Starting a Church 14-26

There is a great deal of unease about the direction in which our society is moving and the problems it faces. So, leaflet homes in your town mentioning the worries that people have about the direction of their culture and what it will mean for their children: worries about financial crises, rising cost of living, future wars and pandemics, nuclear weapons, climate change, poor leadership, loss of freedoms, family breakdown, dangerous streets, terrorism, the rise of unfamiliar militant religions. Then there is one’s personal health and the health of loved ones. Say that ‘we’ too are worried for our country and our friends, we face the same problems as everybody else, we are equally likely to be made redundant, but we sleep well at night and we know peace in our lives. Say that you too can know the same peace, and then invite people to a meeting (give the time and place). Why? Because we are in touch with the greatest power in the universe, one who is in charge of everything that happens in it and who is perfectly fair and just, and we understand why he allows bad things to happen. Say also that Christianity has had a huge effect on our national life in the past and it is not what you probably think it to be from school lessons about religion. The choice of Bible stories to study in lessons, and the view of what in them is good and bad, are dictated by the secular viewpoint, which consequently is what religious knowledge lessons promote.

As well as letterboxing, place a man and a woman who have attractive personalities where there are crowds – in the town’s main shopping streets, outside sporting events, festivals, theatres, concerts, stations at rush hour, etc. They should not be dressed either too smartly or too shabbily. Have them hand out free drinks: on hot days an iced drink, and on cold days a cup of hot soup. Hand out a leaflet with the cups and ask people to take these away and read them. This leaflet should be different from the one that goes through doors, because personal contact has been made. It should outline why it is necessary to believe in Jesus Christ, but it should raise and then leave unanswered many questions, stating also that a full exposition will be given at the meeting (for which the time and place should be specified). The man and woman should not be drawn into answering questions.

To interest people who are already believers, you can start an open prayer group for the worldwide persecuted church if one does not meet nearby, or a Christian book discussion group (study Frank Viola’s books on house churches early on), or an open Bible study group. Advertise the group widely in Christian circles. Those who come will be committed believers, and will hear of Church 14-26. (Of course, you must want to pray for the persecuted church and study the Bible and other Christian books.) You could arrange an evening of hymns with words or tunes written by people having a connection with the area; this will bring in an audience not only of committed Christians, but nominal or lapsed ones. Testimonies of committed Christians often speak of nominal church attendance or falling away as a teenager, followed by a heartfelt conversion. (You will need to arrange this event in a venue other than a church, so that you can recruit freely.) Also, leaflets giving the address of this website, including a teaser about a different way of being church and local contact details, can be handed out at (the entrance to) Christian events attended by persons from multiple congregations. Do not target individual congregations.

Persons in other churches are welcome in Church 14-26 groups. Nobody should be in two churches indefinitely, but God will make clear which is the right church for somebody in His own time. Believers who come to Church 14-26 from a conventional church background will have to unlearn some things about how church meets, and unlearning is harder than learning; in some ways a group is more easily started with new converts. But experienced believers are always valuable.

The gospel of Jesus Christ.  At an evangelistic meeting, the gospel – meaning ‘good news’ – should be presented as a matter of truth. Do not be argumentative but do not pander, for pandering (typically by using jokes or strained analogies) suggests you have little confidence in what you are offering. Have the confidence to let people say no, if they wish. It is not as if by converting they would be doing God a favour; God is doing them a favour by sending Jesus Christ. Jesus never begged anyone to follow him. You should begin with the not-so-good news by explaining why all people deserve the eternal torment that is hell. A committed Christian understands this fact and is grateful for being saved from it, rather than resenting God for the prospect. God has the right to hold us to account, because he made the world and the human race, so we literally belong to him. God makes the offer to save us at great cost to himself, which shows his love. Begin by convincing people that they are wrongdoers, by stating laws which they accept are just but admit they have broken. Choose, from the Ten Commandments, those laws which govern relations between persons, and explain that Jesus said you should not even want to do the things they forbid. (“Do not break these laws in your heart”, he said.) These laws invariably convict; avoid things that are not regarded as wrong by our society today, or wrongful things that only a minority do. Do not condemn anybody yourself; leave that to God, through his laws.

