What if Paul Planted Churches Like We Do Today?

An updated version of Acts 14:19-23:

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposed that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day, he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.

When Paul and his team gathered a core group of Christians from a few other churches in Derbe (as well as a few who tagged along from Antioch), held a vision and interest meeting, and finally had their public launch gathering, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples by telling them about the church they planted and the great attendance numbers. Paul encouraged them by saying that though other churches are there, there needed to be a new expression of the kingdom of God in that city.

After they had been meeting for about eight years, they finally started the elder nomination and selection process, eventually choosing one man who did not specialize in preaching. Paul stayed at that church for the foreseeable future until he felt called to do the same process over again in a different city.

Paul and his team never did return to their sending church to report how God had opened a door of faith to people who did not previously believe, because, after all, that was not the demographic they were actually seeking to reach in the first place. 

But that’s not really what it says, is it?


How Can We Best Change Culture?

What good do missionaries accomplish in the wider culture when their primary focus is on calling people to repentance and faith in Jesus? In a recent blog post over at Desiring God, John Piper connects the dots between spreading the gospel and seeing renewal in societal structures and systems.

Piper points out that sociologist Robert Woodbury published his findings about missionary impact around the world after a decade of research. Woodbury found that the greatest change in culture occurred where “conversionary Protestants” had a presence. While Woodbury did not explicitly define “conversionary Protestants,” Piper concluded that they must  be “missionaries…who believe that to be saved from sin and judgment one must convert from false religions to faith in Jesus Christ.” I think this is a right definition.

In all the conversation about cultural renewal or societal transformation or whatever you want to call it, Christians are often divided on how best to go about it. Woodbury’s research provides outstanding insight. Piper sees a “significant implication” in the research, and he points out what the implication is. He hits the nail on the head:

[T]he way to achieve the greatest social and cultural transformation is not to focus on social and cultural transformation, but on the “conversion” of individuals from false religions to faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life. Or to put it another way, missionaries (and pastors and churches) will lose their culturally transforming power if they make cultural transformation their energizing focus.

There is a biblical reason for this. The only acts of love and justice that count with God are the fruit of conversion. If repentance toward God and faith in Jesus does not precede our good works, then the works themselves are part of man’s rebellion, not part of his worship.

If we understand mission, conversion, and cultural renewal this way, we will have an impact on culture, but we will go about it by seeking internal, Spirit-wrought, grace-driven internal change. We won’t neglect the social, political, and personal needs, but these things won’t consume all our energy–or even the majority of it. We will focus our time, energy, and resources on seeing people converted to Jesus. And as we see people turn from sin and idolatry to Jesus, we will see re-ordered love and re-ordered lives and pockets of culture changed for the better.

Take a minute and read Piper’s whole post.

Life Ministry

How the Apostle Paul Did Frontier Missions

The apostle Paul is the greatest missionary Christianity has ever known, behind only the Lord Jesus himself. Paul was a frontier missionary. He went where no one had gone before. He blazed new trails. In God’s providence, Paul is the reason Christianity spread around the world.

While on the frontier, Paul had a lot of tools in his missional tool belt. Of course, all of his methods and strategies were subject to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This may actually be considered the supreme “characteristic” of Paul’s methods. Aside from walking in the Spirit, many other things characterized Paul’s frontier ministry, and these things still inform the church’s efforts today to reach the unreached. Here are five characteristics:

