In Part 1 I shared how some of the best witnesses are the neediest ones. Now, from my own experience, observation of others, and the New Testament I’ll share how some of the most effective church planters and missionaries are ones who go out, as did the original apostles, with little to nothing. As with any rule of thumb, there are exceptions to this, but as I see it, apostolics and those who send them out, would do well to consider an approach other than our typical present day scenario.
At 26 I embarked on planting the first of three churches. When I met with my denomination’s regional supervisor he asked me if I needed any money for the venture – you know, like “Venture capital” for the startup. I had no strategy or team like they have today, or any money for that matter. I just had a sense that we were supposed to move to a city unknown to us and start a church. I heard myself say to Doc (that’s what everyone called him), who already thought I was a little offbeat, “No I don’t think so. I wouldn’t know what to do with it if you gave it to me. But if I change my mind I’ll get back to you.” By the time I got to the parking lot I was already trying to formulate a speech to give to my wife when I got home to tell her that I had turned down money. We didn’t have kids yet, so if I failed I wouldn’t go to jail for neglecting them or anything, but still, what was I thinking? We didn’t starve and the Lord made a church in spite of my paltry plan and measly budget.
“Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.” Luke 10:3-4
When Jesus sent out his missionary teams (the seventy and the twelve) he told them to go needy and vulnerable; that is, with no money and like lambs among wolves. Doesn’t that sound like a cockeyed approach for any enterprise, spiritual or otherwise? Most people don’t like being needy, let alone plan for it and project it to our customers. Since we’re professional need-meeters, we Christians seldom come across as “needy.” After all, we’re the ones with all the answers and very few questions. Self-assurance and strength is simple Marketing 101. Shocking isn’t it, that the paternalistic approach hasn’t endeared us to a spiritual needy world or won many converts?
These days most denominations and missions organizations send out the big guns with big budgets. It makes sense, right? We want to set the planter/missionary up with every chance to succeed. We live in times where, in order to reach the most people, we have to broadcast the message with the most impressive means available, and those impressive means cost money – a lot of it.
I would argue that competing with the theater of Broadway or the glitz of Hollywood is lose, lose. As a witness or church planter I’ve never had much success impressing people into the Kingdom or the Church. Maybe it’s because I’m not all that impressive, which might actually be more of a blessing than a curse. Even when we do impress a person into a “conversion” or church membership all we’ve done is succeed in filling a seat with another consumer. Then, in order to keep the seat occupied we have to feed the Consumer Monster with increasingly impressive presentations, endless program upgrades, and building campaigns. Seems like a lot of wasted time, energy, and resources, especially since Jesus told his disciples to go out with full hearts and empty pockets.
I don’t doubt that sometimes the Spirit says to some church planters, “Go with God and with gold!” He’s not locked in to one MO. He can do anything he wants anytime with anyone, so I insinuate no condemnation to the person who ventures out with elaborate demographic research, a team of professional musicians, an I.T. pastor, and a five-year plan. It just seems to me is an exception to the rule that Jesus and his Apostles modeled.
Speaking of the Apostles, Paul claimed that on his first missions trip it was an illness that opened doors for him to preach to the Galatians.
As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Galatians 4:13-15
His sickness, whatever it was, instead of impeding his mission, actually helped it along. His miraculous healing from the snakebite gave him opportunity to preach on Malta, but among the Galatians it was his unhealed sickness that opened doors for him. Maybe it was because they had to take care of him while he was down and would have been willing to give him their own eyes.
He needed them as much as they needed him and his message. As counterintuitive as this may seem, this is one of God’s strategies to make disciples and plant churches. You don’t usually read these kinds of praise reports in missionary newsletters, but Paul saw his infirmity as an opportunity for his mission. What we might’ve deemed a disadvantage became an advantage to him in influencing people toward Christ.
I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 1 Corinthians 2:3
As you can see he wasn’t much better off on his next missions trip when he arrived in Corinth weak and shaking in his sandals. Again, not your typical newsletter headline! Though famed for his chutzpah, Paul went to Corinth terrified and trembling. I mean, who wouldn’t shudder? It was Corinth, the Amsterdam / San Francisco of the day! He was justifiably timid about bringing his message into the city well known for its spiritual and social decadence.
At one point, when he thought about tapping out, God had to buoy his feeble and fearful messenger. “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” Acts 18:9-10 My point is that rather than approaching the Corinthians from a vantage point of proficiency, he won them over as one weak soul to another – a “lamb among wolves.”
It seems to me that we tend, in our missionary ventures as well as personal witnessing efforts, to proceed in the opposite spirit of the ways of Jesus and Paul. We want to go out more like ferocious wolves than vulnerable lambs.
We won’t go out unless we have answers to their questions, all our own personal problems solved, and with smiles on our beaming faces. How else would we be able to impact the poor sinners of this world if we aren’t healed of all our diseases and have money in the bank? After all, that’s why we’re Christians – because God makes us healthy and successful! Yes? If we go out needy they won’t give us the time. If they’re better off than us, how can we ever convince them that we have something that they don’t? If I’m no better off than them they won’t respect me or believe my religion! Right?
I mentioned that I’m having more fun sharing my faith with people these days, and I think it’s partly because I’m needier than I’ve ever been before. Not by any choice of my own I’m feebler and share a mutual brokenness with the people I meet. Divorce, cancer, and a near empty bank account often elicits, “You’re a lot like me, maybe even worse off, but you still have faith? Hmmm. Tell me about it.”
It’s not necessarily the person with the best life that has the best testimony. In fact, I think that the incurably cheerful Christian can be off-putting and come across as disingenuous and condescending. While I love it when the MVP of the Super Bowl thanks God on national TV, I suspect it’s the faithful Jesus following janitor who barely survives between paychecks that has the most impact on the people he meets.
If you are acquainted with a prospective apostolic, you might want share this post with them for their consideration.