1. Laying the Foundations – The Jesus Model
How to Create a Jesus Movement of Multiplying Churches
Dr. Dietrich Schindler
This talk is based upon my book which was published in the UK entitled, The Jesus-Model: l: Planting Churches like Jesus.
Most of our literature on church planting is both theologically and methodologically keyed to the Acts of the Apostles and to the ministry of Paul. When reading the gospels as church planters we discover Jesus as the first church planter. Jesus’ lifestyle and message help us to understand how we can plant churches today in the way he did with his disciples, who, with him, became the prototype of the church. Jesus gave us a model of how to plant multiplying churches. Practically we will learn how Jesus’ model of planting churches helps us move from good to great church planting.
I. Laying the Foundation: The Jesus Model of Church Planting
I was privileged to receive my theological training in church planting while studying at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois some twenty-eight years ago. Renowned Missiologist Dr. David Hesselgrave, a former missionary church planter to Japan, was my professor. During the early nineteen eighties there were only a handful of books that had been published on church planting. Dr. Hesselgrave in his seminal work, “Planting Churches Cross-Culturally”, was a pioneer in writing and teaching on the topic of planting new churches.[i] In his book he outlines what he deems to be the “Pauline Cycle” of church planting, which unfolds in the book of Acts. Therein Dr. Hesselgrave describes in thorough fashion the way the Apostle Paul and his co-workers took ten steps toward planting new churches. The Pauline Cycle became the matrix from which I began to plan and to plant my initial churches. I needed a theological and practical grid, laid out systematically, that would help me be successful in ministry.
Over the years I have thought much about church planting, read about it, taught it, experimented with many of the authors’ innovations. I began to notice that the literature on church planting was weighted toward Paul and the Acts of the Apostles, as I had initially discovered with my venerable teacher, Dr. Hesselgrave. Most, if not all of the books I read, described how Paul started new churches during his various missionary journeys and how we can similarly follow in his steps. Without a doubt, we can and should learn much from Paul on the topic of church planting and church growth. However, one day I began to consider Jesus in regards to church planting. “Was Paul truly the first missionary and church planter, or was there someone filling those roles before his time?”
- Shifting the church planting focus from Paul to Jesus
I began to reread the Gospels with a new question in mind: in what ways was Jesus modelling, teaching and practicing church planting? I was astonished at the answers the Gospels delivered. Suddenly I was surprised to see that all of the principles that Paul taught and lived out as a church planter I was seeing in the life and teaching of Jesus! Could it be that Jesus was the first missionary and the first “church planter” and that the Apostle Paul and his co-workers, led by the Holy Spirit, looked to Jesus as their example?
- Jesus, the first church planter (Matt 16:18)
Having expressly stated “I will build my church”, Jesus thereby makes himself the author and initiator of the church. Pentecost became necessary because Jesus was no longer bodily present with his disciples. Many look to Pentecost in terms of it being the birth of the church. But we can equally assert that Jesus began the prototype of the church when he called his disciples to follow him. The genesis and the destiny of the church is Jesus. She is both called into existence by him and purposed to live her life with Jesus being the focus.
Jesus is, professionally speaking, a missionary sent by the Father, an apostle commissioned to carry out the work of the Father, and Jesus is a king. However, Jesus is also a church planter. How so? Jesus is a church planter because that is what he said he would do, “I will build my church” (Mt 16:18). By virtue of this one simple statement we draw two conclusions: starting the Church (and churches) is Jesus’ main goal, and he himself intends to reach his goal. Even if we allow for the fact that Jesus was directing his words to Peter and that Peter would start or build the church, it is in fact Jesus before and behind Peter who does the planting, starting, building. Peter is the workman, but Jesus is the architect.
The Apostle Luke, writer of the Gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles, understood Jesus in this vein as well. Luke begins to chronicle the story of the early church by writing, “In my former book (i.e., the Gospel of Luke), Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen” (Acts 1:1). The beginnings were the foundations that Jesus laid in the Gospels. After the beginnings we read of the progressions in the life of the early church. What do we read there? We read of how the first disciples go out and preach the gospel, call their hearers to turn around (repent) and believe in King Jesus. We read that as people responded to the gospel and became followers of Jesus, new local churches were planted. For we note that evangelistic fruit resulted either in churches growing or it led to new churches being planted. The witness of the writings of the Acts of the Apostles is the witness to Jesus in the lives of his sent ones as a church planter.
The growth of the body of Christ through the planting of new churches is so astounding that we read the following summary statement, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers” (Acts 16:5). Most readers entirely miss the startling significance of this verse. It is often understood that the number of disciples who came to faith and began to follow Jesus grew daily in numbers. The significance of this verse is not in the numbers of believers that increased, but in the daily increase in the number of churches![ii] During the era of the early church new churches were being planted daily. And these new church plants were ultimately the work of the church planting architect, Jesus.
