Our church planting ministry philosophy comes from the beginning of Acts chapter 13, in which the church in Antioch is described as led by several high-level leaders. While that church is worshipping, the Holy Spirit tells them to set aside Barnabas and Saul to go plant churches. The church complies, setting apart and supporting the two men as they set out to launch new works.
Our philosophy is to find high-level leaders and support them in ministry. We’ve set up ten support environments to help take care of the leaders in our network.
What immediately follows in the book of Acts is a series of amazing ministry ups and downs that emphasize one critical but often undervalued key to church planting, pastoring, leading and ministry.
UP: As Barnabas and Saul sail off on their journey to plant churches, a young man named John Mark joins with them as their assistant!
UP: The team gets to Paphos and they score an audience with the governor.
DOWN: A Sorcerer shows up, interferes and urges the governor to pay no attention to Barnabas and Saul.
UP: “Saul, also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he looked the sorcerer in the eye. Then he said, “You son of the devil, full of every sort of deceit and fraud, and enemy of all that is good! Will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord? Watch now, for the Lord has laid his hand of punishment upon you, and you will be struck blind. You will not see the sunlight for some time.” Instantly mist and darkness came over the man’s eyes, and he began groping around begging for someone to take his hand and lead him.”—Acts 13:9-11(NLT)
Paul strikes the detractor blind. That’s a strategy I was never taught in seminary! Even better news, the governor sees this and becomes a believer!
UP: Paul and Barnabas arrive in Psidian Antioch and we see one of the most amazing stories unfold. They go to the synagogue for services, and they are asked to stand up, introduce themselves and say a few words. At our church we don’t ask the first-time guests to speak, but Paul seized the opportunity.
Paul gives an incredible mini-sermon that outlines Old Testament history and culminates in words about Jesus. When he is finished the people run up to Paul and beg him to come back the next week and say the same things.
That has never happened to me. I’ve never been begged to give the same sermon two weeks in a row. But Paul was, and he obliged: “The following week almost the entire city turned out to hear them preach the word of the Lord.”—Acts 13:44 (NLT)
Almost the entire city came back to hear this sermon. And a bunch of people became believers and the message spread throughout the entire region.
What an amazing highlight!
By the way, we have to ask what Paul preached on—if the whole town came, what was the topic? If the people who heard the message went home and invited everyone to come and hear, what was the gist of Paul’s message? What was his big idea?
Verse 38 tells us: “Brothers, listen! We are here to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins.”—Acts 13:38 (NLT^)
Paul’s message was on forgiveness: Jesus offers forgiveness. Why did the whole town come? Because everybody needs forgiveness!
DOWN: Not everyone in Psiadian Antioch believed. The chapter ends with this: “Then the Jews stirred up the influential religious women and the leaders of the city, and they incited a mob against Paul and Barnabas and ran them out of town.”—Acts 13:50 (NLT)
They had a great revival, but in an unlikely turn of events, they ended up being run out of town.
UP AND DOWN: Chapter 14 begins this way: “The same thing happened in Iconium. Paul and Barnabas went to the Jewish synagogue and preached with such power that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers. Some of the Jews, however, spurned God’s message and poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas.”—Acts 14:1-2 (NLT)
UP: Paul heals a crippled man in Lystra!
DOWN: “Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead.”—Acts 14:19 (NLT)
Paul gets stoned to death. It is over, everyone thought he was dead.
UP: Paul got up.
DOWN: They get back to the home church in Antioch only to be confronted with some off-base theological nitpicking. Some Jewish Christians were insisting that in order to become a believer each man had to be circumcised.
The Contemporary English Version says, “This caused trouble.”—Acts 15:2 (CEV) Ya think? This controversial theological issue threatened to get the entire church off mission. The argument was so confusing they ended up calling a meeting in Jerusalem to discuss it.
UP: They solved the issues. James announced, “We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”—Acts 15:19
A simple resolution was reached. Whew!
DOWN: Paul and Barnabas have a disagreement over whether to take John Mark on their next journey. Barnabas wants to take him, Paul doesn’t. “Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated.”—Acts 15:39 (NLT)
Wow! What a blow. The two men set apart by God can’t even work together any longer.
UP: They multiplied efforts. Paul went with Silas and Barnabas went with John Mark.
Up and down and down and up…that was the experience of the first church planters, the first missionaries, the great leaders of the early church. And it is our experience too, isn’t it?
I’ve been a church planter for over thirty years. I’ve seen some incredible ups—people coming to Jesus, churches starting, outright miracles! And I’ve seen some terrible lows. I’ve experienced sorcerers and sharp disagreements and even a church being run out of town.
But there’s one key to ministry I see in the early church planters. It’s a key we often miss and we certainly don’t highlight it enough. The simple key is this: THEY KEPT GOING!
In the ups and in the downs they kept leading, ministering, serving, planting, and preaching.
When John Mark quit, Paul and Barnabas could’ve quit too, but they kept going. When the sorcerer showed up, they confronted him and kept going. When Paul was left for dead, he got up and kept going. When their theology was challenged they kept going. When Paul and Barnabas split up—imagine the emotions—they kept going. And when they were run out of town, we read that they “…were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit”—Acts 13:52 (NLT).
They were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit and they kept going. Paul kept going. Barnabas kept going. Hey, even John Mark kept going.
Let’s hang in there for the ups and downs of ministry. Following Jesus is a wild ride. When things are going great, when you are seeing miracles and many believe—keep going! And when things are going not-so-great, when there is arguing. obstruction and resistance, keep going.