“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” (John 15:16)
During the 1980s and 1990s, something infinitely significant was taking place. On the other side of the world, an explosive growth that dwarfs anything in the 2,000 years of church history – China! When my wife and I were young we planned on going to China where one fifth of the world’s population lived. At the time, there were fewer than a million evangelical believers in that vast nation. And by the end of the century? Perhaps a hundred million! How did it happen? In the July, 1980 Chinese World Pulse, the dean of China watchers, David Adeney, made a startling statement. He told why the Three-Self, government – approved church in China had made no advances during those years of Communist rule. Then he defined what the Chinese church must be and do if the stagnated churches were to live again. He spelled out what kind of church it must become. It did in fact become just what he spelled out in advance and the rest is history! What essentials did he enumerate at the beginning of this incredible burst of life?
For the church to survive and thrive it must live under the authority of Scripture, not the surrounding culture. Christ’s own world view must be theirs, he said.
The church must experience:
- The reality of true fellowship in Christ. Christians cannot stand just as isolated individuals.
- They must support one another.
- The experience of the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit and a deep reliance upon prayer.
- An understanding of the true nature of the church and the priesthood of all believers.
- The recognition of the Lordship of Christ over every area of life.
These align with what I call “The Five Smooth Stones,” the principles of biblical leadership for every ministry.
Fast forward to 2004. Around the world, church planting movements were exploding. Not the old paradigm of planting individual churches or even planting reproducing churches, but movements of rapidly reproducing house churches that envelop a whole people. Every movement was unique, diverse as snowflakes. Were there any common characteristics? In 2004, David Garrison published the results of thorough research on the common indispensable characteristics among those movements. Without them, no movement. And what were those characteristics? Two were not found in our pouch of five smooth stones, two elements peculiar to church planting movements: (1) local, not foreign leadership, and (2) very rapid reproduction of many churches. I noted that those two characteristics were in fact working, but I could find no theological basis for them.
Here’s how I describe the basic biblical principles for doing ministry:
- The Bible: making it the functional authority.
- The Congregation: aligning it with the biblical purposes.
- The Spirit: releasing his energizing power.
- The Plan of Redemption: the mission of every disciple.
- The Lord Jesus: gauging servant leadership.
You may remonstrate, “That’s so simple. Everyone knows that!” Then why do we flounder and miss the way? Could it be that we simply don’t make the commitment to evaluate our work relentlessly by these standards? Or could it be we don’t work hard at ferreting out the implications of these principles? I invite you to join me in deep reflection, honest evaluation, and courageous integration of each of these principles into the practice of every aspect of ministry. It will also take commitment to change whatever is necessary to experience the kind of life God intends. How is your ministry? What change needs to happen to see happen with your ministry similar to what happened in China?