You should be glad that God is just, for the world would be a terrible place if its maker were unjust. When somebody wrongs you, you long for fair judgement and justice. You will get it, because everybody – including your wrongdoers – will ultimately have to give account to God for their lives; but the fact that you also do wrong turns God’s fairness into bad news for you too. God’s judgement isn’t about weighing your good deeds against your bad and seeing which side the scales come down on. If the police catch you breaking any of the laws of the land then you face a penalty; God sees everything you do, and his laws are just. One wrong human action long ago started a chain reaction that has wrecked the world; history tells of the exploitation of millions of grindingly poor peasants who worked the land to provide food, and of wars for the power to exploit them, while today we walk a tightrope with nuclear and biological weapons of mass destruction. So you carry the responsibility for multiple wrong actions, any one of which would wreck a perfect world. Worse, it is in you to misbehave (although God did not make you that way), and unless He remakes you then that will not change. That is why punishment cannot end unless you yourself end. But God made your spirit eternal, so there is no way out of hell. You cannot even commit suicide.

Alternatively, you can be forgiven what you did wrong, be made anew so you won’t do more wrong in ‘heaven’, and join God there. If God did not have such high standards – perfection – then heaven would not be wonderful, or remain wonderful. For God to forgive you and remake you so that you don’t even think of doing wrong, you must feel sorry for what you have done wrong, say sorry and wish to change your life, and believe in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who will remake you. This message is urgent, for you do not know when you will die and there is no further chance in hell, no cycle of reincarnation (Hebrews 9:27).

Jesus Christ claimed authority to forgive people everything they had done wrong. That claim would be fraudulent unless he really was God; he was not just another great moral teacher. He lived a perfect life, wronging nobody and preaching personal integrity. His followers saw him die in public on the cross to atone for people’s wrongs – his body did not react to being speared or embalmed (John 19). Then they saw him alive again. His resurrection from the dead settles his authenticity. Many of his followers preferred to be put to death than deny what they had witnessed. Jesus is still alive today, living in heaven, and his Spirit lets believers know him as closely as if he were here physically, and helps them to do right.

The gospel of the kingdom of God.  It is essential also to preach the kingdom of God, because people need a cause and a vision as well as a reason to convert. The kingdom of God was Jesus’ leading subject in his own preaching, and he told us to pray that it would come in fullness (in the Lord’s Prayer). You are either for God and in his kingdom, or you are in the kingdom of darkness and you are against him. There is no neutrality because a malign intelligence, Satan – who is opposite but not equal to God – manipulates people without their realising it. He is more powerful and intelligent than any human being, and he is subtle. He is the power behind Auschwitz and behind all human systems of authority, which is why they all grow corrupt eventually. The only way not to be co-opted by Satan is to opt out actively of his kingdom by accepting God’s view of yourself and getting baptised, so as to join God’s kingdom and come under his rule.

Paradoxes must also be explained: when Jesus died on the cross he defeated the opposition, so that it is now a matter of carrying an assured victory through – although that does not mean establishing the kingdom on earth by earthly means – and the glory of Jesus far exceeds the glory of any earthly king reigning from a golden throne in a vast palace. Believers in Jesus can recognise his authority and see his glory with eyes of faith. By letting the forces of darkness wrongfully put him to death, he exposed them to the world as wrongful, and by coming back to life he put them on notice that one day he would deal with them forever. Until that day we are to be his ambassadors by making manifest on the earth his kingdom, a kingdom of light and truth and love.

It is not easy to grasp the idea of a kingdom if you have been brought up in a democracy, even a constitutional monarchy. A military organisation gets across part of the idea, but your weapons are spiritual not physical, and you obey because you give your trust and allegiance to your commander, who performed the greatest act of military valour – he gave his life for his brothers – yet came back to life and defeated even death. He is invincible. One day his kingdom will topple all others and Satan will be cast down, but until then we are Christ’s rebels against a system that is running the world in rebellion against Christ, and we must be willing to suffer as he did.

