The world of biblical scholarship is in turmoil after the discovery of a lost epistle purporting to have been written by the Apostle Paul to an Australian church planter known only as “Bruce”.
Despite repeated attempts, the following NT scholars were unavailable for comment: F. F. Bruce, C. F. D. Moule, and Rudolf Bultmann.
In the interests of academic freedom we decided to publish the document and allow you to judge its authenticity.
The Letter of St Paul to Bruce
Dear Bruce, grace and peace to you in Christ Jesus.
Thank you for your letter enquiring about the lessons I have learnt from years of founding new churches. I hope that what I have to share is helpful to you as you seek to plant your first church ‘down under’.
Since my conversion, planting new churches has been the consuming passion of my life. The goal of my preaching has always been not just the conversion of individuals, but the formation of new Christian communities.
First of all, your ministry in starting a new church must be born out of your own personal encounter with God.
When Jesus met me on the Damascus road, He told me, “I am sending you to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness for sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
Then later, as a group of prophets and teachers in Antioch was worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke and set apart Barnabas and me for a ministry of evangelism and planting new churches.
A church planter must know that it is the Lord who calls you to this ministry. Others should confirm the calling, but the authority to start new churches must be born out of you own relationship with Christ— for He is the Lord of the church.
Second, Bruce, don’t go alone.
You’ll need a team who share the vision. Jesus normally had His disciples with Him when He ministered. And when He sent them out, it was in twos.
It’s my practice to work with at least one other person whenever I can. So the team doesn’t need to be large. You need the strength that a team provides, but you don’t want to swamp the people you are trying to reach with too many outsiders.
Third, don’t over prepare.
If you wait until you’re ready, you’ll never go. For instance, don’t think that everyone who starts a new church needs to have a formal theological education as I do. In fact, I’m the exception. None of the Twelve had formal training. Jesus simply taught them everything they needed to know on the job. That’s how I train my team.
In the same way, don’t wait until you have enough money. You can raise support from existing churches and believers so as not to be a burden to those you are ministering to. But if you don’t have enough, be willing to work with your hands, as I do.
Fourth, rely on the Holy Spirit.
If God has called you, He will empower you and guide your ministry. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. On the contrary, expect trouble if you are doing God’s will.
You cannot make disciples and start new churches without God’s help. How else do you think we spoke so boldly to unbelievers, and how else was our ministry confirmed with signs and wonders?
I had a strategy to plant churches in major urban centres. But at all times my plans were overruled the intervention of the Spirit. Our ingenuity is a poor substitute for the power and guiding of the Spirit.
Fifth, remember your aim is not only to win individual disciples, but to birth Christian communities.
Your job is complete in a city when a network of churches meeting in homes is formed.
After prayer and fasting, you can appoint the first group of elders. But don’t suffocate the new church by staying around too long. Leave behind a body in which every member is gifted for ministry. After you go, trust the Spirit to guide them.
Of course, you will need to be in contact with the new churches from time to time. You are their father in Christ. Visit them, write to them, send team members in your place. They will have problems. Churches, like individual believers, can make a mess of things. Don’t remind me of the Corinthians and the Galatians and the . . . Never mind.
Finally, don’t just start a new church. Start a movement to goes to the ends of the world.
The only way to reach your nation with the Gospel is to start churches that will in turn start churches. Living organisms reproduce themselves, so encourage this in every church you start.
In the early days, the Jerusalem church was content just to be the church in Jerusalem and draw the Gentiles to the light. This was despite Jesus’ command to go to the nations.
It took the persecution that arose out of Stephen’s death to send them on their way preaching the Good News. I hope it doesn’t take a similar set of circumstances to motivate Australian believers to reach their nation through starting new churches. Also, don’t think the mission ends with Australia. The church in Australia will never fulfill it’s calling it sends out pioneers to the ends of the earth.
I will follow your progress with keen interest. For further information on my church planting strategy, read my letters to the churches or Luke’s account of my ministry.
In Christ Jesus