Recently I have been thinking a lot about church planting and what that means and looks like in a place like Oklahoma. This morning as I played in the water along the beach in Galveston, TX I had the chance to reflect upon a lot of my recent thoughts and let God speak to me. In general I think church planting is far too often done more from a practical, logical, and entrepreneurial stance than it is done from a spiritual one. Now I think the former has a place but not so much that we over plan and strategize to the point that we leave no room for the moving and leading of the Holy Spirit.
At the beginning of the book of Joshua the Israelites are preparing to finally enter into the Promised Land. The long, wondering journey is now over and the time for taking the land has finally come. In chapter 1 Joshua is commissioned by God and takes command of the people. Then in chapter 2 they send in the spies to Jericho and in chapter 3 there is a fascinating account of all the people crossing the Jordan river. It is this crossing of the Jordan river that my mind turned to this morning while enjoying the rolling waves coming across the sandbars and that I believe has much to teach us about church planting by the Holy Spirit.
12Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. 13And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”
14So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), Joshua 3:12-15
We got to Galveston mid afternoon yesterday and after unloading the vehicles we all hurriedly changed into our swimsuits and hit the beach. I was tired after having woken up at 4:00 AM to start the drive to the beach so I did not venture out to far from the shore. I played in the shallow water and took my kids out as far as they would go without screaming. This morning though I was rested and invigorated and decided to venture out much further. I reach a point on a sandbar where I could still stand with my head above water. The calm water was to the top of my shoulders and when bigger waves would roll across I would have to jump to keep my head above water. It was at this point that I began to think about the above passage.
Any of us that have been in church for some time have surely heard of the dramatic crossing of the Red Sea and how God parted the waters before Moses or any of the Israelites set foot into the sea bed. This crossing of a body water is very different. Both are miraculous and amazing but I think this Joshua passage speaks to what it is like to set out to plant churches by and through the leading of the Holy Spirit. When the priests carrying the ark of the covenant first lifted their feet to step into the Jordan River they were not lifting the feet over dry ground. No they were lifting it over water. They weren’t just lifting it over calm or relatively calm shallow water either. No they were lifting their feet over roaring flood stage waters. The Jordan River is normally 90-100 feet wide and ranges from 3-9 feet deep. In flood stage this is increased dramatically sometimes reaching widths up to 1 mile and depths of 150 feet. This spring and summer those of us in Oklahoma have come to better appreciate flood waters. As I was bouncing and frolicking in almost 5.5 foot water this morning I began to imagine what it would be like to take a step over roaring deep water and trusting that when I brought my foot down it would be on dry land. It would take some faith that is sure!
That is the same type and level of faith it takes to pursue Spirit led church planting. When you say yes to God that you are going to plant a church and follow where His Spirit leads then you may not know where your foot will hit when you take that next step or the next one or the next one or the one after that. Your trust and dependence has to be firmly embedded in God. This is the type of church planting we need.
When we plant churches through the direction of the Holy Spirit that is what will happen. The Holy Spirit will move and call people to Christ. It may be tens, it may be tens of thousands. It may be messy at times and it may be trying and difficult. It will require deep faith and a continual openness to saying yes to where and how the Spirit leads. It is what is deeply needed though. Let’s follow God into the deep waters and plant churches as His Spirit directs!