- Jesus, the trainer of church planters (Matt 4:19; 28:18-20)
The Acts of the Apostles is a record of the extension of works of Jesus on the earth through the lives of his disciples. These his followers were working hand in hand as partners of Jesus to see his vision of building his Church come into fulfillment. How was it possible that they knew what to do and how to do it and this thus resulted in the starting of many, many new churches? Simply put, they learned from Jesus and from those who followed him for three years in apprenticeship. From Jesus they saw, heard, and participated in what it meant to minister to people in such a fashion that new churches could be started. In order to turn the world upside down, Jesus needed to invest three years of his life in the lives of twelve of his followers. In the Gospels we see how Jesus reveals to those around him that he is a church planter. From Jesus, if we pay attention to him, we will learn the principles and the practices needed in order for us to be partners with him in planting new churches in our space and time.
- Jesus, the multiplier (Mk 4:20)
- The Jesus Model of Church Plating: Overview
The life and the teachings of Jesus reveal to us specific ways in which we too can plant churches in our unique contexts today. Jesus’ call to follow him is essentially an invitation to learn to live and to work in the same way that he lived and worked. As we understand that we have been called into a learning community with Jesus, we will then be ready to learn the essentials of church planting from him. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” (Mt 11:29) is the command to integrate Jesus’ teaching (his yoke) and example in our lives today, thereby becoming what Jesus intended us to be. To emulate Jesus is to model Jesus.
The Jesus Model represents eight essential qualities, lived out and taught by Jesus, which we are called to emulate. These eight essential qualities will be outlined in linear fashion but are in reality overlapping, expanding on others and complementing other qualities. These eight essential qualities orbit around a central core, like an atomic core that draws other subatomic particles to it and binds them to one another. Without the core the eight surrounding essential qualities would be lifeless and void. All eight qualities extend from the central core and display in their out-working the essence of life that is mediated from the core.
Graphic 1: The Jesus Model: Planting Churches like Jesus
Archetypical for Jesus was his desire to build the kingdom of God through the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. From start to finish Jesus spoke of the coming of the kingdom of God which came in his very presence. John the Baptist introduced Jesus’ coming as a herald would his king by proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near” (Mt 3:2). At the inauguration of his public ministry Jesus announced similarly, “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15; Mt 4:17). This prophecy announced by Isaiah was fulfilled in Jesus. After his resurrection, one topic was foremost on the heart of the risen Lord: the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). The Apostles had so internalized the essence of what Jesus taught that the Apostle Paul, at the end of his life, while under house arrest, boldly “preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31). The gospel of Jesus was the gospel of the kingdom of God felt and on display here and now.
The kingdom of God on the one hand means the influence of God in the life of an individual believer as seen in his behavior, and on the other hand it means the influence of God over the geopolitical Meta-happenings of this world. The kingdom of God begins to take root in the heart of an individual, expanding to his family, his church and his environment. Especially in places where evil is overcome by good the kingdom of God becomes evident. The kingdom of God is that realm of reality, where what God wants happens. It breaks into the lives of Jesus’ followers. They thereby become an object lesson, displaying the beauty of God by being influenced and empowered by Him. But how is the kingdom of God related to the planting of churches?
When a church is planted it becomes a visible sign of the presence of the kingdom of God, however weak and imperfect it might appear. In the church of Jesus Christ what is not significant is education, status, or wealth, but the evident influence of Jesus in the lives of his followers. Christians live and move differently from the rest of the pack because they are lead by Christ. The church then becomes the hors-d`oeuvre or the anticipation of the new world order under Christ’s lordship. In the life of the church we tend to find what we will one day certainly discover: the name of the Father is hallowed, His will is done, His influence is felt, and His joy is contagious. “Church planting is thus the most urgent business of humankind. It is through the creation (or planting) of churches that God’s kingdom is extended into communities which have not yet been touched by the precious surprise of the presence of the kingdom of God in their midst.”[iii]
The kingdom of God breaks through into society by means of the planting of new churches. That is where Jesus makes his kingship felt. Transformation of individual lives comes about in the church, in a way that secular communities are not able to make happen. This is so because Jesus Christ is the life, the DNA, the transforming power of the local church. In the same manner in which he built his church in the first century via the prototype of life lived with his disciples, this the way in which he plants and build his local church in our day and age.
The Core: At home in the presence of God the Father
Those that swarmed around Jesus were often riveted in astonishment. He had something about him that was absolutely different and winsome. “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mk 1:22, comp. Mk 1:27). The amazing thing about Jesus, the thing that was fascinating to people, was his authority.
Authority is an expression of strength that results from having been in the presence of God. Authority cannot be earned, but it can be granted by God. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me . . . “ (Mt 28:18). Despite the fact that no person himself can earn authority, there is a condition that, when given, it often results in authority being given to a person by God: nearness to God the Father. When we look at the way Jesus behaved when he was not “working”, we find him constantly searching for time alone with the Father. Jesus’ nearness to the Father was the interface to authority, from which he taught and worked in amazing ways.
