Discipleship leads to church

Throughout the scriptures, whether in Jesus’s teachings, in the first church, or in the subsequent efforts from the apostle Paul, we can see that discipleship of Jesus leads to starting churches.

Jesus’s teaching

If we return to see how Jesus taught his disciples in the parable of the sower, we see that the parable ends with a harvest, or a gathering of the ripened grain. Jesus said:

“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Mark 4:26-29

In this parable, we see a picture of sowing seed (sharing the word of God, or the Gospel), then the new plant growing (discipleship), and then finally a harvest. It is this final part of gathering a harvest that I believe points us in the direction of seeing new churches planted.

At a later time, Jesus told Peter that he was the rock upon which he would build his church.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Matthew 16:18

It is clear, then, that Jesus intends to build a church and Peter is the disciple from which Jesus intends to start this process and build from.

Is this what we see happen? The simple answer is Yes. We even see that the church begins with Peter’s preaching after the disciples had been filled by the Holy Spirit.

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Acts 2:38-41

Jesus was aiming in the direction of starting and building his church from these disciples, and that is what we see continued as the disciples continue to move forward in their ministry, carrying on from what they learned from Jesus.

Practice of the new generation of believers

If we skip forward in the book of Acts, I believe that we continue to see a similar pattern. Following the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7, we see that the people of the church in Jerusalem are scattered as persecution breaks out among the believers. At this time, the only ones that didn’t leave Jerusalem were the original apostles, but the rest of the people are now carrying on the movement into Judea, Samaria, and beyond.

Picking up the story in Acts 11, we see that some of the believers are sharing the Gospel among the Jews, and some, following the example of Peter, begin sharing among the Gentiles as well. Many of these people believe, so we see that the leaders bring in Barnabas and Saul who will teach and disciple the people and form a church now in Antioch as a result.

Moving on further to Acts 13, we see that the church in Antioch, inspired by the Holy Spirit, sends out Saul (Paul) and Barnabas for a new work. This new work, as we will see, is to go into new places, and establish new communities of believers, new churches, where the Gospel has not been shared. I’ve previously written on how Paul and Barnabas entered these new places and then went on to make disciples among these new believers.

Paul’s practice in establishing churches

Now, Paul and Barnabas have finished this first journey through the Galatian area and they are ready to return home to Antioch. But before they do, they need to affirm leaders within these communities and firmly establish the churches. So they return back to each of these communities and set them in place to be a light within their own communities:

Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

Acts 14:21-23

So we see that Paul’s practice, following evangelism and discipleship, is to gather the community together and establish churches, presumably according to a pattern that was established prior to Paul being commissioned to go and do his missional work.

Paul taught others to start churches

In Acts, we see that Paul took two more missional trips prior to being arrested in Jerusalem and taken to Rome. In the third trip, Paul seems to change his strategy and begins to train some of the leaders that have been raised up from within the churches that have been started.

In Acts 19, we find Paul in Ephesus where he takes the disciples that he has made and begins teaching them over a period of two years:

Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.

Acts 19:8-10

Here, we see that there is an amazing outcome from this time of teaching and training. All of the Jews and Greeks in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. Awesome! But there is something further here that isn’t listed directly within this passage. We also see, although not directly within this passage but in other scriptures, a series of churches are established. These are churches in areas where we have no evidence that Paul ever went:

  • Colossae
  • Smyrna
  • Pergamum
  • Thyatira
  • Sardis
  • Philadelphia

How were these churches established? I think it is reasonable to believe that these disciples that Paul taught not only shared the word of the Lord, but went on to establish these churches, following the same pattern that Paul followed, which was the same pattern that the believers followed before him in Antioch, who followed the pattern set by the apostles, who fulfilled the teaching that Jesus taught. As a result, I believe that the Biblical pattern is to not only evangelize and make disciples, but to establish new churches as communities of believers who will be the representation and body of Christ in this area.

What do you mean when you say “church”?

It has been interesting to realize, once again, how true it is that words have specific meanings, yet depending on your experience, a particular word may have one meaning to one person, and a very different meaning to someone else.

