Although this is our fourth chapter in many ways it could have been the first, because it is really the most important of all. In every aspect of Church planting we need the help and the work of the Holy Spirit of God. Without his aid and blessing all our best efforts and our most diligent work will be in vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down.
a. The Holy Spirit’s work is essential.
The Holy Spirit is involved in all aspects of Church planting. For example, it is the Holy Spirit who calls out the sower. It is the Holy Spirit who empowers the seed. It is the Holy Spirit which cultivates the soil. In Church planting we are utterly dependant on him. In Thessalonica where Paul and Silus were so mightily used in a relatively short time, it is said that after they had preached the gospel and proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ in Acts 17:4,
“Some of the Jews were persuaded…”
It was the Holy Spirit who had graciously worked in their hearts and minds and had lovingly persuaded them of the truth of the gospel. Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, preached in the power of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit worked in the hearts and minds of those whom God has chosen to be his own. It was the Holy Spirit who granted them the gifts of repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. When Paul wrote his first letter to the Church he confirmed this in 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5
“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.”
b. The Holy Spirit calls the Church planter.
Clearly the apostle Paul was wonderfully led by the Spirit of God. We have already mentioned how in Acts 16 Paul tried to go to several places with gospel but the Holy Spirit prevented him. This continued until he had a special vision one night when a man from Macedonia begged him to come there (Acts 16:6-10) resulting in Paul going to plant a Church in Philippi and beyond. The question for us to consider is, is this is the normal way the Holy Spirit calls someone into church planting work? Our use of the term ‘special vision’ perhaps gives the clue to the fact this is not the normal way in which the Spirit of God guides his people. Let us consider some basic principles about the way God guides his people generally and that might help us to have a better understanding of how he guides church planters more particularly. We begin by noting that God does guide his people and we are so thankful for the leadership, direction and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We need to remember that ordinarily God guides his people by his Spirit through his Word, not by miraculous signs. Those times recorded in Scripture where the Holy Spirit did guide in that unusual way were exceptional so we must not consider them as the norm. Yes, it is true that occasionally God will confirm his guidance through means of some sign or vision, but the absence of these is no excuse for disobedience because God’s normal way of guiding his people is through his Spirit, by his Word. If God has commanded us to do something in his Word we do not need any special or extraordinary means of guidance, but simple obedience to what God has clearly stated in the Bible.
Often when guidance is under consideration many will mention the Old Testament character Gideon, one of the judges. The details of his ministry are found in Judges 6-8. When the Lord first called Gideon to serve him it is pointed out that he asked God to confirm his guidance in an exceptional way by giving him a sign, and he asked more than once. He asked God to make the fleece of a lamb he would place on the ground to be soaking wet the following morning while the ground was dry. This was granted. Then he asked for the reverse to be the case, for the ground to be wet and the fleece dry. This was granted also. Many have used this incident to suggest the passage is teaching us that we should seek signs from God in this miraculous way. But if we look at the context Gideon was not laying the fleece because he was trying to discern the will of God because God had already spoken to him. His Word had made it abundantly clear what God wanted him to do. Instead, Gideon was laying the fleece because he doubted the Word of God! We must not forget that Jesus said it is a wicked generation that seeks after a sign (Luke 11:29). If we are going to say we are not going to be involved in evangelism and church planting until God does something spectacular and out of the ordinary we really are failing to take account of the commands God has already given us in his Word. We can add further that the Lord has already done the most spectacular and miraculous thing of all. He has taken on human flesh and he has dwelt among men and lived the life we could not live. He died the death we deserved to die and in his resurrected body he gave his disciples this commission to go into all the world (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8). He has already told us to go and so we are simply obeying the words of our Lord, the command of our master when we go. We do not need special experiences before we engage in evangelism because it is a simple matter of our obedience to the commands of God already given. The Bible has the authority of God behind it and it is through this book that he instructs us.
Having said that, it is also true that those who are to be engaged in Church planting work do need to be aware that the Holy Spirit has directed them to this particular form of ministry, because it brings its own demands. The question we now have to answer is how does someone know God is calling them to be a church planter or God is calling them to be a pastor? When Paul was writing to Timothy he said in 1 Timothy 3:1
“If any one sets his heart (or desires) on being an overseer…”
It is just as we have said in chapter 1 of this book that the Lord must give a desire for this work. We must ask, ‘Has he given me a burden for this task?’ If he has then it is the responsibility of our Church to assess our character, to see whether or not we have a life that is consistent with this desire. Character qualities must precede gifts and abilities. It is not that God calls the gifted, but that God gifts the called, and those called will have a godly character. Paul did not minimise the desire a Church planter should have to preach. He indicates that desire was a necessary ingredient. So if you desire to do this work then your character and spiritual maturity and your own personal walk with the Lord and how you are viewed both by people within the church as well as outside the church, must come under scrutiny. Further, if that desire is there and if you are suitably qualified biblically in terms of character and reputation, then you can reasonably expect that you are going to have gifts and ability. A person called by God to be a Church planter will already be involved in the life and ministry of their sending Church. As they begin to go out and begin to get their hands dirty in the work, then the other believers will begin to see the hand of God on that person and recognise God has set them aside and has called them to this work.
