by Edward C. Pentecost
Because so many students have come to me with a very simple question, I have finally decided that it is time to put something down on paper that might help concerned students in the area of missions. And, not only students, but perhaps missionaries.
Because so many students have come to me with a very simple question, I have finally decided that it is time to put something down on paper that might help concerned students in the area of missions. And, not only students, but perhaps missionaries. Many missionaries and students have asked, "Is there no simple way to state how to begin a church and to see that church grow into a fruitful body of believers? We know that there are certain men who have given their lives to studying the matter of church growth, but we find the whole area to be too involved and beyond the limitations of many individuals." And so, I have been concerned to try to find a simple answer to a very straightforward question.
In the book of Acts Paul, being sent forth by the body of believers at Antioch under the direction of the Holy Spirit of God, went wherever the Spirit led him, preaching the message of salvation of God. As he went, there were different responses to his preaching. Some believed. But the majority rose up against him. These reactionaries were of the old religion. Where opposition was of such a nature that he could not withstand it, he moved on to another place, seeking those who would receive the message that he had to give. As Paul moved on, individuals took him into their homes. Lydia in Thyatira and the jailer in Philippi received Paul, went and spoke to their neighbors, and brought them in to listen to the word that Paul had to give. This is what I call "sponsorship." In many places, Paul found people who would sponsor and stand behind his presence in the community. In these places, the Word of God was received by individuals. Gathering together, listening to the Word of God, these individuals received the Word and banded themselves together into a fellowship of those of like mind and like purpose, eventually becoming the first witness to Jesus Christ within that community. So, Paul later spoke of "the church that is in thy house."
My own experience on the mission field was very much in this same pattern. I was not ministering in an area that was completely ignorant of the Gospel. It was an area where there were Protestant churches that had already been established and a certain Christian pattern was recognized. My witness was in fellowship with those local churches, preaching and ministering the Word. I had the joyful experience of being involved in such ministries on many occasions. But, this was not planting new churches.
The first new church opportunity came when two brethren came to my home and said to me, "Brother, we know of your message of love and the message that you preach. In our community there is no evangelical church. Would you come out to our home to share the Word of God with us?" A day was set apart and the time appointed and I went out to the home. When I arrived, I found two men with their wives and children. We gathered together around the Word of God. We opened and read from the Word. God spoke to the hearts of the people and after a couple of hours they were moved to say, "Could you come back again? This has been such a blessing to us in our home." My response was that I would be back the next week at the same time.
When I went back again a week later, I found that these people had not only brought their own families together, but had gone out to bring other relatives into the home. Thus; we had a home Bible study going. This continued for three or four weeks until we divided the group into children and adults. My wife taught the children and I continued with the reading and study of the Word of God with the adults.
Week after week we met. But, in a matter of a very short time, the people who were coming were unable to fit in the home of the one who had given the original invitation. The result was that these people recognized the need to purchase a property of their own and establish their own church in the community.
They organized themselves with a body of elders. They began to put their money together. They purchased a piece of property. One man donated rock from the quarry. Another man donated cement and sand. Others were bricklayers and they went to work, laid the stone, laid the brick, and built themselves a building to the glory of God. Within two years this group had called its own national pastor supported entirely by the people themselves. They built a structure behind the church with Sunday school rooms below and a nice apartment above where the pastor could live. In two years that congregation had grown from five or six people to a hundred in attendance every Lord’s Day morning.
The second church I was involved in starting was the result of an invitation from a single lady, a retired school teacher, who was seventy-five years of age. I received a telephone call from her one day. "Brother," she said, "I know of your message. The Lord has entered into my heart. He has meant so much to me! Would you possibly be able to come out to my home Sunday afternoon at five o’clock? If you can come, I will gather my family together. I want them to hear the Word of God. Would you come and just read the Word of God to them?" I told her I would be there.
I went out to the house and found five people gathered together in her living room. She had prepared tea and cookies. She had brought the rest of her family together. She was the youngest; the oldest was eighty-nine. I spent about an hour and a half that afternoon just reading the Word of God to these people. They were so touched by this that they asked if I would be able to come back again.
The next week there were eight in that home and we again read the Word of God. After more visits, there were ten, twelve and then fifteen, as these people went out and invited their neighbors to come in to hear the reading of the Bible.
The ministry continued. Soon we could not fit in the living room. We went up on to the housetop through a circular stair, leading to the flat roof on which she had built another room. She had raised the four walls already existing of the home and put a new roof on at her own expense. We met up there in the "upper room."
After some time, as the body was growing, the believers decided the time had come to organize. Officers were chosen and a body came into being as an organized local church. Again, in less than two years, this congregation was able to support itself. They called a national pastor to come and minister. The average attendance in this time was approximately eighty to eighty-five every Sunday morning, sixty-five every Sunday night, with a Sunday school of eighty-five children, a Bible study and a mid-week service. That group continued in the quarters provided for about two and a half years. They then began to build their own church building in adequate quarters completely at their own expense.
A third opportunity came while I was serving as a pastor. A woman came and told me it was too far for her to come to that service. She lived a good distance away and was unable to bring her children every Sunday. She asked if I would go to her home instead. I told her I would come. When I arrived there I was struck by her humble circumstances. The "house" was literally made out of tin cans she had gathered from the city dump. She had cut off the tops and bottoms of the cans, flattened them out, and made shingles for a lean-to. She lived there with six children. On my first visit, because of a heavy downpour, I had to abandon the Jeep and walk.
We opened the Word of God together and prayed together. She told me that because of the weather none of her neighbors would come. But she said that if I would return again, she would have some of the neighbors come in. Next time four neighbors were there. She introduced her neighbors to me and we studied the Scriptures. She had sponsored my coming and I was there as her guest.
We continued for about a month, and then one of the neighbors offered the use of his home. It was more comfortable and a little larger. We met in the new home for about six weeks and others began to come in. Then we had to move to another place still larger. Then a chicken house was offered to us, and the men came to clean it out. We whitewashed it. We put plastic over the windows. At a special service we dedicated that building to the use of the ministry of the Word of God.
People continued to come. At the end of a year and a half, that congregation was ready to call its pastor, a young man recently graduated from seminary. They were meeting together at six o’clock Sunday morning for a prayer fellowship time, for Bible study from ten until twelve, for preaching service from twelve to two, young people’s meeting at four o’clock in the afternoon, and evening preaching service at seven o’clock at night. After two and a half years, the- church was building, having chosen its own elders.
In each of these cases there were parallels to Paul’s ministry: the sponsorship of an individual who would receive the evangelist into his home and invite the neighbors to hear the message. In this way the foreign element is eliminated. The message is united with the testimony of a person in the community who has believed, and who is willing to tell others he had found something worthwhile in life. The working of the Holy Spirit within the heart of one person, and that person’s willingness to wait upon God to find the sponsor, was that which produced results in the planting of new churches in new communities.
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