Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Strategy for Establishing a New Group of Believers

By Ben Zemmer

The expansion of the church in the first century happened many times in large spurts (Acts 2:41, 11:19-25). Such phenomena have repeated themselves at intervals throughout church history. Current times are certainly not exempt from examples of God drawing to himself many believers in a certain area in a small amount of time. In the event that this happened in this geographic area and I was an elder responsible for a large group of new believers, I would follow the following points in seeking to fully establish this group as a mature church.

1. Preach the Word.

Just as God used the words of Ezekiel to bring life to the dry bones, so he uses the words of under-shepherds who preach the Word of God to bring life out of death. The preaching of the Word must be the pivot point of the gathering of the new body of believers. Just as young children must not be deprived of food in order to grow and mature, so new (and old) believers must not be deprived from the life giving proclamation of the Word. Churches exist through the objective work of the Spirit in the hearts of people drawing them to Christ through the understanding of the Word. Thus, the foundational aspect of church life must be the teaching of the Word, for by it the church comes into being. When the Word is preached it must also be taught and explained carefully in every possible context so that all the members understand it and begin living out the “first principles” of the faith.

2. Appoint elders.

Paul returned either in person or in proxy to all the cities in which he had preached the gospel for the purpose of “setting in order the things that remain” and to “appoint elders”. Just as a human being is not alive without the head, so a local church does not truly exist without biblically qualified elders. Biblical roles within the church are essential to its very existence. Likewise without such men the observance of the ordinances is emptied of its meaning and validity. These qualified men give biblical direction and fatherly care for the miniature household of God over which they preside. One must take care in the selection of elders and deacons using Scriptures and their household lives as barometers for their qualification to oversee the church. In no place are the desires and motives of the heart more evident than in the context of the home.

3. Instruct and exemplify life within the household of God.

Paul took great care and went to great lengths to instruct the young churches under his care “how to behave in the household of God”. He often stayed long in cities in order to make sure the believers were firmly grounded in the truths he had taught and understood the difference between God’s Word and the false teachings around them. In the same way, mature churches are those that know what it means to live as members of the household of God and use the understanding of their objective standing before God as a launching pad for greater service and expressions of unity and love saturated with God’s Word. A mature body of believers is one that exemplifies love and care for one another just as individual family members care for one-another.

4. Assist in the training up of the next generation of leaders.

Paul spent a great deal of effort including younger men in his ministry, not just because he needed extra help, but also for the purpose of preparing them to faithfully lead the church as well. This is very clear in Paul’s relationship with Timothy and Titus, but it is also clear in the effective structure of the older teaching and training up the younger. This is just as applicable for men as it is for women. The task of passing on the faith to the next generation of believers is a whole bodied task. The ministry that women have to younger women is one that men could not and should not have. Their ministry to younger children is effective in ways that men could not be. These relationships are necessary for the propagation of new believers and the raising up of new leaders of both men and women within the church.

5. Guide the “commissional” outlook of the church.

At the heart of what it means to be a church is the commission Jesus gave his disciples and the example the Apostles gave in the book of Acts. A mature and established church is one that seeks to expand the reach of God’s word in the hearts of people through the proclamation of the Word and the establishment of new churches. This is not a natural outlook for believers, since by nature all tend towards an inward focus. But a deep and true delight in God cannot help but produce an outward looking that seeks to see the gospel flourish inside and beyond the walls of the local church. Engendering this sort of outlook comes through much biblical exposition and patient teaching. Despite the difficulty of the task this must be the goal for a fully established church.

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