Considering God’s mission, which is both eternal and timeless, we are drawn to think about how we get to participate in that mission while the world is in this temporary state of wretchedness. We think about church-planting, outreach, and even evangelism, and we recognize that these are all momentary works. When Christ’s work of redemption has grown to its fruition, we will no longer need to reach people with the Gospel. We will still serve the glory of God the Father. God’s glory will always be realized through the exaltation of the Son and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. In the Garden that looked different than it did after the Fall. It looked different before and after Noah. It looked different in the Old Testament than it does now in New Testament times. The Mission is the same. Method shifts as God continues to establish His creation in His glory alone. As we plant churches and do outreach, our vision has to be grander than simply doing evangelism and getting people to go to church. Our vision has to be grander than the building of one organization or local church or thinking that we have accomplished something great by planting multiple streaming campuses. All that will pass away. The question we need to ask is how our method fits into God’s eternal mission. Are we participating with God or are we trying to build our own temporal kingdoms and using Christ’s name to do so? Are we serving our own glory through the exaltation of a preacher or organization in the abiding presence of religion, or are we serving the glory of God the Father through the exaltation of the Son in the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit? Those are two very different things. We must decrease.
In this part of the story, people were following Christ, being dispersed because of persecution, and people in different territories were becoming believers because the Gospel was being preached. Thus, we notice that every work of multiplication begins with a proper understanding of the Gospel. It is the proclamation of the true Gospel through which we take part in God’s building of His own church. So, when we think about outreach or church planting- the primary means is always the declaration of God’s word in the community (not merely within the church walls).
There are a few ways to take the ministry of the word beyond the church walls. These means will change as times change and new technology is available and new methods are used to communicate.
In Antioch, a large number of people believed. Then the church in Jerusalem commissioned Barnabas to travel to Antioch for confirmation about what was happening, and Barnabas began instructing the people at Antioch. Barnabas brought Paul, and they instructed the people at Antioch for an entire year.
In this passage, we catch the first glimpse of how God builds local congregations in His church:
- God ensured that people went.
- Then, the true Gospel was preached as the people of God went.
- Then, believers were produced by the hearing of the Word.
- Then, trained men came to lead and instruct the local congregation.
If this is normative for the church and the work of the Gospel today, I fear that we often approach something like church planting in the wrong order. We choose a location, a building, then we try to get people to come to that building. In Scripture, God begins with the proclamation of His Gospel to people where they are at. This means that meaningful outreach happens as we go to people, not as we try to entice people to come to us. Then those people come together in local congregations.
This reveals something about the character of God and about the character that God is developing in His people through sanctification. Jesus Christ condescended to us. He came to us in a form we would understand. Loving people as Christ first loved us means that we go to them. What is it that causes us to want to draw people in rather than go to them? It can only be pride. God is producing within His true children the heart of Christ, the heart of a servant. We will forever model this character as we serve Christ and one another on the New Earth.
So, it is clear that our start cannot be to choose a property and bring people into a building. It must be simply to preach the true Gospel to as many people as possible. We do not grow discouraged because we do not see fruit immediately. We remain steadfast. We meet together. God is building His church and sanctifying His people. As we participate in the work of His true Gospel, believers will gather for the purpose of receiving together the words of Christ and to admonish one another. Regarding outreach, evangelism, and church planting on this earth in pursuit of God’s eternal mission, the most biblical way for us to participate is by going and being with people on a personal level, building relationships in which we are unconditional servants, and sharing the Gospel by having God’s word on our lips. Statistically, personal relationships and personal invitations are the most effective means for outreach and evangelism.
We are here to participate in something bigger than us. This is the caveat. If we seek to entice people into our building, we will ultimately win them to something less than Jesus Christ. At the same time, we elevate ourselves (even if unwittingly). God’s purpose of His own glory bids us deny self and decrease as we do His ministry. In the scope of eternity, there is a character being produced within us, making us complete and ready for every good work. We will forever be servants clothed in Christ’s righteousness alone, not drawing an audience for ourselves but always building one another up in Christ.
The way we do outreach and the way that churches are planted matters. When it is about gaining an audience or building a large community, we do something temporary. Those things will perish with a world that is burning to the ground. When we are about serving others for the glory of God, we participate in God’s eternal mission. That is where we get to see real fruit produced in and through us.
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