We find Jesus being at home in the presence of God his Father, and the Father being at home with Jesus. At the start of his ministry, people around Jesus at his baptism were able to visibly and audibly witness to the closeness of heart between Father and Son. “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11). During his ministry Jesus often sought out places in which he could enjoy undisturbed communion with the Father. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mk 1:35). After long, exhausting days of meeting the needs of many people, Jesus sought the Father (Mk 6:46; 9:7). Just before the greatest trial of his life, his crucifixion, Jesus went off to an olive grove and prayed, “Abba, Father!” (Mk 14:36). “Abba” or “Daddy” is one of the first intimate words a child learns to say. Jesus’ nearness to his Father/Daddy was the oxygen of his soul, the joy of his heart, the Urkraft of his work.
Like the ravenous longing of a baby for its mother milk, such is the longing after the Father’s heart which becomes the basic nutrition for the church planter. Jesus couldn’t get enough of his Father. In this way the starting point for the church planter is a ravenous desire to be intimately near God the Father. Notwithstanding the failures and the successes in his life, the church planter will derive his greatest satisfaction, not in the ministry, but in the presence of God the Father.
Characteristic 1: Incarnational Contact
Jesus’ nearness to the Father had a dramatic impact on the trajectory of his ministry. While spending time with his Father, Jesus longed to spend time with people. This is the first obvious indication of Jesus as a church planter: he was constantlly seeking out ways to connect with people. “Submerging to be with God, re-emerging to be with people”, is the way Catholic theologian Paul Michael Zulehner puts it.[iv]
We see Jesus walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, stopping to talk to fishermen at work (Mk 1:16). He drops in to visit with some new friends (Mk 1:29; Lk 10:38-39). Even among the riffraff of jewish society, among hated tax collectors and sinners, he finds time to gladly linger over a meal (Mk 2:15). He obviously wants to have people around him and even calls them to come to him (Mk 7:14). At one place we read, “Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them” (Mk 10:1).
In some significant and in many seemingly insignificant daily circumstances in the lives of myriads of people we catch Jesus as “church planter” as he enters into their lives. We find him at a jewish wedding celebration, even a week into the festivities, as if he had nothing else better to do (Jn 2:1-10). We find him sitting on the edge of a well having a conversation with a dubious woman (Jn 4), or at night caught up in a deep talk on theology with a priest (Jn 3). He joyfully takes little children up into his arms (Mk 10:16), heals the sick (Lk 5:29-32), mingles with those in a funeral procession (Lk 7:11-15), and engages in a conversation with a Roman centurian (Mt 8:5-13). Why was Jesus constantly found traveling from one village to another, criss-crossing Israel in the process? Because he was seeking out people where they lived and worked, laughed and cried, hoped and despaired. They mattered to him.
Being near people, entering into their world and taking on their heart-issues is what incarnation is all about. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). God allows himself to become a member of humanity so he can draw near to us. The incarnation of Jesus Christ is certainly unique, unrepeatable, and of the greatest salvation-historical signifcance. But the incarnation is also an example to us of how to extend God’s love to people. It is a model for church planters. For church planters will, like Jesus, seek to dwell among those far from God. Church planters will learn to be approachable and to approach in the hope that the living God will move through them to reach the lost.
Theologians of old used to write about such behavior, labeling it the condescension of God. Despite His Unapproachableness and His Transcendance, God Himself goes down. In Jesus God condescends, leans forward and downward, for this is the only way to lift us up. Condescension means that God in His downward movement allows Himself to become involved in the circumstances of the lives of those He wants to reach.[v]
Church planting, as it takes its cue from Jesus, will thus be thoroughly people-oriented. As helpful as books, seminars, concepts, and plans pertaining to church planting are, it will always be real people in their real world of real need that will have utmost priority. This is why church planting does not come alive on the drawing table, or on the computer screen, but in interaction from person to person. Church planters will behave the way Jesus behaved; in the name of God they will be en route among people. This is in essence incarnational contact.
Characteristic 2: Motivated by Compassion
On the surface, we observe Jesus as he travels around all the towns and villages in Galilee. The jewish historian, Josephus, who lived in Galilee at the end of the first century and was a military commander there, notes that there were at that time about three million people living in the northern region of Israel.[vi] When we look underneath the surface of things, we see what truly motivated Jesus to move among so many people: it was his compassion toward them in their great need. For they lacked direction, were living in fear, likened to sheep running madly in every direction because they had no shepherd. It broke Jesus’ heart to look at them in this way, the way they really were in their hearts (Mt 9:35-38).
