Church planting 101

Sermon: Sunday, 14th April, 2024
Speaker: Geoff Murray
Scripture: Acts 11:19-30

As we embark on planting a church in Leven as we seek also to grow in Kirkcaldy? What should the church be all about? What books on church planting should I read? What tips, tricks and methodologies should I follow? What experts should I speak to?

The wonderful thing we see here in the planting of the church in Antioch is we have the perfect model. We see a church which is engaged, even in hardship, in outreach. The persecuted church is fleeing and is scattered yet wherever they go, they share the gospel.

We see a church which is engaged in spiritual growth. This church plant in Antioch in its infancy does not stay stagnant but spends time focusing on maturing and growing as Christians.

I do find books on church planting helpful, I do find speaking with other church planters helpful but this passage surely is a brilliant place to start.

1. New work

We saw last week, the Kingdom of God opening up to Gentiles in remarkable ways. They receive the Holy Spirit, believe and are baptised. It is the most wonderful outpouring of God’s blessing on a people who, by and large, had been under that temporary barrier that John talked about last week. But here is really the first intentional work of Christians to go to the unreached Gentiles. Believing Jews going to the Gentiles to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

With the martyr of Stephen, the Jews thought that was the end of The Way, they thought that was the end of the Jesus movement. But actually, it was in many ways the beginning. Their persecution and killing of Christians rather than killing off the church, was in many ways the making of the church.

And we ask the question, who is it evangelising? Who is it planting this church? It is ordinary people, not apostles, not ministers. So, the church is reaching new people and it is the whole church, not a select few. Indeed Barnabas and Saul don’t turn up until much later.

And what happens as they go? They share the good news in Antioch, the Lord’s hand was with them and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. (Verse 20)

The first Gentile church plant was not planted by Apostle’s, prophets, ministers, evangelists. It was planted by ordinary folks with the gospel message and many were reached, many were converted, many lives were transformed by the good news of Jesus.

What is remarkable about this church plant is that it is born, not out of a group of Christians moving from a larger church to set up a church plant in a new area, but its actually borne out of conversions. Its born out of some Christians going, proclaiming the gospel and then the church plant which is born consisting of Antiochans turning to Christ by faith.

What a wonderful thing that would be in Leven, and even as we have a few unbelievers coming along on Sundays, how wonderful it would be to see these folk turning to the Lord and actually folks recently converted making up a good proportion of the new church plant in Leven. Please join me in prayer that that would happen as it happened in Antioch.

This is the importance of new work, this is the importance of planting Leven Free Church. This is the importance of considering if there are any evangelistic avenues that may be opening up in your life here in Kirkcaldy. Because there are many who are yet unreached, but most importantly, unreached who may be converted under your influence.

We plant churches because:

  1. There are many unreached (see John 10:16 and Romans 10:14-15)
  2. The gospel is the power of God to salvation (See Romans 1:16 and Acts 11:21)
  3. God uses ordinary people to reach the unreached.

So, whether you are a part of the church plant in Leven or whether you are in Kirkcaldy, do not give up, persevere in evangelism and specifically as it pertains to this passage, are there new avenues that you could explore?

New people, new opportunities – perhaps you can join a new group or club to meet new people and begin a new work with reaching new people
Old people, new opportunities – perhaps you have been friends with someone for years and you’ve never went there with them, you’ve never had a gospel conversation with them. Perhaps this is the time to speak to them about the Lord. God has put you there on purpose. Why do you think God has done that in your negative experiences?

And we go because the gospel message has the power to transform lives as we see it does in Antioch. I think we need to hear this time and again as we plant in Leven but even in the work here in Kirkcaldy as we seek to reach new people

You might have seen few conversions in the lives of those around you, you might have seen no conversions and that may lead you to cynicism because you haven’t seen it. You treat conversions a bit like the account of miracles “aye that’s all fine and well in the times of the Bible, but I’ve never seen it.”

It is the vicious circle of cynicism. Lack of conversions give way to prayerlessness because you think ‘What’s the point?’, gives way to lack of evangelism, gives way to cynicism that nobody is being converted.

We need reminding this morning that the gospel is powerful, God is mighty to save. God is Lord of every heart, he can turn the heart of your spouse, he can turn the heart of your kids, he can turn the heart of your mum or dad, he can turn the heart of your colleague, he can turn the heart of your neighbour or friend.

So don’t lose heart, persevere in prayer and evangelism. What I’m not saying is that you go out on the street right now, speak to the first person you meet and they will be instantly converted. It can take time.

There will always be fear on your part, there will often be unbelief in some people’s responses, but it is worth it even for one soul to be converted. Do you fear how people will respond? Think of the glories which await someone who comes to faith, think of the joys of calling that person a brother or sister.

For Levenites and Lang Toonians alike, let’s remember those we are engaging with, lets remember those who do not currently know the Lord, lets be praying for and seeking the conversion of many souls in Leven, Kirkcaldy, and right across Fife.