I have seen this to be true as I have talked about the word “church” with the people around me. To many, this might mean a particular building that you go to for worship, or especially here in Italy, it might mean the Catholic church based in the Vatican in Rome. To others, it might mean a specific way of worshiping that requires a specific tradition.

Over the last several weeks, I have been writing a few posts on what I have seen as a Biblical roadmap for starting new churches, so I thought that it might be helpful to talk about what I mean when I say the word “church”.

My intent here is not to go into a lot of background definition of what the church is and what it is not. This can be important to think about, and I would definitely encourage us to go and read some articles to help provide this background. Here are a few that might help:

Instead of these definitions, I would like to take one step further and talk about what we mean when we say “church”, practically speaking. In other words, what is happening? In our case, the model comes from the description of the first community of believers after the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in the book of Acts in chapter 2.

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2:36-47

So, what are the main elements that we see within this newly formed community?

Repentance and Baptism – Initially, following Peter’s proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah, the people repented of their sin and believed in Jesus as the Christ. This becomes the entrance into the community, a sign of a new believer.

Next, it says that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, so here we see that there was Leadership within the community of believers. Given that this is the first community of believers ever, the apostles are doing the leading. However, in the future, and in other expressions of the church, we see additional roles of leadership. For now, in summary, I see these:

  • Elders – as the Apostle Paul developed communities, he appointed elders who would lead the church, spiritually and in other types of oversight. For example, in Acts 14:23, it says: Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
  • Deacons – these are people who will lead through serving within the church. In Acts 6:2-4, we see that the apostles appointed some men who would care for the physical needs of the church: So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
  • Equippers – Sometimes, these are called “offices” of the church, but in short, we are told that these are people that Jesus has given to the church to build up the people within the church, to equip them for the work. In Ephesians 4:11-13, it says: So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Teaching the Word of God – Acts 2 continues by saying that the people devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They heard directly from Jesus, who himself routinely quoted the Old Testament, so the apostles would be teaching the Word of God to the people in this new church.

Love and Fellowship – In fellowship, the people stayed together in community, united with one another around their belief in Christ and their newly-found understanding of him as the Messiah, encouraging one another to continue to grow in Christ.

Eating together / Lord’s Supper – It says that the believers broke bread together. We can assume that this means, at least in part, that the disciples were following Jesus’s command to remember his sacrifice by taking the Lord’s Supper together, receiving the bread as a remembrance and symbol of his broken body, and taking the wine as a sign of the new covenant in Jesus’s blood. Of course, these were probably not the only times they were eating together as they were also fellowshipping together and spending time together, so I think we can also assume that they were simply also having meals together as well.

Prayer – As a core component of the church, the believers continued to call out to God, speaking with him and hearing from him directly.

Signs and wonders through the Spirit – Acts 2:43 says that the apostles were performing signs and wonders. We know that the apostles received the Holy Spirit, so we see that the Spirit continued to move within the context of the church, performing signs and wonders to confirm the truth of the Word and the validity of the mission of the community.

Generosity and Giving – Within this community, they said that they had everything in common. It says that they even sold possessions to help those that were in need. We see a sacrificial use of money to help others.

Praise and Worship – We see that the community met together corporately for worship. In their case, this new church did this both in homes as well as within the temple courts.

Evangelism – The initial baptism of 3,000 people wasn’t the end of the outreach that the community would do. Instead, people were being reached and baptized on a daily basis.

As we think about the minimum requirements for the Biblical community, a church, this is what we mean. If we are missing elements noted above, we may be in community and may even call the community a church, but we are working to teach and act upon the need for these elements within the community.

There is a good video that briefly illustrates this new community of believers within Acts here:

In the community of believers outlined in Acts 2, we see that there are several components of the community that happen outside of the meeting of the church. But the meeting of the church is also an important component.

Strategically-speaking, given that we are attempting to equip new believers to also be able to lead a meeting, we use a tool called the 3/3rds Group. Below is a video that we created to help describe the 3/3rds Group. Note that we use the same structure for non-believers Bible study as well as foundational discipleship, so the video addresses these scenarios as well.

