The Meaning of Life: To Help Establish Local Churches

We are investigating the meaning of life and the question: Why are we here? Last time we concluded that the Great Commission implies that we should plant new churches throughout the world. So if we are to obey Jesus and follow the example given us by the Apostle Paul, then surely high on our list must be to help spread and strengthen the local church. But how do we do this? Where can we look for guidance?

We need look no further than Acts Chapters 13 and 14. Not only is this the summary of Paul’s first missionary journey, it gives us clues to the activities of a healthy church. It is therefore a guide for how we should engage with the church.

Apostle-PaulDavid Hesselgrave has looked at this question and neatly summarized Paul’s activities in his classic book, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally. There he outlines what he calls the Pauline Cycle. He looks at the book of Acts and how Paul carried out his missionary charge.

Boiled down to its essentials, the cycle is this:

  1. Select church planters under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As the church leaders at Antioch fasted and prayed, the Holy Spirit led them to choose Paul and Barnabas to go out. These two were their best, most gifted leaders who had learned how to do ministry at home before they went out. They selected men from within, whom they knew well. How often do we send out inexperienced, untried men and women who do their learning in the field?
  2. Gather believers into churches. The missionary band went out from the local church, preached the gospel, made converts, and gathered them into new churches. The essence of the Great Commission is to create new churches throughout the globe. A new church brings more new believers through its doors than older, existing churches. It is an engine of growth.
  3. Establish believers in sound doctrine. The missionary team then spent considerable time establishing the church. They taught the converts the whole plan and counsel of God—all that Jesus commanded. They grounded these new believers firmly in the faith. This didn’t just involve a “Sunday morning” experience, but sitting down with converts during the week and explaining the teachings of Jesus. “Establishing” believers in the faith must come about through a process of systematic, ordered learning.
  4. Appoint elders and equip them. Paul identified and chose leaders, appointed elders in every church, and equipped them for ministry. He even ignored new missionary opportunities so he could spend three years in Ephesus training and teaching leaders. From Ephesus, some went out and planted a growing network of churches in surrounding regions. Finding and training new leaders is a critical next step, without which the church will stagnate and the growth process dies.
  5. Revisit and strengthen the newly planted churches. Paul sent letters, emissaries, and he, himself, revisited churches he’d previously planted to strengthen them and address problems they were seeing. The new churches also reported back to their sending church all that had been accomplished. Providing feedback and encouragement to those in the sending church is important so they can rejoice in how they are fulfilling God’s plan and so they will do it again.
  6. Repeat the process. Finally, the new churches began again at step one, seeking God’s will to select and send out new church planters.

This then is how Paul carried out the will of God. We see it in Acts 13 and 14 in his first journey. We see it in every journey he made. But is what he did in Acts a pattern and model for us today? Indeed, it is. At every step of the way Paul was guided by the Holy Spirit. It was his plan, but also God’s plan. Luke wrote the book of Acts under the influence of the Holy Spirit not just to record early church history, but to give us a model to follow.

How successful was this model? By AD 100 churches were established in nearly all Roman provinces including between 250,000 to 500,000 Christians. By the time of Constantine there were nearly six million Christians out of a population of sixty million. That’s 10% of Western Civilization. Of course many of those followed Christ in name only, looking for economic advantage after Constantine declared Christianity the religion of the empire. But now local churches existed nearly everywhere, where seekers could go and believers could congregate.

This is how we obey our Lord Jesus. This is how we take the news of His coming to the world. And it is surely one of the most important reasons why we are here.

Next time we’ll look more at this cycle and how we, as individuals, can help.