Compassion is the motivation behind Jesus’ behavior. Compassion was the motivation behind all of what Jesus did in ministry. Jesus was rivited by the widow, who, having lost her husband, was now proceeding to bury her only child, a son. Mercy overcame him as his heart was broken because of her pain. “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry” (Lk 7:13). Jesus had compassion on the crowds (Mt 9:36), but also toward lone sufferers (Mt 20:34). He cried his eyes out over an entire city (Lk 19:41-44), and had a heart full of love for a man that loved his money more than God (Mk 10:21). If he taught his disciples anything, Jesus instructed them in word and by example “to be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). Moreover, Jesus made it extemely clear that mercy, or the lack of it, will be a deciding factor in the last judgement: those that clothe the naked, feed the hungry, give the thirsty water to drink, visit inmates in prison – these are the merciful ones, and to them God will show mercy (Mt 25:34-40).
My collegue, Johannes Reimer, says it well when he writes about the important place of compassion in the life of the local church. “The church is God’s people for a needy world. Nothing distingishes the church more than mercy. Twice in a short period of time Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13; 12:7). Mercy is directed toward the sick and the sinner (Mt 9:12-f) and does not judge the guilty (Mt 12:7). Mercy seeks out the needy person and tries to assuage his need (Mt 25:31-f). Mercy directs the life of the church both to those inside the church, by honoring the lowly and by not overloading them (Mt 18:1-14), as well as toward outsiders (Mt 25:31-f).”[vii]
Many ministries in our churches and church plants are being carried out very professionally. At no time in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ has there been a greater emphasis on excellence and quality as in our day. We take no fault in this – except when professionalism interferes with matters of the heart. Professionalism in ministry becomes idolatry when those in ministry no longer feel a pain in their hearts for the plight of the needy.
Characteristic 3: Christ-centered Proclamation
What purpose was there in the close contact that Jesus typically had with people and his compassion toward them in their need? Nearness and mercy did something to Jesus: they freed up his tongue. Over one hundred times in the Gospels we come across three significant words strung together so descriptive of Jesus: “and he spoke.” And what Jesus said was sensational. “The people were amazed at his teaching”, was the reaction among his audience (Mk 1:21, 27). The disciples were commissioned to proclaim the gospel to all people everywhere (Mk 13:10; 16:15; Mt 28:19). Why? Because Jesus did it and because Jesus was the content of this revolutionary gospel.
Healings, the casting out of demons, the many signs and wonders that Jesus performed were all most certainly astounding, but without an explanation as to what purpose these had, all we would be left with would be sensationalism. The truly good news is that behind the many signs and wonders was Jesus, the Son of Man, the Messiah, the hope of the world, gave them traction, fullfilling their purpose in pointing to new life in Christ. For Jesus’ intention was to announce the kingdom of God come unto humanity in his person: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (Lk 4:43). He preached this gospel of the kingdom of God in the synagoges (Lk 4:44), in the Tempel (Lk 20:1), in all towns and villages in Galilee (Mt 9:35), on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Mt 5:1). Summarily this resulted in his commission to his followers to take this message into all the world (Mt 24:14).
The content of Jesus’ gospel was the kingdom of God. “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. The time has come, he said. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:14-15). “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Mt 12:28). Jesus preached the kingdom of God in order that his hearers would receive it and let themselves be influenced by it. In this kingdom it is Jesus who is clearly the king and who wills to be king in our lives today.
When we pray “Thy kingdom come”, we thus do not infer that it needs to become a reality, but that we want it to become the reality that it is in our daily living. As we allow the reign of God to reign in and over us, we thereby put ourselves on a path of change that will reorient not only our personal lives, but the trajectory of our society as well.
This leads us to consider an often widely held error among Christians. Christians sometimes succumb to the notion that God took the active part and came down to earth, to die substititionarily for our sin, to offer us forgiveness and a place in heaven with Him forever. A person becomes a Christian by accepting the person and the work of Christ for oneself. Jesus is active, we are passive: he offers us forgiveness and a place in his new world order. All we have to do is accept this. Many Christians allow this to take place for them and their future, but then commence to live lives under their own purpose and planning. The make plans for their lives and ask Jesus to sign off on them.
Jesus’ teaching concerning the kingdom of God comes into our lives as a new operating imperative and is diametrically opposed to the notion of so many Christians, as outlined above. The kingdom of God comes to us in Jesus Christ. Suddenly the king is here! He is active, working energetically in and through us. Only by this manner is freedom possible, freedom to live in the power of God today. Now Jesus is the unseen king in our lives, just as he was the seen king, the Lord, in the lives of his disciples. He teaches us how we can live his life in our contemporary lives. Becoming a Christian is becoming a disciple, a follower, an apprentice of Jesus.
Jesus placed himself front and center in his message. The gospel is all about Jesus because Jesus is the center of salvation. He does not, as the prophets in the Old Testament, speak of One who is to come, but of himself as that One who has come as Saviour.
Characteristic 4: Liberating Lordship
Charictaristic of Jesus were the uniquenss of his identity, his teaching and his demands on people. In many ways Jesus lived contrary to what Jewish religious folk thought was normal in his day. We see Jesus the contrarian in light of the selection of his disciples and the way he went about gathering and teaching them. We know much about Jewish education in first century Israel. In order to become well-versed in Jewish teaching, young men vied with one another to gain the attention of well-known Jewish Rabbis in the hopes of being chosen as a student. The best Rabbis took only the best of students who would live and learn from them. It was not uncommon for young men to be rejected by religious scholars, because they did not have the sought after qualifications.
