Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A New Understanding

This is the beginning of a great vision God has given me. No, nothing strange or cult-like, just a fresh understanding . As I recently began studying the book of Acts I have begun to see the story of the church unfold with new eyes. I have read Acts more times than I can remember. Most recently I began a new journey through the New Living Translation's version.

Two and a half years ago I entered the realm of church planting. Having never planted a church before I felt ill-prepared. However, there was vision from God, coupled with a burning desire to impliment the vision he had given me. So I prayed, and prayed, and prayed some more for God to give me the confidence of those who have gone before me.
In November of 2005 my wife and I accepted the call to return to the city of Troy, New York, the place of my birth and youth, to start a new inner-city church in a neighborhood that had been largerly abandoned by the church. As we obeyed and went to the place God was showing us I began to seek a Biblical plan for planting and growing this new church, as such, the Holy Spirit has brought me back to the book of Acts, where the church began. As I stated before, I have read the book of Acts numerous times. I have read through it at least once since we came to Troy. However, I felt an urgent need to not only read through Acts again, but to embark on the most intense study I have ever undertaken.
As I started this new study of Acts I began to see it as more than just a narrative of the Church's infancy. The book of Acts is a journey. It is the story of a few good men, chosen by God to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Most of you are familiar with the book of Acts, so this won't be another running commentary; as if I could add to or improve upon the works of Matthew Henry and other scholars who have already provided us with an ample supply of explanation.
My goal in reading and studying the book of Acts, this time around, is to see church planting through the eyes of the Apostles and early church, and then apply what I see and learn to a modern, twenty-first century, Troy, New York context. After spending two years re-learning both the geographical and human landscape of Troy's inner-city I had reached a point where I began to ask God to show me how to build a church from the ruins of Troy's darkest, most depressed neighborhood.
The book of Acts is the next piece in the church planting puzzle God has given me to assemble. He has taken me back to the beginning of the church, to the very roots of the body of Christ, so that He can break down and destroy my previous preconceptions of who (not what) the church is and how the church functions. Like many church planters, I grew up with the notion that church is the place we go to to worship God. It is a building and an organization with structure. However, as I have entered the threshold of this new understanding of the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit has been empressing upon me that the Church was never intended to be what it has become. It was, from the beginning, a relationship with Christ.
In addition to this new study of the book of Acts, God has been preparing me through other means. I have been reading and digesting just about everything I can on missiology and the emerging church movement that is taking place globally. Leading thinkers such as Ed Stetzer, Tim Keller, Alan Hirsch, Andy Stanley, Mark Driscoll, Erwin McManus, John Burke, etc. have shaped my thinking and strategy to the point where I am beginning to think "Missionally," and "Incarnationally," In my own endeavor to plant a culturally relevant, Christ-centered, Biblically based, community of Christ followers.
The question that lingers in my mind during this new journey through the bookof Acts is,"How can I bring this new community of faith along in this journey?" There is so much being written these days on how to plant churches. It is mind boggling, to say the least, to keep up with it all. In the midst of my own spiritual and mental workout I am seeking a Biblically defined, simpler way to plant this church. I keep thinking about how Peter and John did it, and then Paul and his cohorts after that. Their journey is my journey; the same journey I would like to lead others on. They had a simple approach...Preach the gospel, reach for a decision, baptize new believers and assimilate them into the church, meet regularly for teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer. As they did this many miraculous, unimaginable things took place; to the point where everyone in the church was awe-struck. This resulted in church multiplication as people from the larger community were drawn to the smaller community of Christ followers. They began to impact and transfrom the community around them. All because twelve ordinary men said, "Yes, Lord! We will obey."