1 Thess 1: 7-8 – Preaching from ChristChurch London’s Sunday Service
I’d like to just tell you about one funny episode of a holiday in Devon. We shared a holiday home with some great friends of ours called the Rosiers, who we know from our old church in Birmingham. Anyway, at about 7.45pm each evening Angus Rosier would put his children to bed and I’d put ours to bed.
Towards the end of the week, Angus had a hilarious conversation with his eight year old son Solomon that went like this:
Gus said: “Son, tonight we’re going to talk about prayer.”
Sol says: “There’s no point Dad. Praying is useless, it doesn’t work.”
Gus is shocked by this response. He says:
“Sol, I’m really sorry to hear you say that. I wonder, have you been praying for something and it hasn’t happened?”
“Well actually I have, and coming on this holiday has made me realize prayer made absolutely no difference.”
Gus’s curiosity by this stage has reached fever pitch. He asks his son: “Well what is it? What have you been asking God for?”
Sol says: “I’ve been praying that Adrian Holloway’s hair will grow back but he’s balder than ever.”
Some other summer stuff to report back before we get into our subject. A number of you have asked for some feedback from both Soul in the City and Newday
Soul in the City was, of course, one of the largest missions London has seen for many years. As you probably know, it ended with Tim Hughes leading worship in front of 15,000 people in Trafalgar Square.
A number of you have been asking about our involvement, and I know some of you very kindly prayed for me over the two weeks. I spoke a number of times at different evangelistic events, and praise God, we saw people becoming Christians for the first time in good numbers at all of them.
The highlight was on the Wednesday of the first week, when we had Soul in the South at the Brixton Academy. We had about 3,000 young people there, for a concert of urban jungle, rap, hip hop, raga and dance acts. And as you can imagine I was totally in my element on stage amongst the break dancers and body poppers.
We did an evangelistic preach and saw 200 people respond and come forward, and we took them out up to the circle above the main auditorium, where we counseled all 200 who were responding. And I’m delighted to report that we prayed with 80 of them to receive Christ for the very first time. So 80 people became Christians in an upstairs room at the Brixton Academy.
Then two weeks later, we went up to Newday. Newday is a summer youth event for teenagers in the Newfrontiers family of churches in the UK. We had 3,500 young people camping in Newark near Nottingham.
And the week was transformed really on Monday night when we had such torrential rain that all the kids had to be evacuated offsite. It was the heaviest rain in Newark for 200 years. The Nottingham County Council emergency rescue plan was put into operation.
And all the kids were moved into local leisure centres, church halls etc. But their attitude was amazing. As they were bussed offsite at 2.30am in the morning, they sang worship songs on the coaches. In fact, one of the bus drivers was so impressed by the kids attitude that he was in tears and he later said that he’d be looking to go to a church the following Sunday.
In the leisure centers, the kids spontaneously shared communion with each other, and held impromptu worship meetings, and they were determined that the event would continue.
And it did. The weather turned, and the first meeting back was unforgettable. It just seemed that the whole spiritual temperature had gone up a couple of notches, and I thought we had an exceptional time.
On the penultimate night, we preached the gospel and we had a tremendous response. We took them all out into a building nearby. And 78 of them became Christians for the first time – they’d been invited along by Christian friends etc. And 207 people made re-commitments to Christ.
Meanwhile back in the main auditorium, we then began to pray for the sick, and by the end of the evening, 43 people had come to the front of the main meeting, to give testimony of how they’d been healed and what they’d been healed of. We got some of them onstage to give their testimonies. But all 43 wrote down their healing testimony. So we praise God for that, it was a real answer to prayer.
Dave came and spoke on the final night. He prayed for people to be baptized in the spirit and for others to speak in tongues, and immediately he prayed, scores of people put up their hands to say that they’d either been baptized in the spirit for the first time, or that they had spoken in tongues for the first time. I was watching along the front row, who were pressed against the stage, and virtually all of them said they’d spoken in tongues for the first time, just like that. So it was a fantastic send off and climax to the week.
