Planting Spirit-Filled Churches

Needing to be empowered, prepared and led by the Holy Spirit when planting a church may seem obvious, but experience suggests that it isn’t always the case. Many churches begin well but their flame is soon reduced to a smoking wick – the smell of a flame but no lasting light. Other new churches may endure for a while through the ‘fear of failure’ will of a resourced, ambitious leader, but somehow fail to add anything significant to that locality’s witness, merely providing a brief, alternate home for disgruntled saints from the church down the road.  No-one wants to see a new church fail, so it must be done right – not by Driscoll, nor by Maxwell, but by the Spirit. The early church quickly clicked on to this truth.

First of all, let’s make certain that the time, place and planting of the new church is a decision made by the Holy Spirit and not just by us! 

No-one can be criticised for wanting to reach their community for Jesus. It’s a courageous and commendable desire! But it’s vital that any new church has come into being at God’s behest, rather than just man’s wish. Occasionally, some new churches emerge out of rebellion, church-splits and holy-walkouts, as a frustrated would-be leader wants to speed up God’s will and get their go at steering. Welcome to St Ishamel’s. One preacher nailed it when he said, “Some are called, some are sent; still others bought a microphone and ‘went.’”

But, like Jesus Himself, a new church needs a Heavenly Father and an earthly mother. The Apostle Paul was called from birth (Galatians 1:15), and had a great ministry as soon as he was converted (Acts 9:20-22), but he had to wait on the Spirit’s perfect time (Acts 13:2) and the affirming hands of his leaders (Acts 13:3) before he set about planting churches.  No two churches planted by Paul were identical. Perhaps what Town A needs is not a clone version of the church in Town B, so we must allow the creative Spirit to show us. It’s not enough for us to build a fishing boat – we must set sail at the right season and catch the strongest of winds.

Secondly, it is essential, not just preferable, that new churches have Spirit-filled leaders.

It is not clear if the apostolic and prophetic foundations (Ephesians 2:20) of the church refer to the Scriptures or to people – Ephesians 4:11 gift ministries. Whichever is meant, we can agree that churches need both. I have always been fascinated by the New Testament character of Silas, who travelled with Paul preaching the good news and planting new churches in Europe (Acts 15:40). Interestingly, his primary gift is that of prophet (Acts 15:32). An odd choice for a church planter. Couldn’t Paul have persuaded an evangelist to accompany him, or a good teacher?  Perhaps Paul recognised that churches needed to be birthed from both apostolic strategy and in the atmosphere of the voice of the Lord. We need charismatic people to be released today, not forsaking their gifts for the accumulated wisdom of leadership manuals, but the glorious best of the both. Whatever is sown, valued and cultivated in the first days of a new church will grow for many years. If the church is to have a Spirit-filled future, it should have charismatic foundations. We don’t just mean ‘worship meeting’ gifts. When the growing early church needed to appoint some practical hands to facilitate the social action, it was essential that these were people “known to be full of the Spirit” (Acts 6:3). If only the preachers have God’s oil, only the platform will drip! Send forth the Spirit-filled and we shall see the Spirit flow.

Thirdly, new churches ought to be authenticated by signs and wonders.

There is no doubt that without hard work, courage, perseverance and, in many cases, quite a bit of money, it is tricky to establish a thriving new church beyond the house-meeting stage. Of course, so many of the elements that a modern church-planter might feel are essential in today’s market were incidental to the first pioneers. No websites, sound-systems, charity numbers or lighting rigs for them. Silver and gold they lacked, as do we many times, but what they had they gave and demonstrated gloriously. God showed Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy et-al that He was with them, not by getting a fabulous deal down at the village hall, or a photo-op with the Mayor, but by the signs and wonders wrought through their hands.

In the Bible, miracles seem to be an essential requirement for the church-planter (2 Corinthians 12:12). Despite Paul’s first night nerves, the “demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:3-4) witnessed in Corinth would establish a Pentecostal fellowship which would come to teach the world about the power of God. The Spirit loves virgin territory and is thrilled to break up the fallow ground with the extraordinary. When doing the work of an evangelist, I often minister to the sick before preaching. Miracles are much more impressive than a hymn solo, especially among the poor. Within a few months of being on a church planting team in the UK back in the 90s, we saw many sick people healed and set free. One night a lady previously on crutches ran at great speed around the church, her lips literally uttering “I don’t believe this!” It was the seal and signature of the Spirit of God upon the launch of an amazing new church.

So if church planting is on your radar this season, rejoice! Just be sure the timing and model seems good to the Holy Spirit as well as you (Acts 15:28); take some genuinely Spirit-filled people with you; and expect the Builder and Head of the Church to demonstrate His resurrection power among the needy of that community. It’s time for churches like that to show up all over, isn’t it?

Originally published in RE Magazine, January 2013

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