As the world’s population continues to grow, the birthing of new churches is greatly needed. Empowering through prayer and evangelizing the unreached are necessary components of Great Commission faithfulness, as I have previously discussed. The third necessary component of GC faithfulness is establishing churches. As one examines the book of Acts, the strategy of the apostles and early believers is apparent—plant churches.
Since the day when a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem in Acts 8, the believers were scattered and churches were planted (Acts 11). Interestingly, the ordinary believers who were scattered due to the persecution in Acts 8 planted the church of Antioch (11:19-26), which eventually sent the apostle Paul to plant dozens of churches (13:1-3).
What did Paul do and can we emulate his method of church planting? Paul seemed to target cities with larger populations, knowing that the gospel can and would spread out from that location to the surrounding areas. In short, though Paul’s length of stay in each city varied, there seems to be a common strategy he employed, which some refer to as the Pauline cycle.
David J. Hesselgrave notes several reoccurring elements of Paul’s church planting strategy (Planting Churches Cross-Culturally, 43-63).
1) Missionaries Commissioned- Acts 13:1-4; 15:39, 40
2) Audience Contacted- Acts 13:14-16; 14:1; 16:13-15
3) Gospel Communicated- Acts 13:17ff; 16:31
4) Hearers Converted- Acts 13:48; 16:14, 15
5) Believers Congregated- Acts 13:43
6) Faith Confirmed- Acts 14:21, 22; 15:41
7) Leadership Consecrated- Acts 14:23
8) Believers Commended- Acts 14:23; 16:40
9) Relationships Continued- Acts 15:36; 18:23
10) Sending Churches Convened- Acts 14:26, 27; 15:14
This Pauline cycle does not mean that Paul himself carried out every step. Rather, there were others that Paul discipled in order to multiply the scope and impact of his church planting ministry (e.g. Titus 1:4-5).
To what extent can we emulate Paul’s cycle in the twenty-first century today? Is this cycle really adaptable to any culture of any time period? Yes. Here is why according to Hasselgrave.
Paul’s message is normative. Wherever Paul traveled, his message was the same—the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, the starting point at which he shared that message varied.
Paul’s life is normative. The life of the Apostle Paul is one to be followed. Paul’s life is an example of Christian doctrine put into practice. Paul lived out what he knew. As Hesselgrave rightly notes, “To the Corinthians, who desperately needed an example of what a Christian should be, he could make that remarkable statement, ‘Be imitators of me’”(1 Cor. 11:1a). Paul was not perfect and he knew it. Therefore, he qualifies the reason why the Corinthians should follow him with the words, “just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1b). Paul was a man that reproduced himself in others.
Paul’s method is normative. Paul’s method is not meant to enslave us, but to guide us. Though we may not follow every step slavishly, we find in the epistles ample reason to carry on the pattern that Paul has set before us:
- Go where people are
- Preach the gospel
- Gain converts
- Gather them into churches
- Instruct them in the faith
- Choose leaders
- Commend believers to the grace of God
- Develop koinonia relationships (Acts 2:42)
With a global population over 7 billion people, reaching the unreached with the gospel will only occur as it first began in the first century. Churches must plant churches in order to reach the unreached with the gospel.