Turning the World Upside-Down
What follows comes from a novice church planter. You are warned. Ten months on the field. That is the whole of my experience. And yet it has been ten months, and God has done more with less. Five loaves, two fish. Twelve disciples. A crucified Christ. Ten months, seven miles south of Boston. Proceed, then, optimistically.
TURNING THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN: THE CHURCH The apostle Paul knew something about church planting. By the time he made his way to and through Thessalonica, his opponents had this to say, “These men who have turned the whole world upside down have come here also . . . saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17.6-7). Turning the whole world upside down with the gospel---that is the privilege and calling of Christians, generally. Let’s not forget this crucial truth. Every Christian has a heart for missions. Every Christian pulsates for the promotion of Christ’s glory. Every Christian is intensely burdened to find Christ’s sheep by the open proclamation of the gospel. And to the degree that a Christian is void of these affections and aims, the new heart which God has given to them has been unplugged from the outlet of Christ crucified. And there should be repentance, restoration, and discipleship. There is no church planting church where the church, the individual believer and the community of saints, have no actualized pulse or evident love for the advancement of the gospel. But these churches come into existence through the instrumentation of men.
TURNING THE WHOLE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN: THE PLANTER Certain individuals are gifted and impressed by God, and identified, trained and sent out by local churches to plant church-planting churches. Notice the words of Paul’s opponents again, “These men who have turned the whole world upside down . . .”. God plants church-planting churches through men. Individual Christians are God’s instrumentation. It is a Paul, a Silas, a Jason, individual men [and, if married, their praiseworthy wives] through whom God plants churches.
TURNING THE WHOLE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN: WORD AND LIFE What did Paul do when he entered a city? What was his strategy? Acts 17.2-3, “Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.’” This is, I think, prescriptive for what we ought to prioritize as our strategy in being church-planting churches. He openly proclaimed the Scriptures and, from them, the gospel of Christ! He is taking his cue from Jesus at this point---”The sower sows the Word” (Mk 4.14).
Inseparably related to this is a life in keeping with the Word. The power of Christ, at one level, was the bond between perfect proclamation and sinless life, inerrancy and utter holiness. As in Christ, so also the efficacy and power of our gospel ministry is, mainly, a matter of Word and holiness of life. We are to be daily realizing and actualizing the authority of the Word in our lives. If we preach but do not then, by grace, discipline our bodies, we disqualify ourselves in regards to whatever we preached (1 Cor 9.27). The death of missions is inauthenticity, a message discarded by hypocrisy. But the power and efficacy and reach of a gospel ministry undoubtedly arises from Word-concentrated holiness and holiness-concentrated proclamation.
We see these two emphases, Word and life, coming together in Paul’s letter to the church planted in Thessalonica. In 1 Thes 1.2-3, Paul gives thanks for the authenticity of their lives. That life arose from the gospel that Paul preached and the life he and his companions lived before them, 1.4-5. So Paul’s proclamation and life, drenched in God’s Spirit, combined to be the means of their salvation. This is the planter’s primary strategy---proclaim, live, trust. And the effect of his gospel preaching and gospel living was a church plant that embodied the same. “You became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere” (1.7-8). They became a church that turned the whole world upside down by the mighty bond between gospel proclamation and gospel living.
WHAT SHOULD THE CHURCH-PLANTING CHURCH PRIORITIZE---REALLY? The planting of the church in Thessalonica and their subsequent effectiveness in furthering the global cause of Christ has drawn my heart to three conclusions as it relates to the faithful planting of church-planting churches [a mouth-full, I know].
First, the church-planting church should prioritize in their life and ministry that which never changes. “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Pet 1.24-25). The open, unashamed proclamation of the Word and the eternal Gospel must immovably and actually reside at the center of the church-planting church.
Let me be clear and, perhaps, provocative. In the press for support, the impatient passion for a crowd, or an unrealized lack of faith in the Word, and, perhaps, too much faith in popular planting methodology, we sacrifice the Word on the altar of events. And if so, we are short- sighted. We have failed to consider what will sustain a fifty-year ministry [and beyond] and make it exceedingly fruitful and combustible for the glory of God in Christ. It is an issue of prioritization. Have cookouts, rejoice in play-dates, put on family nights, plan block-parties, organize ministries of mercy and various service projects. Do it all, and all for the glory of God! But, I would argue, to the degree that we prioritize these things in order to engage people in the hopes of sharing the gospel with them, we have it inside-out and are putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable. What we do to engage this culture will not suffice to engage the next [different blog post, different time]. But one thing is unchangeably engaging across all of redemptive history and every culture---the open proclamation of the Word and the Gospel. Almost every evangelical church says that she is Word and Gospel-centered. Centrality implies emphasis. Is this the emphasis of your plant---really, actually?
Secondly, the church-planting church should prioritize holiness. When John Owen wrote, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you,” he wrote a critically missional statement. The progress of the gospel from eternity to the cross to Paul to Thessalonica to the world to you is attributable to one life lived in perfect accord with God’s Word and thousands of other lives lived in increasing conformity to that Word. We have seen it in 1 Thessalonians, so I will only exhort to it---love holiness, embrace repentance, thirst for purity, hunger for confession, desire accountability, be a new creature in the midst of an unbelieving and darkened world, and you will not only have opportunity to share the gospel with them, but the gospel that you share will be pregnant with undeniably divine evidence. Atheists can organize food pantries. Only you can be holy---and organize food pantries to the glory of Christ!
Thirdly, the church-planting church will most often mirror her planter-pastors (1 Thes 1.5-6). What are they seeing in and hearing from you? I pray Christ! Prioritize, then, the development and raising up of practically Word-centered men, thick-rooted in the Gospel, with a zealous ambition for experiential holiness. This is paramount in the planting of enduring church-planting churches. So, brothers, be men who devote yourselves to defending the purity of the Gospel. Be seriously supernatural. Be deeply theological. Be intensely prayerful. Rejoice in your weaknesses. Take pains to preach. Give up on the allurement of fun. Embrace the weight of glory. Pant after true joy. Shepherd your families---don’t lose them. Ardently tend the flock that God has given you. Seek humility. Strive for holiness. Preach, preach, preach the eternal Gospel! Trust God! And put other identified men through the same glorious and happy rigors. And God will, by grace, in wisdom, for your good and His glory, grow the plant, generation after generation. Praying to that end for us all,
the well-wisher of your soul’s highest happiness, which is Christ, Your servant, now as always, Brian R. MahonBrian Mahon is the Pastor for Preaching at Christ Community Church in Newton, MA. Brian and his wife, Jenny, have been married since July 1, 2006 and have two joys for children: Luke (3 years old) and Kate (one). Brian desires to preach the supremacy of Christ and bring the Word of God to bear upon the lives of all peoples for their everlasting and ever-increasing joy in God. Brian holds an MDiv from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His singular pursuit in life is to be faithful in the service of Jesus Christ, trusting at all times in the grace and mercy of his Master.