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The Mission Has a Spirit
July 25, 2016
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Imagine the profound idiocy of a general sending troops into battle with no weapons, radios, or air power. Such is the situation with much of modern church planting, I fear.

In a quick survey of the last ten books I’ve read on church planting, not more than 5% of the total text had anything to do with the Holy Spirit, much less was it devoted to pleading with the planter to pray for the Spirit to move mightily in the work of the church plant. That’s a good deal less than God’s book on church planting—the book of Acts. A brief Google of the phrase “church plant conference” unearths vast practical resources, website companies, church plant gear guides, and other so-called “must haves” of the entire enterprise of church planting. But if one were to go by the Google results alone, one would be hard-pressed to believe that the church ever got off the ground in the first century at all without the whizz-bangery of church planting that we’ve come to believe is mission-critical. In fact, a study of the early church may lead us to believe that the aforementioned mission-critical whizz-bangery is just all noisy gongs and clanging cymbals compared to the Spirit that powered the mission in the first place.

The Mission Started With The Spirit

There they were, praying in the upper room, when the local church planting coordinator called and informed them that they got a huge grant, and a few hundred people were just outside. So, Peter put on his face mic and walked out just as the worship leader was putting down his all-rosewood, custom Taylor guitar, having just ended a new rendition of phos hilaron. Lights up, stool out, Pentecost time.

Wait. No … That’s not how it happened at all.

They were scared, small, and stirred by the resurrected Christ to wait for the Spirit. He came, and the mission of the forward motion of the church began. We who care about church planting would do well to remember that the church began by a powerful working of the Spirit of God which was preceded by a dramatic experience of faith in Christ. Having just seen Jesus after he was raised, they were believing, but they were waiting. When the Spirit came, the church began. The mission given by Jesus was turned to action by the Holy Spirit.

The Mission Advances By The Spirit

Further, the power of Pentecost wasn’t just the church’s big coming-out party. Of course, a common rejoinder from modern people is that when the cannon of Scripture was closed, the Spirit packed up all the party supplies (supernatural gifts and acts) and went home. But a rejoinder to that rejoinder is, well, history. And the Bible. In fact, the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit is uniformly attested to by the earliest post-biblical sources as not only normative, but critical to the mission. Early church leaders were pretty much expected to operate in the gifts of the Spirit.[1] In fact, there’s good evidence to suggest that between the death of the Apostles and the writings of the first Christian apologists, the church’s main mission strategy was through demonstrations of power which attested to the truth of the gospel message.[2]

Of course, we’re skipping entirely over the books of Acts, which is replete with descriptions of miracles, healings, answers to prayer, and other powerful workings of the Spirit which, in every single case, serve to advance the mission. The fact is, the history of the early church is not all doctrines and councils. It’s the story of the work of the Spirit to grow the church in the midst of a hard culture.

Your Mission Needs The Spirit

Look, I get it. Who wants to be a crazy charismatic? Your church plant plan doesn’t include any mention of falling over, shaking, or any otherwise odd-looking behaviors. You’re just hoping to lead some people to Jesus, preach well, and make disciples. Nothing to see here, right?

Here’s the thing, I’m actually really grateful for all the whizz-bangery of church planting. I think it’s all an expression of a Spiritual gift, actually—the gift of wisdom. It’s wise to have great music. It’s wise to have a decent website. It’s wise to attend a conference, build a team, and do best practices. I teach that stuff to church planters all the time. But I don’t know if you’ve read 1 Corinthians lately, but the Spirit offers a great many more gifts to us than just wisdom. And if we’re really serious about getting the mission done, then two suggestions come to mind. First, we should re-read Jesus’ mission statement. He said, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded.” Then, we should go read that commandment in 1 Corinthians 14:1, and start to earnestly desire Spiritual gifts.

Further, every church planter is already asking God to do a far greater miracle than the kinds of things that give John MacArthur heartburn. We’re asking Him to perform the miracle of conversion—the new birth. Raising a sinner from spiritual death is a good deal more impressive than the gift of prophesy. And yet, strategically, God has given a whole set of gifts to bring about that gift. Why not just ask God for all of them?

God is a great general. He would never send his people into confrontation with the gates of Hell unarmed. That’s why the disciples waited in an upper room. Before you and I step out onto the mission field, perhaps we should prayerfully await the Spirit, too. Who knows what powerful work God would do if we believed the mission had a Spirit.

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[1] Ronald Kydd notes that “[All the leaders] were expected to minister charismatically. . .; Ronald A. N. Kydd, Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1984), 10.

[2] Ed Stetzer, “The Wandering Ecstatic Prophet in the Mission Strategy of the Early Church,” Journal of Evangelism and Missions (Spring 2003): 1.

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