Avoid the word ‘sin’ (or ‘sinner’) and ‘repent’, which are religious turnoffs to secular people today; the preceding paragraphs gave the gospel without using these words. It is better not to make an emotionally charged ‘altar call’ about a decision that is more important even than marriage; offer to talk afterwards to people who want to know more, have some carefully chosen believers present to do the same, and take it from there. If you are more a teacher than a preacher then you can hire a hall and advertise a talk, What the Bible really says (or What does the Bible really say?). You can add a subtitle like Past, Present, Future or Identity, Purpose, Destiny. Many summaries of the Bible are short enough for an evening talk. Use the local methods of publicity that are the most effective. You must be able to answer questions convincingly afterwards. Think ahead how to deal with provocateurs who would, for instance, move the definition of sin away from that in the Bible. (You could have relevant verses at hand and say that people can google these for themselves; have two people engage each questioner, to assist each other and to act as witnesses to all conversations.) If somebody concedes that they are a sinner but argues that there is no God to judge them, respond that you know the Judge personally but that He refrains from interacting with people who want nothing to do with him. Powerful arguments for God’s existence include why humans have a conscience, why we find the world beautiful and why there should be anything at all, but Romans 1:20 is clear that people are ultimately in denial rather than ignorance and at that point logic is futile. It is a mercy that God does not routinely show himself, because sinners would not be able to bear the holiness of his presence without Christ in between.

Men’s evangelism.  Whatever is the most popular sport in your country, you can implement the following idea with a landlord of a sports bar when a big match is on. Leaflet the town saying that one drink and a meal up to a certain sum per head are available on the house (you can hand out vouchers at the entrance), and say that a brief evangelistic event will follow the match, or be held during an interval. In England, about one-third of Premier League football clubs were founded by churches in the 19th century; you can show a clip from Peter Lupson’s DVD Thank God for Football detailing this fact, or summarise his book of the same name. (Football is called soccer in the USA, deriving from its full name of Association Football in order to distinguish it from American Football; the most popular game in the USA is baseball.) Pay the landlord 50% more than the usual price of the food and drink as an incentive; he can serve further food and drink at customers’ expense as usual. Let anybody who leaves after eating, but before the event, walk out without objection. Give the talk in the largest part of the bar. Events of this type attract men; 93% of fathers who are in a nuclear family will bring their family into the church if they are converted, but only 17% of women – so that targeting men will bring more women and children into the church too (statistics from Christian Vision for Men, UK). Men will be attracted by the preaching that Jesus was a joiner (tekton, often translated as ‘carpenter’) who performed the archetypal act of male heroism: he gave his life for his brothers. Christianity offers a noble leader who defeated even death, a freeman’s choice between good and evil, and a hero’s reward for the steadfast.

The format of the well-known Alpha Course is good: each week there is a free meal (it should be well presented and substantial), followed by a talk about an aspect of the Christian faith (in person or onscreen), then a chance for nonbelievers who are present to discuss the talk with Christians at their table. No believer who comes across as odd should be involved. The Alpha DVDs themselves include all of Christianity, but they underplay the need for personal repentance and they skew the Trinity toward the Holy Spirit. Christianity Explored is a better course, or the presentations can be given by accomplished speakers in the church.

Know what you are up against. The dominant worldview in the West today is secular humanism, the view that people are basically good but do some bad things, rather than being basically bad but doing some good things. Secular humanism supposes that man can be made good by his own means rather than by divine cleansing, and that whatever goes wrong is due to ignorance, or to society being set up in a way they disapprove of. But if man is corrupt then human society will be corrupt. People have great potential for good yet it always goes wrong, and secular culture is no exception. As secularism has displaced the Christian ethic as the main belief system in the UK since the war, family breakdown statistics have mushroomed tenfold, generating a huge wave of misery. In 1990 the only people then pointing nuclear weapons at us lost their power, no other potential enemy was on the same continent, the Welfare State guaranteed people food and a roof, motorised transport and electricity had given the poor a higher material standard of living than mediaeval kings, and we had (and still have) freedom to criticise our leaders. Yet people grew more discontented, not less. What is wrong? Secular humanism has no answers to the great questions of life about human identity, purpose and destiny – who am I; what does life mean; where am I going? Children ask these questions, but the daily business of living covers them over until they recur in ill health, old age, on battlefields or in midlife crises. It is better to seek answers before these questions confront you.

