The apostle Paul’s church planting project was definitely prone to disasters! When I was in Greece following him around, that fact I knew from the history in Acts became more and more evident.
- In Philippi, the first main stop, he is attacked, flogged and thrown into prison!
- In Thessalonica, jealous opponents round up ne’re-do-wells and start a riot. He escapes after dark.
- In Berea, he is successful until agitators from Thessalonica show up. He escapes by sea
- In Athens, he makes a great speech, but he is not too successful — not quite a disaster, but disappointing.
- In Corinth, where he stays quite a while, he is thrown out of the synagogue and moves next door. The Jews eventually make a united attack and bring him before the authorities.
When you read Paul’s letters back to these church plants with a disaster lens, you realize that he was trying to prevent what was about to kill them! In Galatia, they are changing the gospel back to Judaism. In Corinth, there are factions which are each reinventing the good news to support their power struggle. In Philippi, pillars of the church are unreconciled. In Thessalonica, people are freeloading off the community waiting for Jesus to return.
Before we get too discouraged about humanity, Luke makes sure you understand that miracles ensue. [We need those.] I think he makes sure we see how difficult it was to plant the church so no one gets the idea it was not miraculous. His book should be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit, so we more human-centered types will not forget the Apostles were just like us. The big miracle is that the church not only survives, it appears to thrive on disaster, from the first martyrs and persecutions to the present day attacks on Indian believers associated with the Brethren in Christ.
We are prone to disasters
Last week I reminded our Leadership Team Core of these historical facts as we started our meeting for a couple of important reasons.
First, we Americans think we are so powerful (rich, smart, better, etc.) that everything will and should work out. A traditional song of some American Christians is “Victory is mine!” Others go right along with “God bless USA!” as the camera pans the soldiers. That just goes to say, as the president says, that we think we are supposed to win. So we are easily disappointed. If something doesn’t work (like marriage or most of our electronics) we throw it out. People leave relationships (and so the church) at the drop of the hat, following their bliss. We almost never take the good given, because that offends our sense of what we deserve. We have a Christianity that looks almost nothing like Paul’s and so we cannot do disaster. We hardly ever take uncalculated risks, which he apparently did all day until Nero killed him.
Second, we are headed for any number of disasters
- Trump may do us in [He’s like Nero].
- We have bid farewell to a significant number of people in the past year and we might end up on a roll as people think we are less successful than we have been for the past 22 years. [Admit church planting failures]
- We may buy another building in the Northwest that causes all sorts of trouble. [Do we need buildings?]
- We are not sharing the amount of money people promised and we might need to make some radical adjustments to adapt. [Sharing is radical]
- People keep sinning and you never know when the system gets too weak to endure it until it gets too weak.
- We are transitioning from my former role to a whole new, better, structure. But it takes radicals to do it and we might not even be paying much attention as (back to point one) we live in the Trump fog.
I must tell you, I think my dire warning about us met with the same reaction I had to Paul’s disasters in Greece and elsewhere. I was excited. I think our LTC was generally excited too. The fact is, we Jesus followers feel like we are really alive when we are on the edge of death in some way. How better to identify with Jesus? Paul said, “I want to share in the Lord’s suffering and so share in his resurrection!” Me too. I’m not going to be foolish in order to tease out a miracle — but I am foolish enough to require one.
I have often had some great solutions to problems, led by the Spirit. But I have to admit, I have persistently relied on miracles when it came to church planting. It is the only authentic and realistic thing to do. I may think I know a lot and think I should exercise a lot of power. But when it comes to church planting, it is an act of the Holy Spirit and we follow in the Lord’s wake to get anywhere at all. When we talk about being on the apostolic edge of what is next all the time (at least I hope you talk about that) it means being on the edge of disaster a lot, since we are also on the edge of the amazing next thing God is making us and making with us.