Introduction: Think of a family member or loved one who has done something life-changing for you and it is impossible for you to repay them. Now, suppose that person asked you to do just one thing for them before they died. Or if that person was leaving and wanted you to do something before they returned. If you were able to do it, would you get it done? Surely you will make that particular task your personal obligation, serious responsibility and number-one priority!
Jesus loved His followers and gave Himself for them on the cross. On the third day He arose and revealed Himself to them as Lord of life and Savior of the world! This was indeed Good News! Because Jesus was alive, His disciples and all who would believe through their witness can have eternal life! Jesus endowed His followers with His own authority for one main purpose. Before leaving, He commanded them: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).
Opening Illustration: Try to bring a bottle or can of Coke, or one of its products, from a local vendor to use as an object lesson. Hold it up in a way that gets your audience’s attention!
Think: this Coke drink or Coca-Cola product began from a company less than 200 years ago; however, it is now available in most places around the world. You can go to the most remote villages where there is no electricity or drainage, but those people have tasted and like Coke, although not good for our health. In contrast, over half of the world of seven billion people have not yet heard the Gospel. With all our advanced technologies and travel capability, we’ve not yet discipled all nations! Why not? Humanly speaking, if Jesus had given His mandate to the Coke Company, they could have got it done by now! What is wrong with the Church with respect to her Lord’s Great Commission? Are we going to let the Coke Company outdo us?
All God’s creation reproduces after its own kind except this creature called ‘Christian!’ Like the individual believer, the global Church made up of local churches was “born to reproduce!” Let us consider exactly “what,” “where.” and “how” Jesus’ disciples, working as His body, spread the Gospel and started new churches, so that we can finish His mandate in our generation!
1. Start “Here”: (The Task)
Our key verse, Acts 1:8, builds off the Great Commission and explains how the Church that Jesus promised to build (Matt. 16:18) actually begins and becomes a movement to the ends of the earth. How Jesus’ followers understood and undertook His mandate? Read the book of Acts! They began at Jerusalem and, from right “here,” went everywhere forming new communities of faith. In short, they kept planting local reproductive churches! The God of the Bible is Himself community – Father, Son and Spirit. God’s people gathered “together” to worship Jesus and in obedience went out to be His witnesses! Their singular task was to “make disciples” of believers ushering in God’s righteous rule and Jesus’ joy and peace at that place!
Story: When I was a boy, my mother often asked me to go quickly to our local bakery to get their famous fresh baked bread. People from all over came “here” to buy this bread. If I went a little late, the bread was all sold out! As I pleaded with the baker to find just one loaf, he would say, “I myself have no bread to take home to my family!” This happens whenever we neglect what is needed right where we are! Local residents miss out on or can’t afford their own product, if we market or export it all “across the seas” and totally neglect what is first needed “across our street!” [Adapt this to any locally manufactured product in your hometown]
Take a closer look at what this main verb and central task of “discipling” implies. The task Jesus entrusted His disciples to complete has a definite starting point. This also happens to be the entry point, namely, to preach of the Gospel or share the Good News (evangel) about the Lord Jesus (1Cor. 15:1-4). It involves offering the forgiveness of sins to all people who will repent, turn to God and trust the Lord Jesus alone for their salvation. Yet clearly for Jesus, discipling was about “following” Him in order to become a part of His kingdom and do His Father’s will.
All of us are born into and belong to some family! Likewise new believers as Jesus’ disciples belong to God’s new family – the Church that Jesus is building! Marriage is a special relationship between two people. Wearing a ring shows a solemn covenant made between the husband and wife. Similarly when believers go in and out of the waters of baptism, this is an essential symbol and bold step of obedience that serves as public proof of the disciple’s new allegiance to Jesus. Spiritually and practically, this meant becoming a vital part of His Church! The New Testament does not know of any unbaptized believer. It assumes membership in a local church because it is precisely “here” that the disciple is taught to obey Jesus, grow in faith and be a witness!
In the early church, irrespective of what people’s jobs were, their compelling preoccupation was to share the Gospel and start up groups of new disciples. These in turn were trained to do the same! This task was intended and must be kept simple so it remains reproducible! The disciples started but didn’t stop in Jerusalem. Jesus clarified: “This Gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:14) These early disciples recognized it was their local church’s responsibility to “go” or to “send out” missionaries. They went from “here” to places where the people had not yet heard the Gospel (the unreached) and “there” was no local church (the unengaged)!
Jesus’ followers kept in mind His commission and their ultimate goal to “go into all the world!” They came to terms that soon they had to leave their local churches or ensure members were “sent out” to make disciples within unfamiliar territories. The word “missionary” means “one sent,” which literally is an “apostolic” task. It is crucial to ask, where exactly are missionaries to be sent? Evidently, this was to people did not know of God’s saving grace. Why not? Because no follower of Jesus or obedient disciple had been “there” to share with them the good news of Jesus being the Way, Truth and Life they needed! So, missionaries cross borders or boundaries!
