This post is the second part of a two part series on the Holy Spirit and Church Planting. Click HERE to read the first post.
THE HOLY SPIRIT IN CHURCH PLANTING
There really are a number of useful methodological applications that we could make based off of what we saw from the book of Acts in the first post. For the purpose of this post it is best that we narrow our focus to one specific application. Consequently, the remainder of this post will focus on the relationship between making plans and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Richard N. Longenecker in his commentary on Acts says, “the missionary journeys of Paul reveal an extraordinary combination of strategic planning and sensitivity to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in working out the details of the main goals.”
Probably the clearest example of this is found in Acts 16:6-7. “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” Here we see strategic plans being made to go spread the gospel in Asia, but we the Holy Spirit forbade them to speak the word in Asia. As a result, they had to make news plans and they attempted to go into Bithynia, but again the Holy Spirit did not allow them. What is going on here? In Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology he suggests a few possibilities:
Of course, no written principle from the Old Testament Scriptures would have led them to conclude that they could not preach in Asia or Bithynia. The Holy Spirit must rather have communicated his direct guidance to them in some specific way, whether through words heard audibly or in the mind, or through strong subjective impressions of a lack of the Holy Spirit’s presence and blessing as they attempted to travel to these difference areas.
While working on these posts I had the privilege to talk with different church planters and church planting leaders and ask them questions about how the Holy Spirit guided them along their church plant. One of those church planters was Nick Batzig who is just a couple years into their new church plant in Richmond Hill, Georgia. After asking my questions to Nick it did not take long for him to tell me story after story about how he believed the Holy Spirit had led him.
Nick shared about how he can look back and see how the Holy Spirit prepared his heart and mind for church planting back when he was an intern at 10th Presbyterian Church with Phil Ryken. He confessed at one point that he never even wanted to be a church planter because he really wanted to pastor a church he had been the interim pastor at in West Philadelphia. Yet, as he and his wife prayed for guidance Nick said it was like the Holy Spirit was telling us we were not supposed to go there much like we read in Acts 16 when Paul wanted to go to Asia. As he and his wife continued to pray and make plans for future ministry they sensed the Lord leading them to plant a church in Georgia. There were evidences of the Holy Spirit’s leading all along the way for Nick and his wife. Nick believes the Holy Spirit has led them to the two buildings that their church has met in the last few years and he believes there are several key family members that the Holy Spirit brought to their church. He told me that through all of these experiences he has learned that he needs to regularly confess the sin of trying to make this church happen by his own strength.
Nick’s stories reminded of one church-planting leader named Brian Jones who shared lessons about “Thinking Strategically” during the church planting process and these are published in the book Church Planting From the Ground Up. Brian planted a church in the suburbs of Philadelphia and at one point in the life of their church Brian felt a clear calling from God to lead their church through some difficult changes. Brian confessed he knew that the changes would be immensely difficult on the church, the church staff, and ultimately him. Still, Brian says,
“I was convinced these were the steps God wanted us to take to strategically move to the next stage of growth in our church. Three months after leading our church through those changes, we added 100 new people almost overnight. To me, the changes were clearly inspired and executed by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
From both Nick and Brian we see modern day examples of how the Holy Spirit is directly leading church planters all along the way. It is also important to note the way both of these church planters diligently made plans and worked hard. Making strategic plans do not have to be at odds with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They can be at odds with one another if the church planter assumes his plans are from the Holy Spirit. One of the best protections against this assumption is prayer.
Aubrey Malphurs is big time advocate for strategic planning, but if you read his books you quickly learn how important prayer is to him in the planning process. For example in his book on Planting Growing Churches he lays out several steps, but he believes “the first step is prayer. Before we attempt to plant a church anywhere, it’s imperative that we spend hours on our knees in prayer. In fact it would be wise for church planters to recruit personal intercessors to make up an intercessory prayer team who will pray for them, their teams and the entire planting endeavor on a constant basis.”
Isn’t this even what we saw in Acts?
The disciples spent time in prayer in Acts 1 before the Holy Spirit came to Jerusalem in Acts 2. There is a constant connection through the book of Acts between the work of the Holy Spirit, prayer, and strategic planning. This is why John Piper pleads for pastors to realize the seriousness about prayer in his book Brother, We Are Not Professionals. “Apart from prayer, all our scurrying about, all our talking, all our study amounts to ‘nothing.’ For most of us the voice of self-reliance is ten times louder than the bell that tolls for the hours of prayer.”
The other day I was talking with my dad who is one of the master trainers for Dynamic Church Planting International, a ministry that focuses solely on training church planters around the world. He explained to me that their ministry has foundational principles that they teach to all the church planters that come to their training.
The first three principles of their training deal exactly with the relationship between making plans and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit through prayer. The first principle is called “The Boss Principle” and it says, “Christ is the Lord of church planting and he has a vision for your new church.” Steve explained that DCPI believes the Holy Spirit calls men to plant churches and gives them their vision. Principle number two is called “The Power Principle” and it says, “Prayer is the indispensible source of God’s power and wisdom in each phase of church planting.” The DCPI ministry has broken down the church planting process into four phases and they strongly encourage church planters to take personal prayer retreats in order to gain wisdom and guidance as they approach each phase of the plant. The third principle is called “The Nehemiah Principle” and is based off of the biblical story of Nehemiah and how his plan to rebuild the wall was birthed out of prayer. It states, “God’s vision must lead to prayerful planning, the result of which should be a comprehensive task list set out upon a time line.” Steve explained that DCPI encourages planters to use the prayer retreats to hear from the Holy Spirit so that they can then make plans or refine their plans.
The DCPI training principles and methods seem like a great approach for equipping church planters to let the Holy Spirit lead their church. The first principle was strikingly similar to what Nick Batzig shared about his need to regularly confess to God the sin of trying to make the church plant happen by his own strength. The church is God’s idea and he cares about it more than we ever will. He is the one who has the great and mighty vision for church planting and in his grace he shares that vision with us. The truth that God shares his vision through the Holy Spirit was discussed everywhere in this paper. The early church was told not to go to Asia by the Holy Spirit. Nick Batzig was told that he should not pastor the church in Philadelphia. Brian Jones was told to take his church through difficult changes. But how did these church planters hear from the Holy Spirit? The indication time and time again is that God led these men to these places and these decisions through prayer. That is why the next principle in the DCPI training is prayer and that prayer retreats are strongly encouraged before the church plant moves on to the next phase.
If there is any desire for the Holy Spirit to guide a church planter, then he must make a vital part of his church planting methodology. Francis Chan transparently confessed that as a pastor he spent years asking God to be part of whatever he was doing, but when he reads the book of Acts, he sees a bunch of people who are privileged to play a part in what God was doing. This is why principle number two comes before principle number three. Strategic planning is extremely important, but prayerless planning is futile. This is why I appreciate so much DCPI’s emphasis on the prayer retreat and Aubrey Malphurs suggestion of having a prayer team that intercedes for the entire church planting process. If you desire to plant a church by the power of the Holy Spirit and not simply draw a crowd, then these principles and methods of prayer are the first place to begin.
 Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Volume 9) – John and Acts (Zondervan, 1984) 456.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan, 1994) 643.
 Tom Jones, ed., Church Planting from the Ground Up, 1st ed. (College Pr Pub Co, 2004) 199.
 Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century: A Comprehensive Guide for New Churches and Those Desiring Renewal, 3rd ed. (Baker Books, 2004) 118.
 John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (B&H Books, 2002), 55.
 Chan, Forgotten God 155.