There doesn’t seem to be a lot of discussion on models of follow-up with churches once the church planter moves on. Church planters with denominational missions usually connect their new churches to some kind of organizational structure (a national version of the denomination to which they belong). But non-denominational missions may not form any type of structure to allow their church plants to relate to the founding organization or other churches. I have observed churches that have been planted by one mission organization seeking help from another church planting organization because there was no structure established by the original organization. Some form of church-to-church relationship ought to be in place so churches do not feel abandoned when the missionary moves on.
Category: Follow-up Page 1 of 2
As I said in a previous blog post, follow-up is an important aspect of the missionary task — not just follow-up with individual new believers, but follow-up with churches that have been planted. I want to look at several of Paul’s epistles to see how Paul did this follow-up for churches he planted.
Galatians provides us with an example of the need for church-planting follow-up, as well as a model of how to do it. Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia was probably written about a year after he and Barnabas planted those churches on their first missionary journey in Acts 13 and 14. Elders had already been appointed (Acts 14:21-23). The disciples had been filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52). Yet, a year later the purity of the gospel was under attack.
This is the third post in my series on what we can learn about church planting follow-up from Paul’s letters. In a previous post on Paul’s follow-up with churches he planted, we looked at the letter to Galatians. There the key issue was making sure they got the gospel right. Turning to Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, the key issue is making sure they continue to grow in faith, love, and hope. Getting the gospel right is essential but making sure these new believers fully understand the gospel is a dynamic process. The biblical gospel produces in believers continuing growth in faith, love, and hope.
Thankful for their faith, love, and hope
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy were in Thessalonica less than a month (Acts 17:2) before they were run out of town. But nevertheless, some Jews and “a great many devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” (Acts 17:4) accepted the gospel. In that short time, Paul and his companions developed a close bond with these new converts (1 Thess 2:7-11) and he had observed a remarkable transformation in their lives. He noted that this young church was characterized by faith, love, and hope, and he comments on these in the opening thanksgiving of each letter (in the second letter he does not use the word hope but the concept is implied by the word steadfastness).
In surveying Paul’s letters to churches he planted, I have been pointing out lessons we can learn about following up with churches we have planted. In studying 1 Corinthians, we see two primary concerns that Paul sought to clarify and correct. The first is the need to keep the cross central and is the focus of this post. The second is the place of culture in Christian proclamation and life and will be the subject of the next post.
The cross was central to his message
Paul summarized his message as “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). As he said just a few verses earlier (1 Cor. 1:17), it is the power of the cross that is central to the Christian message. The word of the cross is the power of God that saves us (1 Cor. 1:18). This message that Jesus Christ was crucified distinguishes Christianity from Judaism and all other religions. In writing about the uniqueness of the gospel message, Leon Morris notes,
It was the place of Jesus that made the difference. To see him as Messiah was to put everything in a new perspective. Not only did the Christians see him as Messiah, but as the crucified Messiah. For them the central thing was the cross, so that Paul could sum up the message he proclaimed in the words, ‘we preach Christ crucified’ (1 Cor. 1:23). Whatever subordinate and incidental issues were involved, the essential difference between Judaism and Christianity was the cross (for that matter it is the cross that is the difference between every other religion and Christianity). 1Leon Morris, The Atonement: Its meaning and Significance, p. 11.
Culture is high on the list of mission topics. For example, many colleges and seminaries have renamed their “Mission” departments as “Inter-cultural” departments or something similar. Certainly, cultural studies are essential for anyone proclaiming the gospel to people from other people groups. But we must keep culture in perspective. In 1 Corinthians Paul provides a perspective that both confronts and adapts to culture. Culture does not form the content of the gospel yet it is the context in which the gospel is proclaimed, understood, and lived.
Culture is not the source of saving knowledge of God
First of all, Paul announces that the wisdom of the world, which is part of culture, does not bring us a saving knowledge of God (1 Cor. 1:18-21). Knowing God depends on God’s revelation (1 Cor. 2:10-13), not on human wisdom. However, the wisdom of this world clearly impressed the Corinthian believers. So Paul makes it clear that the message of the cross eliminates any human boasting in God’s presence (1 Cor. 26-31). God’s wisdom, the message of the cross, has been revealed by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10). Ciampa and Rosner comment on the source of God’s wisdom:
In 2:8-12 Paul discusses the revelation of the wisdom that came to the apostles and prophets through the Holy Spirit. Negatively, it was not known (perceived or grasped) by the rulers of this age (2:8-9). Positively, it was revealed by God through the Spirit to the apostles and prophets who received the Spirit of God (2:10-12). 1Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, 127.
In the New Testament, we have what the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostles. Culture does not provide the content of the gospel. Scripture does.
Paul’s follow-up with the church in Corinth is the most extensive in the New Testament. It includes four letters (1 & 2 Corinthians and two we don’t have – a “previous letter” 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 and a “severe letter” 2 Corinthians 2:3,4), a visit by Timothy, two visits by Titus, and two visits by Paul over a five year period. 1Murray Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians NIGTC, 2005, 101-105. In previous posts on 1 Corinthians, I have noted the need to keep the cross central and the need to keep culture in perspective. Moving on to 2 Corinthians, we see Paul defending his apostolic ministry. His suffering and lack of polish in speaking had caused his opponents to look down on him. Therefore as Paul defends himself, he provides us with an understanding of Christian suffering and gives a model of authentic gospel ministry. This post focuses on the understanding of suffering. Then a future post will address his model of authentic gospel ministry.
Very relevant to vocational ministers
Paul Barnett comments on the relevance of 2 Corinthians for us,
Thus the greater part of his teaching about ministry stand as a model and an inspiration to subsequent generations of missionaries and pastors. His comments about ministry – that at its heart lie endurance and patience, sacrifice and service, love of the churches, fidelity to the gospel, sincerity before God, and, above all, a rejection of triumphalism with its accompanying pride – remain throughout the aeon to shape and direct the lives of the Lord’s servants. Paul’s ministry as sufferer and servant is precisely modeled on that of Jesus, and finds its legitimacy in the face of detraction and opposition for just that reason, as also must ours, if that is our calling. Thus 2 Corinthians may be bracketed with the Pastoral Letters in its applicability to the work of those whose vocation it is to serve God as his ministers. 2Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians NICNT, 1997,50.
As we saw in an earlier post, the Corinthians needed to learn to keep culture in perspective. This was especially true in their understanding of leadership and Christian ministry. The leadership values of the culture were exploited by Paul’s opponents, causing some in Corinth to question Paul’s credentials. George Guthrie observes,
In short, in the apostle’s seeming humility (even humiliation 12:21), his taking on the role of a servant, his rejection of patronage and the concomitant rejection of financial gain, and his refusal to advance his status by use of rhetorical skills, he stood in violation of key leadership values and principles embedded in the Corinthian culture. The apostle, on the other hand, presents to the Corinthians an alternative; a theocentric and biblical vision of authentic leadership. 1George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2015, p17.
While not all cultural leadership values will conflict with authentic Christian ministry, they will need to be compatible with the message of Christ crucified. We, like Paul, need to model and teach authentic Christian ministry so that the leadership of the churches we plant reflects the cross in their ministry. I observe seven key characteristics of authentic Christian ministry in 2 Corinthians.