Thus, contemporary Jewish scholars must have been more than a bit amazed at Jesus’ selection of his students. The initial amazement was most certainly because of the manner of selection; rather than wait for potential students to come to him, Jesus took action and chose who he wanted to study with him (Mk 1:17; 2:14; 3:13-14). Those whom Jesus proactively chose to follow him would not have had a chance under customary conditions. Jesus chose such to be his disciples who would have been scorned and rejected by society at large: fishermen, tax collectors, rebel soldiers, choleric personalities, the unwanted of society, and the uneducated. Simple back- ground checks would have concluded that all of the disciples, perhaps with the exception of Judas Iscariot, were rejects. But to Jesus it was more important to have men around him who were willing to follow him, and not just to learn things from him.
The good news is incomplete if it is being proclaimed while leaving unmentioned the claim of Jesus Christ as Lord in the life of the hearer. “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord` and do not do what I say?” (Lk 6:46). Jesus has the right to demand submission to his leadership and influence because he claimed himself to be God. When he said, “Before Abraham was born, I am!”, he was making himself equal with Yahweh (Jn 8:58). “Anyone who has seen me, has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). The once doubting disciple named Thomas falls at the feet of the risen Christ and stammers, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28). To believe in the good news without putting oneself under the proprietary of Jesus is to believe in a twisted and incomplete gospel.
In discussions that I have with people concerning the gospel I sometimes hear them retort, “But I believe in God”. This is often a way of letting me know that they see themselves as being in the safe-zone. I congratulate them on their belief in God and then take them to a passage in James where I read, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (Jas 2:19). It doesn’t take special ability or insight to believe in God because even devils believe in Him. The difference between a devil and a Christian lies not in their belief system, but in their life style. Devils bristle against Jesus. Christians submit themselves to Jesus. And their submission is seen in their behavior. True belief will always influence behavior. We will therefore behave according to what we believe, whereas what we may profess might not be what we in our heart of hearts truly believe. It is behavior that will be the tell-tale sign of a person’s real belief system.
The Lordship of Jesus Christ seen in the life of the follower of Jesus is simply the logical consequence of discipleship. Jesus calls people to follow him, thereby becoming his disciples, his students. It is this following Jesus that sets us free from following ourselves and places us on the path of living with God and for God. Hesselgrave hits the nail on the head when he states, “converts” and “believers” as popularly conceived might “do their own thing”. But “disciples obviously must do the will of their Master.”[viii]
Characteristic 5: Changed Identity
The man that Jesus healed of congenital blindness awakened to a double revelation: he came to realize who Jesus truly was, and he came to see who he had become through Jesus (Jn 9). With ever increasing progressive insight and understanding he comes to realize the identity of the one who healed him. Initially he refers to Jesus as “the man they call Jesus” (Jn 9:11). Afterward he says to the Pharisees, “he is a prophet” (Jn 9:17). His insight into who Jesus is reaches its high point when he says of Jesus that he is from God (Jn 9:33). Consequently, the unbelievable transpired, “they threw him out” (Jn 9:34). This was the apprehension that his parents previously had when questioned by the religious leaders as to whether or not the man was their son and they were at a loss to explain the origin of his healing. “His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue.” (Jn 9:22). The dire straits of a person who as a Jew had been expelled from the synagogue is hardly fathomable for those of us living in the 21st century in the Western World. For a Jew in the first century, expulsion from the synagogue meant that he lost his place in society, both in the contemporary world and in the future kingdom of God. His moorings were gone. He was untethered. He was a door without hinges, a ship without an anchor, a compass without a needle – he was unequivically and completely a non-person. This man, expelled from the synagogue, was no longer a Jew but a foreigner, having lost the acceptance of his familial and religious community. But what was worst of all, he was thereby cut off from life in Yahweh. By being kicked out of the synagogue, this man effectively lost his identity. With the words, “and they threw him out” his world collapsed. Now he was worse off than when he was blind.
In this state of unconceivable deconstruction, Jesus finds him and asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” At that the man answers, “Who is he, Sir? . . . Tell me so that I may believe in him” (Jn 9:35-36). At this point Jesus tells the man that the one speaking with him, Jesus himself, is the Messiah, the Son of Man. The formerly blind, now healed man expelled from the synagogue, turns to Jesus, and looking him in the eyes, says, “Lord, I believe, and he worshiped him” (Jn 9:38). What had been a state of lost identity became a state of newly found identity in Jesus as the Christ (Jn 9:22).
