Who are the people God uses to form a new church? Who qualifies? Must the leaders all be pastors? Can it take other Christians sent from other churches, or must a new church only start by reaching new Christians? These are good questions people have asked in both instances where I have endeavored to plant churches.
Acts 11 is a great place to go to answer these questions. In Acts we learn that the church begins in Jerusalem following Christ’s commission in Acts 1 (specifically Acts 1:8) and the Holy Spirit’s empowering in Acts 2. The rest of the book of Acts explains how the church went from Jerusalem to where you are today. In Acts 11:19-26 we see participants in one of the first new churches started beyond Jerusalem, and these participants all come from one of four scenarios. In starting a church, God will use…
1. Christians being providentially steered (11:19-20).
Providential circumstances led the Christians in the Jerusalem church to move beyond Jerusalem. They went out from the church they came to faith in, and wherever they went they continued sharing the gospel with the new people they met. These were everyday Christians, not preachers as we know them. And yet the Bible says they “were preaching the Lord Jesus.”
Most Christians could never imagine leaving “their” church for any reason. But God uses changes in the circumstances of our lives to lead us in expanding His Kingdom and keeping the church on the move with the gospel. Life is an adventure. It is likely, as God is providentially working in our lives, that He will use various Christians influentially participating in the start of a new church. Their circumstances and church origins might differ, but these Christians are needed in planting churches.
2. New Christian being saved (11:21).
Luke tells us that “the hand of the Lord was with them.” Being forced out of your city because of persecution is not usually a sought after experience. However, God uses changes in life and the difficulties of His people for amazing purposes. This was an unsettling and uncomfortable time for many Christians, and yet, “a large number who believed turned to the Lord.”
Many times church planting is the most productive way of reaching new people with the gospel. Some church plants will see new converts immediately, and some will labor years and new converts will be hard to come by. In some parts of the world, missionaries labor years with the gospel before they ever see their first convert. Nevertheless, it takes new people believing the gospel and turning to the Lord for church planting to happen.