In Acts 18:1-17, we see Paul take up a ministry challenge: Plant a church in a place where it seems unlikely. He traveled from Athens to Corinth with the hopes of carrying the gospel. While there he faced some challenges that became opportunities.
Leadership Challenges. He met Aquila and Priscilla. They were refugees from Rome with a tent-making business. Maybe they were great at sewing, but they lacked experience and the spiritual maturity to lead a church. They were normal people that seemed unprepared, ill-equipped, and unqualified for the work ahead. It is the way we all feel when thinking about such a thing as church planting. But it is exactly who God chose to start the work.
Leadership Opportunity. Paul trained a team of future missionaries in Corinth. He discipled Aquila and Priscilla. They were, in turn, influenced by Silas and Timothy. Then, Aquila and Priscilla discipled Apollos in Ephesus (vv. 24-28). It all helped to plant churches in Ephesus and Rome. It teaches us that God does not call the equipped. God equips the called. You think you’re not ready. You’re right. Be available to God’s call and He will prepare you.
Missional Challenges. Paul’s message was rejected at the synagogue. It was a closed door. These closed doors are not pleasant. They are irritating and frustrating. Like the parable that Jesus taught, sometimes, we operate in hard, rocky, thorny soil. We hope for the good soil but it is not always the case. Instead, we minister in communities with spiritual people who are skeptical. There are the Nones who don’t care about religion and look for life’s meaning in what they can do. We face the dechurched who have experience a hurt or offense by church. For all of them, religious to atheist, we are called to be on mission to them. It is our challenge.
Missional Opportunities. So what did Paul do? He led the synagogue leader to Christ and started a new church next door! He did not give up. No matter what type of soil, keep scattering the seed. It is our work to reach new people. Planting a church is your opportunity for you to step away from your native culture and enter into another person’s context of life. Paul was constantly called to keep moving and it often meant away from his native culture. Christians must not hide in an evangelical ghetto with like-minded people while those unlike us march into Hell. Our missional opportunity is to be a co-laborer with God by sharing the hope we have in Christ.
Faith Challenges. In 1 Corinthians 2:3, Paul told the church that he came from Athens to Corinth with fear & trembling. Athens was the older city and Corinth was the new upstart metropolis in Greece. It was twenty times larger than Athens; holding 700,000 people. It was going to be a challenge. Along the 50 mile journey between those cities, Paul must have felt dejected in so many ways. Since coming to Europe, he had suffered a terrible beating in Philippi, civil rejection in Thessalonica and Berea, and indifference in Athens. Don’t be naive. Ministry requires faith because we can’t change a single part of the human soul. We can’t even make our own children behave everyday. But, we have the gospel. And by it, transformation takes place.
Faith Opportunities. Paul overcame his fears & led the church for 18 months. In 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, he reminded the church that he trusted not in is his own human-based, effort-earned credentials but in the power of the Holy Spirit. The challenges of the day are merely an opportunity to believe in Christ more deeply. Faith makes the adventure of gospel-centered ministry into the norm of a Christian’s everyday existence. When we trust, stepping out to plant a new church becomes a natural decision and not an unusual one.
External Challenges. Paul constantly dealt with dual threat of Jewish resentment and Corinthian hedonism. The Corinthian Jews wanted to take another crack at the renegade rabbi. The secular hedonists likely sought to simply make fun of him. These are the same external challenges that church planters face today: resentment from religious traditionalists and rejection by hedonists. The work of the church, however, is confronting sin in both of these groups. When we preach the gospel in a community for the first time, it allows people to see that they are trusting in their personal preferences rather than in Christ.
External Opportunities. What was Paul to do? Cower in the face of social powers or stand for the gospel. God solved the problem in a public display. The Lord caused the public humiliation of the Jewish accusers. Their leader got blown off by the judge and beat down by the crowd. The hedonists began to believe the gospel. It just shows us again that we must be patient and allow our ministry methods to be constantly tweaked. There was no way for Paul to see what was coming next.
The mission is messy. Church planting is especially messy. But, if it is God’s will then the challenges and opportunities are completely worth the adventure.