Planting the Gospel helps give us definition in ways followers of Jesus are all called to participate with God in His mission to the world. Rather than opting out because we already belong to and/or minister in an existing congregation, take time to listen to the Spirit for ways your particular community can join God at work in seeding and harvesting new places and spaces for faith to be discovered and grow.
At CBWC Church Planting we are always engaging with creative ways your local church community can join in the Planting the Gospel from intentional, relational discipleship within your own community to engaging with the people in your neighbourhood and joining them in fulfilling the values and dreams of a healthy and flourishing greater community.
For inspiration of a few of the ways you can start participating with us and for some of the ways We Are Better Together, by watching this entertaining video by our own Cailey, which premiered at NMO recently.
Connect with us on how we can start you or help facilitate your journey towards developing fresh expressions and intentional implementation of the Gospel right where you live, work, play and pray.
June 6-8 found CBWC’s Executive Staff back in Calgary to meet, fellowship with, and finally get to know 26 Ministers and 2 Administrative staff who are new(ish) to CBWC, since our last NMO was way back in 2019. It was so wonderful to be able to get to know one another and to share with these dedicated men and women, several who became staff in our CBWC church family during COVID.
Each of the Executive Staff walked through ways that We Are Better Together and the plethora of resources, relationships, partnerships and encouragement that CBWC Staff bring to our local Churches and Ministry people.
Monday afternoon and evening was a time for an overview of our CBWC Community, Identity, and Values, dinner together, some great fun games to get to know one another better and then a time of worship and prayer led by our Executive Staff Worship Team.
Tuesday I opened with a reflection of What Matters Most both to remind us of always being rooted in what Matters Most to Jesus and as a foundation to form resiliency in ministry on.
Presentations, talks, questions and interaction throughout the day found each of Executive Staff walking through our CBWC Ministry Priorities and all the ways we Cultivate Leadership, Invest in Relationships and Engage in Mission, including video introductions to other staff who are partners with CBM, The Justice and Mercy Network, CBWC Foundation and Carey.
Church Planting is one of the ways we Engage in Mission with you. Setting the tone for my presentation, I quoted both Alan Hirsch, who says that we are not called to plant churches, but the Gospel, and J.D. Payne who plainly writes, “The Bible doesn’t tell us to plant churches…it commands us to make disciples.” If you are a follower of this blog you probably have a fairly good idea of where that goes!
We can get stuck in our particular ways of “doing” church, or “doing” discipleship and not consider or perhaps even realize that throughout history the missionary people of God shaped and reshaped how they did these things to effectively engage with the people to whom God has sent us.
If your church sent a new minister to NMO this year, ask them what the Circuit Riders who roamed the Canadian countryside and Tesla tell us about “Planting the Gospel” in our land.
Our group of New Ministers are inspiring, curious, engaged and love God and the world God so loves. They are also, like most of the rest of us, feeling the strains of ministering in our times. Take good care of them as they desire nothing more than to take good care of you!
Faithful, You are; Faithful, forever You will be; Faithful, You are; All God’s promises are yes and amen (Yes and Amen)
We sang this declaration of the faithfulness of God on opening night of Assembly 2022 setting the tone for what we have gathered to celebrate. For many of us, the reminder in the midst of times of darkness, that God is still and always at his work in the world around us, even though it may seem elusive or distant to us.
As Anna Braun reminded us in our Bible Study Friday morning, sometimes we are in the dark and our job is to remember to have hope; the light comes through the cracks.
Faithful, You are
After such an extended period of gathering restrictions, we are grateful and joyful as we meet with many of you face-to-face at CBWC’s Assembly in Calgary.
While we see diversity in biblical interpretation and praxis across our family, we all agree on Jesus’ plain call to us to love one another as a sign to the world that we belong to Him. We have seen this love expressed first-hand this week in the joyful hugs and conversations, and the unity that we find in worshipping our King together.
Faithful, forever You will be
One of our favourite moments in Assembly is when we have the opportunity to present our new churches to enter into affiliation.
This year, we celebrate Heritage Mountain Community Church joining our family. HMCC gathers in Port Moody BC, recently celebrating its 20th anniversary since formation. Like many congregations in this uncertain era, Heritage Mountain is undergoing a season of change, so we are glad to be able to offer some support and stability—and prayer! Please join us in lifting up this church to the Lord.
