Growing this Church Plant 17th Century Style: The Power of Community, Prayer and Service1
Christianity cannot happen apart from people. Historically, Christianity has always been about people getting together and having honest and meaningful conversations about life and faith. It’s always been about trying to grasp what the Scriptures mean, and wrestling with the implications of the Gospel. It has always been followed up with a desire to see others join the relational circle we call the church, as they all gaze upon Christ at the center.
When a group of people together engage in such conversations, you then will discover the power of that very simple thing: with the Gospel as the motivating factor, people together in community, prayer, and serving those around you can create an ever-growing snowball rolling down the steep hill of faith that can change the very fabric of an entire city and nation, and even a hemisphere.
That may sound like an exaggeration, but even with a quick gaze in church history, it is not. Almost any sort of major movement of renewal within the church began with small groups of people studying the Bible together, and then embarking on evangelism and loving and serving the community around them in the name of Jesus.
Late in the 17th century and well into the 18th century, revival swept across the churches in the Western World. Millions upon millions joining the church en masse. We know this now as the Great Awakening. Many factors contributed to this massive work of the Spirit. Yet, Arnold Dallimore in his exceptional biography on the evangelist George Whitfield, notes what could have been the very humble beginnings of this massive Great Awakening, which first took place in England:
“In 1673, Dr. Anthony Horneck, a Church of England Minister in London, preached a number of what he called “awakening sermons.” As a result several young men began to meet together weekly in order to build up one another in the Christian faith. They gathered in small groups at certain fixed locations and their places of meeting became known as Society Rooms. In these gatherings they read the Bible, studied religious books and prayed; they also went out among the poor to relieve want at their own expense and to show kindness to all… the work grew that by 1730 nearly one hundred of these Societies existed in London, and others - perhaps another hundred - were to be found in cities and towns throughout England. The Societies movement became, in many senses, the cradle of the Revival…” (Dallimore, George Whitfield, vol. 1, pg. 29, Crossway 1970)
As we are embarking on planting this church, I will be the first to admit that, although I’ve been a part of two church plants, one replant, and helped to pastor two churches coming together in a merger - I still feel as if I do not know what I am doing.
And that is OK, because we are in good company. Most men and women in the past who have been engaged in such a work were not experts, and did not need to be. The work can begin rather simply without the need of textbooks and expert training, although of course those things have their place, but it is not what we are utterly dependent upon.
The commonality between them all, which is multifaceted, can at least be reduced to this: Christians, with the motivating power of a love for Jesus and the Good News, getting together for prayer around the Scriptures, and having this as the launch pad for going out into the world to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Christianity simply cannot, and will not, thrive if these two important things are not taking place. Indeed, your growth as a Christian will be severely limited without them and will lack vigor. Lethargy will inevitably be the result. And this church plant, assuredly, will not thrive without it.
To think that one of the most extraordinary revivals in church history took place with the seeds of a handful of young men gathering for prayer, evangelism and serving the poor almost seems too simple.
But is it? Is that not what we also saw in the Book of Acts - Christians loving Jesus and begin driven to the same things, so much so that they gathered a reputation in the larger community around them and were favored by all (Acts 2:47)? This was not because of some expert preaching, amazing outreach programs, or the best stylized Sunday morning gatherings - but rather because these early Christians devoted themselves “to the apostles teaching and the breaking of bread and the prayers” (2:42).
Therefore it can be said that the early church was built around bible study, food, and praying. Verse 44 reveals also that their community was so tight, everyone knew exactly what everyones needs were, and they all took care of one other. The result of such public community (as they gathered likewise in the very public location of the Temple in Jerusalem) people were continually added to their number (2:47).
So as we enter into the Spring on the Jersey Shore, which equals warmth, sunshine and soon to be open beaches and people walking about all around us, the opportunity awaits to begin engaging in this call - it is a biblical call, one that has been continually tested and tried and proven true throughout Church history.
Redeemer - spend time together. Pray together. Eat together. Study the Bible together. Get lunch regularly at the same place, get to know the employees names, gain new friends and pray for them continually. If a need arises, gather more from the church and go to love an serve them. Tell them about the Good News of Jesus.
It really is that simple. If all of us engaged in this kind of ministry together - we would see this little Redeemer church plant begin growing and growing by the grace of God.
I leave you with a few questions:
- Do you have built in margins within your own life for these simple things to take place?
- Do you desire to see this church plant grow? What part will you take place in the simple labor of community, prayer and serving those around you together?
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