31st October 2001
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!)
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''!
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!
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:
### this section needs a lot of work.
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
Chinese Christians in persecution feel sorry for us.
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? :-)
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:
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.
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 you're reading a paper copy of this document, the soft-copy can be found at www.miketaylor.org.uk/xian/planting.html.