Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied. (Acts 9:31 NKJV)
Chapter nine of Acts provides the account of Saul’s miraculous transformation through the power of the gospel to Paul the Apostle. He went from breathing threats and murder (9:1) against the disciples to being called Brother Saul (9:17) by Ananias. This new believer, anointed by the Lord to boldly bring the gospel to the nations, was strengthened by the church and IMMEDIATELY going to preach Christ in the Jewish synagogues. What an amazing transformation!! What a testimony from a group of believers supporting, loving, and encouraging one who is sent!!
How can the rural or smaller church do the same today? Is it possible that a body of 20-60 believers encourage, equip, and send in the same way? Let’s take a look at Acts 9:19-22:
So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
How can the smaller church partner with a planter or one who is sent/being sent (I use the phrase “being sent” because all churches are tasked with not only supporting/sending, but making disciples. Every church needs to do their best at identifying and training the next generation of leaders.)? Here are some principles that all churches can follow:
- Every church can provide strength to those sent/being sent. (So when he had received food he was strengthened) Every believer needs to learn more about scripture, the gifts that God has given them, and have a safe place in which they can do these things. Every church can provide ways to practice ministry while encouraging, equipping, and giving helpful feedback to those eager to learn. If the Lord has not provided your church with a hungry disciple, open your doors to local/regional church planters who want to learn how to preach, teach, or evangelize. Give them much love, grace, and be a place they will remember with fondness 20 years from now!
- Every church should provide an atmosphere of learning/training. (Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus) Churches big and small should be practicing a 2 Tim 2:2 ministry of looking for and teaching faithful men (women) who are able to do the same. This starts with creating a learning/training culture. Does each leader have an “apprentice,” is there an expectation that the church will assist financially with those who may desire theological or practical ministry training? By creating this type of atmosphere, those who may feel an internal call from the Lord will not be left guessing if their local body will support them outwardly. While you are praying for one among you to be sent, putting steps in place that allow you to partner with a “sent one” in the neighboring town/county.
- Every church can encourage those gifted in missionary work to practice their gifts. (Immediately he preached the Christ) Give those who are learning an opportunity to preach, teach, lead, or organize. Give them some basic guidelines, act as a coach, and praise them for a job well done! When the task is complete spend some time asking questions like, “What went well?” “What would you have done differently?” “Did you achieve the goal you set?” Paul was very gifted in preaching, discipling new leaders, and defending the faith because he boldly practiced. Ask those who are mentoring new disciples in the church next door to include your church in some of their exercises. They will get a chance to practice and you will get a chance to learn how others are training disciples.
- Every church should learn about and understand their context. (in the synagogues) Paul knew the Jewish culture better than those around him (Phil 3:4-6). How well do you know your Jerusalem? Order a free demographic study from your Baptist convention, do a “windshield survey,” or do a 300-500 home door to door canvasing in the spring or fall. Better yet, do all three and sit down with some key leaders to review what each of you have learned to share collectively with the church. You will be surprised how many churches think they know their context, but are surprised of what they find when they dig. Help those in your church who feel led to “go” understand the basics of cultural exegesis. You can partner with the church planter in your area by offering help for his door to door efforts by going, writing follow-up cards, praying, or simply asking their sending church how you can help.
- Every church needs to focus on preaching and teaching a biblical gospel. (that He is the Son of God) We get the cart before the horse when we create a plan and tack this on to the end. Paul understood who Jesus was and clearly preached the gospel to the Jewish people. He also had a group of believers who encouraged him as he was doing so. Is your church clearly articulating the gospel in Bible study classes, small groups, one on one, and in the worship service? If you asked each of those attending on a Sunday morning, “What is the gospel?” what would they say to you? The gospel is a first tier issue and should not only be clearly communicated, it should be expected that those who are training for ministry be able to articulate is as well. Ask a sister church to send you one of their apprentices, planters, collegiate ministry assistants, or new disciples to do a training on sharing the gospel. Your church will be blessed and encouraged as well as the one teaching.
- Every church can encourage believers to embrace their personal testimony. (Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?) I felt out of place for the longest time in the church due to my testimony. I didn’t run wild in the streets as a teen, steal my neighbor’s car for a joy ride, or spray paint the school purple. My testimony prior to my conversion was not spectacular. It took me awhile to be okay with the fact that my testimony is my testimony. One day while on lunch break I was flipping through the radio and stopped on a radio preacher. While he preached I grew convicted that while I had told people I was a Christian, I had not truly received Christ and was not born again. The weight of my sin was so heavy that I cried out to God for forgiveness in my truck and was born again. Your testimony is probably different and it’s yours! Embrace it. Learn to share it and encourage others to share theirs. An easy way to find those who are “faithful men/women” (2 Tim 2:2) is to think about evangelism and discipleship in a two-part manner. 1). Has the person you are talking to been born again? You are sharing the gospel with them and learning where they are with the Lord. 2). If they are born again, are they currently being discipled by another, or are actively involved in a 2 Tim 2:2 ministry? Sit down with your local church planter and encourage them in their evangelism/disciplemaking ministry? Ask them about books they are reading, sermons to which they are listening, and favorite mentors they currently have in person or virtually.
- Every church can help those sent grow continually. (But Saul increased all the more in strength and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.) This one is very easy because it’s super practical. Your church can help the one among you who is called to go by buying him/her books, paying for all or a portion of a conference, or hosting a weekly/monthly study or encouragement group. You can ask them what the Lord is teaching them and praise them for being obedient to His calling. Amazon cards, Logos Bible Software gift cards, or a scholarship for an online class is super helpful! Your church can support your own 2 Tim 2:2 apprentice or send some love to a sister church who is doing a fabulous job with sending disciples.
Here is the link to the Kentuckytoday article…the shorter version. 🙂