3. Join the Fellowship of the Hinge
ELF, Wisla, Poland 26.05.2013
Join the fellowship of the hinge!
(Church Planting as Kingdom Building)
Several years ago my youngest son Lukas and I set out on a journey together. Lukas was fifteen at the time and very much enamored with the material things his friends had. As an MK he would sometimes ask, “Papa, why are we so poor?” So I arranged this journey.
We flew from Frankfurt to Ethiopia, landing in the capital of Addis Abeba. After an overnight in the SIM guest house we were accompanied by a national to a small town in the south-western part of the country, close to the Sudan border. After two days of travel we were met by five men who had walked through the night to meet us. The roads leading in to the small village where the SIM clinic was located at which we were to serve were washed out by the rains. No vehicle was able to make the treacherous journey. Thus the five men, some without shoes, were sent by a missionary friend to carry our belongings and to guide us to the remote clinic.
The trek was utterly exhausting. We walked 30 kilometers over two mountain ranges in arduous conditions; mud, steep inclines, streams. At times we doubted we would make it. But after six hours we were greeted by our friend Ruth who took us to the small SIM compound at which the clinic was located. While I painted the inside of a missionary home, Lukas helped out at the clinic. As many as one hundred people gathered early in the morning at the clinic entrance, patiently waiting to be seen by Ruth the nurse. Some had walked all night for hours to get there. They were very poor, but also very content. Lukas and I learned much from them in the ten days we were among them.
The people in that remote part of Ethiopia live in thatched huts. Most were unacquainted with electricity, with running water, and – of all things – unacquainted with doors, doorknobs and with hinges. When people were called to come into the clinic, they would come up to the door and stand before it – totally baffled, about what to do next. Not having seen a door, they were at a loss to know how to proceed. Most of the times, someone from within would open the door and invite the person to step into the clinic.
All of us today have opened many doors that have swung on hinges. It is the hinges that allow the door to move which enables us to go from one room to another. Whoever invented the hinge did us all a great favor.
The phenomenon of the hinge is a reality in the New Testament. I want to invite you into what I have chosen to call “the fellowship of the hinge.” What is this hinge? The fellowship of the hinge is joining up with the Lord Jesus in the work of church planting that he is doing in our countries. The fellowship of the hinge is a movement that brings lost people into the kingdom of God who start churches that start churches.
Now, where do we find this hinge? We find the invitation to join Jesus in the fellowship of the hinge in Acts 1:1 “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach . . . “
This is the hinge. In the Gospels Jesus began to do and to teach, and in the Acts of the Apostles Jesus continues to do what He began, but He does it through His servants. What he continued to do in the Acts, he continues to do today – through his servants and disciples, though you and me.
I. In the Gospels Jesus began to build His Church
A. Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom of God
The foundation for the church and for church planting is the kingdom of God. Jesus came preaching “the good news of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). The good news of the kingdom was on the lips of Jesus at almost every teaching session that he had. In fact it was of such paramount importance to Jesus that this was all he spoke of to his disciples for forty days after his resurrection: “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3). This must have made a great impression on his disciples, because it became the focus of Paul’s preaching as well. We find Paul at the end of the book of Acts, under house arrest, “He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:31).
1. Jesus is the auto basileia
Jesus began and ended his ministry by proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom of God. Jesus referred to the Kingdom of God in the third person, but what he really meant was himself in the first person. Jesus is the subject, the authority, the power, and the content of the kingdom of God. What do we mean when we talk about the kingdom of God as it relates to our lives today? Jesus is the auto basileia – the Kingdom in person.
2. What is the Kingdom of God? IL. Diagram: My Kingdom / God’s kingdom
Out of the kingdom of God there proceeds the Church of Jesus Christ.
3. Jesus is the founder of the Church (Matthew 16:13-19)
After Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus makes this amazing statement: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” Who is the founder of the Church? It is Jesus. Jesus said, “I will build my church. And I will do it through a man named Peter.”
Jesus was the first church planter. The King of the Kingdom of God builds a new community called the Church, which is evidence of both the King and His kingdom.
B. The Gospel of the Kingdom has the Church as its expression of new life. (Matt 5:20)
We need to go beyond believing in Jesus. We need to embrace our need of becoming like Jesus. This is the heart of discipleship: not simply believing in Jesus, but learning from Jesus to behave the way he behaved – automatically, joyfully, fully.
Believing in Jesus without being disciples of Jesus is what my name’s sake, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, referred to as “cheap grace.” Believing without following elicits nothing from us. Grace cost our Lord everything. Therefore, following him will be costly as well. As Dallas Willard says, “Grace is opposed to earning, but not to effort.”
Jesus came to offer us a righteousness that was “beyond the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees” (Matt 5:20). Righteousness is life lived in God’s approval. Such a life cannot be earned. But once entered into, it is made manifest. Jesus instilled his life into the lives of his disciples. These became the prototype of the first church. Jesus was planting his church while leading his disciples into a new way of living. What did that look like?
