By Tom Hocking
Quick quiz. Circle only one answer.
Which is easier:
a) healing the sick?
b) casting out demons?
c) planting a church?
If you’re like me, you may be thinking: “I haven’t done any of those things and I’m pretty sure none of them is easy.”
If that’s the case, then you are in good company. In Luke 10 when Jesus appointed 70 people to a gospel-proclaiming, disease-and-demon-dispelling ministry, probably none of them had done any of those things. Most of them were not entrepreneurial or apostolic phenoms. They were just ordinary folk. But they were able to do extraordinary things because of a certain four-letter word-the key to church planting.
I have friends who are professional church planters and I highly respect their passion, skills, and effectiveness. But, they tend to celebrate the ordinary Christians in ordinary jobs who make an extraordinary difference in the enterprise of church planting.
Those ordinary believers are eternity-shapers precisely because they practice the four-letter command that Jesus gave His followers immediately after commissioning them for ministry. And that command? Jesus said, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2 NKJV, emphasis added).
Fruitful church planting rises and falls as we pray for partners-harvest laborers-and as we pray for the place-the harvest field-to which God has called us.
Jesus prayed for his ministry partners (Luke 22:32) and encouraged them to pray with and for each other (Mark 14:38). James and Paul repeatedly did the same (James 5:16; Phil. 1:9; Col. 1:3; 2 Thess. 1:11). So, can you-or will you-pray for ministry partners? Have you asked God to connect you with other believers in your neighborhood, workplace, school, or club? Do you regularly pray with and for those believers-that they would resist temptation, live for Jesus, and serve the world? If you pray for partners, you have mastered the first part of the four-letter key to churchplanting!
But take note. In order to pray to the “Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest,” there must be a clue about the identity of that harvest. As we pray for partners to join us in working the harvest, we also must pray for the harvest place-the group of people-to which we have been called.
God encouraged His exiled people to “. . . seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it. . .” (Jer. 29:7; NIV; emphasis added). God has placed each of us in a unique matrix of harvest contexts. He has positioned unbelievers around us (Acts 17:26, 27) so that they might see, hear, and respond to the gospel of grace and truth as we live it out with our ministry partners. Reflecting on the fact that God is “sovereign in grace, and that we are impotent to win souls, should make us pray, and keep us praying” (Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, p. 123).
My wife, Tami, and I work in Christian environments so we adopted a local coffee shop as our harvest field. We pray for and with other ministry partners as we seek to establish an embryonic church-or Spring of Life-at that place. In order to effectively pray for our harvest field we do three simple things.
We show up regularly, asking questions of and listening to the baristas and customers.
We notice needs, paying attention to the concerns and hurts that we discover.
We pray together onsite and with others as we seek to meet the real needs-especially the eternal needs-of our harvest field.
Are we church planting professionals? Hardly! But we are ordinary believers making an extraordinary difference through prayer. To paraphrase Paul, “Our hearts’ desire and prayer to God for the people in our coffee shop harvest field is that they may be saved.”
The 2009-2011 moderator of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, Tom Hocking, is challenging Grace Brethren churches in the U.S. to unite in a commitment to make disciples through training leaders, planting churches, and adopting holistic ministries. He is the pastor of the Bellflower Brethren Church in Bellflower, Calif.