So the kingdom of God is advancing, and loads of people are becoming Christians.
Now in our experience, people becoming Christians is relatively rare. However, when we read the book of Acts we find that it’s normal. In fact, it is the only way whereby churches are planted.
Now, today, nearly 2000 years later, it is possible to get a church started in a city like London simply by gathering existing Christians. And don’t get me wrong, that’s very exciting. Julia and I are having the time of our lives. But as we plant this church, we must remember that gathering believers and forming a church, is only one aspect of church planting. The main dynamic of urban church planting in the Bible is Christians evangelizing non-Christians.
And that’s why in these few weeks before the launch of our church on 3 October, as we’re talking about building a church planting team, we must talk about why we plant churches. And the number one reason we plant churches, is because Britain is largely unevangelized. Millions of people in London have either never head the gospel or they’ve never had the gospel properly explained to them. New churches, and people moving in to start new churches can reach such people.
I was brought up in London, but I didn’t go to church or understand what Christians believed until I met Caroline Payne and Rachel Ford. They befriended me and about 20 of my friends and took us through it, and that’s how I became a Christian.
And in the book of Acts, Paul was going to cities where there were no existing Christians, so 100 per cent of church growth had to be through non-Christians being saved and added. That’s how churches were planted. There was no transfer growth.
So whether you’ve already said “Christ Church London is my church” or whether you’re here for the first time and you’re ‘just looking’ at this early stage I want to ask today, ‘as we go about planting Christ Church, Central London, what can we learn from church planting in the Bible?’
We’re going to look at 1 Thessalonians chapter 1.
Because, there is one church in the New Testament, which is described as being a “model” church! That sounds like a church we could learn from. This model church was in the Greek city of Thessalonica. Paul says to the church at Thessalonica:
“You became imitators of us and of the Lord . . . and so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere.”
(1 Thessalonians 1:7-8)
Now, let’s just remind ourselves where this model church was.
Paul is saying that this church at Thessalonica became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia, which is impressive enough, but he goes on to say that their faith in God had become known everywhere.
Now, bearing in mind that the commentators tell us that this letter was written less than a year after the church was started, we want to know, ‘how did this church become so successful in it’s evangelism that Paul was able to say that they became a model to all the believers throughout Greece and that their faith in God had become known everywhere?’
Let’s just look at what we know about how the Thessalonian church was started.
In 49AD, Paul is here in Asia Minor, and he’s on a mission from God. His ambition is to take the good news about Jesus throughout the whole of the Roman Empire, but so far, he hasn’t even made it into Europe.
Then one night he sees a vision of a man from Macedonia begging him to come over the Aegean Sea.
Paul immediately does goes over to help, and the first place he spends any time in is Philippi.
Now when Paul enters Europe, we quickly see that he has got a plan.
He has got a very obvious strategy about how he is going to reach those who don’t know Jesus. His strategy is “To the Jew first”
He goes first to the Jews, who were the easiest to reach.
They spoke the same language, they believed the same Old Testament, they shared the same traditions, they had the same view of the world. Paul looked for people who were culturally the same as him. His evangelistic strategy was “to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile.”
At Philippi, he goes to the Jews. And at Philippi, a Jewish woman called Lydia becomes Paul’s first convert in Europe, and a church is started. But he also gets imprisoned, and so eventually he heads south, without stopping at Amphipolis and Appollonia, probably because they didn’t have a synagogue, to Thessalonica. Now Thessalonica has got a Synagogue.
When we read Acts 17, we see that Paul also wins Jews to Christ in Thessalonica, as well as a large number of Greeks and quite a few prominent women.
Again, stunning success, but once again, opposition followed, and a riot was started. After the riot, Paul moved on via Berea and Athens to Corinth.
