Back to the Future
What's God doing? Where are we going? And how do we know when we get there? On one hand, some Christians are so focused on the 'new things' God is doing they tend to ignore what He has already done and how he has already spoken. On the other hand, some Christians are so focused on the past and what God has done that they are unaware of what He's up to now. Here's the key: What God is doing now is rooted in what He has arelady done. But as great as the past was, God is calling us forward to the future. And the future God has for us is rooted in what he has already done as described in the Bible.
The New Testament churches described in Acts perpetually challenge me for this reason: they were consistently probing opportunities to advance the gospel of Jesus. And no church exemplifies this spirit better than Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). Not content to build a local dream team of pastors, when the leaders spent time praying and fasting and listening to the Holy Spirit, their response was to send their best guys (Paul and Barnabas) on mission. Rather than trying to hang on to gifted people, they were compelled by the command of Jesus to 'Go!' (Matthew 28:18-20).
I recently joined with a group of European leaders from London, Marseilles, Innsbruck, Berlin, Krakow and Ukraine. We were discussing the status of the gospel in Europe. What I love about meeting with this team is that none of us has to be persuaded to go; rather, our questions are 'where?', 'when?', and 'how?'.
When pastors get together, it is easy to let local church issues dominate the agenda. The consistent challenges facing us in pursuing effectiveness in local church ministry are more than enough to keep us busy. But following in the footsteps of Antioch, we must consistently rise above the horizon of our local needs and think with a continental perspective.
Europe needs the gospel. For example, the population of Germany is over 80 million. The majority of towns and cities in Germany with a population of 5000 or more do not have an evangelical church; in Bavaria, that statistic is over 75%. In Denmark, 50% of the population claims to be agnostic or atheist. So whereas there are some great churches in Europe, in terms of the need for the gospel, there are not nearly enough.
When I think back to the church plants I've been involved with, they've all happened in various ways: in L'viv, God sovereignly opened a door; in Ternopil, a contact invited us; in Novodnistrovsk, a woman whose family moved from Ternopil started sharing the gospel; in Edinburgh, the Holy Spirit put the city on our hearts; in Bathgate, we were asked to start a church.
Every one of these church plants has a different story. But the common denominator is that we were willing and ready to go through open doors that God seemed to be opening. In addition to that, we were willing to probe and knock and seek and explore.
The accidental outreach in L'viv still remains the most remarkable two days of my life. What made it strategic is that God opened a door for ministry on the university campus - the University of Ivano Franko. Without intending to, we stumbled into an amazing network of people and relationships that gave us an open door for the future. The great thing about reaching students with the gospel is that they are open, they are available, they are the future leaders, and they can be trained and mobilized for gospel ministry.
CBU was in a position to act because our partnership team was active; we could move forward in faith in Ukraine because we knew were not alone. When Jesus told his followers to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19), he told them ‘I am with you always’. And in Ukraine – not only was Jesus with us by His Spirit, but the faith and generosity of believers like you were with us, supporting, praying, giving, and enabling gospel advance which continues to echo to this day.
Which all brings me back to Vienna. We were already committed to gospel ministry and church planting, we had already said 'yes' to God. But we determined to take an even more deliberate posture to church planting in Europe: we will take scouting trips, exploration teams, follow open doors, and actively probe for gospel advance.
Jesus is challenging us to be ready, to be willing to be proactive. And all of this is in addition to what we are already doing: Project 224 (our training boot camps), Project 215 (our leadership curriculum to train pastors) and the 2020 Vision (our plan to develop an school of ministry in Europe). Following in the footsteps of Antioch, we will resist the temptation to get comfortable with what we’ve already done.
We have some strategic plans already in place of this year: I’ll be in Ukraine in February working with our pastors there; I’ll be in Marseilles in July working with campus ministers. And we are continuing to develop our congregations here in Scotland. More than all of that, we’re going to be looking at how we can advance into new areas, initiate new outreaches and plant new churches. So as we look out at 2017, in a sense it is Back to the Future: the future God has for is going to be defined by what He has already told us to do: go into all the world and make disciples.
Following Jesus into the nations is exciting, but it’s also demanding, and that’s why I’m glad we’re not alone. Together, we can get the job done in 2017. Remember, as we follow Jesus into the nations, he promises to be with us always. As partners, His presence will refresh us as we follow in his purposes.