I personally believe that the Apostle John recorded this incident in his Gospel because he was pointing to a greater reality than simply the healing of a man from congenital blindness. The fate of the man born blind, expelled from the synagogue, who found a new identity in Jesus Christ, is a parable for those of us who with this man have said, “Lord, I believe.” Heredity, education, wealth, possesions, reputation and achievement all fall away as markers of personal identity because Jesus has subplanted them. In Jesus Christ the Christian knows who he is, to whom he belongs, where he belongs, and why he is alive. The context in which we lived until our entering into the Christ life may have remained the same, nevertheless the basis for our self-identity changed. We have become Christians because we have been given life from Christ himself.
We find similar teaching on our new identiy in Christ in the calling of the first apostles. “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve – designating them apostels – that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons“ (Mk 3:13-15). We notice here a calling and a commissioning that dare not be confused one with the other. The calling is to come and to be with Jesus. The commision is to go out to preach and to do the works of God in the world. Our primary calling is to Jesus. Therefore we will be careful not to seek to fulfill the commision of Jesus without first living in the calling of Jesus.
The initial question that each person must ask and answer is the question of identity: who am I? Those outside of the life of Jesus seek their identiy in themselves, but come to the conclusion that they are unable to clarify the issue of self-identity by seeking it in themselves. This is because the answer to our identity always lies outside of the person himself. Everyone who becomes a Christian, by virtue of his friendship with Jesus, enters into a new identiy; in finding Jesus, he finds his identity in Jesus.
The teaching on our new identity in Christ is emphasized in other places in the New Testament. Jesus says to Nicodemus, that intellegent, truth-seeking, morally upright Pharisee, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (Jn 3:3). This new birth occurs through or by means of the Spirit of God (3:8). From above, from God himself, this new life is granted and thereby a new fellowship with God in his kingdom. In this passage in John chapter three Jesus, no less than eight times, speaks of being born. He used this term because it aptly describes entrance into the kingdom of God and into the family of God.
In another place we read of Jesus being sought out by his mother and his siblings. Knowing of their seeking of him, Jesus turns to those following him and says, perhaps pointing a finger of affirmation at them, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk 3:24-25). Those who do the will of God are related to Jesus – in him they enter into a new identity and become a part of his family.
Summarily, we find Jesus’ teaching on our new identity in him in the well-known Great Commission. There Jesus commands his followers to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). The person baptised becomes the property of the triune God and is a participant in the fellowship of the Trinity. The new Christian has entered into fellowship with God, the life of God, the kingdom of God, the family of God. He has received a new identity.
Why is it so important that church planters understand the reality of their new identiy in Christ? It is because our identy in Christ is also the identiy of the Church and thus of the churches we seek to plant. Should we not understand and appropriate the reality of our new identity in Christ, then church planting is reduced to a mere founding of a club, a new organisation, or a group of people united around a creed. But the Church is radically different. The Church is the miracle of God, wherein we belong to God as children belong to their parents, and wherein we are participants in the new workings of God in this world. The Church of Jesus is a new spiritual fellowship in which we have received a new identity in him.
Characteristic 6: Practical Discipleship
Viewed sociologically, the first disciples became a prototype of the Church. Jesus hand- picked twelve men with whom he intended to turn the world upside down. What kind of men were they? Thomas was a meloncholic skeptic. Judas was a money-hungry traitor. Peter was the impulsive bull-in-a-china-shop kind of a guy. Brothers James and John were hot-headed, narcisstic cholerics. Simon the idealist was a politically active underground guerilla warrier who hated the oppressive Roman authorities. Matthias on the other hand was the Mathew Arnold of the twelve, wanting to cooperate with the Romans in order to line his own pockets. All together, the twelve were an explosive molitof cocktail that could go off at any moment. It is amazing indeed to realize that Jesus chose these contrary disciples to model to the world what unity and love should look like.
Jesus chose such men to be his apprentices. They were the ones that he determined would do his works his way. The commission that Jesus gave these men was to make people into his disciples. One way to translate the Great Commission is this: “While going about your everyday activities, lead people in every culture to be my apprentices, submerge them into the reality of the triune God, coach them to apply all that I have taught you. And be assured of this – I will be very present with you as you make these apprentices of mine” (Mt 28:19-20). A disciple of Jesus makes disciples (apprentices) of Jesus. That is easy to understand. The manner of making disciples will, however, challenge us to the utmost.
Disciples that make disciples is the goal of church planting. People who have submitted themselves to the Lordship of Christ, having found their true identity in him, begin to learn to live the way he lived. This is why calling people to simply believe in Jesus will not suffice. They need to be lead to learn of Jesus as his apprentices until “Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19).
What was paramount in the mind of Jesus when he called people to follow him? He sought to transform them and not just inform them. This is what he meant by saying “teaching them to obey all that I commanded you” (Mt 28:20). To obey is to learn to apply the teachings of Jesus and the Bible in the everyday circumstances of life. Simply being aware of biblical truth will not translate into life transformation.