The advantages of using this type of structure include:

  • Simplicity, making it easy to teach to others, allowing them to lead a meeting as well.
  • Flexibility to use with non-believers, believers, or in a church setting.
  • Elasticity to allow elements of a church meeting to be inserted as needed.

Our intent in developing churches this way is that it provides a structure that can be used by anyone that we are training to lead others. That said, it is important to note that we are not saying that this is the only way that churches can be led or should be led. There are certainly many parts that we like within this structure, but we certainly affirm a structure of church that effectively implements the elements of the church noted above.

Make Disciples

Jesus said that, because he was given all authority on heaven and earth, his disciples should therefore go and make disciples for him among all of the nations. He didn’t call us to go make converts or believers. Instead, he said that we are to go make disciples.

I believe that this is a core component of the Biblical church planting process and what Jesus taught his disciples to do throughout his time of training them to continue the work that he started here on earth.

As I look at this topic, there are a few questions that I would like to try and answer. These are the questions that I’d like to consider:

  • What did Jesus teach his disciples related to making disciples?
  • What did Jesus instruct his disciples to do while he was training them?
  • What does it mean to make disciples?

What did Jesus teach his disciples?

As I read Mark 3-6, I see a process where Jesus is starting a training process for his disciples. In Mark 3, we see him choose 12 disciples from among the crowd of people. In Mark 4, he moves on to teach them some basic principles about the Kingdom of God. In Mark 5, he takes them out for a first missionary journey, and then in Mark 6, he sends them out to practice for themselves, gaining experience in teaching others the same things that he has been teaching them.

Let’s look at a couple of examples from Jesus’s teaching through parables that I think relate directly to this idea of making disciples. Both of them are within Mark 4 as Jesus is teaching the people and revealing the secrets of the parables to his disciples.

First, look at the parable of the sower that sows seed on four types of soil:

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Mark 4:1-9

As I read this, I see that there are four types of soil. Jesus later explains that these are different types of people and the seed is like the word of God. Like the different types of soil, the different people receive the word of God in a different way.

Consider this question: How many types of people believed when they heard the word? You might be tempted to say there was only one, just the good soil. However, I think that the answer here is that there were three different soils where the seed initially produced a sprout of a plant, meaning that there were three different types of people that at least initially believed, and maybe even grew for a while.

But I think that we see that in the case of the seed that fell among the rocky soil and the seed that fell among the thorny soil, we see that the believers don’t grow in the way that Jesus is hoping and expecting that they will. They are not the good soil. Instead, the good soil grows and produces a crop. This seed is marked by growth into a mature plant itself and reproduces itself as well. It is clear from the parable that this is the type of growth that Jesus is looking for. Not just belief and initial growth, but instead full maturity that leads to reproduction.

If we move down a little further, we see something similar in the parable of the growing seed. He said:

“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Mark 4:26-29

Like the previous parable of the four soils, we see a similar pattern in this case. The seed that is being sown is intended to grow fully, to grow into maturity, creating a stalk, a head, and a full kernel. It is even intended to grow, and only then, once the grain is fully ripe and ready, does the farmer bring the sickle and harvest the grain.

In both of these parables, Jesus uses a metaphor of a growing plant, but the implication is clear. Initial sprouting or stunted growth does not fulfill the intent that Jesus has for his disciples. Instead, Jesus is calling for complete growth that will produce a crop, a full harvest. It is a picture of growth, a picture of fully developed discipleship of Jesus.

This is what Jesus teaches his disciples before he sends them out.

What did Jesus tell his disciples to do as he trained them?

Jesus is going to continue the disciples training by giving them some practical experience. He sends them out to do the same things that he has been doing. He gives them authority over evil spirits and then tells them to go out to other villages two-by-two. As he sends them, he says that they are to enter a house and stay there, not moving around.

I’ve wondered why Jesus tells them that they should stay in one place and not move around. Shouldn’t they be focused on spreading the message to as many people as they can? Shouldn’t they be going to all of the houses?

