Live blog 10: Missional Church Planting conference

Communications Staff — May 14, 2009

Speaker: Chuck Lawless, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism at Southern Seminary.

Lawless has served as pastor of two different congregations in Ohio, and is the author of ‘Membership Matters,’ ‘Spiritual Warfare,’ ‘Discipled Warriors’ and ‘Making Disciples through Mentoring.’

Session title: Spiritual warfare and church planting

Lawless recounted the story of a boy in his class in seventh grade challenging him to become a Christian day after day. Lawless went to church that summer once so he could tell the boy that he had been to church to get him off his back.

At the church service, Lawless was convicted of his need for Christ, went forward at the invitation and professed faith in Christ that day. He also sensed God calling him to vocational ministry that day.

Lawless noted that Ephesians 6 tells us that we wrestle against rules, authorities and spiritual forces of evil, not against people around us.

‘Paul could easily have looked at the jailer and looked at the jail cell around him and said, ‘he is the enemy. These people holding me here are the enemy.’ But Paul did not do that. We know of the time when Paul and Silas were in jail and they were singing and praising God at midnight and they eventually led the jailer to the Lord. They were able to do this, because they knew the jailer was not their enemy.’

From Genesis to Revelation the Bible tells God’s people that they are in a war.

‘Every time we share the Gospel with a lost person, we have engaged in war. And we are on the offensive, marching against hell with the Gospel. But if we do not wear the armor of God as we do this, the enemy will shut us down before we ever get started.’

In Eph. 6:10, Paul tells believers to be strengthened by the Lord. There is an external power that God gives us. In Eph. 6:11, Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God.

‘Because we have God’s armor and we fight by His might, we can win.’

Lawless went to Exodus 14, before he parts in the Red Sea in front of Israel, and noted that God is the one who saved Israel. Lawless the theme of God being the warrior for His people is repeated over and over again throughout Scripture.

If God is for us, then who can be against us? No one. Christians should live knowing that God has the victory and we are on His side.

The Enemy’s Goals

The enemy wants you to mess up, give up and/or get puffed up.

‘The enemy wants us to mess up: he wants us to fall into sin. If we fall into sin, we lose our witness. Or he wants us to give up: we are fighting for righteousness and trying to plant this church and nothing is working. There is no hidden sin in your life, you are just discouraged. And Satan tries to get you to give up.’

‘Or he wants us to get puffed up: maybe God does bless your work and He is using you a mighty way. Maybe the state newspaper is writing about you and the community is getting to know you name. And you are beginning to get puffed up. The enemy wants us to think it is about us instead of about the glory of God’s name.’

‘When we get puffed up we are in danger of messing up. If we mess up, then the enemy begins beating us up for our sin and we give up. They all go together. If you have given yourself to planting a healthy, God-centered congregation then you can rest assured that there is a target on your back for the enemy.’

Dangers in church planting

  • Aloneness: lack of accountability.

Ask yourself this question: ‘Am I hiding anything?’ The enemy works in hiddeness. In church planting, you often don’t start with a core of people. You are out there by yourself, and when you are by yourself you can’t handle the enemy’s attacks as well. You are vulnerable.

‘I travel a lot. My wife always knows where I am when I travel. I call her on the way to the airport and when I land at the other airport. I call her when I get the rental car and when I get to my hotel. I call her when I get up in the morning and before I go to bed. I want her to know where I am at all times. Whenever I can, I want to take people with me when I travel. I don’t want to be alone: there is danger in that.’

  • Bitterness: lack of forgiveness.

Church planters so often are people who get angry and stay angry. Some church planters have an innate frustration with the established church. If one of the reasons you want to plant a church is because you don’t like any established churches, I want to caution you. Satan is probably going to try to establish a root of bitterness in your life.

‘If we find ourselves bitter against some kind of strategy or approach to church, we need to get over it because the enemy is winning there.’

  • Self-dependence: lack of prayer

Satan attacks us in our weaknesses and our strengths.

‘I am convinced that most of us who are leaders in God’s church can do most of what we do in our own power without the church ever even noticing.’

Leaders of churches are typically the spiritual leaders in the church and they usually set the pace in spiritual growth and maturity in the church. We should ask people to pray for us in our strengths, as well as our weaknesses. We don’t ask for prayer in our strengths, because we don’t think we need help there.

‘In our churches, we usually start praying when we face a mountain we cannot climb. If we can climb the mountain on our own, then we don’t pray.’

