Have you ever planted a church? What kind of seed does it take? What sort of ground preparation do you have to do? Are there tools involved, or do you just throw out the seed? Does that make you a farmer? Or a gardener? Do you need to wear work clothes for the job or can you just wear whatever you want to? Do you need helpers, or is it a one-person “work-hard” job?
Sometimes I wonder if church planting is like farming. The little I’ve learned about farming can perhaps aid me, but I’m not sure. I know that depending on the soil, you have to do different things. The same plan for all fields does not seem to work. I live in Canada, so you can’t plant a palm tree here. Not only is the soil not right, but the temperature is not right either. Believe me 🙂
I just returned from India. Just like farming, there are things that they can grow in India that we would never have success with. As I walked into the little remote villages in the 40 degree weather (40 Celsius, that’s 110 Fahrenheit for my American friends), I felt like I was walking into the Old Testament, or some “Apostle Paul” journey. It did not feel like an Urban church planting mission. The soil, both physical and spiritual, was different. I waited eagerly to see how we would do the planting work for the Kingdom.
The villages I visited had already experienced the ground preparation that needs to be done for church planting to take place. But this too was different than I had experienced. Our partner pastors (the farmers) would ride their bikes into these villages that they had been praying for, and try to find that person of peace we read about in the scriptures. It’s that one person that will let them tell their story. In these villages, literally surrounded and infused by idols, this job alone is deadly serious. Once they found the person of peace, they would share their story. But here is where it deviates from our Western planting models. No theological or Biblical message will change the village at the beginning. Plain and simple, if you can’t prove your God is bigger than theirs, in real time, don’t even bother coming to the field. Raise the dead, heal the sick, cast out the demon. That’s proof. Bring the miracle or go home. Wow.
In the West, we have a culture of what we would call “enlightenment”, or as I call it “Know-it-all” syndrome. If we don’t understand it, it makes us feel out of control. We do everything we can to understand and control what we experience, and if we can’t, we tend to tell ourselves that we never experienced it in the first place. But in this Eastern culture, the unexplained is comfortable. The people regularly look to the spiritual before the physical. For example, in the West, if we were sick, we would do everything we could do, medicine, doctors etc, before we pray. We would call it spiritual due diligence. But in many Eastern cultures, it’s the spiritual that must take place first. Pray and ask questions later. It was refreshing.
Perhaps the other major planting phenomena I experienced was this. We in the West would find our person of peace, and then try to build a church around them. What I saw in India was different. When the person of peace found Christ, almost always through a supernatural experience, they were the church. That’s it. If you come to Christ in a land where no one else is following Christ. YOU ARE THE CHURCH. This becomes part of the gospel message itself. Basically, if you want to become a Christian and follow Christ… Awesome. But you are now responsible for bringing this message to everyone. You are the church. There is no pastor to evangelize everyone. You do it. If you don’t want to, you are not a true believer. Ouch. But WOW.
In the West, we spend so much of our time trying to convince believers that they are “missionaries” or spiritual leaders. Perhaps part of the issue is that we don’t include that in the entrance speech. Perhaps in needing to persuade people of the theological and Biblical need for Christ, we set our believers up for speeches to encourage them in the next step of faith. Perhaps when you experience miracles you need less speeches. When you see a man raised from the dead, you don’t need logic. You need a car to tell everyone what you saw. That’s good news. Perhaps as leaders, we should pursue the practice of the supernatural more and keep the speeches for telling that good news. I know this is harsh and frankly outside of my own personal experience to date, but I can’t help what I have seen. I just don’t know how to live like this. But I am driven to.
Planting anything takes practice. Planting different things takes different practices. I’m not saying that we in the West can do things the same as in the East. But what I am saying is that what I saw God do, I want here. The God I saw there was bigger than I had ever seen. I need more of Him. I want more of Him. The things I saw made me realize that you and I are the Church. Where two or more are gathered, the church is planted. A roaming pastor and a person of peace that finds Christ is the plant. They don’t plant “a” church, but plant “The” church. It’s a living being connected by the spiritual, not just Facebook. That is the Church. Perhaps this recognition is why the church planting we see happening in the East is exploding. Each Christian takes the responsibility of everyone in their village. When you take ownership like this, multiplication happens our of necessity, not out of budget or planning.
I still don’t know exactly what to do, but I’m leaning on God more everyday to let Him do it. I think that’s the point. We don’t do that kind of work. It’s only God. We can plow the ground, plant the seeds, but then we wait.
We went into one village where there were two ladies who accepted Christ. They were new believers in a town full of physical idols. In this little farming community, God clarified to me how He plants His church. When we asked (via a translator) what they needed from God, they said rain. It had not rained for over a year. All the village spiritual teachers had prayed to their gods for rain. They would sacrifice to their gods, but nothing. We encouraged them to pray for rain to tell the village that our God is stronger then theirs. We prayed for rain. As we left the village, within one hour the sky turned dark black. God brought the rain. It rained for almost three days. Even as I write this, I’m weeping for seeing God so clearly. He brought the rain. Our God is bigger then theirs. No sermon can prove that. But the rain did that day, and still does for me. Pray for rain, and the church will grow.
When you follow Christ, you are the church. Where you walk, God will bring the rain.