Calgary Chinese Baptist Church, comprising both English and Cantonese congregations, has been faithfully ministering for 40 years in their neighbourhood. Sensing that God has blessed them to be a blessing, they focus on caring for one another, discipleship in word and deed, and blessing the Whitehorn area of Calgary in Jesus’ name. Welcome Pastor Evan, Pastor Tony and the CCBC congregation. We look forward with anticipation to leaning how we are better together!
We are also excited to welcome Emmanuel Baptist Church of Calgary into affiliation with CBWC. EBCC began as a Spanish ministry of First Baptist Calgary in the 1980s, and has developed into a bilingual congregation that now gathers in the Bonavista Baptist Church facility. EBCC aims to address the spiritual needs of both the first and second generation of Latino immigrants in the south neighborhoods of Calgary. Congratulations to Pastor Jay and the whole team!
If you ever go to Longview Alberta (aptly named for its long and beautiful view), make sure you drop in at Longview Fellowship and ask for Gil and Andrea Kidd. This delightful couple pastor, lead and care for this little church and the town surrounding them along with their congregation. At our online Assembly in 2020 we officially welcomed them into our CBWC Assembly. What a thrill to finally welcome them in person at this year’s assembly!
Please continue to pray for each of these new communities of brothers and sisters, followers of Jesus our Lord and Savior, as they engage intentionally in the implementation of the gospel in their neighbourhoods.
Faithful, You Are; All God’s promises are yes and amen!
“God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, The Message).
In this series (read part 1 here and 2 here), we’ve been examining the crisis of non-discipleship that the Church is finding itself in.
The emphasis on “making disciples” from Matthew 28 is not to make good church people – those who attend and serve within a church including participation in its internal programs. While there is much good that is within this part of our life as a community of followers of Jesus, it has developed us into churchgoers but not so much as disciples.
Disciples Are Salty and Shiny
Disciples, or those who believe and follow Jesus, are, to paraphrase Jesus’ words in his Big Sermon, salty and shiny.
Jesus said when we are salty, we are light (Matthew 5:13-16). Being salty means that we are living and leaning into increasingly being Christ-like in our thoughts, our opinions, our responses, our reactions. The less salty we are, the less we tend to shine. We become just another dim (or hidden) light in a world of dim-light options. I have read theologians and commentarians who say that Jesus is saying “You are ALL the light of the world.” Those who live a Jesus-centered life are the light of the world because we reflect Jesus who is THE light of the world.
So the question is, how salty are we? How salty we are is a direct reflection of how shiny we will be. Which drops us right back into the conversation on discipleship.
Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of Matthew 28:18-20 as quoted above poses at least three points here that are relevant and to which we should be asking questions of our own disciplemaking habits:
“Train everyone you meet…in this way of life…instruct them in the practice…”
In this way of life
(and) instruct them in the practice
Last blog left us with two things to think on. One was that discipleship doesn’t occur through osmosis. You may read that and roll your eyes and say, “well, duhh!” But the reality is osmosis is the most common way we tend to convey discipleship. We preach good sermons and hold good Bible studies and hope something rubs off. While learning by osmosis has its value, it also has limitations.
Intentional, Relational Discipleship
Discipling one another in the way of Jesus and His kingdom point of view doesn’t happen only because we follow Him from mountain to mountain to hear sermons. He was intentional in relationally discipling those that followed Him more closely, including those beyond the twelve whom He chose to train so as to train more disciples, or more specifically to train everyone they meet as they go through life – being salty and shiny!
The other thought from our previous article was about unlearning what we already assume and think we know: being humbly prepared to let Jesus change our point of view about our religion, our practices of it and even the purpose(s) of it.
How does our point of view about the world, religion, and even our own faith start to be transformed? Jesus infers it starts as we train one another (that’s the everyone) in this way of life. He takes His hearers back to what is most important for discipleship and the task or purpose of those who follow Him – His church.
From my decades of scouring the Scriptures to understand this, I’ve found that our purpose as Christ’s witnesses (those who witness us see us as shiny; or not) is reflected in Jesus’ statements in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), The Greatest Commandment (Matt. 22:37/Luke 10:27), and the intent (which Jesus demonstrated frequently in his words and deeds) of the Great Requirement (Micah 6:8).
