ACTS 14:23
Plant Churches. Water Them With $.
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Regarding the future of missions at Second, I hold two solid convictions. One, our best days are ahead of us. God always wants to take us higher. Two, our task is not to be invented, but discovered in the Bible.

This message deals with two interrelated Biblical issues that may be integral to our future: church planting, and giving. We begin with a text describing the final leg of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey (AC 13-14).

Acts 14:23 (Holman) When they had appointed elders in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

The question is, what churches is our text referring to? There were none on this route when Paul and Barnabas started their journey. Thus, our text has to be referring to newly planted churches.

Paul made four missionary journeys. One fact we can state for sure: his travels entailed a blur of planting new churches. I remind us, all his church-planting accomplishments were done under the auspices of the Antioch Church.

We rightly think of the Antioch Church as a missions model for our church. Antioch was a praying, giving, and going congregation. After prayer, they gave unselfishly, sending out their all-stars, two future church-planting hall-of-famers.

We tend to forget the Antioch Church had another trait our churches need to imitate. It was a mother of numerous churches through the people it sent out.

This fact has not been overlooked by all. Some say the founding of the Antioch church was maybe the most important moment in church planting history.

I had never thought of this. Peter Wagner, one of the world’s premier missiologists, said, “The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches.” I must admit this concept is new to me.

The Christian life is a never-ending ever-expanding learning experience. Each time I think I’ve reached a plateau of sufficient knowledge, some new, yet ancient, Bible truth dawns on me. Actually, it hits me upside the head. In these revealing moments I am humbled and upset with my slowness, but try to yield to the newly learned duty, though I hate change.

My most recent novel brainwave is church planting. A huge church-planting movement is afoot in USA Christianity. A new mentality is taking over. Churches are springing up everywhere.

I call this movement the George Washington strategy. In the Revolutionary War, the British knew one way to fight: draw conspicuous lines, line up soldiers, fight head-to-head. Washington blurred the lines, fought from bushes, and won.

USA churches long drew conspicuous lines. Having a fortress mentality, believers lined up in their church buildings, holding off the opponents outside.

A new generation of church leaders, though, has chosen to use the George Washington strategy to blur the lines, to venture outside our established fortresses to confront evil in its own backyard. An army of church planters is ambushing Satan and setting up kingdom outposts in his formerly held territory. This is good.

George G. Hunter, a Methodist and one of my favorite writers, said the only difference between the declining Methodist numbers and increasing Southern Baptist numbers is the number of new churches the latter started. If new churches had not been started, Southern Baptists would also have a diminishing graph.

Don’t interpret this as a superlative statement on my denomination. Our 45,000 churches start about 1500 churches a year, a rate barely above the 3% needed to keep a denomination at the status quo.

If Hunter is correct, Christianity will wane in the USA without church planting. We need more Bible based churches that can resonate with our culture. In 1900 there were 29 churches for every 10,000 Americans; now only about 11.

Each year in the USA, about 3600 churches start, 3200 churches close, a net gain of only 400 per year, barely a tenth of what we need. To keep pace with population growth, an annual gain of 3900 churches is needed.

In 2004 I asked Charles and Pat Boyd to research the churches in Greene County. Extrapolating their numbers out to 2010 reveals some helpful data. My numbers are approximate, but close enough for us to get a realistic view of things.

There are about 400 churches in Greene County. If they average 300 seats per church, our county’s church seating capacity is 120,000, a number less than half our current population of 267,000. In other words, if everyone in Greene County showed up for church some Sunday, we would have to turn half away.

This scenario is made even sadder when we remember only 20% of USA churches are growing; 80% are plateaued or on the downside of their life cycle. This probably means only about 80 Greene County churches are growing.

I’m praying the Lord will teach us what Second needs to do in the area of church planting. I also pray He will touch our hearts in the area of church planting’s essential corollary, giving. Zig Ziglar’s words apply to church planting, “Money isn’t everything, but it is right up there with oxygen.” Arthur Mallory says everything a church does is in some way connected to the one dollar bill. Joseph of Arimathea is a good Bible example of how we should give.

Luke 23:50-53 There was a good and righteous man named Joseph, a member of the Sanhedrin, who had not agreed with their plan and action. He was from Arimathea, a Judean town, and was looking forward to the kingdom of God. He approached Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Taking it down, he wrapped it in fine linen and placed it in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever been placed.

Joseph’s deed was a kindness to the disciples. Without Joseph, they could have done nothing to honor Jesus’ body. It would have been further desecrated.

After the cross, had no one come forward to help, Jesus’ body would have been taken to Gehenna, the garbage dump where fires never went out and worms never died, a place so terrible that Jesus used it as the example of what Hell is like.

As poor, uninfluential fishermen from out of town, the disciples would have had to wait till the body was shamefully dragged to the dump, and then hope they could retrieve the corpse before it was burned, or eaten by dogs and vultures.

In their desperate moment, a spotlight shined on Joseph of Arimathea, a rich politician who secretly believed in Jesus. When Jesus died, the disciples could not have gained entrance to Pilate. Joseph’s political position let him in.

The disciples had no influence to take possession of Jesus’ body. Joseph’s prestige enabled him to retrieve it. The disciples were poor. They owned no grave clothes. Joseph’s wealth provided clean, fine linen.

The disciples had no burial plot for their Beloved’s remains. Joseph’s planning for his own future made the unlikely happen.

Joseph had spent a lot of money and time digging out of solid rock a new tomb for himself. It became a resting place for Jesus’s body, but only temporarily. By the time Joseph occupied it, it was a used tomb.

Had Joseph not helped, had he not given at this crucial, specific moment, he would have been forgotten. We would have never known he existed. But Joseph did give, and his gift is one of history’s most memorable.

Joseph’s generous deed is recorded in all four Gospels. This is rare. Few things are chronicled in all four Gospels. The Holy Spirit inspired Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to write this story of kindness. Each author was obviously deeply touched and blessed by Joseph’s gift.

Joseph generously gave. How relieved the disciples must have been. Somebody cared. Somebody came through in a pinch. Somebody gave.

As a Jewish leader, Joseph had to be a tither. But his claim to fame is the extra “above and beyond the tithe” offering he gave here.

We ask every member of Second to tithe to our church’s general budget, which supports our ongoing everyday life and ministry. Our World Missions Offering and our soon coming Foundations for the Future are “above and beyond the tithe” gifts. These target missions and new church plants. Foundations for the Future will be an effort to pay as we go, to preempt as much debt as possible.

God blessed the disciples through Joseph, and wants to bless others through us. Our World Missions Offering and Foundations for the Future enable us to bless others. Missions needs to be done. Churches need to be planted.