  1. Paul committed to preaching Christ where he has not already been named. In Romans 15:20, Paul makes clear that this is his intention and goal in his ministry. Paul saw himself as a minister of the gospel who would reach new people and not build on someone else’s foundation (Rom. 15:20; 2 Cor. 10:16). He was not a “pastor” in our modern sense. He was a multi-church planter who constantly moved from one location to another. This does not mean that in our day we should not plant churches in already reached areas; Paul’s time and ministry was unique as the church was in its formative stages. However, the principle still remains: there is great importance for the church to recognize and send those whom God has called to a Pauline-type ministry to spread the gospel among the unreached. This leads to a second characteristic of church planting.
  2. Paul’s missionary ministry focused on church planting. Paul’s goal was not to simply evangelize people in order to gain a host of individual converts. His goal was to evangelize and gather God’s people into local congregations. As mentioned above, Paul was not a planter-pastor who planted a church and stayed there for a long period of time. Once a church was established and functioning, Paul and his team moved on. This informs our missionary efforts today, reminding us that establishing local bodies of worshipers, not simply getting individuals saved, is our main task. This leads to a third characteristic of how converts and congregations were established.
  3. Paul’s preaching centered on the story of Jesus. Paul was less interested in evidential apologetics and philosophical debates and more interested in simply sharing the story of God’s work in the world. His goal was to “preach Christ” (1 Cor. 1:24; cf. Col. 1:28) as the center and climax of God’s unfolding story of redemption. In our day, preaching denominational distinctives or simply external morality should not be the content of missionary preaching. As Paul did, so too we preach Christ and the fact that he is the fulfillment of God’s redemptive drama. This characteristic leads to the next, which answers the question, “What happens after people believe in Jesus?”
  4. Paul desired to develop believers so that they might experience their inheritance in Christ and be ready for his second coming. Paul did not want shallow Christians. His goal was not to gain converts but to make disciples. He wanted mature believers who knew of the incredibly spiritual riches they had in Christ. The letter to the Ephesians, particularly 1:3-14, shows Paul’s heart to develop Christians to, in a sense, become what they already are in Christ. Paul wanted believers to be ready for Christ’s return (1 Thess. 3:13), and he was confident that God would provide everything necessary to make this happen (Phil 1:6; Phil. 2:13). The churches needed godly leadership to accomplish this, which is the last characteristic.
  5. Paul worked to develop local leaders over local congregations. Paul appointed and empowered elders in Ephesus to watch over and care for the flock (Acts 20:28). The pastorals explicitly show Paul’s effort to establish local leadership in churches. This is particularly important for our contemporary situation. Churches may mature and be effective with foreign leadership. However, for local churches to truly thrive and operate optimally there must be godly, indigenous leadership. Only then will the local believers “own” the life and ministry of the church.

These five characteristics are not exhaustive, of course. But they do provide a good “big picture” structure of Paul’s ministry. If you are a missionary, does your work reflect this model? What are some other characteristics of Paul that are essential to biblical missions? Let’s pray that all of our modern missionary efforts to unreached and under-reached people’s reflect God’s work through the apostle Paul!


What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

Christians have asked this question centuries. Even in today’s globalized, social-media-driven world, Christians are still asking it. In question 60 of the Westminster Larger Catechism, the question is posed: “Can they who have never heard the gospel, and so know not Jesus Christ, nor believe in him, be saved by their living according to the light of nature?” Here is its answer:

They who, having never heard the gospel, know not Jesus Christ, and believe not in him, cannot be saved, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, or the laws of that religion which they profess; neither is there salvation in any other, but in Christ alone, who is the Savior only of his body the church.

It is true that there is salvation in no other name than Jesus (Acts 4:12). To be saved means to confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe that he is risen from the dead (Rom. 10:9). God is sovereign and he saves those whom he wills (see Rom. 9:19-24; John 6:44; 10:25-28; Eph. 2:8-9). The unsaved are non-elect, and therefore, those who have not heard are not elect. Furthermore, people are condemned because they are guilty sinners (6:23). We must remember that there are no innocent people in the world (Rom. 2:12-16; 3:10-23).

How could this be, you ask, when a person in the jungles of Africa does not even know God exists? John Calvin helps us understand: “Since, then, there never has been, from the very first, any quarter of the globe, any city, any household even, without religion, this amounts to a tacit confession, that a sense of deity is inscribed on every heart. No, even idolatry is ample evidence of this fact.” (Institutes 1.3.1).

God promises there will be a multitude from every tribe, language, people, and nation who were ransomed by the blood of the Lamb and who will reign with him forever (Rev. 5:9-10). So rather than raising a finger at God for what is clearly taught in Scripture, we must resolve to spread the gospel across this earth, making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19-20). That might mean leaving all you have to be a frontier missionary. It might mean giving more (yes, more) money to missions. It will definitely mean praying often for unreached peoples. In all you do, remember to rest in the truth that God will bring all his sheep into one fold under the care and provision of their one, good Shepherd, Jesus Christ (John 10:16). cit confession, that a sense of deity is inscribed on every heart. No, even idolatry is ample evidence to this fact” (Institutes 1.3.1). There is a sense in every person that God exists. and the very fact that we worship something proves it.

To hear a little more on this, listen to a two minute audio clip to from John Piper.