You may think this is simplistic, but if we intentionally and relationally disciple one another, as lifelong learners, in the ways and intent of these, our worldview will be influenced. If, that is, we are humbly willing to lay down our assumptions and preconceptions from our own point of view to Jesus’ point of view (POV). As we increasingly adopt the view of God’s kingdom, already working right here, right now; if we practice justice-making, peace-making, mercy, hope, meaning, joy, grace and love towards our ‘neighbours’, we, who are also our neighbour, will increasingly “…grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- (so) that (we) may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:18-19).
As we live our everyday-as we are going-along the way lives, seeing people and circumstances through a Jesus POV, we cannot help but then practice it. As children of God walking alongside one another in every aspect of life, pointing one another to Jesus’s point of view, we will experience transformation of our hearts, minds, soul and strength and increasingly find ourselves grace-filled with compassion, practicing the fruit of the Spirit towards brokenness of our human experiences both in one another and in ourselves.
We will develop saltiness in ourselves and our saltiness will be Christ’s witness to the world of God who so loved the world he died to redeem, reconcile and restore all our relationships: with God himself, with one another and with self. On the matter of salt, Jesus asks the question: “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? His answer: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.” Salty and shiny.
Our shiny-ness is our evangelism. Like discipleship, it is a lifelong way of life, not a program.
One final note for pondering. Our age of Enlightenment participated in transforming discipleship from apprenticeship relationships to knowledge-based programs. We became less salty thus less shiny, which affects how people see Christ in us (our shiny bits). So we created programs to help increase our evangelism.
But neither discipleship nor evangelism, as posited from the beginning of this series, are programs. When we are salty, we are shiny. Evangelism is not the purpose of the church. Discipleship is, and evangelism happens because we are discipling one another to learn, teach, live and practice the beautiful way of Jesus.
For about twenty-five years I have been exploring, reading, writing and talking about the non-discipleship crisis. Most everyone recognizes the crisis when we talk about it. Often, someone will offer a great new discipleship program that is sweeping through various locales around the globe, sending me the links to the person/groups that developed it. Good, thoughtful, laborious work has gone into most of them. There is much to glean and I am so appreciative that others are tackling the crisis we find ourselves in.
I’ve made my own attempt at producing a discipleship manual for leaders to use with their congregations. I think it was pretty good. However, a course or program on its own is not discipleship. Jesus didn’t run the 12, the 72, the 144 through a 20-week discipleship course complete with graphics, worksheets and activities, and we didn’t see the early Church do so either.
There is value in those things of course, but the danger comes when we narrow the scope of discipleship to just a program to work our way through successfully. It’s dangerous because we can trick ourselves into thinking that completing a discipleship course means we now understand the Christian faith, while in reality we still have hearts and minds conformed to the world’s patterns, thinking and understanding rather than being shaped by the Holy Spirit’s transforming nature and Jesus’ Kingdom-of-God point of view.
In other words, the church is “Christian” but we are not necessarily followers of Christ living out the Greatest Commandment, the Great Requirement andthe Great Commission by becoming disciples who make disciples who make disciples.
Refreshing materials and programs, courses and conferences will not change that, no matter how helpful these tools are. We need to ask ourselves the bold-faced questions about how our methodologies are transforming us, if they are transforming us, and to what we are being transformed into?
The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ~Alvin Toffler
I have this quote on a sticky note on the wall in my office – I really should get it framed so it stops losing its stickiness and falling off the wall (I think there’s an apt metaphor in there somewhere). It’s there because Jesus said something similar when a curious pharisee came to him in the cover of night, acknowledging that Jesus was a teacher who had “come from God” (John 3).
I imagine Nicodemus was gobsmacked by Jesus’ response to the acknowledgment: Jesus challenged him! Even though Nicodemus he was a learned member of the Jewish council, Jesus told him he wouldn’t be able to recognize God’s in-breaking kingdom unless he was “born again.” And what did He mean by born again? Here’s my paraphrase: “Nicodemus, you need to recognize that I am the Messiah to see what God is doing in the world.”
Along the way, born again has become synonymous with a person confessing Jesus as Lord and Saviour. But remember that in Part 1 of this series, we recognized there is a difference between making church-goers and making disciples. Understanding Jesus’ remark as only an evangelistic impulse misses the fullness of what his challenge to Nicodemus was.