Secular people suppose that the history of Western civilisation discredits Christianity. Their view is roughly that the past was Christian, the present is secular, the present is better than the past, so Christianity is false. In fact, many secular people are not so much against the gospel as against the church – specifically, they are against politicised churches, because of the role that such churches have played in the past. They have a point, for politics is about law and control, whereas Christianity is about grace contrasted with law, and about personal change in a way one canot do for oneself. Explain that the Bible does not call the church to engage in politics – the church is not ancient Israel – and explain that the church you advocate has no hierarchy to liaise with the authorities. (In democracies, Christians may be involved in politics like anybody else; if they hold power, they should not use it to coerce others into religious practices – see Matthew 10:14.) This message overcomes the main secular objection to church without denying that institutional churches contain many genuine believers.

If you preach the true gospel then the resulting church will have a good barrier against heresy. The gospel presentation can be followed by a testimony from a man whose life has been turned round by Jesus Christ. (People cannot argue with a testimony.) Do not reverse the order of gospel followed by testimony, because people should convert for reasons of truth and conscience, and to please God, not for their own sake to enjoy heaven or avoid hell. Persons who convert for selfish reasons are likely to fall away if their lives become difficult.

A further heresy is liberal theology, the view that the Bible provides a narrative to live by which is not actually true. This viewpoint is parasitic on genuine belief. Liberal theology is driven tacitly by scepticism of the supernatural, and it dominates many academic theology departments and seminaries. (Just 51% of some 1800 respondents to a questionnaire sent to 4000 Church of England parish clergy in 2002 by the organisation Christian Research “believed without question” that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, and just 66% in His resurrection.) Church liberals navigate by the phrase “Did God really say?” found in Genesis 3, and their teaching has the same origin. They define sin by their own lights instead of God’s, corrupting the church.

Be clear in your preaching that by ‘God’ you are speaking of an all-powerful Creator, and so did Jesus. When you craft something, you love it and you have authority over what to do with it; such is God’s relation to the world and the human race. Because of the interest in Indian spirituality in our culture in recent decades, the word ‘God’ demands clarification. If non-Christian mystics who claim to know God truly encountered their creator directly, they would find the experience unbearable and be scorched far worse than Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).

Muslims in your audience will revere Jesus because the Quran speaks well of him, but it also denies that he was divine and that he actually died on the cross, negating the Atonement. Point out his authority to forgive sins, and that his followers preferred death to denial of what they had seen at his crucifixion and after. Be clear that Jesus was willingly martyred for those he loved; he chose to die (John 10:18) rather than being overpowered, and by coming back to life he proved himself more powerful than death. Whereas secular people need to hear of God’s judgement, Muslims need to hear of God’s grace, for there is no assurance of salvation in Islam. Islam is a reverent religion and Muslims wash before prayer, so point out that Christ washes the inside too (1 John 1:9). Muslims believe that the gospel (the injil) was altered to assert His divinity and death; if this point comes up in questions, indicate the unanimity of the earliest surviving Christian manuscripts that he was divine and died on the cross, and ask for the who, when, where and why of such changes. If you are told that Muslim scholars have settled these questions, suggest that the speaker owes it to himself or herself to verify the claim. Speak about ‘the one Creator God’, and avoid the name ‘Allah’. Remember that most Muslims are from a culture in which dialogue proceeds with greater courtesy than in our own. They also find the situation here confusing, because our constitution and Established church suggest that Britain is a Christian country, and over half of Britons say they are Christian. No wonder Muslims think Christians are immoral! Christians must tell Muslims that they share their disgust at the effects of secular humanism, and that what is visible in society is the effect of turning from the gospel, not toward it.

Take questions at a point of your choosing, not the audience’s. Here are some frequently asked questions with links to their answers:

At first there will be a group small enough to meet in one or two homes, and the apostolos can attend more than one meeting if these gather on different weekdays. The first Bible study for new converts should normally be Mark’s gospel, which is short and written for gentiles. (The writer thinks well of David Pawson’s audio series on Mark.) Converts should be given an overview of scripture to show them how each book fits into the greater story.

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