Pray for the Arab World Today

Frontiers will be praying and/or fasting today for the Arab world.  Here’s an outline to pray with them:

Prayer Guide for the Arab World

Part One: Praise for many aspects of what has happened so far

Many of the events which have happened so far have had evidence of Godʼs mercy and compassion in them. In many cases, changes have taken place with a minimum of violence and destruction. The proud have been brought down, and the poor and humble lifted up. We praise God for protecting people and restraining evil, and ask Him to release all of his promised blessings on the peacemakers and the merciful (Matt. 5:7,9).

  • Protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Morocco, Yemen, Oman, Iraq, and Jordan remained mostly peaceful, until present.
  • The military in Egypt refused to turn their guns on the people, preventing what would have been a massacre of many innocents.
  • The king in Bahrain stepped back from using the military against the people, after some initial violence.
  • Rulers of Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, Iraq, and Algeria have all made some decisions that allow greater freedom and crack down on corruption and human rights abuses in their countries.
  • Protesters in Libya were protected during the crucial early weeks of the uprising from reprisals by the government (this may be changing now, and we accompany this praise with deep prayer for Godʼs intervention in the situation there, now).

Part Two: Prayer for the gospel to go out in power across the Arab world now

There is a temporary window of freedom for the gospel in Egypt, Tunisia, eastern Libya, and possibly in some of the other Arab countries that are experiencing protests. Pray for Godʼs people to not let this opportunity pass, for as long as the door is open.

  • In Tunisia, some missionaries who were previously kicked out of the country by the government have been allowed back in. Pray for openness in every Arab country for messengers of the Gospel to come in.
  • In Egypt, some Muslim-background believers have shared that they now feel great freedom to share about their faith openly with friends and family. Pray for a spirit of boldness among Muslim-background believers in the region, and a receptive spirit in those around them.
  • In Tahrir Square in Cairo (the main square where the protests took place), Jesus Christ was preached in open air to tens of thousands of Muslims by national church leaders during the protests, in an atmosphere of freedom. Pray that true freedom for open proclamation of the Gospel will be established in the Arab world.
  • The border between Libya and Egypt is currently open for Christians to enter and share the love of Jesus through medical and practical help, as well as through proclamation of the Word. This opportunity has not existed for generations. Pray that the opportunity will remain open.
  • Pray for an increase of freedom for apostolic teams and national churches to proclaim Jesus in every country across the Arab world. Pray that all the changes taking place will move toward that.

Part Three: Prayer for rulers and those in authority

God loves justice and righteousness, and is the giver of freedom. Pray that He will move rulers and authorities in the Arab world at this time to make righteous decisions on behalf of their people, that promote freedom of expression and religion, compassionate economic development, and respect for human rights.

  • Pray for the interim government of Tunisia, for wisdom and freedom from corruption, and to set the country on a long-term track of peace, stability, and righteousness.
  • Pray for the military rulers of Egypt, that they will be wise in decisions they make about the future of Egypt, and in their timetable for handing power over to a civilian government. Pray for the restoration of order in the midst of a wave of lawlessness and crime across the country.
  • Pray that God will restrain the murder and destruction unleashed by Ghaddafi against his own people in Libya, and establish a government that rules on behalf of the people in Libya, opening doors for the Gospel.
  • Pray for leaders of countries that are currently facing sizable protests for change, that they will make decisions in line with Godʼs will for their lands: Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, Iraq, Algeria, and Lebanon.
  • Pray for leaders of Arab countries that have not yet had to face sizable protest for change, that God will give them wisdom and cause them to respond to whatever He wants to accomplish there: Mauritania, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Syria, and the Palestinian territories.

Part Four: Prayer for protection and blessing on Godʼs people

In the midst of turmoil, there has been an increase for Godʼs people in the region in opportunity as well as in threat. There is potential for greater religious freedom and equality, but also threat of increased danger and persecution.

  • Christians in Egypt have faced intense violence from extremist Muslims over the past week, with riots, a church being burned, and numerous Christians being killed. Pray for protection and peace for Godʼs people in Egypt (Isaiah 19:25), and for a spirit of bold proclamation of Jesus the Messiah.
  • Christians in the Arab world face discrimination and pressure from legal measures that are unfair to them. Pray that the current upheavals will bring about lasting changes in the constitution and legal system of each country that allow the church to flourish and fulfill its calling to reach Muslims.
  • Over the past decade, prayer movements have flourished across the Arab world. In Egypt and Algeria in particular, these movements have been significant in size and boldness/faith. Current circumstances are pushing Christians to pray as never before, feeling that it is their prayers in large part that have brought about some of the current changes. Pray for the growth and increase of prayer inside the Arab world.