I think that we can get a clearer picture of Jesus’s intent if we look at a similar situation described in Luke:

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Luke 10:2

It is a similar scenario in that Jesus has sent out his disciples. Again, he tells them not to move around after they find a house that will accept them and the message of peace that they bring. But this first command that he gives his disciples is instructive. As he sends the disciples, the first thing that he tells them to do is to Ask for workers. But where are these workers going to come from? Remember that, at this time, there are no other workers. These disciples are the ONLY disciples, so it isn’t like today in that there are more workers from some other place that God can send out. These disciples are asking for workers that can only come from the places that they are going.

I think this fact, that the workers must come from the harvest field, may give us a good clue as to why Jesus tells the disciples to enter a house and stay there. I believe that Jesus intends that the people in this house where they will be staying will become the workers that they are praying for as they start their journey! For that village at least, they are to become the workers that the disciples are praying for as they go out. The disciples are to stay in that house so that they can not only eat and have a place to sleep, but they will, of course, be teaching them the things that they have learned from Jesus, confirming the message by driving out evil spirits and healing people, doing exactly what they have seen Jesus do.

I believe that what Jesus taught in the parables and how he instructed his disciples when he sent them out are related. Jesus is growing his disciples, producing men who will not only believe but will grow to maturity and produce a harvest. And now, Jesus continues teaching them by sending them out to do the same thing with others that he is doing with them. It is all part of the same discipleship process of receiving from Jesus and passing on what they have received to also give it to others.

What does it mean to make disciples?

Directly within the command to make disciples, Jesus gives us some clues about what it means to make disciples. Here is what he said:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

Matthew 28:19-20

From this, I see at least three things that I think we should consider:

First, he says that the disciples should be made from all nations. Immediately, Jesus turns our attention from just our own people to that of others around the globe. I believe that this portion of the command actually harkens all of the way back to the blessing of Abraham when God told him that he would be blessed so that he could be a blessing to all nations. Now, Jesus restates this in a different way by saying that the disciples’ disciple-making efforts should take into account people from all nations. In this way, the blessing, just as was promised to Abraham, will be extended to all nations.

Second, he says that we are to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is a beginning point, of course, to the discipleship process. There is a point at which people demonstrate through baptism that they are publicly declaring their repentance and belief in Jesus, but it doesn’t end there, because he continues on to the third part…

At the end of the sentence, Jesus tells the disciples to teach them to obey everything that he has commanded them. Jesus’s disciples are to make more disciples, living the same type of lifestyle and following Jesus in the same way that they were taught. And by the way, given that Jesus commanded them to make disciples, and they are told to teach these new disciples to do everything that he commanded them to do, that means that the new generations of disciples should also make disciples. Therefore, the commands that Jesus gave to his disciples, including that of making disciples, are all commands for those of us who consider ourselves disciples of Jesus yet today.

Jesus said similar things in similar ways at other times as well. For example, one of the most simple statements that he made was when he was teaching his disciples. Very simply at one time, he said:

If you love me, keep my commands.

John 14:15

Yes, Jesus tied our love for him to obedience of the things that he taught.

In addition, he gave his disciples a command that would identify them as his disciples:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:34-35

So, at the least, from these things that Jesus said, I think that we can say that making disciples means teaching others to obey Jesus and the commands that he gave us and to love one another. In these things, I see that Jesus calls us to action. Not simple thoughts or emotions, but action and movement as we become disciples and make disciples of him as well.

New Believers Become the Church

I think it is safe to say that the most prolific church planter that we can read about in the scriptures was the Apostle Paul. He started many churches where there were no churches before and taught new disciples to do the same.

As a result, as we think about a Biblical Roadmap for Starting New Churches, I think we should look at how Paul entered a new area and began the process of starting a church.

I’ve walked through each of the new churches in each of the towns in Acts 13-20 where we can see that Paul labored himself to start the church. It is clear to me that there is a pattern in how Paul did his work and my goal here is to show how Paul did that work, and then look back at the work and teachings of Jesus and see if there are similarities or ideas that we can understand from Jesus that may have informed how Paul worked.

