My Most Important Lesson: Church Planting is God’s Business!
by Dr. Rod Nidever, Mission Director Emeritus
This may seem pretty obvious, but it wasn’t for me. When I was in seminary I studied missions, mission history, church planting, evangelism, church growth principles etc. I thought I had a pretty good idea about what I needed to do to plant a church. After all, I had a master’s degree from a good seminary (Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, CA)!
Reality, or rather the Lord, has a way of bursting our bubble of self-importance! For example, after several weeks in language school, I hit a major wall. I wasn’t getting it! I skipped school and went for a walk to tell the Lord I was thinking about quitting. I was frustrated and discouraged! All I could do was ask for His grace! I did return to class the following day and something the teacher said helped me to understand a concept I had not understood. Thank you, Lord! Nevertheless, over the next five years my personality changed, as I struggled to speak the language. There were many occasions when I felt like quitting again, but amazingly, the Lord kept helping me to not give up! PTL!
Let me share some thoughts from Scripture. In Matt. 16:18 Jesu told Peter, “You are Peter (petros, a small stone), but on this rock (petra, giant mountain), I will build my church!” I believe Jesus is here referring to what preceded this statement. Peter had just made his amazing confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Jesus then responded, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jona, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven!” Here we see how God the Father and the Son are committed to the work of the Church. It seems to me that Jesus is clearly referring to the revealing work of the Father when He speaks of “this rock” (petra). God is called the rock of Israel more than 20 times in the Old Testament, making the term a synonym for God. Understanding this connection would not have been difficult for the disciples.
Understanding the Father as the active spiritual Agent in evangelism/church planting is consistent with Jesus’ statements in John 6, “Everything the Father gives me will come to me and whoever comes to me will never be turned away” (v. 37), “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (v. 44), “Everyone who belongs to and learned from the Father comes to me” (v. 45) and “. . . no one can come to me unless it has been granted him by the Father” (v. 65).
As a full-time church planter, I found myself struggling with two opposites. Sometimes I felt that, “I can do this”, only to discover that I really couldn’t! I slowly learned that whenever “I” was first in my thinking, I had become God’s problem! On the other hand, when I felt utterly inept at doing this work, I was also blocking God! Again I had placed the “I” first. What I needed to learn was the truth of what Jesus told his disciples in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches, he who abides in me and I in him, will bring forth much fruit, for without me, you can do nothing.” Jesus is, of course, speaking of spiritual fruit! So, what I needed to focus on was my relationship with the LORD! He didn’t expect me to be adequate to the task, but only available to HIM! Only HE is able to do genuinely spiritual things!
Paul introduces himself in Rom. 1:1 as the Doulos (bond-slave) of Christ Jesus. A bond slave in Paul’s day, was not the product of a conquest or the purchase of a person, but rather a Doulos was a free-will slave, who choose to serve his/her master out of gratitude and love for what the master had done for him/her. Paul was a Doulos Christi because Christ saved him from the bondage of sin and death (3:23, 6:23). Paul’s devotion was, of course, modeled after Christ’s love and obedience to His Father (John 5:19-20, 4:34, 6:38, 8:29 and especially Phil. 2:5-11)!
The first and most important lesson, then, is to become a Doulos Christi! To become someone, who is willing to humble him/herself and be ready to do any and every task asked of him by his Lord. The first of which was to spend several hours each day with Him in His Word and in prayer (John 15:5, Acts 6;4). This is the first and most important work of ministry!
And, like it, was to understand, that thinking I was adequate for the work of ministry, or inadequate were both counter-productive! All God wants is for us to be available to Him in submission to Christ! So, the lesson is to get our hearts and minds around becoming a daily (the command in Phil. 2:5 is in the present tense) Doulos Christi, remembering that no task is too small or too difficult, if it is HIS will for us!
To be involved in the work of ministry, whether in church planting or any other form of service, we must understand that we are engaging in a spiritual enterprise! We will be doing battle against our own flesh, which wants only pleasure, power or fame, as well as the forces of darkness, in our cultural situation and spiritual presence who desire only to destroy the work of God. We will soon learn that our education, gifts and talents are of little use in this battle of spiritual forces.
The good news is, however, that Jesus has conquered Satan and his dominions! And, God is all-mighty, ever-present and all-knowing! He will accomplish His purpose in His time! Nevertheless, we come not as conquerors, but as Douloi Christi! We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the power is not of us, but of God (2. Cor. 4:7)! Our true weapons are spiritual in nature (Eph. 6:10-18) and they are powerful in God’s hands!
We live to bring glory to His Name, which happens when we take upon ourselves this “Mind of Christ” (Phil. 2:5) and the character of a Doulos Christi! This can only happen by the grace of God! What joy it is to be His bond-slave and see him minister to others, bringing them from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light and helping them to grow in Christ, thus building His eternal Church one person at a time!
Cordially yours in Christ,