1. new community
What Jesus began to do and to teach was a new community; a new community of spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood, in which love for Jesus and for one another was palpable and self-evident and is evidenced by our serving one another. In this regard Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his wonderful book “Life Together” speaks of the difference between soul-love and spiritual-love. Soul-love is loving the other person for my own sake – for what I get out of the relationship. Spiritual-love is the benefit that the other person receives though my serving her. Jesus’ new community is a community in which spiritual-love, given in service to my brother is our way of loving Christ.
2. new messenger
But this new community lives unto themselves; they are called to proclaim the One who was their heart: Jesus. With the church Jesus had a new evangelist – proclaiming the Gospel. The church is this evangelist.
3. new life-style
The mark of this new community was hearing and actually doing the will of God. Later the Spirit of Jesus was to descend on the disciples of Jesus, enabling them to live the life of Jesus in this world. Their character and interacting with people would mirror that of Jesus.
Religious sociologist Rodney Stark has written a book on how an “obscure Jesus movement became the dominant religious force in the Western world within a few centuries”. Stark estimates that Christianity grew at a rate of 40 percent per decade for several centuries, making it the dominant religion of the known world.
What was it that fuelled such dramatic growth of the early church? Stark highlights two specific behaviours of Jesus-Followers in the first three centuries that brought on the rise of Christianity. First, Christians no longer exposed their new born baby girls, allowing them to die in the drainage gutters, as the pagan world did. In fact Christians often saved such babies from destruction, took them in and raised them in their homes. Secondly, when plagues swept over urban areas, all those pagan citizens healthy enough to flee to the mountains did so to save themselves. They left behind their sick and dying family members. Amazingly, Christians often stayed behind, risking their own health and lives, to nurse the sick and dying pagans. In many instances these destitute Greeks and Romans were restored to health and through the love and caring of Jesus followers became disciples themselves.
C. As the Gospel has multiplication in its DNA, so too the Church
Healthy things, transformative things happen to those who live with Jesus as their master and teacher. Such personal transformation also impinges upon the growth of the body of Christ. In the parables of Jesus, Jesus teaches us that the Gospel has exponential growth in its make-up.
1. The farmer expects a large harvest (Mark 4:20)
We see this in Jesus’ parable of the farmer and his seed in Mark 4:20, “Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” The analogy is clear: like a seed that takes root in the soil and produces many kernels, the gospel that springs up unto life in the heart of one person is meant to go on to produce new life in the lives of many people. “From one to many” is the principle here. Every farmer expects and hopes to harvest much more than he initially invested, so too those of us who proclaim Jesus as the Gospel of new life.
2. The gospel has inherent power to grow (Mark 4:26-29)
The gospel of the kingdom has inherent growth power residing within it. Jesus said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29).
“automathe” – all by itself, automatically, the gospel produces a harvest. What is endemic to the gospel, is endemic to the church as an organism: Jesus has purposed it to grow and to produce new churches that produce new churches. As Peter Wagner once said, the fruit of an apple tree is not an apple. It is another apple tree. What we see in Jesus’ teaching about the inherent growth of the gospel as evidence of the expansion of the kingdom of God, we see in the Acts of the Apostles in the expansion of the church.
II. In the Acts of the Apostles Jesus continues to build his Church – Church Planting
A. Where the Gospel goes, new churches are planted
The Jesus movement is centrifugal in its trajectory: it moves from a center toward the outside. The movement of the people of God in the Old Testament was centripetal in its trajectory: people came from the fringes and moved to Jerusalem at the center.
The outline of the book of Acts reveals to us the centrifugal trajectory of the growth of the church via church planting as a result of the gospel being proclaimed. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).
Here we see the concentric circles moving outward, centrifugally in the book of Acts. The acts of Jesus in the lives of his disciples moved and empowered by the Holy Spirit, produced new churches. First in Jerusalem, then in Judea, then in Samaria and eventually unto the ends of the earth.
B. Newly Planted churches plant churches (16:4-5)
The expansion of new churches planted in the first century was nothing short of phenomenal. Such rapid church planting growth is documented for us in two short verses. For years I assumed I knew what was happening in Acts 16:4-5. “As they (i.e. church planting Apostles) traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.” The grammar of verse five leaves no doubt as to what was increasing daily. I had always assumed that the number of believers was increasing daily, but that’s not what this verse is saying. The number of churches planted was increasing daily! Every day in the life of the early church new churches were being planted.
Let me ask you this: How long does it take for the movement in your country to plant a new church? In Germany where I live and minister we are planting one new church in our denomination each month. Our brothers and sisters in the book of Acts were planting new churches daily.
