Because of the orderly fashion in which the book of Acts is written, and because of the missions and leadership truths Luke deals with, we can assume he intended Acts to serve as a training handbook for those committed to spreading the Gospel. Unfortunately, many Christian leaders don’t see it that way.
I am convinced if spiritual leaders spent just half their time doing what Paul did, the world would already have been evangelized several times over. And the churches they planted would have been born with multiplication in their genetic code. Church planting provokes us to train leaders and reach the lost more intentionally.
So why don’t some missionaries and pastors follow the principles and practices of Paul demonstrated in the book of Acts? I asked that same question recently of a group of young missionaries in training with All Nations. Here are some of their answers:
1. Fear of Suffering and Sacrifice. Church planting is hard work. It means stress and in some cases, intense spiritual warfare. Paul’s methods for reaching the unreached and the unchurched are so radical that they guarantee opposition, even persecution and death, particularly when we plant churches where the gospel is least known.
2. Intimidation. Most of us don’t think we are a “Paul.” Pastors and missionaries excuse themselves by saying Paul was a “special person with a special anointing.” But Luke makes it clear that the whole church was moving out to spread the gospel. In fact, the powerful church of Antioch was started by anonymous laymen who moved from Jerusalem to Antioch to spread the good news of Jesus. Never under estimate what people will do when you believe in them and give them a chance to trust God!
3. Pride. Some leaders think they can improve on the way Paul did things, so they don’t take his methods and principles seriously. One missionary said to me rather flippantly, “If Paul were alive today he would change the way he did things.” When I asked him why he thought that way, he didn’t know. He just assumed Paul would learn from how we do things and make changes accordingly.
4. Unfocused Goals. Many spiritual leaders have unclear goals of what they want to accomplish. Staying busy in ministry can easily take the place of being effective in ministry. Being effective means planting churches. We won't reach lost people and disciple new leaders and plant more churches if we don't set goals to do so. In fact, I believe Satan loves to keep us busy doing 'good things', good church things, to keep us from doing the main thing: make disciples among the lost.
5. Unbelief. For some, the challenge to trust the Holy Spirit to break Satan’s strongholds over cities and nations requires steps of faith and obedience they are not willing to take. It takes faith to believe God for a new church to be planted, risk taking, daring faith. Church planters face the constant possibility of failure... but, they also see the greatest rewards in Christian ministry!
6. Ignorance. Few spiritual leaders have taken time to seriously study the church planting methods of Paul. Some even believe by planting churches Paul had not thought through the best way to advance the kingdom of God. Seriously, I have heard people say these things.
7. Confused Missiology. Another reason I see for the church not following Paul’s method of church planting is that people have changed, added to and amended how Paul did missions so much that he now gets blamed for all the slip-shod, unfocused, ineffective activity that is being done in the name of “missions.” This is especially true for short-term missions activities, where so much more could be done if the leaders of these outreaches would apply the principles and practices of the great apostle. It should be pointed out that many of the churches Paul started were established on “short term” outreaches, but those were short term outreaches with long term goals.
8. Poor Interpretation of Scripture. Some movements and churches have neglected the Pauline methodology because of misunderstanding about what Jesus meant when he instructed his disciples to “...make disciples of all nations.” There is a grave mistake in the thinking of some that missionaries and pastors are commissioned by Jesus to reform society rather than spreading the gospel. This approach to church and mission actually devalues the important ministry God has given to local churches. Christians are to be salt and light in society, but that is not the calling of a pastor, church planter and cross-cultural missionary. We are to join Jesus... he said, "I will build my church". We get to do that with Him!
9. Inconsistent Application of Paul’s Principles. According to Roland Allen (Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?), some people have neglected Paul’s methods because they have “...adopted fragments of St. Paul’s method and have tried to incorporate them into alien systems...” The failure that has resulted from these hybrid methodologies has been used as an excuse to reject the apostle’s methods. To quote Allen again: “For example, people have baptized uninstructed converts and the converts have fallen away; but Paul did not baptize uninstructed converts apart from a system of mutual responsibility that insured their instruction.” Obedience based discipleship based on hearing and obeying the Spirit as He instructs new converts is a much surer way to prepare followers of Jesus for baptism.
10. Disrespect For the Apostolic Calling of the Church. The Pauline approach to missions has lost it’s stature in some circles because some spiritual leaders have borrowed the term “apostle” to reinforce their position of authority or dominance over their followers. Others have wanted recognition or prestige in the Body of Christ. “We are apostles,” they claim, expecting have the same title means they deserve the same respect those early apostles had. Those were men of great courage who opposed the Roman Empire, withstood the fierce persecution of the Jewish leaders, and suffered and sacrificed to spread the gospel all over the world. If so called apostles were truly “sent ones” they would be giving their time and energy to pull down Satan’s strongholds in the 10/40 window, endure stoning and jail sentences, plant scores of churches among the unreached, and spreading the good news of Jesus with courage and passion.