And when Timothy joins Paul in Corinth with a progress report from Thessalonica, Paul is so thrilled by how well the Thessalonian church is doing that he immediately writes them a well done letter which is 1 Thessalonians.
What we want to know is, “how come the Thessalonians’ faith had within a few months become known all over the world?”
And in the text we find our answer. Paul says to the Thessalonians here: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord, and the Lord’s message rang out from you . . .”
They copied Paul. The Thessalonains copied Paul. Paul had taught them Christianity and the only form of Christianity they knew was evangelistic. Paul, himself, had won them to Christ. Paul had modeled evangelism to them. The Thessalonians did evangelism, presumably because, they thought “well, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? That’s what Christians do. It’s certainly what Paul does.” And Paul unashamedly told his churches to copy or imitate him.
Paul said the same thing to the Corinthian church: “I urge you to imitate me.” (1 Cor 4:16)
But Paul wasn’t being arrogant, in saying this, because he himself was following Christ. Paul also told the Corinthians to “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1)
Here he tells the Thessalonians, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord”, that is the Lord Jesus. Now does Jesus have any advice or instructions for us in terms of how we do evangelism? What, for example, did Jesus tell the seventy-two disciples when he sent them out? Jesus told them that that they should look for “a man of peace”. (Luke 10:6). It seems that Paul followed Jesus advice.
Paul followed the strategy Jesus gave to the 72 disciples, when Jesus told them to target potentially sympathetic people. We know for a fact that Paul looked for people like him.
And we can do the same. Some men or women of peace are sympathetic towards you because they share a common interest with you.
Roger Carswell is a seasoned evangelist doing week-long missions. He comes to a church on a Monday, and then he speaks at evangelistic events all through the week, then he leaves on the Sunday.
And he says that of course the irony of it is that in this country, most churches who hire him, don’t manage to get many non-Christians to come to the evangelistic events.
But I heard Roger speak recently about a mission he did at a church in Hampshire, near Ringmer called Poulner Baptist Church. He turns up on a Monday, and at the first evangelistic event, it seems that there are lots of non-Christian guests. He thinks wow, maybe it’s a one-off, but then Tuesday the same, and by Wednesday, he thinks this is amazing, what’s going on?
So he asked the church administrator. He said: “I’ve been doing these missions for donkey’s years, I’ve never known a church manage to bring so many non-Christians to evangelistic events.” And she replied “Well, it’s simple, we decided some years ago, that to become a member of Poulner Baptist Church, you had to become a member of something else as well.”
And then she turned to him and looking at the church folks she said, “so for example, he’s a member of the bowls club, he’s a member of the Rotary, she’s in a darts team, she plays badminton, those two do aerobics, he goes on archaeology digs, she goes hang-gliding,” and so on.
And the administrator says, “so it’s easy, every time we ever put on any evangelistic event, everyone’s got lots of people to invite.”
Now Poulner Baptist Church have a dream. Their dream is to make a difference in the village of Poulner.
But they’ve got more than a dream, they’ve also got a simple strategy which is making their dreams come true. And better still their strategy is fun! Every single member of the church has discovered that they can do evangelism and have the time of their lives in the process.
Now what’s your thing?
What your interests are could depend upon what stage of life you’re at. Our life revolves somewhat around our children.
For example, three months ago, at a “multicultural evening” at our 4 year old daughter’s school, Esther introduced us to her Kurdish friend’s Dad. Seeing as he’d grown up in Iraq, I asked him if he was a Moslem. “Funny you should ask,” he replied, and then proceeded to describe his profound intellectual rejection of Islam. Picture the scene, everyone’s in fancy dress, and as the steel drums played in the background, I asked him what he thought of Jesus. “We need to talk about this,” he replied.
So with Esther, I go over and visit him and his daughter for 2 hours at their flat. We talk about Islam for 2 hours, and we discover, we both have major problems with it. At the end of it, he says, “why don’t you come over for a Saturday evening. Bring all your family and my wife, (who is a doctor in a local hospital) will cook you some of our traditional Kurdistani food.” I say: “Great.”
