We first got involved in church planting in the 70's. The world was a different place. The end of the hippy revolution left many disillusioned by what promised so much and gave so little. The Vietnam war was winding down and America liked the wounds of a nation so bruised by her polarizing conflict. The bitter after effects of a social revolution that paved the way for legal abortions and the despair of a generation in turn, paved the way for a church planting, pioneering story that was so fashioned around street preaching and public gospel proclamation. Sheer passion, raw guts and humble obedience seemed to be enough to get planting. It wasn't and still isn't today.
Now in the 21st Century, church planting has again found its way onto the center stage of the western church's major activities [and rightfully so] However, my concern with the lack of understanding of the partnership between these churches and the Ephesians 4 grace giftings weighs on me daily. But that is for another time.
In Numbers 13 under divine instruction, Moses sends out 12 leaders who are to go and spy out the land. This is not a tourist trip but a clear culture / context conversation. They were given a clear mandate to go and find out what was knowable about these people. This was their research guideline:
- Cultural Character - people are strong or weak - What are the cultural distinctives that identify this community?
- Community Togetherness - few or many - What glues the community, holds them together?
- Gospel Ecology - land is good or bad - What is the gospel readiness of the community? Is the soil fertile for the gospel? If so, how?
- Spiritual Strengths - cites... camps or strongholds - What is the spiritual climate and history of the community? Idols?
- Economic Essentials - land is rich or poor - What is the economic condition and priorities of the people? Where do they put their money?
- Key Leadership - trees in it or not - Who are the key leaders and what are their key ideas / messages?
- Fruit Evidence - season of first ripe grapes - What is the fruit of the community - economically, educationally, politicly, spiritually...?
One cannot force the text to say what it is not saying. However one can use this great passage as a matrix metaphor to more thoroughly prepare for the task at hand. Too many church planters are simply hoping that passion, a "word from the Lord" and the promise of prayers of friends will be sufficient. Whilst these are wonderful, they are not enough. Even in these great Exodus days, where the cloud and fire directed them, God still sent them to spy out the land - find out what you are facing! Do you have the faith for the challenge before you?