Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Role of the Holy Spirit in Church Planting Work

We want to focus this issue on exalting the person and work of the Holy Spirit. He is not like as described by the religious cults and false theology views. They portray Him not as a person but simply as a force emanating from God. Others also view Him as inferior to God the Father. Still many religious people live as if He is not around. They hardly realize the significance of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

Church workers and preachers work to exhaustion attempting to fulfill their tasks as if the Holy Sprit is unnecessary. Missiologists seem to suggest heavy reliance upon practical, cultural, intellectual, and linguistical strategies in the work. Seldom does the Holy Spirit’s invocation or participation integrated in. In this age of scientific studies, organized planning, and fast pace technology, churches are heavily relying on humanistic wisdom to get and keep people in the church while the same workers are indirectly neglecting the Holy Spirit’s direction and ministry.

I pray that we could learn from this short treatise on the role of the Holy Spirit in our missions work. God disclosed Him in the book of Acts that we may develop a pattern towards a biblical model of missions.

Missiologists recommend the use of felt needs in the strategy to get a hearing of the gospel. They undermine the plain old scriptural methods of preaching and house-to-house canvass. They also suggest sufficient language study for the missionary. Further, mastering the local culture of people to reach is highly factored in the work of missions. They also conduct data gathering survey prior to missions proper. Though these are not ungodly in themselves, yet it appears the preoccupation is suggestive of becoming more ”scientific.” I see a diminishing trend in reliance on the Holy Spirit. There seems to be an absence of waiting and discerning upon the working and moving of the Holy Spirit. There is no reliance on the Holy Spirit and prayer. The last is more often associated with Him.

My humble position is greater dependence upon the Holy Spirit who indwells, fills, and guides us in every work we do for God—asking God to reveal the specifics the Holy Spirit wants us to accomplish. Even as we plan, the missionary worker and financier must ever be listening to the disclosure of the Holy Spirit. He knows where we ought to start a mission work. He has designated peoples for us to work with as initial contacts. He plans us to do specific tasks at specific places. All these shall be revealed by Him as we attempt to look for people and to locate the places as well as determine the kind of tasks He intends for us to do.

Some clear passages in the book of Acts will help us in the formulation of the above perspective, namely;

In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit filled the people gathered for worship and they formed the nucleus in the commencement of the Jerusalem church. The unity this local church obtained was due to the Spirit’s control over their lives as evident in Acts 4:31-32. Further, they became generous to one another as well as to their ecclesiastical goals (4:33-37). In the worldly sight of science and culture, the family and financial advantages are deemed best indicators of local church formation. This was not so at this point! How do you start a local church?

In Acts 6 they chose leaders who were Spirit dominated (6:3) and this was corroborated by their style and zeal in preaching for missions (7:55). Consider also Philip, as one of the seven, how he witnessed and won the Ethiopian eunuch (8:29-40). We harvest nothing in missions work for we operated under our best ability without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Is this right with you?

In Acts 9:31 the people of God found comfort not in any worldly entertainment but rather in the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. They were encouraged by the event leading to the conversion of the once great persecutor of the church – Saul (9:5-20). Paul’s conversion and abrupt change was regarded as due to the Holy Spirit working to strengthen the church. How do you respond, missions worker and financier, to negative circumstances in life and work? Are you becoming full of faith or of doubt?

Peter narrated to the Jerusalem church how he started missions work in Caesarea (11:2-15) through the initial contact – Cornelius. He never wanted to go there and he had strong feelings against Gentiles. This was due to his strong and skewed patriotism. Yet, the Holy Spirit prevailed and he followed Him. Then, this contributed to the commencement of missions work in this non-Jewish city. Further, a work was started in Antioch due to the zealous missionary spirit of the scattering Jerusalem saints (11:21-24). Is the very place of current missionary work we are engaged in a result of our religious orchestration satisfying our selfish desires and ecclesiastical ambition that is void of the Holy Spirit’s leading?

This newly established Antioch church began to seek and send her missionary to the uttermost part of the earth (13:2-3). They did this under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Their missionaries were also guided by the Spirit in the trip and selection of places to go and to work at in connection with their tasks as church planters (13:4, 9, 52). There seems to be an absence of indirect evidence that the choice of places was due to survey and scientific examination. Is this still the same approach to missionary work today?

After the Jerusalem council, the churches resolved not to impose upon the non-Jewish churches Jewish ceremonial regulations in the work of missions (15:28). As led of the Holy Spirit, they saw the need not to add any burden upon the non-Jewish converts and churches that may weaken the latter. Do we see this same attitude in the work of missions among missionaries and national churches? What are we doing to keep the unnecessary foreign importation of beliefs and practices that sometimes lead to ungodly divisions among the national churches?

Paul on his second missionary journey, carefully followed the view espoused in this article – the direction of the Holy Spirit in spite of his attempts and plans (16:6-17). Twice they attempted to go to a certain place and conduct missions but the Holy Spirit kept them from it. In between they chose to go to other places. Ultimately, they found out where God wants them to be (v.6-10). This Spirit leadership led to the commencement of the local church in Philippi. How do you harmonize your human duty to plan and to penetrate places for missions with the Holy Spirit’s leadership?

When Paul started the church in Thessalonica it was not an easy typical approach of church planting. It was filled with opposition coming from the society’s sectors. They only stayed there for three weeks (17:1-10). The apostle declared in 1 Thess.1:5 how he went there and brought the gospel in that city. It was after the power of the Spirit. He did not use humanistic approaches and worldly strategies in the work. Rather, he engaged the power of the Spirit. The apostle rejected the “sales techniques”, the “seeker-friendly services”, and the “soft-positive preaching styles” in his ministry there. Must God’s people use any of these worldly humanistic approaches of ministry?

As Paul requested the Ephesian preachers’ presence so they could fellowship together at Miletus, he forewarned them of the need of reliance upon the Holy Spirit in their respective local church ministries (20: 23,28). This shows the apostle’s dependence on the role of Spirit in his and that of others’ ministry. Human experience and education are still insufficient to guide us in the conduct of ministry. They are inferior to the leading and controlling of the Holy Spirit as directly encouraged in this text by the apostle. Which do we follow in making decisions for the ministry?

Finally, Paul resolved the seeming conflict in the Spirit’s leadership over his trip to Jerusalem. Consider Acts 21:4, 12-14. Paul was determined to go to Jerusalem. He was convinced it was God’s will for him (v.12-14). Likewise, the brethren who exhorted him not to proceed, due to some dangers, were also led by the Spirit (v.14). Paul did not follow their recommendation. Rather, his perceived right course of action. The rest of the book is a consequent story of this godly decision. How did the apostle arrive at such a decision? I think the apostle had access to greater information that led him to be convinced of the perfect will of the Lord contrary to the brethren’s recommendation.

May this simple biblical study on how a missionary was guided by the Holy Spirit in his ministerial pursuit serve as a help to every willing and lowly missions worker of the Lord. Missions partners and financiers, ask Him whom to help and how to use your resources to advance the missions of Cornerstone. Seek His leading and direction and He will never leave you in confusion and conflict. Pursue His will in spite of man’s persistence. Amen!

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