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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Challenged by the Book of Acts

In 1977, our mission planned a conference of all our Caribbean missionaries which was to be held in Grenada. Terry Martin, the field director in Grenada was responsible to plan the conference and to invite individuals to present papers and to lead panel discussions on a variety of topics. One of the topics on which a paper was to be presented was “Church Planting” and Terry asked me if I would chair a panel discussion on the subject after this paper was presented. I’m sure that Terry had no idea how that assignment would radically alter the course of my life and ministry!
In order to prepare for this assignment, I looked in our local Christian bookstore for books on Church Planting but I could find none. So I thought, “Really, the best place to look should be the Book of Acts!”
So I began reading Acts through repeatedly and began inquiring how the early apostles preached the Gospel, instructed believers and planted churches in the first century. It seemed to me that they would likely have the best perspective on how the task should be accomplished since they had been personally instructed by the Lord Jesus, Himself.
So I prepared a chart listing all the cities mentioned in Acts where the apostles had ministered and then noted their methods and the results of their ministries, i.e. were strong churches established by them? If so, how was the task accomplished? If not, how did their work which failed to establish churches differ from the work in cities where strong churches were established.
Two observations from that study intrigued and challenged me:
(1) Where ever one man went alone to preach the Gospel, churches were never established! (Peter went alone to Lydda and Joppa where people were saved, healed and even raised from the dead! Paul went alone and preached on Mars Hill in Athens, where a number of folks were saved)
(2) But where ever two or more men went together and preached the Gospel to the unconverted, there were always churches established! Yet in most of our ministries, emphasis was generally placed on a man working alone as a “one man show” and in most of our churches one pastor was ordained as a “star performer” who was expected to minister to everybody else.
But a third observation troubled me greatly about my own position as “the pastor” of the congregation which I served:
(3) Every church that I found in the NT was lead by a plurality of elders who co-operated together. They followed the example of the team of men who had co-operated together to bring the Gospel to them in the first place! I could not find even one church in the whole NT which was lead by one elder or pastor such as myself!
And a 4th observation really awakened me to the fact that many of the “church traditions” with which I’d been raised and which I’d accepted as the norm were all foreign to the Bible!
(4) No NT elders or church leaders were “imported” from elsewhere, and none were trained in “Bible schools”. Rather all such men were “homegrown”, well known by the saints to whom they ministered and were all equipped for leadership by serving the saints in their home communities! But we had traditionally imported pastors who were initially total strangers to the congregations they served and were men whose training consisted of years in Bible school or seminary far from home rather than years of actually serving the saints right where they lived!
Eventually, I wrote a paper on the subject of church planting which laid out these and other observations which had deeply troubled me. When I sent the paper to Terry Martin, he asked me to make copies of it, invited me to present my paper at the conference and said he would simply find someone else to chair the panel discussion!
So I went to that conference with fear and trembling! I knew that I would be presenting a perspective that was radically different from our own practices, but I desperately wanted answers as to why there were such radical differences between first century church practices and our own. But I was not at all prepared for the response that I would receive!
(To be continued in next post.)


Anonymous said...

Hi Dad! Thanks for these posts. Tim and I have been appreciating many of your thoughts!
Love, Steph

Bruce Woodford said...

Hi Steph,
Glad to hear that some areas in which I've been challenged are appreciated! I know some do not appreciate them as their journeys with the Lord have taken different turns and they have been convicted about other things which I have not.
We loved your post today about the rat! Was that a "rat-tle trap" in your cupboard???
Lots of love, Dad