Over the last year, I have been reading through the Gospels and the book of Acts in an attempt to understand how Jesus and his disciples thought about starting new churches. It seems clear that Jesus intended believers to live out their faith in community, and both Peter and Paul, the primary leaders that we see in the book of Acts, definitely seem to be carrying out this intent in forming communities, but is it possible to say that there is a process, a roadmap, a pattern to starting these new churches?
I don’t think that we can say that the process is perfectly linear in the sense that you could outline an ordered set of steps, but I have come to believe that there are specific points that we can see in the scripture that are important to seeing new churches started.
As a result, with humility, knowing A) that I am not a Biblical scholar, and B) that I am continuing to learn, I am writing what I believe are these points. To give these points and process a name, I will call it a Biblical Roadmap for Starting New Churches and plan to refer to this as I go forward.
To get started, I think that I want to start with the practice that I see in the book of Acts, and then look back from time to time to Jesus’s teachings to understand why the disciples were doing what they were doing as they started churches.
But the book of Acts in chapter 1 actually starts with Jesus. He is about to ascend to heaven, and he knows that the disciples, while they have learned a lot, still do not have the spiritual fortitude and power that they will need to do the task that he is sending them to do. As a result, he tells them to go back to Jerusalem and to wait. They had seen the water baptism of John the Baptist, and presumably had also taken part in being baptized as they were baptizing others. Now, they were to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, and Jesus says that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon them.
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
I think it is a fair question to ask Why. Why was receiving the Holy Spirit so important that the disciples should wait to receive it? Here are a few quick things that I can think of based on the first few chapters of Acts:
- Upon receiving the Spirit, there was such a great curiosity in the languages that the disciples were speaking as they praised God in other tongues that they caught the attention of a great crowd of people. The result was that Peter was able to share the Gospel and have 3,000 people believe in that one day.
- Upon receiving the Spirit, we see the disciples transform from being a small, likely-scared group of spiritual misfits whose leader is no longer around to become a small army of confident leaders themselves, showing both Jews and Gentiles the way to God through faith in Jesus. From a human perspective, the movement that they were a part of was on the verge of falling apart, but now, powered by the Spirit of God within them, it would not only revive, but grow even stronger than ever before.
- We see the disciples perform powerful physical healing miracles. Starting in Acts 3 with Peter and John healing the man who was begging of them, and going further into Acts 5 where it says that all of the people who were sick or tormented were healed.
There is a stark contrast between what we see as the attitude of the disciples in Acts 1 and later in Acts 5. The disciples were wondering when Jesus would be restoring the Kingdom to Israel, and then suddenly, Jesus leaves and they are left looking up at the sky, wondering what was happening.
Then just a little while later, we see these same men, now powered by the Holy Spirit that God had given to them, walking around with healing power, leading a fairly large – and growing – number of people, walking in faith as a community following Jesus.
Is it possible that all of this could have happened without God sending his Spirit? Would it be possible for these men to manufacture the change in attitude? To manufacture the healings that were taking place? And for that matter, to manufacture it on behalf of the others that were believing, joining the community of the disciples, and changing their lives, even putting themselves at significant risk as they run afowl of the Jewish leaders directly in the heart of the power seat of Judaism there in Jerusalem?
To me, it seems unlikely that any of this would have happened without God baptizing the disciples with the Holy Spirit…and this was only the beginning of what was to come as the Good News of Jesus Christ began to spread out from Jerusalem to the Jews and Gentiles alike across the world.
So what does this mean for us today? I think the answer to that question is both simple and challenging. I believe that God’s desire is:
- To bring all people from around the world to Himself through Jesus. We can see evidence of this from the very beginning to the very end of the scriptures, and we even see that God, of course, accomplishes this desire.
- He wants to use us, his people, to accomplish this task. Jesus left his disciples to continue the work that he started, and it is a work that even continues to this day.
- He wants to do this so much that He sends His Spirit to come and dwell with us, with the intent to give us the same Spirit, intended to provide even the same type of power to do the same work, that we read in the book of Acts. Similar to sending Jesus to be with us, He continues to dwell with us despite our failings, because he loves us and He wants us empower us to continue to show and spread that love to others directly in our communities where we live and around the world.
I’m saying all of this to say that I believe the first step in seeing communities of churches who are ready to redeem the world is to wait on God and receive the Holy Spirit. There is much more that we can say here about How this happens that I am continuing to learn and will need to cover another time. For now, my encouragement for those who are followers of Jesus is to ask God to fill you with His Spirit, to pray, and wait for Him to respond. At that point, we can begin to consider the next steps in following and obeying Jesus as we make disciples and see communities of grace-filled, world-changing believers arise around us because of the work of the Spirit within us.