Jesus was challenging Nicodemus on what he understood about God, God’s kingdom and the Messiah. Nicodemus needed to unlearn and relearn by allowing the Spirit to be birthed and active within him. Jesus used a common euphemism of the day when he said “born again.” It implied you need to unlearn what you think you already know and learn again.
We’ve made born again about evangelism when it is really about discipleship–the transformation of hearts, minds, soul and strength to increasingly view the world through Jesus’ kingdom lens and live into that.
And, if I can be so bold (and I will), the very evident lack of evangelistic impulse in our church culture is a direct result of the lack of a discipleship culture in our churches. You may find this hair-splitting, but as we move to Part 3 of this series, the distinction will become obvious. For now let me close Part 2 by saying two things to start the unlearning process:
Being “born again,” absent of unlearning whatever patterns and world views we’ve inherited from our world and people around us throughout our lives, may lead us to declare Jesus as Savior, but has left lots of permission for His Lordship in our lives to be an optional add-on.
Discipleship doesn’t happen by osmosis. If the Church is serious about facing our current crisis of non-discipleship, we will need to rethink and reimagine our theology of discipleship.
We will need to put aside our egos and not allow offense to be our barrier to unlearning what we think we already know about it all. We hope you will join us as we take a deep breath and attempt to humbly come to terms with this continuous learning-unlearning-relearning process of discipleship.
…To “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…and teaching them to obey everything [he had taught and] commanded.” This was the Risen King revealing God’s mission to the world, through the gathered disciples. In many Bible translations we’ve aptly titled it the Great Commission, because of the clarity of vocation for the church, those gathered together under Christ.
On this blog we’ve often written about discipleship in connection with church planting, defining church planting as the fruit of disciples who make disciples who can also make disciples. Disciple-making is the call of the Great Commission. In other words, the mission of the church isn’t evangelism, it’s discipleship.
In an interpretive misunderstanding of the “go” in Jesus’ Commission, we’ve made the “going” the mission. The more literal translation in the Greek is not an imperative “go,” but rather a descriptor of how we make disciples: as the disciples are going (back home from the mount in Galilee), and as followers of Christ we each go about our lives (our witness), we make disciples of all the people we encounter, baptizing them when they recognize they have a need to travel a different road (repentance and salvation). Then, they begin the lifelong journey of intentional and accountable discipling of one another.
Before we go further, I do want to say that I am thoroughly convinced that all humans are always being discipled by others, and therefore are witnesses of that discipleship. My Grandmother discipled me to view the mentally challenged adults she worked among with respect and honor. My Great Grandparents discipled me to care for the frail and elderly when I served tea and talked with those in their old age care home. Culture and societal values have certainly discipled me to a variety of worldviews and ideas, many of which I still find myself needing to submit to Christ. Everyone is being discipled, and by the way we speak, form opinions, act or don’t act (our witness), everyone is discipling others whether they realize it or not.
With that in mind, every person we encounter and are in some form of relationship with, are being discipled by us before we even mention Jesus/church/God/salvation. What we are discipling them to, is another matter.
Here, we are talking about the kind of discipleship that shapes us towards being image bearers of God’s character, by living lives increasingly reflective of Christ’s kingdom point of view. That’s a lifelong, relational journey, putting all our heart, mind, soul and strength increasingly under the Lordship of Christ. When we are on that kind of journey, evangelism is what naturally happens “as we go” as demonstrative witnesses of Christ where we live, work, play and pray.
Somewhere along the way, discipling one another in intentional, relational communities has become something many leaders yearn for, but are wary to lead into, knowing many church-goers like going to church, but are not particularly interested in being in accountable discipleship relationships with the group of people they worship with on Sunday. We compartmentalize different aspects of our lives and justify and rationalize that because Jesus has saved the world and we’ve accepted that gift through baptism, God’s main requirement of us is that we “go” to church and possibly serve in the church’s programs and activities.
Evangelism, then, has morphed into being a task/program of helping people make a decision for Christ by telling them a particular aspect of the gospel and encouraging them to come to church. Disciple making – on the level Jesus made disciples – became something optional as long as we could keep people attending our worship services. Thus the creation of what is popularly known in the West as “consumer Christianity,” and our current non-discipleship crisis.
As Dallas Willard is famously known for saying, “non-discipleship is the elephant in the church.”