Paul’s Entry Pattern

Here are the entries into each city that I could find for Apostle Paul:

Cyprus – The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper. Acts 13:4-5

Pisidian Antioch – “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. Acts 13:38-39

Iconium – At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. Acts 14:1

Lystra – “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. Acts 14:15

Derbe – They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Acts 14:21

Philippi – On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. Acts 16:13-15

Thessalonica – As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Acts 17:2-3

Berea – As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:10-11

Athens
So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. Acts 17:17

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship —and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. Acts 17:22-23

Corinth – Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. Acts 18:4

Ephesus – They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. Acts 18:19

In addition, because we are talking about how Paul entered an area, I’m going to give honorable mention to a dream that Paul had about a man in Macedonia who was asking for help as it is illustrative of what Paul believed should be happening in each of the areas where he was traveling:

Macedonia – During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16:9-10

I believe that there are some clear patterns that we can point out in how Paul entered a city. His goal was to ultimately to start a church, which I will discuss further in another post, but he was working to take his first steps, and I see these patterns:

First, Paul seemed to typically seek out places where religious types of activities were happening. In all of the locations except for Philippi, Paul went to the Jewish synagogue in that town. Taking advantage of a Jewish tradition to allow travelers and visitors to speak at the assembly, Paul spoke directly and clearly of Jesus as the Messiah. In Philippi, Paul and his team went to a river where it says they expected to find a place of prayer. That was the location that he shared the Gospel, speaking about Jesus.

Next, as I started to mention above, I think we can say that Paul spoke about Jesus immediately and directly. He didn’t wait, try to make relationships or friendships in the town, or do other types of programs to make in-roads with the community. He simply spoke about Jesus and referenced the scriptures directly, attempting initially to reason with the Jews about the identity of the Messiah.

Finally, we don’t see that news about Jesus hadn’t reached these areas yet, so Paul was speaking with non-believers who would become the new disciples. Some of them would go on to lead the new churches that would be formed and others would become leaders within the movement that Paul was starting through his evangelism. The point in this is that the non-believers were those that would become believers, disciples, and leaders in various forms.

Jesus’s Practice

Clearly, Jesus preceded Paul and taught his disciples who would ultimately go on to make disciples. Paul wasn’t one of Jesus’s 12 disciples that he taught directly, but can we see any of Jesus’s practice and teaching in the way that Paul worked as he entered a new town?

First, I want to look at what Jesus did as he went to new locations. How did he practice evangelistic entry with non-believers? Here are some examples:

Direct Preaching
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15

Individual conversations
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” John 4:25-26

Speaking from the Prophecies
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21

With Miracles
One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” Luke 5:17-26

In Jesus’s case, his task was different than that of Paul’s in that seemed to primarily be to help others understand A) his identity, and B) how to enter the Kingdom that he was establishing here on earth. As a result, he used miracles to show who he was. He used the Prophecies. I see that he even spoke directly about his identity and what the people should do as he called them to repentance and belief so that they could enter the Kingdom.

Some have said that Jesus never said, “I am the Son of God”, choosing instead to call himself the Son of Man, so he was only giving the people what they could understand, a small bit at a time. But I’m not sure that is the case. I think that if you look at the reaction of the people, most especially the Jewish leaders, it seems very clear that they understand the claim that he is making. They fully understand as he is speaking with them and teaching them that Jesus is saying that he is Divine, that he is saying that he is, himself, God. That is why they are accusing him of blasphemy, and ultimately why they wanted to crucify him.

The other thing that I notice in how Jesus practiced is that, like Paul, I don’t see that he ever waited to share the Good News with someone once they were ready. It is true, likely given his ongoing and masterful conversation with the Holy Spirit, that he was wonderful at understanding what people needed to hear and speaking to them directly…but he did speak to them directly and immediately. He shared with them and allowed the other person to determine what they would with what he had shared with them.