2. Go “There” also: (The Target)
Although the term “church planting” is not explicitly used in Jesus’ mandate, the book of Acts tells us this is what happened. The Church established at Jerusalem expands to all Judea and into Samaria! (Acts 6:8-9:31) Jesus and His twelve disciples were all Jews. They were very familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, Aramaic language, the acceptable customs and the social norms in their own region. But the Samaritans adopted different religious beliefs and cultural practices. Besides, the Jews did not have good relationships with them. Thus to go into this new, hostile culture to make Samaritan disciples was a difficult task. It posed a challenge. Yet Jesus had shown His followers how He [and so they also] “must go” through Samaria! (John 4:4)
If the Gospel has to progress as a movement and the Church expand, then each local church must plant other local churches “there” – outside their accustomed “Judeas”! This was never meant to be easy. It always implies crossing geographical borders, going beyond one’s own cultural prejudices and facing opposition. The early church and its leaders had to fight and deal with their selfish, stubborn, ultimately sinful ideas (Acts 10:15). The solution was mature leaders who sacrificially gave up secure positions in their local church and helped change their group to be mission-minded. Often God had to send or allow persecutions and local crises to thrust out members and make them missionaries wherever they found themselves! Notice the outcome was that the Church throughout all these regions was “built up and multiplied.” (9:31)
Crossing borders to reproduce churches in “all nations” is impossible until we recognize and tap into our potential. Before charging His disciples to “go into all the world,” Jesus commanded them to “wait” at Jerusalem until they were endued with power He promised for this task (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). The disciples had to prayerfully wait and totally depend on the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit comes into believers, He also equips, empowers and sends them out to be Jesus’ witnesses. So the movement of the Gospel (Jesus’ story) and the Spirit (Jesus’ power) is the source and potential of any church planting movement! The Church’s mission into the world was not designed to work without the person of the Spirit’s fullness or empowering.
Object Lesson: Take any modern, expensive electric gadget like a fan, radio, TV or music system. Point out to your audience that all the complex designs and high cost doesn’t matter, in fact the instrument is of no use, unless and until there is a source of power and it is plugged into it! Jesus’ commissioned his Church to ensure the ends of the earth hear the Gospel. Her focus or target group was to reach “all nations!” When Jesus used this term He did not mean today’s political countries, as most of them didn’t exist then! Throughout the Bible this significant phrase refers to particular groups of people within a specific culture that spoke a common language and shared a distinct way of life. What makes such ethnic groups “unreached?” It is that these “people groups” have no access to the Gospel unless someone takes it to them! They remain “unengaged” insofar as there is no local church among them or any plan to plant one!
Today there are some 12,000 ethnic groups and well over 2500, or one fifth is still “unreached”. They have no access to the Gospel, no available Christian witness among them and they cannot afford to get it! Someone must reach them with it! When we target unreached peoples we are sending out the light which brings the hope of salvation, thus fulfilling God’s plan for all nations. Without undermining the domestic “here,” the Church must aim, aspire and do whatever it takes to get the Gospel “there” also. Local churches need to be evangelizing where they are yet penetrating new frontiers “doing” pioneer missions through global church planting movements.
The Church’s mission to the world will sadly remain unfinished unless we invest more of our time, efforts and resources in planting churches among those unreached. Notice Luke’s report on their missionary journey, how systematically and spontaneously “day after day the churches grew stronger in faith and increased in number! (Acts 16:5) Our leaders must determine to ensure we are going or sending people to “preach the Gospel where Christ is not yet known!” The Apostle Paul, the greatest missionary church planter, in a very short span of time helped plant churches literally all over the Roman Empire! How did he do this? (Rom. 15:18-20)
3. Take it Everywhere (The Tactic)
The Church has been given her Gospel mandate and gifted with Christ’s empowering Spirit. We now need to organize ourselves to target the least reached and do so in the most effective and cost-efficient way! We must ask, “Who is most suitable to communicate the Gospel in that people’s own heart language?” Further, we need to find out, “Who is best fit to clarify Jesus’ serious call to be His disciples within these different ethnic cultures? We must clearly present the cost of following Jesus! Our church planting methods to be healthy and reproducible must also be strategic and so natural that goes from here, to there, and everywhere!
Having considered the “what” and “why” of Jesus’ mandate, let us take a closer look at “how” Christ intended to build his Church. Jesus, our Commander-in-chief, had a definite curriculum plan or program on how His Church was to expedite her Great Commission. Inspecting our tactic or missional method we find a effective process that can help us reach our global goal.
We “make” disciples by going out to (A) evangelize the lost, (B) baptize all those who believe then (C) stabilize these new disciples by teaching them “to do” all things Jesus commanded. This is training in neighboring regions and the next generation of disciples to love, obey and follow Jesus. Jesus commanded many things but obviously we must start with this main commission without which the church will be extinct in one generation! This process has the global Church making, maturing and multiplying disciples. Hence the fourth essential step to maintain this reproductive cycle is to: (D) mobilize members to plant churches! In discussing this strategy we need to consider the effective means through whom we must get this done!
