FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 17, number 13, April 5, 2018
“. . . having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia . . . they were trying to go to Bithynia and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them.” -Acts 16:6,7
What Is Your Target Audience?
If you are a church planter, or have been in a new church plant as a church member, then you have probably heard this kind of language, “As you begin your church plant, have you settled in on your target audience? Are you going for the professional people in town, the inner city poor, or do you hope to reach the ‘uppers and outers?'” This is very common language when attending church planting seminars or denominational meetings. After all, it seems to be a logical question, especially to the sensibilities of our western mind baptized into modernity. This is what corporations do, so surely the churches ought to do the same.
But is that what we find with the Apostle Paul? After his first missionary journey, and after relaying the decisions of the Jerusalem Council to the churches in Galatia, Luke tells us that Paul had every intention of going straight into Asia Minor to plant more churches, but he was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go there. We don’t know how the Spirit made this clear to Paul, but he heard the message some how, loudly and clearly. Then he thought, “Okay, I think going north into Bithynia makes sense.” But again, the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them to go. Finally, making his way to Troas on the coast of the Aegean Sea, Paul received his marching orders in a vision from a man living in Europe, that is Macedonia, northern Greece. “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Luke tells us that Paul understood that they were to go into Europe and preach the gospel there.
So, they made their way across the Aegean Sea to Samothrace, Neapolis, and finally to Philippi, a leading city of the province of Macedonia. Paul did not stay still, but on the Sabbath day he and his fellow workers went outside the city to a riverside in order to pray. A group of women were there, including Lydia, a foreigner from Thyatira (that is a city in Asia Minor where Paul had originally wanted to go). Paul preached Jesus to Lydia and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. She must have been a woman of means, since she was a seller of purple fabrics. The whole household believed and they were all baptized.
Paul continued preaching in the region, and going regularly to this place of prayer (by now he has realized this was a very good fishing hole for souls), a demon possessed slave girl who was making her masters lots of money by fortune telling, repeatedly and daily interrupted Paul’s preaching by saying, “These men are bond servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” Paul was annoyed by her proclamations, probably because her performance was diluting the effectiveness of his preaching. It was a distraction. So he commanded the demons to come out of her and they obeyed Paul immediately. We are not told whether or not she was saved, but it is a safe bet to say that she was. She was a slave, so she was surely poor.
But Paul and Silas had thus alienated the girl’s masters, and they brought false charges against Paul and his entourage and had them thrown into prison. And while there, Paul found another audience to whom he preached the gospel-the prisoners housed with him. Paul and Silas were beaten, jailed, and put in stocks. No doubt, Paul was not excited about being in prison. This was not part of his mission plan of action. Making the best of it, however, he and Silas were praying and singing hymns. No doubt their fellow prisoners, as well as the jailer in charge of guarding them, heard the gospel of grace from Paul and Silas all night long. An earthquake hit, shaking the prison to the foundations, and miraculously, every prisoner’s chains fell off their arms and legs. The jailer figured that he was in big trouble, seeing that the doors to the jail cell were open. He assumed all had fled to freedom, but Paul informed him that they were all there. Is it too much to assume that these prisoners some time during the night had called on the name of the Lord to save them? Otherwise, why would they stay and not flee to safety? So, hardened and convicted felons were affected by their ministry. The jailer was so overwhelmed by all of this they he too wanted to be saved. He and his entire household called on the name of the Lord and were baptized. As a civil servant, perhaps we can say that the jailer and his household were the equivalence of the middle class.
Paul reached a wealthy, professional foreigner, a demon-possessed fortune telling slave girl, hardened criminals, and a middle class civil servant, and this was because the Holy Spirit had different plans from his own.
So, what’s the message here? Who is your target audience? Contrary to what the church planting leaders are telling us, we do not have the freedom to answer this question for ourselves. Bottom line-our target audience is whomever God puts before us at that particular moment.
The absolute necessity, the non-negotiable for every church planter and church member in a church plant, is “to see whom you see.” Isn’t that what we see Paul doing? The Holy Spirit forbid him from going to Asia Minor and Bithynia, but directed him to Macedonia. And more specifically, the Holy Spirit directed Paul to specific people whom He had prepared to hear the gospel. “God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts,” (Isaiah 55:8). “Man plans his ways but the Lord directs his steps,” (Proverbs 16:9). “Do not say, ‘Let us go to such and such a city and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit’. . .Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that,'” (James 4:13-15).
So, daily surrender to the Lord and say, “Lord, here I am. Lead me today in my mundane, daily activities, to whomever You have prepared to hear the gospel. If You open the door, then I will go through it and speak a word of the good news of Jesus Christ to whomever that day is my target audience.”
What do you think would happen if every believer did just that?