Jesus is mighty to save. As we plant in Leven, as you who are not planting in Leven seek to reach out with the gospel here in Kirkcaldy. We are not serving a weak and puny wannabe saviour, we are serving the risen, mighty, strong, awesome saviour who calls us to go to the lost that many may be found in him.

So look for new avenues, new streams for gospel growth in folks’ conversions. Lets pray and lets go.

2 Renewing work

As we saw a few weeks back when we looked at the role of good works in the life of the church, evangelism isn’t the entirety of the church’s work. As people are converted, a renewing work begins. Evangelism is important in the life of the church, vital in fact, but it doesn’t mean it is our only focus. The end is not that folks get converted, but that they end up growing and maturing in their walk with the Lord, that they persevere, that they continue.

It was essential that the Antiochan converts, the infant church plant was nurtured and so Saul and Barnabas spend a years intensive to help these people be grounded in their new found faith. When anyone comes to faith, it is so important their grounding in the Christian faith.

But I want to address not just recent converts but actually to address us all from the message of Barnabas. ‘He was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.’ (Acts 11:23)

We all need to hear this message from Barnabas often and regularly. And even as one of the roles in church planting is establishing a new work with reaching new people, going out to evangelise, this is also one of the roles of the church: to strengthen, equip, encourage, instruct, teach, disciple believers in its care.

Let’s dig into what Barnabas says to you and me in the church today.The great virtue of our age is to be true to ourselves and what we often mean by that is to follow our emotions, follow our desires. If we feel something or desire something, we should go for it.

But friends, whether you’ve been a Christian 5 seconds or 50 years, we need to hear it again stay true to the Lord and not yourself because that temptation will always be there to live for yourself. If the Bible is true on this, and I think it is, following your own heart would be disastrous for you as it would lead you away from God and therefore true and lasting hope, joy, meaning and purpose.

The effects of following our heart – death, decay, slavery.
‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.’ (Jeremiah 17:5-6)

The effects of following the Lord.
‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.’ (Proverbs 3:5-7)

The effects of flourishing in the Lord.
‘But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.’ (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

How we need this instruction because, left to ourselves we would incline towards following our own hearts and being true to ourselves, but rather we need something far greater, we need to turn our hearts to the Lord and be true to the Lord.

And it’s interesting how they preach the good news about the Lord Jesus (verse 20), many turned and believed in the Lord (verse 21), they are to remain true to the Lord (verse 23), and a great number of people are brought to the Lord (verse 24)

As Christians, we do not simply acknowledge Jesus as Saviour though he is and we praise God for that, he is also our Lord, our Master, our King. We no longer live for self. We looked on Wednesday at the prayer meeting at Philippians chapter 3 and in it, Paul says many walk as enemies of the cross ‘their god is their belly.’ In other words, they are slaves to their own desires, their own passions, their own longings and lusts. That is what they live for.

But it’s not so for us, we are to press on and pursue Christ, we are to push ahead, we are to follow him. If anyone is to be my disciple, Jesus said, he must deny himself, pick up his cross and follow him.

That has implications for: our finances, comfort and prosperity. Sex, sexuality and relationships
This means that even in a world where the temptation is towards denying Christ and going our own way, literally being true to ourselves, that we pursue and persevere.

When all the disciples desert Jesus, minus the original 12, and Jesus asks ‘Are you going as well?’ and Peter responds ‘To whom else would we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.’ (John 6:67-69)

Jesus elsewhere says, ‘What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul?’ (Mark 8:36)

Therefore, stay true to the Lord. Whatever temporal pleasures this world may offer you could have by the bucket load, they are empty and hollow and they will all melt away one day. You cannot take your riches with you, you cannot take your pleasures with you, you cannot take your comforts with you, but the one who never dies, the hope that never perishes, spoils or fades, the joy that never ends you can take and that is to be found in Christ alone.

The point for this young Antiochan church plant and the point for you and me is not simply that we make ‘decisions for Christ’ that we merely profess faith in Christ with our mouth, but that we press on and make it our life’s work to stay true to the Lord with all our hearts and not ourselves.

Is that your life’s work? Or have you been living for self? Has God been an afterthought most days? Does he feature into your thought process as you make decisions? May he be at the heart of it all in your life. In family life, in work life, in your leisure time, in your finances, in everything. Stay true to the Lord with all your heart.

Friends, whether you’ve been a Christian 5 minutes or 50 years, keep going, keep pressing on toward Christ, stay true to the Lord. When the temptation to give in is there, keep going. Keep persevering. Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. Follow him, live for him, pursue him, stay true to him and his calling on your life to love and serve him with all your heart.

And this is the work of the church as Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations. To reach the lost and then to help them grow and mature.

What do we want to see in Kirkcaldy? What do we want to see in Leven? Surely, it couldn’t get much better than this. Reaching new people with the gospel and seeing their lives (and ours) transformed and renewed daily. Let’s make that our ambition friends, lets seek to serve him in these ways for the glory of his name in Kirkcaldy, Leven, Fife and to the ends of the earth.