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
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
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
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