What Jesus began to do in the Gospels – plant the prototype of the first church, he extended into the life of the early church. So rapid was the growth of Christianity that it became the predominant religion of the world in two hundred years. Much of this growth was predicated upon the planting of new churches. Research has shown that the planting of new churches is the most effective form of evangelism on the planet. More people find Christ in new churches than in older more established churches.
Now, where does all of this lead us? It leads us to an invitation by Jesus himself.
III. Join the fellowship of the hinge!
A. Jesus longs to continue His work in your country with you and with others – Will you partner with Him?
What the Lord began to do and to teach, he wants to continue to do and teach through you in your country!
One of the things we Christians are fond of doing is making our plans and bringing them to the Lord for his approval. We do something like this. We prayerfully write out our plans for our lives and bring them to Jesus in the form of an official letter. (Flip Chart) At the top of the letter we write something like this: “Lord Jesus, this is my plan for my life”, followed by many good things (health, Christian influence, good relationships, ministry fruitfulness, finances etc.). Then at the bottom of the page we have a blank line drawn and we ask Jesus to sign off on our plans for our lives.
I can imagine Jesus looking at our letter to him, smiling, silently putting it aside and giving us a new letter. At the top of his letter to us there we find a heading that reads: “My Plan for Your Life”, followed by a large blank space, ending with a black line. He hands his letter to us and asks us to sign it. We recoil. Why?, because Jesus has not filled in the blank space. “Lord, how can we sign on the blank space if we do not know what you have planned for us?” is our response. Smiling he just says, “If you trust me, you’ll sign.”
I ask you, is it good to include Jesus into our plans? It sounds good, but it isn’t. Jesus does not want to be included in our plans for our life and ministry. He wants to include us in what he is doing. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name! Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done as in heaven so on earth.”
What can we be sure of in terms of the will of God for us? We can be sure that what Jesus has begun to do he wants to continue to do it – through us! When we sign off on Jesus’ plan for our lives, we know that part of his plan it to plant churches that plant churches. Are you willing to allow the Lord to do what he began to do and to teach through you?
B. Jesus longs to do greater things than what we have as of yet experienced – Do you see a church planting movement on the horizon?
Think of yourself somehow being present at your own funeral. The service was wonderful, the hymns and the preaching truly uplifting, God-honoring. Your body has been lowered into the grave. The last mourner has stood over your casket, wiping away a tear. Friends and family gather for coffee and cake at a nearby restaurant. You see your best friends sitting together at a table. You hear them talk about you; what you meant to them and what you did with your life. They especially key in on your accomplishments. What do they list among the things that you have done with your life? Are they God-sized things? What are God-sized things? God-sized things are the things that are above and beyond our means and capacity to produce. If we have done things with our lives that were in line with our intellect, our talents, our leadership ability – then they were not God-sized in proportion.
Roland Allen wrote “the great things of God are beyond our control”. But they are in God’s power and authority to accomplish in human agents given over to Christ.
Trust the Lord with that which is beyond your means and capacity to produce. Specifically trust Him to use you to see a church planting multiplication movement unleashed in our country. You may say, “But I’m not a church planter. I’m a theologian, I’m a musician, I’m a politician, I’m a teacher, I’m a mother, I’m not in a position to see a movement of churches planted.” And I say, leave that to the Lord. Just ask him to use you, in whatever place you are at, to see a church multiplication movement unleashed.
C. Jesus wants to start with your heart – Will you give Him your undivided devotion?
What will it take? What is the starting point for the Lord Jesus to do greater things than you could ever imagine? The starting point is your heart. Are you willing to accept Jesus’ invitation to become a member of his fellowship of the hinge? Can you say, I’m done with making my plans for my life, and asking Jesus to bless them. I want to do the will of Jesus. I want to pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, anything, anytime, anywhere am willing!”
I am going to pray with us now. But before I do I want to invite you, as an act of devotion, to release your plans for your life and ask Jesus for His plan for your life. I invite you to sign the hinge card on your seat. After I have prayed, if you have signed that card please come up here and walk through the door, that swings on hinges, to continue to do all that Jesus began to do and to teach. Sign your name on the chart, wanting God’s kingdom to be predominate in your life and ministry. We also have brothers and sisters at hand that would love to pray with you and to ask you how we can best help you in seeing a church planting movement take hold in your country.
Jesus invites us all to join the fellowship of the hinge.
Lord Jesus Christ, no one and nothing compares to your beauty and holiness. You loved us when we didn’t give you the time of day. You saved us from our sin and our selfishness to be your disciples. We long to live close to you and from you and out of your resources.
We want to join you in the fellowship of the hinge – partnering with you in continuing to do and to teach what you began during your life on earth. Set us free to free us from self-interest. Empower us to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, the gospel of Jesus being the Christ. Enable us to be a part of a church planting movement in our countries. For your honor and your glory, Amen.
 Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1997), p. 6.