Church Planting: Life on the Front Line

31st October 2001

1. Introduction: why church planting is hard
2. Problems that we face
        2.1. Isolation from friends
        2.2. Lack of support
        2.3. Hard work
        2.4. Discouragement at lack of results
        2.5. Direct attacks
3. Not a solution, but a response
        3.1. Realise the importance of what we're doing
        3.2. Be aware of what's happening with other people
        3.3. Use spiritual weapons to fight spiritual battles

1. Introduction: why church planting is hard

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
- Acts 11:19-21

We're in a battle. This is the ``spiritual warfare'' that the bible talks about.

Front-line troops are a much more important and accessible target to the enemy. Make no mistake - that's what we are. Church planting is the front line. We have a ruthless, cunning, powerful enemy who hates to see new churches established. (Fortunately we have an infinitely more powerful friend who loves to see them!)

2. Problems that we face

2.1. Isolation from friends

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy [...] It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart [...] God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 1:3-8

This may be the biggest issue for some people, and legitimately. When you leave a big, established church to plant a new church, you leave a lot of friends behind. In our cases, that includes all the people we wrote and performed pantomimes with, went on holiday with; the couples who got married at the same time as us, had their children at the same time. Their children are now all growing up together, without Danny and Matthew. This is hard. There's no point in pretending it's not.

New Testament church planters faced exactly that issue. Look at the strong language Paul uses in expressing how he misses his friends:

There are two reasons why we suffer from this.

Firstly, church plants are small, at least to begin with. A small church can't provide a big peer-group, so there's not a big ``pool'' to choose our friends from. In my case, for example, that means that there are no other football fans or scientists in the church. It's also part of the reason for the problem of not having enough men.

Secondly, church plants are by their very nature new. We're thrown together with co-workers and have to start working together straight away. It's a strange situation to try to build friendships in, and it shouldn't really surprise us if we don't have the the depth and intimacy and immediacy with our new friends that we still have with old friends - people who we've got to know over years.

There's nothing wrong with that! That's why Paul wanted to see his old friends so much. We certainly hope that in time, that level of friendship will build up within the new church, but if it doesn't happen overnight, that's not ``sinful''!

2.2. Lack of support

While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, ``Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?'' They answered, ``No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.''
- Acts 19:1-2

These people were clueless. They're called ``disciples'' (that is, Christians) but they'd not even heard of the Holy Spirit! (Which rather puts the problems of conservative evangelicals in perspective!) They were isolated from proper teaching because they were on the front line - just like the rapidly growing churches in China today which for all their blessing acknowledge a massive need for solid, biblical teaching.

Similarly, an army unit on the front line is much less well supported than one further back. Front-line units don't have luxuries such as catering, recreation facilities or even basic cleanliness than more withdrawn units enjoy - but they are the soldiers who actually win battles.

There are lots of things that new, small churches can't provide for their members, either because the resources aren't there are at all among the few members, of because the gifted people are busy doing other things. They include:

We may as well admit that we simply will not get these things in a small new chirch with its eyes primarily on evangelism. We strive to provide them, but you simply won't get John Stott-quality bible teaching from a computer programmer who's running an Alpha in his spare time.

In light of this, we need to give more time to our own bible reading and study - which is not exactly a bad plan anyway!

2.3. Hard work

``Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.''
- 1 Thessalonians 2:9

Let's face it: planting churches is hard, hard work. There is so much to do, and much of it is very unglamorous: admin work, phoning round venues for events, photocopying, fetching and carring, child care for creches, and much much more. It's hard. It's demanding. Sorry, folks, that's just what it's like - especially if we want to have public meetings of a quality that attract guests.

Even worse, the work that needs doing includes work we don't feel ``called to''. In a church plant situation, you basically need to knuckle down and do it anyway. Consider the case of Philip:

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, 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.'' [...] They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas.
A great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. [...] Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said.
- Acts 6:2-5, 8:1-6

2.4. Discouragement at lack of results

### this section needs a lot of work.

Jesus said to them, ``I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
- John 6:53-66

This problem is not covered much by the book of Acts because early church was more successful than us! In part, this is because they had learned the lessons we're starting to learn now.

``A few men became followers of Paul and believed'' - Acts 17:34.

parable of the sower, and also the farmer whose seed grown in secret


John 6

Chinese Christians in persecution feel sorry for us.

2.5. Direct attacks

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
- 1 Peter 5:8


3. Not a solution, but a response

So to summarise, in planting churches, we are: isolated from our friends, cut off from good bible-teaching and other such support ministries, constantly working hard, often not seeing much in the way of results, and subject to direct attacks from the enemy that may affect our family, our health, our homes and our pockets.

Remind me why we're doing this again? :-)

3.1. Realise the importance of what we're doing

When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it - though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates - Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: ``Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.'' But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: ``I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?'' Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.
- Nehemiah 6:1-4

We need to look beyond the week-in week-out practicalities of booking halls, setting up PA, lugging pianos, preparing Alphas and so on, and see the purpose of what we're doing: we're building the church! We're constructing the body of Christ on earth!

That perspective makes an emormous difference to our attitude to little jobs. In the middle ages, two craftsmen were carving stones to be used in the walls of a cathedral. A passer-by asked them what they were doing. The first one said, ``I'm carving stones'', the second ``I'm building a cathedral!'' Whose work do you think was better? Who do you think enjoyed his work the most?

Larry Tomczak talks about ``The twin heartbeat of God: built the church, save the lost.''

Here's a lucky-dip selection of what the bible has to say on the subject of keeping a right perspective:

### Story of my Mum giving birth to Gerard.

3.2. Be aware of what's happening with other people

If you allow them to, some people will carry more than their share of the burden: for example, Clare fetches the piano, leads worship and takes the piano back to its home after every All Bar One meeting: someone could have noticed that and helped.

3.3. Use spiritual weapons to fight spiritual battles

Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
- 2 Corinthians 10:3-4

In the end, the church that Jesus wants will only be established here through the power of God. The promise of God was clear in the Old Testament, and it's just as true today, as Yonggi Cho's church of 600000 members can testify:

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
- 2 Chronicles 7:14

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