Do we know what it takes to reach your community where hundreds are coming to the Lord? Not really, but we do know what hinders harvest and the making of disciples. Certainly we can try different things that have worked in the past, but it is God who brings the increase. We can learn from those who have gone before us and observe from their examples. In this article I want to talk about those historical and biblical lessons and see how they can help us become effective in reaching our communities and neighborhoods.
If you have read Alan Hirsch book; The Forgotten Ways you discovered in his introduction some simple facts. Here are a few things that Alan mentions:
In the year 100 AD there were less than 25,000 followers of Jesus. By the year 310 AD when Christianity became legal, there were over 20 million followers of Jesus. How did the church grow like this? What caused them to grow so quickly? They grew from a small insignificant movement to the most significant religious force in the Roman Empire in just 200 years. There were no telephones, no newspapers, no TV, no radio, no books, no tracts, no Bible as we know it today, and no church campus!
That begs the question; then how did they do it? They were an illegal religion throughout this period of growth. In some places they were tolerated, but in most places they were persecuted. They did not have church buildings, but they met in homes. They did not even have the scriptures as we do today, but scrolls and letters. There were no Bible schools, seminaries or professional clergy. There were no youth groups, Sunday school, worship bands, or commentaries for study. What an amazing example for us.
This is similar to what we have seen happen in China. During the Communist revolution there were over 2 million believers. The churches during this time were patterned after the those in the west established by western missionaries. The missionaries were kicked out of China, during that time, senior pastors were killed, and all second and third level leaders were either killed or imprisoned. All public meetings were banned and there arose a persecution as never seen before in the history of the Church. There was an attempt to destroy Christianity in China.
In the early 1980’s a small number of missionaries were allowed back into China but under much control. These missionaries expected to see a weak and battered church in this communist nation. Instead they found that the church had flourished and was over 60 million strong! Today there are over 150 million believers (some estimates are putting the number over 200 million) with very few Bibles, no professional clergy, no official leadership, no central organization, no mass meetings, or buildings, but they are growing faster than they can be counted!
Another example is what is happening in northern India today. In May 2009 over 300,000 new believers were baptized on the same day (the day of Pentecost)! The number of simple churches started in some of the most difficult areas of northern India and Bangladesh that are now numbering in the hundreds of thousands! This has happened in the last 20 years!
In the oppressive nation of Myanmar (Burma) I have heard the testimony first hand of a church planter that in the year 2005 had planted 20 churches with 63 believers (these are small house churches). After learning some basic simple church planting principles things began to change. By 2009 there were over 6100 simple churches with over 23,000 believers. This does not include the 1600 believers that were killed and 400 churches were lost in the cyclone of 2008!
How did this happen and what can we learn from them? They kept things simple.
We read in Matthew 28:18-20:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Making Disciples has become the missing element of church life. Instead we are consumed with scheduling events, providing services and developing programs. We need to return to the simple task of making disciples. How did Jesus make disciples? He is our example.
We read in John 1:35-39:
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour
Take note that the disciples started walking behind Jesus; he turned and asked them “What do you want?” What was interesting was the answer to his question. They answered with the question; “Where do you live?” They wanted to know where he lived; they wanted to spend time with him. They did not want to go to a seminar, a classroom, a worship service or follow some curriculum, they wanted to spend some time with Jesus at his house. Jesus was fulfilling a promise that God has spoken throughout the ages.
This promise began with Adam and Eve and then to Shem and then the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This promise was spoken by the Lord in several ways. This promise of God is can be summed up as this:
- I will be your God
- You will be my People
- I will dwell in the midst of you. Dwell – tabernacle
This is the central theme to the whole Bible! The promise is a declaration of assurance, a proclamation of what God has planned for all nations, tribes and tongues – for YOU! This promise is declared a number of ways throughout the scriptures over and over again. Consider this promise and how it has affected your life:
First: God will be Your God. God is a jealous God and he wants you, and he wants to be your only God! God wants to take care of you as a loving Father.
Second: Refers to who you belong to – You will be my people. God wants to possess you. He desires to do nothing less than to own you. He will even put His name on you!.
And third: I will dwell among YOU. As a follower of Jesus, You are the tabernacle of God. Therefore, he is in your midst at all times. Do we have to enter into His presence, to pray, to praise? Of course not, He is with us at all times! He is ever present in us. “Christ in YOU the hope of Glory” – Colossians 1:27. He is with us, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matt 28:20.