We’ve long known the elephant was there. We thought that we could solve our current declines in church attendance with more evangelism, more “witnessing” while our own witness to the world in word and deed, both as individuals and as corporate entities, looked not a lot different from those who did not profess to be followers of Christ and tragically, worse. Conferences, books, lectures and missional and church planting networks rose up to help us with increasing our evangelistic impulses, whilst ignoring the elephant taking up the majority space in the room with the solution written across its body: discipleship.
To be clear, if we do not refocus our time, our budgets, our energy, and our mission, toward making disciples who make disciples and so on, there will be little evangelism (witness). Evangelism happens because we are making disciples who are then making disciples who also make disciples.
Matthew commentarian Rodney Reeves says it like this: “When these disciples make disciples of all peoples, then the reign of Christ is present. And when those disciples make other disciples, then the unstoppable kingdom of heaven will continue to extend all the way to the ends of the earth.”1
You might think this is just hair splitting, but just looking around us, we can see that making people into church-goers has not been as effective as we would hope in changing the lens through which they see the world. We all have multiple, and often opposing, ideas on politics, culture, social issues, entertainment, the poor, the marginalized, the homeless. That’s normal, of course, we aren’t talking about uniformity where we all think, act, vote or even necessarily interpret scripture the same way. But we are talking about sanctification, where our worldview, with the guidance of the Spirit and one another, begins to be reshaped so that we look, speak, behave, and love more and more like Jesus, living life by the examples he taught and by obeying his commandments of loving God, self and neighbour with all we are and all we have as we participate in God’s kingdom of peace, joy, righteousness and love towards all humanity.
In the following posts that look at the crisis of non-discipleship the church faces, we will examine some things we need to rethink and some things we need to lay down next time. In the meantime, ask for God to help us be open for all our hearts, minds, soul and strength to be shaped like Christ “as we are going”…
Reeves, Rodney, Matthew: The Story of God Bible Commentary
“Stay in the Story” —I heard this phrase a while ago from a guest on a podcast. He was referring to our need as Christ’s ambassadors who join God in his work, to continually put ourselves back into the larger Story. We must not lose sight of the Big Story of God in the midst of life’s challenges and joys inherent in being humans together.
It is no coincidence that a story reminding us of the goodness of God in the land of the living can shift our focus from discouragement and weariness back to our raison d’être. When we tell one another stories, placing them back into the Big Story of God and humans, we see evidence of God at work all along. Join us as we “Stay in the Story” in this update of God’s work in a few of our newer communities.
Makarios Evangelical Church – New Westminster, BC
This gathering continues to grow deeper and wider. In the final months of 2021, Makarios welcomed new arrivals from Hong Kong who are relocating to Canada. This is a growing part of their ministry, partnering with ministries in Hong Kong to help newcomers settle into churches and communities here.
Along with new families comes an increase in children and youth, and along with the recent hire of a part-time English Ministry pastor for the college students they minister to from Douglas College, Makarios will be looking to hire a part-time children’s worker this coming summer. It is with great thanks to CBWC and our churches who support new works that they continue to grow and extend the Good News Story all around them, with a special shout-out to the hospitality shown by Olivet Baptist Church!
Emmanuel Iranian Church – North Vancouver & Coquitlam, BC
EIC continues to grow despite COVID restrictions, their main campus undergoing renovations, a great need for more leaders and for an English-speaking youth worker, limited finances, and health issues for both pastors. They have rotating services to accommodate both space and health restrictions, but this framework increases the workload for the leaders. In January 67 new believers were baptized – this brings baptisms up to well over 400 since fall of 2018!
They have also recently begun planting a new community in Burnaby out of CBWC’s Royal Oak Ministry Centre. God’s Good Story is compelling for those coming from a Muslim background, whose religion can feel like an oppressive authority. I have had several new believers express to me the great joy they have found in Jesus and the liberty and grace of being able to explore and express their journey as disciples without fear.
Please continue to pray for provision for this community, church, pastors and leaders as they continue to boldly and plainly proclaim that Jesus is God.
Hope Christian Church of Calgary, AB
In the past you’ve been invited to join us in praying for, and supporting, Hope Christian Church of Calgary, a small Arabic-speaking congregation. Our current situation is that planter and Pastor Mouner Alajji stepped aside last July, sensing a call to the Arabic-speaking mission field in Europe. One of the leaders in the church told me that Mouner was the best pastor he has ever had, and how missed he will be! Sadly, Mouner has also been undergoing serious health complications and is unable to continue at this time in the mission work as he undergoes treatment in Calgary. Please remember to pray for Mouner and his family during this time.