Church planters often bathe the church plant in prayer at the beginning. But if things go well, then the better things go, the less we pray.

  • Reactionary leadership: lack of strategic thinking.

Why is lack of planning a warfare issue? Because Paul says that we put on the armor of God so that we can stand against the tactics of the devil and the schemes of the devil.

The devil is planning to get us and our churches are vulnerable to that because our churches don’t have a plan at all. So many churches operate from Sunday to Sunday to Sunday.

When you make a plan and carry it out well, then that is an attack against the enemy.

  • Discouragement: lack of hope.

Church planters start off with goals and a plan. Then things go slowly. We thought people would flock to hear us and they don’t flock to here us. We thought we had a plan for a building in place and that falls through. When these, and other discouraging things, happen, we are tempted to be discouraged. And we are tempted to fight things on our own. God is the warrior and we have to rely on Him.

  • Evangelism exclusivity: lack of a discipleship strategy.

Church planters are excited about evangelism and praise the Lord for that. That is good. But if we don’t have a discipleship strategy for converts, then we are in trouble.

When we pray for God to help us put on the full armor of God, Paul is not saying that we have to pray this ethereal prayer every morning. ‘Lord help me put on the belt of truth…’ Paul is saying that we have to live truth, speak peace and appropriate what God gives us in salvation. We have to read the Word and love the Word and we have to pray for each other in this war.

Paul is saying that if you want to win the war you have to live the truth. You have to know the Truth, Jesus, you have to read the truth, the Word, and you have to live the truth.

‘We have to teach new believers how to wear the full armor of God. If we don’t, the enemy is going to shoot him down in the battle. Either we teach him how to wear the full armor of God or he loses.’

Analogy: If you were to learn that your wife is pregnant and you have nine months to get ready, what are you going to do? You are going to get a room ready. If you learn the gender, you are going to start picking out clothes. You don’t wait until the baby is born, because you know he is coming.

We need to be prepared for converts. We know they are coming and we need to be ready for them. If we aren’t ready for them, maybe God will send them to other churches.

  • Discipleship exclusivity: lack of an evangelism strategy.

There are many churches that have far more people on their churches than regularly come to church. Many church planters now see that and are preparing to have a robust discipleship strategy. They have plans and strategies and they are ready for discipleship.

But if you aren’t doing evangelism, if you aren’t focused on doing evangelism, then you are creating a classroom, not a church. You are creating a seminary, not a church.

  • Pragmatitis: lack of attention to the spiritual battle.

We do have to ask the question ‘Is this working?’ That is the right question. We are called to make disciples and if we are not making disciples, we are right to ask, ‘Why is this not happening?’ ‘Is there a reason why people are not coming to this congregation?’ We have to ask these questions. We have to be open to using different methods.

But if we don’t recognize the depth of the battle, then we will leave everything on a surface level and we won’t really be addressing what we need to address. We work only on the surface level. The attack of the enemy could be playing a role in our difficulties.

Responses

  • Wear the full armor of God.

Are you characterized by the armor of God? Are you characterized by truth? Are you known as one who tells the Word, who proclaims the good news?

Are you a person who is living in the Word? Are you a person who has time alone with God, so that when you step into a pulpit, God is the overflow of your life?

  • Teach your team to do the same … don’t assume.

Don’t assume that just because someone wants to be a part of your church planting team that they are wearing the full armor of God. The devil might move into your church via your team. As a church planter, your team is your first disciples. If someone says they don’t want to worry about their spiritual life, they just want to help plant a church, then they don’t need to be on your team.

  • Teach new believers as well.

Do you have a strategy to teach new believers? Paul says wear the full armor of God because you can’t separate the pieces. If Paul says wear the belt of truth, how do you do that? You have to look to the truth, to the Word. If you want to know what righteousness is, how do you do that? You have to look to the truth, to the Word. Can you be righteous without being truthful? No: I can’t be righteous and a liar.

All of the armor is so interconnected that you can’t pull the pieces apart. You need to teach new believers early how to put on the full armor of God. And it is important to teach how to do this, when their fire for God is the hottest.

  • Build prayer into the DNA of your church.

When your church plants prays, are you praying reactively or proactively? Are you praying in response to, or are you in praying in reaction to? Typically in churches, we pray for people after they are struggling, when they are sick and when they are sin.

Because we pray in reaction, in many ways, the enemy is directing the way that we pray. Instead, we want to be proactive in our prayers, praying for people’s spiritual walk, praying for new believers and praying for our church.

‘Go plant churches that make hell shake.’

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