Illustration: I often ask my audience in South India, how well they can grow apples there? Or my friends in North America if they grew mangoes there! Of course, this is almost impossible and even if conditions were set up to do so, the cost, time and efforts are all not worth it! Find what grows naturally where you live. Refer to a local crop or fruit that reproduces without much care. To be effective, we must adopt the most natural, automatic or self-reproductive methods!
The early church expanded in a similar way. The Apostle Paul had a simple strategy to establish a local church and ensured it kept expanding through a cycle that resulted in incredible global success. The Church was firmly rooted everywhere including at Rome the center of the then known world! Moreover Luke records, “Thus did the word of the Lord continue to spread with influence and power!” (Acts 16:20) What will it take to duplicate such a movement today?
Global Church planting “movements” need to work in strong partnership with nationals who are able, gifted and called by God to target “the unreached”. Often this is necessary because these people groups are within politically “closed” or “restricted” access countries where foreign, traditional missionaries will not be permitted to enter! Many obvious reasons make nationals reaching nationals the most strategic, effective way to get the Great Commission done. In this way the missionaries in our mission fields have less social and cultural barriers to overcome. For instance, when nationals reach nationals, their faces fit, they are fluent in that native language, faultless in their own culture and can have their family near them! They don’t need furloughs, we can forget about their visa problems and financially this is the most efficient way to get a church planted among a people group!
In the past, many missionaries went and made denominational “converts” or “devotees” of great Christian leaders. Being eroded of their ethnicity, many nations closed their doors to western missionaries. They were threatened and reacted to our crusading or colonial approaches. What is needed is a collaborative effort! Sadly our churches sent out and supported missionaries who did not prioritize the training of national trainers (2 Tim. 2:2).
In general we have not followed Jesus’ commission or Paul’s missionary methods. Observe Paul’s church planting strategy outlined in Acts 14:21-23. As a result of his team’s evangelistic efforts, disciples were formed who were stabilized by teaching of God’s Word. He appointed elders in that locality, trained these leaders and mentored them so that they won’t be dependent on him. He longed to revisit them and wrote letters to strengthen their faith. Our churches must learn to do what is biblical, natural and essential to create such a movement!
The story in Acts recounts how the Gospel was carried from its Jewish center to Caesar’s family in Rome from where it went to the remotest part of that world empire! The strategy involved was divine mathematics, beyond simple addition or multiplication it was exponential. Each disciple shared the Gospel and local churches were missional – sending out and supported gifted members to make disciples of least reached people groups, notice how?! They channeled their energies to target the “unloved”, evangelize the “unreached” and pour out their lives to resource the “untrained!” Thus they rapidly advanced healthy, reproductive churches. Luke’s final report (Acts 28:30-31) has Paul, this great church planter, in Rome “boldly and without hindrance preaching the kingdom of God.” Paul’s personal mission was accomplished!
How about you and your own churches’ mission to the unreached in our world today? Yes, we can get the task done. Let us show our loving obedience to our Savior’s command, our total dependence on the Holy Spirit’s power and our confidence in the strategy of Church Planting! Call to Action:
Our Lord Jesus who gave His disciples and Church the Great Commission saw the unsaved world like “fields ripe to harvest”. Noticing people desperate without the knowledge of the Gospel, He exclaimed: “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few!” (Matt. 9:36-38) He found a shortage and then gave the solution that calls all church members to participate with Christ in building His Church and accomplishing our mission.
This sermon has taught us several truths from God’s word and His Holy Spirit may be challenging us to make decisions at several levels:
1. Many fields of our world although “ripe to harvest” are still unreached or unengaged without a church. Get information and carefully study how to reach such people groups.
2. Jesus’ solution and first response to the shortage of workers was not equipment or programs but to pray that the Lord raises church planters. Start today and keep praying!
3. The result of this prayer will be personnel – missionaries! Seriously consider if God has gifted and is calling you to be a church planter. Share this desire with your local church leaders who could send you out into your community or cross culturally to needy fields!
4. While we have the Holy Spirit’s power, the work of planting churches needs resources. If the Lord does not want you to “go” into these fields, does He need you to “let go” of some of your resources to “help others go?”! Start small and right now. You may also go online: www.ChurchPlantingSunday.com and sign up to give!
5. Everything raises and falls on leadership! As preachers or pastoral leaders preparing to share this sermon, may we find ways to apply its truths to ourselves and be passionate about church planting! Pray with those members who feel God wants them to be involved in church planting. Guide or refer them to useful books and other resources.
6. When there is keen interest from members to: (1) Go, (2) Let Go, (3) Help [others] Go plant another local church, discuss with all parties their call and need for training. Encourage them to take the next step.