The church has been wrestling with the departure of their pastor and have really struggled with the COVID restrictions and how they would continue forward. The board of the church prayerfully discerned that they would shift their focus to a home church led by one of the gospel teachers in the congregation, and to officially close the Hope Christian Church of Calgary location.
While some might see this as a failed church plant, it is most definitely as successful gospel plant. The congregation continues to speak God’s Good News into their lives and into the lives of those they interact with in their places and spaces. What is a church plant after all? It is a gathering of believers who are communicators of God’s justice, love, grace, mercy, salvation, and hope, alive and active in the broken places in our lives and in our world.
As Gospel Planters in general are seeing movement of the Spirit in micro-churches as an avenue to engage people with God’s Good News, we continue to pray for this home church (one expression of micro-church) in joining God on His mission right where they find themselves.
Other Gospel Planting Work
I love how out of our deepest doubt and questions, God shows up! Well into the pandemic, a lot of conversations were going around the catalyst conversation table: How do new plants happen now? How will new church communities, committed to evangelism, survive? But, surprise! God is still at work and His Spirit is still inviting his people to join Him.
Not only have several new works actually thrived in various ways, but new gatherings happened! CBWC Church Planting is working with a new planting in Kelowna, a new plant in the discernment process in Burnaby, as well as a handful of already existing church communities looking to become family with CBWC. We will keep you updated as these new works progress!
You are invited to join too! Please continue in prayer for our existing and future plantings, lifting up the leaders and the congregations that courageously press forward with the Good News of God’s kingdom in our troubling times. They are committed to telling the Story by intersecting the stories of seekers with God’s Good News.
For that matter, remember to pray for all our churches – each and every one devoted to being salt and light in our communities across Western Canada!
Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.” Mark 4:26-29 NLT
Planting the Gospel is an exercise in seed scattering. How that seed lands and is nurtured has become the strategies for church planting we are currently familiar with. Regardless of whether a strategy is focused on a particular set of sustainability criteria, most plants start with a small group of Christ followers who long to see the Gospel enacted in the places they find themselves. Often these small groups begin meeting in homes to pray, to discern, to disciple and train one another towards an official launch.
In some ways, using the planting metaphor, house churches could be the starter plants you bought at the nursery, then nurtured to be grown-up plants enriching the neighbourhood. Often, house church gatherings are transplanted out of the home and into a church facility so they have room to become larger in that one place.
But what if the intent was to never leave the backyard? Matt Dabbs, who planted a backyard church in Alabama during the Covid summer of 2020, intends to remain a backyard church that scatters Gospel seeds to plant the next and the next and the next. It reminds me of a planter here in BC, Andy Lambkin, who has been doing the same thing since around 2011. We interviewed him a few years ago, and we include the link HERE for your quick find if you missed it or want to read it again.
In the meantime check out Matt’s story about the power of scattered people planting the Gospel in his backyard:
The Power of the Scattered People of God
By Matt Dabbs
Over the course of biblical history, God has used scattering as his method of choice for future kingdom growth.
He did this when Joseph went to Egypt, setting up the growth of the Hebrew people in Egypt and the eventual Exodus. God did this in the Exile, scattering many of his people to other lands, where they developed synagogues and outposts of God’s people far and wide.
Paul and other missionaries later found starting points for kingdom conversation in other countries as the fruit of the Exile scattering. God uses scattering to plant the seeds for future kingdom expansion.
In Acts 8:1–8 the church underwent tremendous persecution. Here is what Luke tells us,
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.
The most experienced among them, the apostles, stayed behind. The others scattered. The lead minister didn’t scatter. The “everyday” Christians scattered, and as they scattered, they preached the word wherever they went. God did miraculous things, and the result was a great job and kingdom growth.
God has long history of using scattered people, and using people to grow the kingdom.
The question is this: Is God doing this in our day? The answer to that question is multifaceted. God has been doing it in an organized way through the sending of missionaries for a very long time. But what about in an Acts 8 way—not the scattering of the formally trained but the scattering of the “everyday” Christians?
My hope and prayer is that the post-pandemic moment will create an Acts 8 moment, where the people of God have been shaken up, scattered out, and will preach the word wherever they go.