This promise is why we have been called to go and make disciples. Should we keep this promise to ourselves? Never! And there is urgency to this call, Jesus said in Matthew 24:14 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
It is clear that God is doing new thing today, which is really an old thing. He’s changing the way we think! He’s causing us to look at what He wants rather than what we want. We are in need of a change in the Body of Christ! I am sure you have heard the quote attributed to Albert Einstein that “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”
Why do we keep doing things the same way? We have erected walls to limit who we can reach, both physical and cultural walls. We have established traditions that keep out those who are not religious or like us.
Consider this, The Church is called to reach the lost within a given community or city. The Church is not just one congregation, but it is all the congregations within a given area, city or county who are faithful to the Lord and His Word. Who makes up these congregations? First, individuals, then their families, and whole households make up congregations within any given region or city. So, who really reaches the people within a community or city? The individuals, families, even whole households! These reach the community, not the organized or institutional Church. It is people that reach people!
How do we usually try to reach our communities? We try evangelistic programs. But, less than 10% of all new believers come to Christ via an evangelistic program, the rest are brought to Jesus through relationships. Or we try events to get people to come to the Church building. Those who come are usually believers already. If we do this, we have to get them to like what we do in Church and like us before we can get them to know Jesus! This is so complicated.
Now consider this: we are to make our homes ministry centers, the place where we reach out from to reach our community! If we look at the book of Acts as our example, we see who households not only coming to know Christ, but reaching out to others. (Acts 20:20; 2:46-47; 5:42; Acts 16:13-15, 31-33)
Is it possible to reach a community house by house! Absolutely! “But that’s not the traditional way of ministry in the Church” Then we can remain to be accused of being insane!
Jesus said, ““By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8-9) The Kingdom of God is a kingdom built on right relationships, first with God and then with each other. Then fruit is born. We become a healthy household (Oikos) living life together reflecting the love, care and compassion of Christ to all those in our sphere of influence because we are his disciples, and disciples are being made. Can you see the fulfillment of the promise: I will be your God, your will be my people and I will dwell among you?
Some big questions to ask ourselves:
(1) What are we willing to do or change to see those in our community come into the Kingdom? Our traditions and our fears can keep us from becoming the people of God who with humility and gentleness can be used by God to deliver His message of love and redemption to a hurting and dying world.
(2) How do we view the Church? Is it the new lifestyle of the redeemed, where we share life with God and each other in the Power of the Holy Spirit? Are we truly a supernatural people, happening 24-7, not just 2 hours in a 168 hour week? Are we living The Way of Life, as it was once called where we are essentially a family, not company or business. Are we organic and not organized? Are we relational, not institutional? In other words are we a church as God wants it, rather than a Church as we know it?
(3) How can our homes become ministry centers? It starts with who you are. In your very being you become a ministry center from your own personal treasure in Christ. Then where you live becomes a ministry center. Your home is a reflection of who you are. You are a minister of what is in you and your home will become a ministry center. Then, your neighborhood, friends, family can be reached as the opportunities open up and you have a real rather than contrived vision and purpose to reach them. What happens then is that you begin to fulfill what the Church is called to do by YOU doing it in your own home where God dwells in you.
(4) Can you do it? Yes! That is God’s plan in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 we read:
26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things– and the things that are not– to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.
(5) What hinders us from opening our homes?
To open our homes, we must see ourselves as servants in the midst of our society. We serve the message of the Kingdom, making disciples. This means that we must learn to be hospitable and open our lives up to others.
(6) What happens when we only do this in the Church Building?
- People think they have to attend a meeting or go to a building to hear from God.
- The powerful truth of the priesthood of every believer is forgotten because we have become dependent on clergy for our spiritual health and truth.
- People become temple focused rather than people focused in their service to the Lord.
- People become temple focused in their worship experience rather than it being a part of their life throughout each day.
- People see the Church as an institution or a building rather than a family – the people God.
- We become business driven in ministry rather than service driven.
- We must do some activity in order to attract customers or prospects to come into our meetings, rather than taking the Gospel of the Kingdom to where we live – which is where the world lives!
(7) What should we do?
- We need to dedicate our homes – ministry centers to the Lord.
- Cultivate a godly atmosphere in our homes and cultivate hospitality.
- Allow our home to become homes of His glory, His manifested presence.
- Our homes are to be houses of prayer.
- Our homes become homes of the promise that HE will dwell with us because He is our God and we are his people.
Whatever we have expected our churches to be, our homes must first be. Why do we expect our experience in our churches to be different than our homes? Are we not the Church? We are the condition of the church; it is not our methods, our structures, or activities, our programs or our church’s name. The church is who we are in Christ. We are the body of Christ. Do we believe that?
Let’s examine our lives, our homes so that they can be the source of life, light and love in our community where every believer a disciple maker, every home is a place for making disciples, every church building (if you have one) is a training and celebration Center.