While the word “assistant” does not inspire a grandiose profile, it demands true wisdom to come alongside a church plant and help in preparation and partnership. We, here in Ohio, are blessed with a great network of passionate churches committed to continuing to grow in this arena of assisting. At a state fellowship meeting, I was asked to give some perspective as a church planter who is now starting to reproduce churches. Here are some succinct thoughts in response to the question “How does an established church biblically assist a church plant?”
In Acts 13, the church at Antioch now became the base of operation for Saul’s ministry. Jerusalem was still the mother church, but the missionary church was Antioch on the Orontes River. Furthermore, Peter was no longer the central figure; Saul became that.
The “perfect” reproducing church provides seven assistances in this transitional passage:
- Provide the leaders with ministry experience. (13:1-2a)
They need to learn to do church planting as unto the Lord and not to please men (“to the Lord”). If a church planter is willing to only placate fundamental senders, he will do the same to compromising comers! They must also learn to sacrifice (“fasted”). It is impossible to reproduce local churches through soft, cater-to-me kind of ministers. The reproducing church is the best place to discover and train your future church planters!
- Focus on the spiritual priority. (2b, 4)
It the physical realm of personnel and financial resources, church planting doesn’t make sense! It requires the Spirit of God to keep your priorities straight.
This would involve selection (2b-“the Holy Spirit said”). Note that as the servants of the Lord ministered in this local church, God called two of them (the first and last names on the list in v. 1–and soon the last would become first) to a world ministry. It is the servants who are faithful at home that God uses elsewhere. Let God choose who will plant a church out of your church!
This also includes direction (4a-“being sent forth by the Holy Ghost”). As in real estate, it is all about “location, location, location.” Ultimately it is not about demographics or market research; it is about the Spirit’s leading. Let God choose where the new church will be planted!
- Separate from the new identity. (2c-3, 5)
Do we see the “multi-site” church in the book of Acts? While I have dear friends who would say otherwise, I would submit a humble “no” in light of this passage and others. The church leaders placed their hands on Barnabas and Saul and sent them off. The laying on of hands identified the church with their ministry and acknowledged God’s direction for them. The key word is “indigenous” or self-supporting, self-governing.
This leads to a separate mission (2c-3-“separate me”). According to one commentator, “The verb ‘set apart’ (aphorizō) is used of three separations in Saul’s life—at his birth he was separated to God (Gal. 1:15); at his conversion he was set apart for the gospel (Rom. 1:1); and in Antioch he was separated for a specific service (Acts 13:2).” While a new church is accountable to its supporters; its authority comes from somewhere else. Jesus is the ultimate head of every local church-not its supporting churches! As the reproducing pastor, you have leadership in financial support and authority sequence but are not be THE boss or micromanager!
This also leads to a separate team (3, 5-“them”). Once again the principle of two men working together is underscored. And they begin right away to include new teammates (5). John Mark, a cousin of Barnabas (Col. 4:10), was with them as their helper. We should support and yet separate to allow the new church to develop a self-perpetuating and expanding ministry team. How?-Send someone from your church, connect them with families in the area, hold Thursday night Bible Studies for a few months prior to launch.
- Prepare for the enemy’s resistance. (6-13)
In the parable of the tares (Matt. 13:24–30 and 36–43) Christ promised that, wherever the true children of God were planted, Satan would plant counterfeits. This is what happened at the missionaries’ first stop. Satan came in the person of an apostate Jew, a false prophet, a child of the devil (v. 10). Remember that as this world “waxes worse and worse” it get more and more difficult to plant a church. It is a different world in which your church planter is planting his church than that of even 50 years ago. We may have more technology and sophistication but we also have a bolder and more established enemy. Don’t have an unrealistic “pace” to your expectations. Remember that the community you are planting in is not a spiritual vacuum it is OCCUPIED ENEMY TERRITORY! In Matthew 16:18, Christ promises, “And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (It doesn’t say “hell shall not attack against it.”)
- Anticipate the expansion of God’s Word. (14-16, 38-44)
Do not confuse Antioch in Syria (1), Paul’s “home church,” with Antioch in Pisidia (13:14–52). What were the results of this expansion? Some Jews and Gentile proselytes immediately believed the locally preached Word. It is obvious that these religious people, trained in the Scriptures, would be best prepared to receive the message. The next week the whole city was gathered together to hear this new teaching! What could God’s word do in a community if we can help establish an indigenous church onsite?
Dr. Ken Fielder, Director of Worldview Ministries, recently contracted and is recovering from a severe strain of malaria-all to get God’s Word into the heart language of every person on the globe. He often quotes 2 Thessalonians 3:1, “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you.” Remember, when you are overwhelmed with the threats and challenges of church planting, that there is no price too high for getting the eternity-altering Word of God to people who sit in darkness and ignorance.
- Rejoice in the persecution of local community. (45, 50-52)
I recently read this job description: “Filling Filler, Patient Preparer, and Saliva Sucker-Dental Assistant.” Church planting, otherwise known as “saliva sucking,” is one of the most humbling things in the world of which to be a part. This includes not only the church planter but the pastor and people of the reproducing church. It is especially humbling when “like-minded” pastors at a distance or local, territorial Christians who don’t appreciate what God has led your church to accomplish.
In Matthew 5:11-12, Christ encourages us, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” You must recognize that some of your church plant’s most intense resistance will come from local “religious” sources!
- Celebrate the progress of every convert. (46-49)
The target audience shifts in these verses from the Jews to the Gentiles. I watch church planters at preacher fellowships and other ministry conferences often field discouraging questions like: “How many are you running” or “How many good families do you now have?” Since when do we determine the value or insignificance of a local church convert?
In its infancy stages, a church plant will more than likely attract, win, and disciple more of the “outsiders” of any given community. The reproducing church should celebrate any person who comes to Christ! To reach EVERYONE we have to emphasize the value of ONE (49). Don’t expect to see the caliber of people in the newly minted church that your established church enjoys are the result of many years of family and ministry influence. Be willing to “fully associate” with the pastor and church during these awkward phases.
Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, carried with him onto the virgin, lunar surface a piece of cloth and wood from the original 1903 Wright Flyer. That mundane piece of an antiquated plane celebrated the struggles and successes of those who had gone before this “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Where better is there to turn to for church planting inspiration of the “can do” of God than an established church? Every church started out as a church plant and testifies to a new generation that God can do it again!
By the way, what is the end result of this assistance-SPIRITUAL JOY (Verse 52)!
Will you commit to biblically and joyfully assisting every church plant you can?