In all the staying-home time, many pastors realized that the people in their churches were fully capable of having church in their home and doing the work of ministry. Many reached out to neighbors. Some started house churches. The question is this: Will this continue and last or is it more of a passing moment? Many will return to their churches, and that is a good thing. And some will hear another call… that their eyes have been opened up to the possibility of the parish church, hosting house church in their own neighborhood.
Like all the other scatterings of the past, time will tell what kind of impact this latest scattering—which was more like a staying—and growth will have on the cultural and religious landscape in the United States and beyond. My hope and prayer is that it will result in a greater diversity of approaches to how we “view and do” church as a whole.
This is not to say that some might abandon the traditional model, but that it would be complemented with a partnership with more organic approaches. We are better together than we are apart!
It was the pandemic that brought our worship into my backyard in 2020, and during that time, God laid it upon our hearts to continue with that mission, resigning from my full-time preaching minister position to plant a church for the very first time. We have seen growth, and we have been encouraged by the sheer number of people who are wanting to start something new!
God is on the move and what may seem like a setback (going to Egypt, being exiled, persecution, and now the pandemic) may be catalysts for future kingdom growth and paradigm shifts that will have a lasting impact on the landscape of the Christian world for generations to come!
At the recent Church Planting Canada Congress, Missiologist Alan Hirsch spoke this word to planters and catalysts across the country: “Plant the Gospel, not churches.”
You may be wondering, “aren’t they the same thing?” Not necessarily. At CBWC Church Planting, we’ve long advocated that church planting is the making of disciples who make disciples. From that increase of disciples comes new communities of gathering: churches. Jesus sent us to make disciples; He didn’t say “go and make churches of all people.” Churches are a result of disciple making. Maybe this seems like a bit of a chicken-or-egg conversation. Does it really matter which came first?
We think it does.
It all comes down to fruit. Which is the intended fruit of the Gospel: an organization, or the disciple who is committed to the work of the Spirit in transforming them to reflect God’s love and character into the world and make more disciples? This is the outworking of discipleship. Thus, the clarification from Hirsch: “Plant the Gospel, not churches.”
Measuring by this metric also shapes the dynamic of how we view success and failure. If the Church, beyond the period of the Epistles and Letters, were to view success and failure the same way we do now, mass discouragement would have probably wiped out the establishing of new faith communities. Paul and others planted churches in communities throughout the diaspora that are no longer in place. Does that mean those planters, those churches, failed?
What if instead we would ask, “where do we see ongoing evidence of the Gospel planted in Ephesus, in Europe, in my city?” We could point out evidence of the Story of God and His people, of Jesus as the Son of God who ushered in God’s kingdom dynamic, of people pursuing lives as God’s image bearers and ambassadors, as being still active and present. Thus the Gospel was successfully planted. Even if the number of believers in a specific location have diminished, they are the fruit of the seed long-ago planted, nurtured and going through life cycles.
How we measure, or by what metric we use to deem success or failure, will vary greatly on what we determine the goal is. If the evidence of a successful church plant is ownership of a building, the number of folk engaged with the ministry of that church, and financial stability, then it is a natural progression to see the decline of people, funds and ability to hold on to a building as a “failed” church plant.
But if the metric is planting the Gospel, then a plant dying to the ground and scattering seeds with the Gospel DNA embedded would still be success. People came to faith in Christ, grew and flourished in a particular community and then scattered to plant Gospel wherever they find themselves. Thus the church plant is a successful Gospel Plant!
In our world today and even in our own church communities, we are experiencing a decline in church attendance, and some churches have just aged out. But does that make them failures? Can we celebrate with what has been planted and scattered even if the particular location of gathering is no longer on the geographical map?
Isaiah’s beautiful recounting of God’s words in chapter 55 reminds us of the invitation for people to come to the well of God’s goodness: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
A no-longer-gathering worship location does not return void. There is seed that has been and is still being scattered. It has accomplished far more than we understand with our human limitations. Perhaps we see closed churches as fails because we have been planting churches, when we were meant all along to plant seeds of the Gospel in our gathering and our scattering. Perhaps we view this as just a nuance of the same thing, but what if it isn’t?
Can we ask ourselves these, and questions like them, without feeling like we’ve somehow failed? I don’t think we have failed. I think we may need to simply, in a variety of ways, realign ourselves with the reality that any planting at all is “…for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.”