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Church Planting in Vanguard Presbytery, Seeking to Do What Jesus Did

volume 19, number 39, September 10, 2020

“Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every kind of sickness among the people.” -Matthew 4:23

On the morning of May 27, 30 A.D. the day of the Jewish Pentecost, one hundred and twenty followers of Jesus, who had been praying for ten days, and who were convinced that He was the promised Messiah, who also believed that through Him the eschatological kingdom of Yahweh had dawned, received the long promised gift of the Holy Spirit. In Old Testament times the Holy Spirit was present at creation, and He came upon artisans like Bezalel, giving him the skill necessary to make the instruments in the tabernacle (Ex.31:1-6), and He came upon office bearers—prophets, priests, and kings. However He never came upon individuals for the sake of individuals. That now had all changed. Peter, the former coward, then preached boldly and with clarity that Jesus indeed is who He said He is. Three thousand called on the name of the Lord that day. Within a few weeks the number of believers had grown to five thousand (Acts 4:4). Some thirty-six years later (66 A.D.) the number of Christians in the Roman Empire had grown to 400,000 in a total population of 60 million people. By 100 A.D. there were 1,000,000 Christians in the empire. By the time of Constantine in 320 A.D. there were five million Christians in the Roman Empire, 8.4 percent of the population. The church was growing rapidly. Opposition, followed by severe persecution, began to fall on the Christians in the Roman Empire. Suetonious said that Christians were a new class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition. Pliny the Younger, in a letter to Emperor Trajan, complained about the aggressive expansion of this “wretched cult.”   

Paul in his epistle to the Romans gives thanks to God for the Roman Christians, saying that their faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world (Romans 1:8). He thanks God for the Colossian believers because the hope laid up for them in heaven had spread to all the world and was constantly bearing fruit and increasing (Colossians 1:3-6). And Paul commends the Thessalonian believers for following his example, and the example of the Lord Jesus by receiving the word in much tribulation, serving as an example to believers in both Macedonia and Achaia, that the word had sounded forth to such a degree that Paul no longer had need to say anything (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8). 

How did they do it? How did this small, disenfranchised band of fisherman, former tax gatherers, adulterers, murderers, and idolators upset the world (Acts 17:6)? As Luke begins volume two of his report on the life and ministry of Jesus, he reminds Theophilus about all that Jesus began to do and teach (Acts 1:1). Jesus’ approach in training His disciples was the opposite of what we tend to do in the west. We put our pupils in the classroom, fill them with information, and then send them out to evangelize or preach. Jesus took His disciples with Him. They watched what He did, and then He taught them. In other words, Jesus first modeled ministry, and then taught. So after His temptation in the wilderness, after His baptism, Jesus began His earthly ministry by leaving Judea and returning to Galilee. After a brief time in his home town of Nazareth, which had no more than four hundred people, He traveled to Capernaum, located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum became the base of operations for His Galilean ministry. He called Peter and Andrew, two brothers who were fisherman, saying that from that point forward they would be fishers of men. He then called two more brothers, James and John, sons of Zebedee. With the first four of His disciples Jesus began to travel throughout all Galilee, teaching, preaching, and healing. What was He preaching? He was proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. When speaking in the synagogue of His hometown, He put it this way, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord,” (Luke 18,19). Jesus is by no means limiting His ministry to the economically poor, to the physically blind, to those in literal prisons, or to the culturally or racially oppressed. Bondage can be spiritual too. He is announcing the kingdom to all who see their need of Him. 

The region of Galilee, at the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, had a population of 200,000. We know there were one hundred and seventy-five hamlets, villages, or towns in Galilee at the time, all within a one or two days walk from Capernaum. Matthew, the former tax-gatherer turned apostle, says that Jesus visited every one of those towns—preaching, teaching, and healing, announcing that the rule and reign of Yahweh had come, that He is the promised Messiah (Matthew 4:23). So it is not a stretch to say, in light of Matthew’s observation, that large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and the Transjordan were following Him, that all 200,000 people in Galilee had either met Jesus or knew someone who had. Thus Jesus must have spent nearly a year in this aspect of His ministry. 

After gathering His twelve disciples and commissioning them, Jesus gave them authority to cast out demons and to heal the sick. He sent them out to preach, telling them to take nothing with them, to expect persecution, to not fear anyone (Matthew 10:1-42). And in Luke 10 Jesus appointed seventy others beside the original twelve disciples (some manuscripts say seventy-two others), sending them out in twos to preach the same message to all the towns in southern Galilee, mainly in the Transjordan. He tells them to seek men of peace, those who are open to His message of the kingdom. Jesus was soon to follow and visit those places which were receptive to His message.
Okay, what am I driving at here? Jesus multiplied His ministry. He thought big, but began small. He showed His disciples what to do They learned by watching Him, and then He reinforced the message by teaching them. He sent out the twelve, then the seventy. He kept moving, always moving to the people. No wonder He also said, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work,” (John 9:4). 
We in the western world are failing to build gospel powered, life transforming churches because we have jettisoned Christ’s model for our own tradition. Our church planting initiative at Vanguard Presbytery is hoping to be very different from what we have grown to accept in the western church. We do not need elaborate plans, huge paid staffs, or heavily financed church planters to plant and sustain churches which actually reach lost people. We have the Holy Spirit. We have the pearl of great price. We have our marching orders from our Commanding Officer—to make disciples of all the nations. We simply need to do what Jesus did.

Of course our work in Vanguard Presbytery is very new. We are only in the beginning but it seems very clear that God is building a grassroots movement of church planting. We have at least twenty people or groups of people from twenty different cities who are inquiring about the possibility of a Vanguard church plant in their cities. I am already visiting groups in several cities in the U.S. I also teach a Zoom class, generally on Wednesday evenings, on what I call Apostolic Church Planting where I am seeking to lay the ground work for future church plants. This is very exciting and you are most welcome to join us. Send me an email address if you are interested in what we are doing and we will make sure to add you to the invitation list. The Holy Spirit is moving in our midst and this is very exciting for all of us.  

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