Jesus’s Teaching

How did Jesus teach his disciples to speak about him with others? Here are a few teachings that I think we can consider:

Sharing Our Testimony
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. Mark 5:18-20

Being Witnesses to What God Has Done
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

Sowing Gospel Seed
He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29

Sowing Gospel Seed in Different Soils
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:1-9

Sending Out the Disciples
As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. Matthew 10:7-8

Here I will make some observations about how Jesus taught his disciples:

First, he seems to put a premium on being witnesses, in sharing testimony of what God has done in our lives.

Second, the Good News Gospel message that he tells them to share is that of the Kingdom of God. This connects to the message that Jesus delivered in that they were to identify who is the King, or to use another term, the Messiah.

Third, I see that Jesus is teaching that they should share the message liberally, broadly. In fact, he suggests sharing the Gospel seed so liberally that some goes on hard paths and in ground that is not good for growing the seed. Note that he never teaches them to remove rocks or weeds prior to sowing. Instead, he says that they should sow the seed. Later, he says to make disciples, which is probably the process where rocks and weeds are removed. But first? Sow the seed.

And finally, Jesus gave his disciples authority and taught them, in connection with sharing, to heal people. Whether they have a sickness, have a spiritual malady, or even are dead (!), they should perform these miracles in connection with the sharing of the message.

How do Paul and Jesus Connect?
So, how do the practices and teachings of Jesus overlap with what we see Paul doing as he goes from town to town? Here are a few ideas:

  • Like Jesus, Paul starts by sharing with the Jewish people but doesn’t ignore the Gentiles. In other words, he works with all people.
  • Like Jesus, Paul doesn’t mince words. He doesn’t shy away from sharing the truth of the Gospel, immediately and directly.
  • Like Jesus, as Paul shares, he looks for disciples who will follow.
  • Although not noted above in the section about Paul, like Jesus, Paul miraculously heals people of both physical and spiritual problems

To conclude this post, then, I will say that I believe that it is fair to say that the third step, following waiting upon the Spirit and praying for God to move, is to share the Gospel. This is what we see that Paul did, and we can connect it to Jesus’s teachings. This is, by far, not the last step, but it is one of the first steps as we engage a community: Going to non-believers and sowing Gospel seed, looking for those who will become disciples.

To tag a practical application to this (if you’re still reading!), our team has adopted the use of two different tools for sharing the Gospel. The first is a simple way to share our story called the 15-Second Testimony:

The second is a simple way to share the Gospel called the Three Circles. Hope these are helpful!

Asking God to Move

Jesus said something that I believe is very important as we think about people coming to Christ and new communities of believers beginning to form. Jesus said:

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day…”

John 6:44

As we have thought about what is required and the steps that we must take to see new communities started, we have also realized that this is actually God’s plan and mission and He is using us to accomplish His work.

As I talk about this, I realize that I can begin to wade into theological debates around Calvinism and Arminianism. But that is not at all my intention. Instead, my goal here is to simply say that Jesus is saying that God is calling people to Himself and then to ask, therefore, what should we be doing?

I believe that, at this stage in the process, our role is to pray. Jesus said that we should ask, seek, and knock, and doors will be opened. We believe that God wants His people to join Him in His mission. Even though God already knows what we need, we believe He wants us to ask Him for what we need.

When Jesus sent out his disciples, the first command that he gave them was to ask for more workers:

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

Luke 10:2

So, what should they be doing? Jesus tells them to pray, asking God for these workers. And where would they come from? From the harvest!

In the same way, we believe that an important step is to pray and ask God to move, to call people to Himself. We pray individually, in groups corporately, in private, and in public. One of our team’s most-used prayer methods is the Prayer Walk. We do these Prayer Walks each week. For some in our group, at times, more than one in a week. We believe it is an important part of our work and we even created a video to show more about how to do it (more posts coming in the future about the Four Fields referenced in the first part of the video):

In any case, regardless of how you decide to pray, the important part is to ask God to act and to move because through this movement, we see lives changed. We see people around us become softened to the message of grace and love that Jesus wants to ultimately deliver through each of us due to God working in each of our lives as He calls us to Himself.

Waiting on the Holy Spirit

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.”

Acts 1:4-5

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.