As a young teenager, Elvis Presley attended a summer camp facilitated by his Baptist church for five years in a row. He was raised in a family that lived on a very low income and therefore didn’t have the financial means to pay the camp fees. The leadership of the church found a way to help such families. One day they announced that whoever could memorize 350 Bible verses could participate in the summer camp for free! Elvis Presely was able to attend the camp at no cost to him or his family because for five years in a row he learned 350 Bible verses each year by heart. In five years Elvis Presely had managed to memorize 1,750 Bible verses![ix] Despite this huge amount of Bible knowledge, it did not amount to a life lived that was pleasing to God. Bible knowledge without life application is merely a hobby.
A disciple is someone who sees the harvest around him and enters into it: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Mt 9:37). As he moves into the harvest field, the disciple of Jesus learns to relate to people far from God and to connect them to Jesus.
For Jesus, making apprentices was never a theoretical endeavor, but was conducted under real life circumstances. His plan of making apprentices was both easy to understand and very effective. He began by giving his followers orientation, then he sent them out to minister, afterwards he taught them. We often do the opposite. In our discipleship training we orient, teach, and then send people out to do ministry. We tend to train people “just in case” they might need the information conveyed to them. Jesus trained his followers “just in time”. What they had experienced in everday living became the context for his instruction. Jesus trained his disciples to be church planters while on-the-job.
Characteristic 7: Empowering Leadership
After making disciples, Jesus made leaders out of them. In many places in the Gospels we see Jesus taking charge as he set people in motion to influence and to serve others. At the wedding celebration in Cana he directs the servants to fill large water jars, normally used for purification rituals, and to draw out the water to serve to the guests. Without their help Jesus would not have been able to turn water into wine (Jn 2:1-11). The Roman centurion, himself a military leader, recognized the leadership ability of Jesus by saying, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go’ and he goes, and that one ‘Come’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this’ and he does it.” (Lk 7:6-8). In another place Jesus compared himself with a shepherd herding his flock, which hears and follows him (Jn 10:27).
Had Jesus remained alone in his leadership role without making leaders out of his disciples, his ministry would have come to an abrupt end at his ascension. But because Jesus knew that the churches could not be started and grown without gifted leadership, he empowered his disciples to become leaders. Thereby, he trained his disciples to do what he himself did before their eyes – to preach, heal, serve, and cast out demons. To the twelve apostles Jesus gave authority and power to accomplish these deeds and sent them out (Lk 9:1-6). Following on the heels of sending out the twelve, Jesus sent out the 72 to do similar deeds in the name of God (Lk 10:1-11). After his resurrection Jesus gave his followers authority to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19-20). To the defeated and down-cast Peter Jesus gave the commission to feed his sheep (Jn 21:15).
Robert Logan writes of a four-stage process of leadership training that is reflective of how Jesus made leaders out of disciples. Initially, Jesus invited his disciples to watch him do ministry and afterwards to debrief (“I do, you watch”). Following this, Jesus gave them some responsibility in carrying out ministry, while himself retaining the lion’s share of the work (“I do, you help”). In a third step, Jesus gave them the lion’s share of responsibility while helping them (“You do, I help”). The last phase of leadership training has Jesus transfering all ministry responsibility to his disciples while he observes them in action (“You do, I watch”). After every phase of training Jesus took time with his disciples to debrief their ministry, thereby increasing their learning curve.[x]
Good leaders invest in the empowerment of other leaders in such a way that the new leaders learn to accomplish what their mentors did – and more. Only in this way can there be foundation enough for the expanding and the multiplication of churches planted.
Characteristic 8: Intentional Multiplication
Modest were Jesus’ beginnings as a church planter. Jesus concentrated on the one person who was willing to deny himself, take up his cross and follow him (Lk 9:23). He began small in order to win big. From the start, Jesus, despite modest beginnings, focused upon reaching multiplication growth.
In many of his parables Jesus lets us understand that he was concentrating on expanding the kingdom of God, and thereby church planting. The result of one life given over to the life-giving power of the gospel could be thirty, sixty or even one hundred times more effective than what that one person alone could have accomplished (Mk 4:20). The follower of Jesus is likened to a farmer who sows his seed, which while becoming fruitful stalks of wheat provides a vast harvest (Mk 4:26-29). Jesus speaks of multiplication growth that is so amazing that out of a single seed a tree could grow whose branches become so expansive that all birds might find refuge in them (Mk 4:30-32). In all of these parables Jesus clearly underscores the correlation between modest beginnings and bountiful results. Despite the relatively unspectacular entrance of the kingdom of God, it will nevertheless grow to global proportions that will usher in the eschatalogical reign of Jesus Christ. This was indeed Jesus’ intention when he gave his followers the commission to “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mk 16:15).
Shortly before he was to leave this world, Jesus speaks to his disciples concerning the blessing that he intended for them to leave behind: “This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (Jn 15:8). He prophesied that they would accomplish greater works than he himself had (Jn 14:12). What did Jesus mean by the blessing of the greater works? In the Acts of the Apostles Luke records for us four times in which the Lord added to or brought to the church on account of the testimony of the first disciples (Acts 2:41-47; 5:14; 11:24). Luke shifts into overdrive recounting a growth that takes on the status of multiplication (Acts 6:1-7; 9:31; 12:34; 16:5). The number of disciples as well as the number of the churches grow exponentialliy. These are the greater works to which Jesus referred in John’s Gospel. This is conversion growth that becomes the basis for church planting multiplication.
