the Church, will do his thing.
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In my last article about Gospel Ministry, I introduced the first essential in planting a church:
Gospel Preaching. Preaching is, at the very least, one primary way people get the Gospel. Preaching must have primacy in your ministry. You should consider yourself willing to grow and mature in your preaching because our aim is to introduce and reinforce the Gospel Story.
The second essential of 21st century Church Planters is Gospel Mission. “We preach Christ to the unconverted” (2 Cor. 5:18-20; Rom. 5:6, 10).
Wherever a work of God is advancing there will always be a counter offensive by the enemy. That is true all down through church history and revealed in the book of Acts. Acts is the second volume of “All that Jesus continued to do and teach” by means of the Holy Spirit, after his ascension. The founders of Acts 29 played on the idea that the Spirit was not done at the end of Acts 28, but that Jesus continues to expand his Church today. I’m not an Acts 29 pastor but I love the name. I have teased my Acts 29 friends that I want to start Acts 3.0.
My gospel ministry mentor, Dick Kauffman, began a talk I heard some twenty years ago with this remarkable insight: “All of history is shaped by two great movements: the movement of the Holy Spirit…and the movement of the forces of darkness opposing…Christ is building his Church and the gates of hell are seeking to prevail against it. Repeatedly, the enemy imposes obstacles in the form of persecution, hypocrisy, distractions, money, racism and elitism, criticism, popularity, and false teachers (I might add illness and death). In each case, the enemy’s goal is to prevent the bold proclamation of the gospel [and the planting of new churches]. Christ overcomes the obstacles not only to the gospel by also through the gospel”.
I am well aware that everyone is talking about “Missional Church” and “Missional Communities”. I am not persuaded we get it though. I recently interviewed a church planter candidate and he mentioned that he was part of MC. When I asked him to describe to me what life in his MC looked like, it was as small group of Christians meeting weekly eating, doing a Bible study, and talking about mission but not actually being in mission.
Here’s some key thoughts about Gospel Mission in Church Planting.
1. You need a clear definition of Gospel Mission and a clear path to how that is lived out in your context.
It is going to look different in NYC than it does in Franklin, TN. At the end of the day, I believe a Church Planter in the 21st Century in North America (given all the ism’s and tion’s mentioned in my previous article), has a call to the mission of being a missionary-evangelist. My friend David Jackson wrote, “All legitimate church planting is evangelistic in nature and purpose. Church planting which simply moves ‘sheep from one pen to another’ isn’t really church planting at all” (Planted: Starting Well, Growing Strong).
We are on a mission field full of western post Enlightenment secularists on the one side and a flood of immigrants from various religious cultures on the other. We no longer live in the days when one could send out a few thousand mailers, hang out a Church Sign, and then have de-converted or de-churched people come rushing to hear a new band, drink coffee, and listen to the next great speaker in town. Now, if you try that approach, you might get some unhappy churched people.
We have to take a friendship approach. Inappropriate confrontational evangelism is not a loving gospel apologetic. Missionary evangelists see their work as a process not an event. They provide multiple exposures to the gospel in words, works of mercy, and Christian community. There is the apologetic of shalom—bringing peace to the world at war: globally, racially, sexually, religiously, etc, all of which is ultimately spiritual in nature.
A great starting point is to see that God is already working in and speaking to the world. God has been witnessing to them and we work to help lost people see “God pointers” that they already have experienced but have but unaware of it being God.
2. You need a clear path of making disciples.
Disciple-making is, at a most basic level, connecting with others where you intend to understand and discern their life story (how and why God made them; how the fall has ruined their created design as well as their world; how Christ has redeemed; and what mission the Spirit intends for them to be part in the renewal of all things); and to do everything possible through the Word, prayer and community, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to develop and encourage them in their gospel dance (Faith, Repentance and Following) so they love, mature and reproduce the way Christ intends.
“The [Great] commission is not fundamentally about mission out there somewhere else in another country. It’s a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple. …Thus the goal of Christian ministry is quite simple, and in a sense measurable: are we making and nurturing genuine disciples of Christ?” (The Trellis and the Vine, Marshall & Payne).
Some have a path that involves regular, organic times of meeting for encouragement, prayer, and spiritual questions. Others use some type of curriculum. What is your path? What do disciples of Jesus have to know, be, and do? Contact me at cmmnet.org if you need help in this area.
3. You will need to clear the fear of being a missionary-evangelist.
I’ve found an insidious de-motivator for being a missionary evangelist. If we are honest with ourselves, we find it hard to share the gospel story and message with others because we are afraid of criticism or perhaps view it as a threat to our personal peace. Especially when someone attacks the Christian faith as something superstitious or as unintellectual.
Who in the New Testament, in your opinion, had most difficulty with fear? There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but if you read the prayers of the missionary church planter, Apostle Paul, maybe it was him. Remember, prior to his conversion, he was a Pharisee. His identity was being a pure, righteous Religious leader. His glory was in his moral record. He was fearlessly pursuing the people of the Way. In fact, they feared him. He arrested, abused, had stoned, put out of business. He was hostile, mean and fearless. He had the power; both religious power and State power. But then he met Jesus.
He regularly asked for boldness and implored people not to be afraid to share the gospel. Yes, he did say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel” as a bold proclamation, but he told the Corinthians he came to them in weakness, fear and much trembling. He later admitted, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed in our hearts we felt the sentence of death…”.
However, he wrote, God loved him and gave his life for him (Gal. 2:20). Love is the antidote to our fear. Love given to us, our love for him and for his gospel. In the gospel we are embraced by a love so great it drives out fear and frees us to love others in need of the gospel. By gospel love you can be a missionary evangelist. Do not look for courage to share the gospel. Courage isn’t the absence of fear. You may always have fear of sharing the gospel.
Next we will tackle the Third Essential: Gospel Community. But for now, download your FREE eBook “Gospel-Centered Discipleship” today!
Dr. Tom Wood
I've been in the Church Planting business my entire career. I want you to know, you don't have to plant a church alone!