The longer I am in ministry, the more convinced I am of a basic truth, “anything healthy reproduces.” Healthy Christians, by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, reproduce other Christians. Healthy churches, by the power of the Holy Spirit, reproduce themselves in ministry, Bible study units, and new congregations. Existing churches need to be the sponsors to accomplish this reproduction.
When you look at church planting in the Book of Acts, it is not an unnatural event. It is not forced on people by circumstance, nor is it something only a few churches do. When Paul evangelized and discipled, he always planted churches.There is much discussion today on the purposes of the church. Some say there are five: preaching/teaching, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, and worship. Others would add ministry and stewardship. Yet inherent in all these purposes, or maybe alongside all these purposes, is reproduction, multiplication, or church planting. By ignoring the obvious there is the unconscious suggestion, “That was for Paul’s day not for ours.Church planting must grow out of an attitude and atmosphere in a local church where sponsorship or multiplication is a core value.
In Acts 14:21-28, you see two phases to Paul’s ministry. First, he communicated the gospel. In verse 21, the text says, “They preached the good news” (literally evangelizdomensi, or they “gospeled” the city). The result was that large numbers became believers. In verses 21 and 22, they went back to the converts to strengthen and encourage them. The verbs used mean they established and fortified them. They taught and re-taught them “the faith,” probably a reference to theology and doctrinal beliefs, what we call discipleship.Second, Paul helped with church formation by making sure believers were congregated and leaders consecrated. In verse 23, “Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church….” It appears they saw the need to establish new congregations, each of which became a church in its own right, but not under Paul’s direct authority, nor dependent on him. He made them autonomous churches commissioned to fulfill the Great Commission. In verse 22, when he returned they were disciples. In verse 23, when he left they were churches.
The fact Paul appointed a plurality of leaders out of the converts suggests he did not keep them under his direct authority. He “committed them to the Lord,” which suggests his complete reliance upon the Holy Spirit to complete and preserve what had been started with this body of believers.Paul was traveling to and from Lystra, Iconium, Antioch, Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga, and Attalia (Acts 14:21, 24, 25). If he was visiting this many places, so were others. A type of globalization was occurring—mobile populations coming to the cities, the towns, and country areas. They brought with them their language, culture, and religion, or non-religion.Pluralization was also occurring. Different generations and people groups were being put together in their new communities. The “native” peoples were no longer homogenous. New opportunities and new models for evangelism and church planting emerged.Paul’s answer to globalization and pluralization in his day was gospel communication and church formation. I believe Acts 14 teaches us that these two “gospel companions” are the answer to our day of globalization and pluralization poised against the backdrop of postmodernism.
A final note from Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost, in their ground breaking bookThe Shaping of Things to Come say: “There is a new breed of Christian leadership, young and feisty, willing to experiment with audacious new versions of Christian communities within unchurched subcultures. Some will fail, others will have great success. But it seems to us they are more likely to succeed when legitimized, affirmed and supported by the more conventional, established churches and denominational structures in their midst. It’s time for the church in general to abandon its spirit of competition and acknowledge that these experimental groups have much to teach the rest of the Christian community about what it means to engage our culture, incarnationally and missionally.”