In the early 1990’s I was trained as a church-planting coach. I was also trained to interview prospective church-planters, conduct assessment interviews, coach pastors and help existing churches set up regional church planting strategies. Much of what I learned during that season has served me well over the years in the different assignments the Lord has given me.
At that time I was into the techniques and procedures of planting churches and had fully adopted those systems into my ministry. Much of what I learned was good, but after awhile I began to get stale.
In the midst of this staleness my wife and I were sent to Europe to work with churches and leaders helping them fulfill God’s call in their lives and ministries. In retrospect, we realize now that God was rescuing us from ourselves. While in Europe, God reconnected us with some of the elements of our Spirit-breathed history. This reconnection happened because in Europe we had none of the familiar support systems we had back home. In order to do what God had called us to do it would require from us a new and fresh dependence upon the Holy Spirit.
Jan and I had allowed ourselves to fall into the predictable rut of doing this wonderful thing called “church” without a dependence upon the Holy Spirit. We had learned how “to do” church well – the American version. Our church planting vocabulary at the time did not include words like, “miracles, signs and wonders” even though this is the history of the church movement to which we belong. We were executing a church-planting plan, but it was only a partial plan.
The turning point for me came when I heard a testimony about Leslie Keegel, the national leader of the Foursquare Church in the nation of Sri Lanka. Over the years, Leslie and his national team have planted hundreds of churches.
Leslie said that a pastor from the United States was visiting him. They were walking through a city together when a miracle and a church plant happened all at once.
On this particular day the Lord prompted Leslie to pray for a crippled man on a street corner. The man had been there for a long time. Everyone in the city knew of his very visible condition. Leslie turned to the pastor and said, “The Lord just told me to heal that man and plant a church here.”
The pastor watched in amazement as Leslie walked over to the crippled man and commanded his healing. The man was instantly healed and rose to his feet. A crowd numbering in the hundreds gathered around the healed man in great excitement. Leslie began to preach to the crowd and then gave an altar call. People were saved and then he announced latter that evening – on that very street corner – a church would be planted. That night a pastor arrived and a local church was birthed.
When I recall the testimony of Leslie Keegal I am reminded of Jesus sending out his first disciples giving them authority over the powers of hell. He sent them out empowered by the Spirit to accomplish God’s will in the cities they would visit. They would heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons. There was no other model provided.
It amazed me that twenty years ago, I was part of a process where we would train and equip church planters without the mention of a supernatural component. We focused primarily on human skill sets. Today, as one surveys the earth where the growth of the Church falls under the heading of “Revival”, there exists in these locations a prominent place given to the supernatural component of signs and wonders in their church planting effort.
My own church movement – the Foursquare Church - prophesied in the late 1980’s a church-planting goal in the United States of “2,000 by 2,000”. We have never reached that goal. Checking our website today, I find that we now have 1,700 churches in the United States– less than we had when we first prophesied our goals 25 years ago. I had to ask myself, “Is anything missing from the mix?” We have had excellent speakers. We have educated ourselves. We have studied new methods, but still we continue to decline.
Just this year our national leadership took a courageous step to ask some hard questions and review our apostolic heritage under the ministry of Aimee Semple McPherson. These leaders are making a statement by their choices that during their watch they are not willing to let us continue sailing into decline. I am proud of these leaders for not kicking the proverbial stone down the road into another generation.
I think it is a mistake to attempt to plant churches without including the biblical component of signs and wonders in the development of our strategies. I think, instead of planting churches, our first planting goal should be the planting of God’s Presence. Leslie Keegel planted the Presence through a miracle of physical healing and as a result of that supernatural manifestation of God’s Presence a church was birthed.
It is too easy to throw away either side of this issue. We can camp in our procedures and church planting techniques and not include the supernatural component or we can throw away all the elements of wise church planting and camp only on the supernatural side. It’s not an either/or issue. Leslie Keegel modeled both and so should we.
At the time of the miraculous healing in Sri Lanka, Leslie had a cadre of pastors already trained and ready to go and simply brought one of them to the place where the Presence was at work and released him to plant a church. This is how an apostolic ministry of “sent ones" functions.
Our cities lay crippled at the feet of the Church. They are crippled by disease, by demonic powers and by the lies of hell. These kinds of things don’t come out by our finely tuned Sunday services or because we gathered once again to study the Bible in a local coffee shop. Powers of darkness that hold cities captive only come out when the Church moves in the power of the Holy Spirit.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of having an email conversation with Jack Hayford about the working of God’s Spirit within our Foursquare Churches. Like a father helping a son see the bigger picture, Jack shared with me that he did not understand why some pastors do not make room for the Spirit to move in their public gatherings. He went on to say these same pastors were raising up a generation of young leaders who were also not moving in the things of the Spirit, not because they don’t want to, but simply because they have not seen it modeled.
Today, I was processing all of this during a time of prayer. In my prayer time some questions came to mind. I wondered what would happen in churches across America if in our next national gathering we put aside our plans and simply started all over again? What if we decided that for our time together we would linger in long sessions of worship while we prayed for the sick in our aging ranks? What would it be like to set captive pastors free? What would it be like to actually see the Book of Acts work itself out in our current context? Do we really need another good sermon?
2,000 years ago Pentecost broke out in the midst of a group of believers locked away in fear in an upper room. God wants to do the same thing today. Maybe the next generation of leaders, the ones to whom we will someday give the reigns of our current leadership role, would have seen something new. Maybe the next generation of church planters would begin to include in their future church planting plans the component of a supernatural work of God along with all the other skills of church planting we have practiced. That would be a wonderful heritage to leave behind.