The high cost of doing evangelism without church planting.
Jesus shared this same burden and passion with His Father. When John the Baptist prophesied about Jesus, he proclaimed that “His winnowing fork is in His hand and He will gather His wheat into the barn” (Matthew 3:12). Probably the most well-known verse in the New Testament in this regard is Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem how often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings”(Mtt. 23:37; Luke 13:34).
Much of the spirit of both the Old and New Testament is the same: the gathering of God’s people into one fl ock, with one shepherd (Ezekiel 34, John 10).
See what Jesus said about those who do not gather with Him: “He who is not with Me is against Me; and He who does not gather with Me, scatters” (Matthew 12:30)! Jesus says that if, in our labors for Him, we are not gathering people, we are scattering them! As Eugene Peterson picks up on in The Message: “This is war, and there is no neutral ground – If you’re not helping, you’re making things worse!” (Luke 11:23)
As missionaries for the last 20 years, Maria and I have had to take this word from Jesus very seriously. We have been convicted by the Holy Spirit many times throughout the years for “making things worse” by not putting enough emphasis on gathering what was reaped. We, along with many other people with good intentions, stressed sowing and reaping… but at the high cost of keeping!
Often the problem is not our hearts, but our wineskins. Many people around the world who focus on evangelism at the expense of gathering people into churches do so by default, not by design. Many people do not feel comfortable (or confident) trying to reproduce “church as they know it.”
“Unknowingly, the missionary quite often goes carrying with him preconceived ideas about what a church looks like,” Dr. Ralph Winter explains (Missions Frontiers, Sept. 2003). “It is not necessary to impose an Americanstyle church. True, the great twentiethcentury missiologist McGavran taught missionaries that evangelism is not good enough. People won to Jesus Christ need accountable fellowship as well. Thus church planting becomes the almost universal rallying cry, largely in place of mere evangelism. However, what if our American idea of a church‚ is itself extra-biblical?… The so-called churches of the New Testament were worshipping households like that of Cornelius, Lydia, or Crispus. They were what are nowadays called house churches.”
The “house church model” unlocks church planting, empowering the most simple-minded of us to reproduce churches! Just like the original fishermen and tax-collectors: “and [they] understood that they were uneducated and untrained men” (Acts 4:13).
The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church
Many times the issue is the so called “follow-up” we leave to locals once our team has “blitzed” an area. I have searched long and hard for this in the NT and can only see something similar in Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Well, if you are “snatched away” from the area by the Holy Spirit, fi ne. Otherwise, I think the biblical mandate is to stay until believers have been gathered together (see Acts)!
Roland Allen, a missionary to China from another century, makes the point so simple I don’t see how we keep missing it, but we do:
“I believe that we ought to return to the apostolic practice and found [start] churches in every place where we make converts, churches equipped with all the divine grace and authority of Christian churches.” (The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, 1927).
These are great and mighty days to be about the Father’s business! Let’s begin now to start “thinking flocks instead of sheep” and follow the biblical principle of sowing, reaping and keeping!