Barry King expresses it like this:
“Sometimes when people ask, ‘How is the fullness of the Spirit manifested?’ or ‘How can you discern when the Spirit is at work in someone’s life?’ then we are looking for all the wrong things such as remarkable gifts and abilities. If the Holy Spirit is really at work in someone’s life we ought first thing to look at their family, their relationship to their wife and their relationship to their children. We need to look at their own personal walk with the Lord. We need to look at the reputation that they have both within the congregation as well as even with outsiders. We should see the Holy Spirit’s work in conforming this person’s character to the likeness of Christ. Maybe not so much speaking in an unknown tongue but learning to control the one tongue that they have. Sometimes we look at all sorts of things that really are quite peripheral and we miss the things that are most essential. The heart of the matter is often left completely out of the equation.”
c. The Holy Spirit changes the lives of our listeners.
As mentioned earlier, when Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica, the Church that he planted in Acts 17, he said to them in the first chapter of his first letter that he had come to them not in word only but with power and with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes people try to draw a strong line of distinction between the Word and the Spirit when in reality it is the Holy Spirit who inspired the writing of the Word of God and who inspires the preaching of the Word of God. When we come, we do not come as professors to give a lecture but we come as preachers to deliver a message and that message is from the Word of God and it is empowered by the Spirit of God and it has the wonderful work of affecting life change and transformation in the hearts of those who hear it. Peter confirms this by telling us that it is the Word that the Holy Spirit uses. We are born again through the Word and Jesus says we are born again through the Holy Spirit and the two are just inseparable. (See 1 Peter 1:23 and John 3:3-8.)
There are so many examples in the Bible of people whose lives God changed. In Acts 16 Lydia became a follower of Christ because (Acts 16:14),
“The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”
The Holy Spirit of the living God was at work and she repented and placed her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and was baptised. Really the Church at Philippi was actually planted in her house and amongst the members of her household. Another transformed life in Philippi was the jailor. During a dramatic earthquake he was brought to cry out in Acts 16:30,
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
So we see the Holy Spirit at work in a seemingly quiet way in the conversion of Lydia by just opening her heart and then in a much more dramatic way the conversion of the Philippian jailor. It was all the Holy Spirit’s work from start to finish and it is meant to be that way because then we can take no credit and we cannot glory in ourselves or in our abilities but we can just say this is God’s work and it is marvellous in our eyes.
d. A danger to avoid
Knowing we are absolutely dependant on the Holy Spirit has wrongly led some to think, ‘As it is the Holy Spirit who called me and it is the Holy Spirit who will work in people’s hearts, I do not need therefore to prepare messages or to study the Scriptures or do anything to point others to Christ. All I need to do is to just wait and rely on the Holy Spirit. In fact the opposite is to be the case. Knowing we are completely dependant on the Holy Spirit then we should prepare more than anyone else. The Church planter is going to labour harder and longer than anyone else. The Apostle Paul said in 1Corinthians 15:10,
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”
It is not that we should use our dependence or our reliance on the Holy Spirit as an excuse for our own inactivity and laziness, or our own lack of preparation or zeal in the Lord’s service. Instead it is the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Holy Spirit that drives us forward and propels us into those areas. Indeed in 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul wrote to Timothy,
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
The Bible teaches that our dependence on the Holy Spirit will drive us to study the Word of God more.
e. Evidence to look for.
In Church planting it is essential that we look for the evidence that the Holy Spirit has been at work in the heart of someone who has been listening to the gospel being preached. This is important because Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:21 that,
“Not everybody who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven”
So how do we discern when there is a real genuine work of God’s Spirit in the heart of an unbeliever bringing them to genuine faith in Christ?
There are a number of answers to that question, and one of the first evidences of the Spirit’s work is in a person’s attention to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and in their desire for heartfelt obedience to the Word of God. It is not merely an emotional response that results in a person making a decision for Christ, but it is a response of the entire being that results in a person becoming a disciple. A person in whose life the Holy Spirit is working, is going to have a real hunger and thirst for righteousness. God himself has created this hunger and thirst within them and has given with it the promise that if they hunger and thirst after righteousness they will be filled. This gives them a desire to hear his Word and know his Word and obey his Word. They come to a realisation of their own inability to obey the Word of God and they recognise their own need of full dependence upon the Holy Spirit. When Paul was writing to the church at Philippi, he gave them tremendous examples of humility. First, the example of Jesus, and then later the example of Timothy and at the end the example of Epaphroditus. In Philippian 2:12-13 he then gives this exhortation to obedience,
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed— not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
We see in these verses what we find in the heart of a person where the Holy Spirit has been at work. They are going to recognise keenly their responsibility to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. Such a person will be exercising repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. This is why it is essential for Church planters to have a Word centred ministry where they actually feed the people with the Word of God and preach the gospel which is the Word of truth. We do not have to use gimmicks that only entertain the people in order to gather a crowd. God’s Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the Word of God in power that produces a real life change and this is what we should pray for and seek in the lives of our hearers. When Paul talked about the effect of the Spirit’s ministry on the people of Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians 1:9 he said,
“…you turned from idols to serve the living and true God”
This was not some superficial emotional high that soon evaporated, but something so dramatic that they actually turned from the worship of idols to worship the one and true living God. When we began to see genuine Holy Spirit produced repentance it will result in lives being changed. We should not be as interested in how many people came and how much money they gave as we are in how many people’s lives are being changed and transformed by the in-working power of the Holy Spirit of God. This will result in the fruit of the Holy Spirit being produced in them. Galatians 5:22-25,
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
Posted in: Principles of Church Planting