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The method of Paul for Church Planting

Michael Green  argues that the evangelizing strategies in the first century were clear, simple, compelling and community based. That is, they were not too complex to be reproduced by only a limited group of people, or were obscure, impeding of being understood by the people, or even elitist because they could be carried out by every believer in his or her neighborhood.

The strategies are ways by which we apply a principle. The principle of biblical evangelization that is Christ centered, obligatory and transforming that will be used in different ways in different contexts, so that it may be understood in an intelligible and relevant way.  

In the 1950s, with the Communist takeover of China, the few Protestant missionaries were forced to leave the country.  At that time the death of the Chinese Church was predicted, which had few mature converts, and suffered a strong persecution. Public worship to God was prohibited, also evangelism and personal witness of the Gospel. The meetings were persecuted.  The training programs of local leaders disappeared together with the missionary organizations in the first years of persecution.  The Chinese Church, however, turned to less public ways to meet together, in small groups, transmitting the message only through personal and individual relationships, emphasizing biblical teachings that explained the necessary and productive suffering of the saints and used the Bibles that started to arrive from different and difficult ways. This package of methods and strategies that were used we too can use them deliberately or unintentionally.  The same strategies varied from place to place, from time to time, situation to situation.  It would be unwise to desire to standardize the evangelistic and CP strategies from the social-human point of view because human beings change frequently their way of forming groups, relating, communicating, understanding and living.  But the principles stay the same.   

Newbigin and Van Egen talk about strategies directed to communities. This is something we are using to guide us in this chapter. I will present possible strategies to be used for a specific group and also for an individual approach, but basically having in mind the target of planting churches in an urban social segment, a neighborhood in a city, or a defined ethnic group.

In a conference at Wheaton College, influenced by the missiology of McGravan and Glasser, it was declared that ‘the mission of the Church is to plant churches in all the communities of the earth.’  It stated that Jesus desires to be known by every human being; that His sacrifice is immersed in a kerygmatic proclamatory character.  That God’s mission involves the world and not just a part of it.  That it is necessary to take this Gospel to all the socio-human groupings on earth. That this is done through evangelization and by the planting of living churches.

If we believe this I would like to suggest to you that CP is a most efficient and self sustaining way to communicate the Gospel within a territory, whether in an urban neighborhood or among a culturally defined ethnic group. CP creates the need to communicate a Gospel that is culturally understandable, establish locally the Kingdom and duplicate the missionary effect by churches planting churches.

The difficulty in working with CP strategies is that in each different context certain approaches are more applicable. The strategies of communication and CP are interrelated to the principles of contextualization. In this way a simple reproduction of the church model that we know in a particular context, can be catastrophic in another context because it will promote only the form and not the principle that must be transmitted faithfully.

We must think of Paul’s strategy.  In Antioch of Pisidia his evangelization started in the synagogue, preaching to the Jews.  These were so impressed that they invited the missionaries to return the next week (Acts 13:13-48).  In Iconium the messge that was communicated in the synagogue did not convince the majority.  So Paul and Barnabus were used by God, who manifested His grace by means of miracles and marvels (Acts 14:1-4).  In Lystra there is no reference of Paul preaching in the synagogue.  Paul, used by God in the healing of a man, took advantage of the moment as a bridge to preach the Gospel to the whole multitude (Acts 14:8-18).  In Thessalonica Paul preached in the synagogue on the Sabbaths and in the square during the week.  Historically he stood on a ‘petros’ , a stone support at the exit of the market place, so as to announce daily the Word of the Lord to all who passed by there (Acts 17:1-14).

Therefore we find in the ministry of one man in one generation many different approaches and strategies.  Paul speaks to multitudes but also visits from house to house.  He preaches to the Jews in the synagogue but also outside the synagogue.  He uses the squares and marketplaces never ceasing to proclaim to the multitudes, but also devotes himself to individuals to disciple them and train them for local leadership.  We must, therefore, first understand that there are no fixed strategies for the proclamation of the Gospel, only fixed principles.

In certain urbanized regions, even though provincial and residential, evangelism from door to door works, and is well received by the majority and done in an environment of social credibility, which is the home. In other urbanized regions more metropolitan with deeper feeling of privacy such evangelistic activity becomes almost impossible as people have the culture of isolation. In the first the man is a community and social being, defined by his group. In the second the man is an individual and existential being, defined by himself alone, his desire and personal choices.  Every strategy must be evaluated according with the context where they will be applied.

In the Pauline model of CP we can see that the main strategies used were. I’d like to suggest you could read and reflect on these strategies and activities use by Paul, thinking on your own present context and ministry.

a)    Introduce yourself into the society through a receptive person or a group, who is open to receive and listen to you.
b)    Identify the best environment for the preaching of the Gospel, whether in public such as a market or privately as in a home.
c)    Build relationships to individuals. The environment of trust is essential for communicating the truth.
d)    Share the Gospel when opportunity comes, or create an opportunity. Starting from Creation or from the Messiah, always you should end in Jesus Christ, His cross and resurrection.
e)    Explain the Word, value the Word. Explain in a way that makes it intelligible and applicable for the one who hears. Make conversation, answer questions, all using the Word.
f)    Testify to what Christ has done in your life.
g)    Incorporate rapidly the new converts into the church: an established church, a newborn small group or a Christian family meeting.
h)    Identify potential leaders and invest in them personally or by letters.  
i)    Stay close to the churches planted, visiting or communicating with them, spending time in the teaching of the Word.
j)    Pray for the brethren, for the churches planted, and leading them also to pray, and for the unsaved neighbors. (gentiles)
k)    Deal with criticisms and competition without allowing these to take away the evangelistic focus.
l)    Use the local lay people to serve the church.
m)    Invest in the missionary ardor and responsibility of the planted churches for planting other churches.

Among the Konkombas in Ghana when we planted the first churches, we used the most diverse strategies.  The women, always busy, had free time only when going to the river to fetch water, resting a bit under some trees.  The older people sat under the big trees at the end of the afternoon.  The teenagers and married men were free only at night. The children ran around the whole day. These were the ideal places for sharing the Gospel: on the path to the river, under the trees, later inside the huts and while playing with the children.  During years we did this systematically.  We used stories and Bible pictures.  We acted out some scenes of the Gospel.  We explained details of the salvation plan. We used symbols from nature to explain creation, their proverbs to speak about sin, their music to prove the lack of hope with which they lived.  In the center was always the Gospel, repeated various times, the message of Christ, His life and cross. Not all the strategies worked well or in a consistent way.  But many were essential and I perceive that the broadness of the evangelization using multiple strategies of communication helped the initial process of CP.  It is the sowing of a seed, without knowing which will germinate.  

The Word of God was a centralized element in the birth and growth of the Church in Acts.  In Acts 6:7, 12-24 and 19:20 the Word is the conducting agent of the growth of the Church.  In Acts 20:32 Paul commends the leaders at Ephesus to the Word of God. The apostle Paul considers the Word of God the content and power for the transformation of mankind and uses it in an abundant and faithful way. One of the visible limitations in present day evangelistic strategies is the lack of using the Word of God.  Stories, plays, music and appeals are made, often in a communicative and interesting way, but without the content of the Word.  

The evangelistic strategies must not be disassociated from the Word. We must understand that it is the Word of God and not human abilities that produces fruit.  All the eloquence or creativity that we possess will never be capable of transforming lives.  In the development of Pauline evangelistic strategies I believe that the apostle began from the following question: In what way, with what expressions, and by which approach shall I communicate clearly and lively the Word of God to this group?