In the 1970s, British theologian J.B. Philipps wrote a book poiniently titled “Your God is Too Small”.[xi] Sometimes followers of Jesus can be more modest than he ever intended them to be. Instead of believing God for great and bountiful fruit we become satisfied with what has christianly become the expected, the status quo. Robert Logan has a habit of saying, “The fruit of an apple tree is not an apple, but another apple tree.”[xii] In this regard, the fruit of a church is not a church that gets larger and larger, but a church that can reproduce itself.
Jesus is the superlative example of how he, in his own life and works, has given us a model to follow of how we today can plant churches. Jesus planted the first church and at the same time trained his initial church planters. As we aspire to plant dynamic and stable churches, we will learn to learn from Jesus. His intimate closeness to the Father teaches us that we will not be able to plant churches by our own abilities and giftedness alone. Coming from times of refreshment with his Father, Jesus sought to be near people, too. Not the study desk, but the coffee house and the restaurant table will be our place of preference. The lostness of people around him broke his heart. As was the case with Jesus, so too with us: the compassionate heart follows the seeing eye (Mt 9:25-38). For people without hope and orientation Jesus’ message was profound: “the kingdom of God has broken into your personal world!” We will thus seek to warm the hearts of people far from God unto the reality of God and his kindness toward them. Jesus led people away from themselves as the center of the meaning of life, knowing that defining self through ourself leads to a dead end. We will not only speak of forgiveness of sin and guilt, but will gently show the way of freedom which is found in life lived under the Lordship of Christ. In following Jesus, the Christian receives a new identity. Church is participation in fellowship of the triune God together with many others who know Him, love Him and live their lives according to His Word and power. Jesus taught us to so live in this world as he lived in it. Thus we will help people to experience what it is like to live in partnership with God in everyday circumstances. The eyes of our Lord shone with joy as he spoke of the glory of his kingdom brought about through the planting of many new communities. Churches would multiply themselves to such an extent that all cultures and language groups would have a witness to his glory.
Those of us who risk by faith the challenge of starting new churches according to Jesus will most certainly experience the greatest joys and some of the deepest pain that we have ever known. Nevertheless, it will be worth it all because Jesus and the people around us that he has come to seek and to save are worth the risk. Today, as in the first century, Jesus is looking for that one person who loves lost people around him, who puts God above all things in his life, who would together with others of like- heartedness go forth to plant new churches.
[i] David J. Hesselgrave, Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond (2nd Edition). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000.
[ii] Die Grammatik dieses Verses im Grundtext lässt keinen Zweifel darin, dass „die Gemeinden“ sich täglich mehrten, und nicht, wie oft vermutet, die Anzahl der Jünger. Die meisten Kommentatoren scheinen diese Tatsache nicht bemerkt zu haben. In seiner Auslegung zu diesem Vers sagt Schneider, dass der Begriff arithmos (Zahl) im Sprachgebrauch des Lukas immer in Verbindung mit Personen gebracht wird. Gerhard Schneider. Herders Theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament: Die Apostelgeschichte, 2. Teil, 2002, S. 202. Hier ist Übereinstimmung und kein Widerspruch, denn Gemeinden setzen sich aus Personen zusammen.
[iii] David W. Shenk, Ervin R. Stutzman. Creating Communities of the Kingdom: New Testament Models of Church Planting, Scottdale, PA, Herald Press, 1988, p. 23.
[iv] Paul M. Zulehner, „Mystik und Politik: In Gott eintauchen, bei den Menschen auftauchen“, from a speech held in: Benediktbeuern, Germany on 19.11.2007.
[v] Michael Herbst, Und sie dreht sich doch: Wie sich die Kirche im 21. Jahrhundert ändern kann und muss, Asslar: Gerth Medien, 2001, p. 11.
[vi] In Vita, par 45 berichtet Josephus von 240 Dörfern und Städten in Galiläa. In Bellum III, iii, 2 schreibt er, dass die geringsten dieser Dörfer mehr als 15 000 Einwohner hatten. Zusammengenommen könnten wir nach Josephus sagen, dass das Gebiet Galiläa von mehr als 3 000 000 Menschen besiedelt war.
[vii] Johannes Reimer, Die Welt umarmen: Theologie des gesellschaftsrelevanten Gemeindebaus. Marburg, Francke, 2009, p. 64.
[viii] Hesselgrave, p. 23.
[ix] Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time, Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 2003, p. 43 – 44.
[x] Logan, George, p. 95.
[xii] Robert E. Logan. Be Fruitful and Multiply: Embracing God’s Heart for Church Multiplication, St. Charles, IL, Church Smart Resources, 2006, p. 24.