Then a few days later, Mira, his wife, phones up and she says “why don’t you come over at 3.00pm on Saturday?” We think, ‘great it’s an afternoon as well as an evening meal.’
Anyway that Saturday, we’re on our way over there and we realize that we haven’t had lunch. The kids are hungry, so we all go to McDonalds in Chelsea at 2.30pm and I have a Big Mac, large fries and a large strawberry milkshake. We arrive at 3.00pm at their flat. But then to our horror at half past three, she says, “Why don’t’ we sit down and have our meal together?” and she brings out the most enormous spread of food I have ever seen. And I think “Oh no, it’s not an evening meal, it’s a 3.30pm meal.”
And I’m totally full of strawberry milkshake but I’m eating a bit of everything. There is nothing worse than eating when you’re not hungry. And I can tell you I didn’t eat anything for 24 hours after this, but we had the most amazing conversation. Basically he’s rejected Islam, but hasn’t got anything to put in its place. So we had a long discussion about miracles as we presented the case for Christ. More importantly, as we got up to leave, they said: “We want to be with you. We want you to be our friends.”
Meanwhile a funny thing happened in the street a few weeks ago. I’m just going to the car, and this guy comes out of his house, with his kids. Now I am fairly chatty when I meet neighbours, but this guy is just as friendly as I am. In fact, he’s more friendly than I am. It’s also clear from other things he says that he is most definitely not a Christian.
I think ‘I’ve never had this before.’ I say something friendly, he says something more friendly. I say, “Let’s meet up, why don’t you come over,” he says, “Let’s meet up lots of times, come over whenever you want.” Then at the end of the conversation, he gives me his business card, and it turns out he’s the manager of the local health club.
I think “aah.” And I’m telling Julia the story that night, and I say to her, that was when I realized that he had an ulterior motive, and Julia says: “so did you”.
Anyway, it just so happens that Julia had already decided to join this health club even before we’d met this guy. So the question became now he’s got our money would he be just as friendly, and the answer is yes. I now know him quite well and he’s totally genuine.
Anyway we’re in his back garden the other day, and he and his wife say, “we don’t know anything about religion, but have you ever read ‘The Da Vinci Code’?” Before I could answer, they’d enthusiastically leant me Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, which I am now reading. It attempts to subtly debunk historic Christianity. It says “there’s a conspiracy. The Vatican and Pope don’t want you to know but Jesus never died on the cross, he ended up marrying Mary Magdalene, and all through the Middle Ages the Templars kept it secret, until now.”
Now I’ve read all this stuff before. Historically it doesn’t’ have a leg to stand on, but it gives us a great chance to go back to them and naturally pick up the subject.
Also Julia has just had a breakthrough with a couple we’ve been friends with for years. They have no awareness of God. They are unable to conceive of the existence of God. In fact at one point, we went for about 4 years without any conversations about Christ or Christianity at all. Then, the other night Julia came home to say that she’d just spoken for two hours about ‘The Holy Spirit’ with them. We invited them to our Life Group social at the Crusting Pipe wine bar in Covent Garden, which they thoroughly enjoyed. I got an email the next morning from them saying “we must do this again.”
The point of the Life Group social is that it’s there that as a Life Group we get to meet and befriend each others non-Christian friends. Now as a result of meeting at the Crusting Pipe some of the Christians and non-Christians who met each other that night, including this couple, have now arranged to do an evening class together every week until Christmas.
And this is how we as Christ Church, London will make an impact. It’s not just solo fishing, me and my non-Christian friend, here. You and your non-Christian friend there, but as Christians we do Bible study on a Wednesday night. No, through our Life Groups, we start to fish as a team. Your friends become my friends.
Here’s another example. We’ve also had a barbeque which enabled us to have many of our neighbours in our home. One man told me: “We came because we’ve lived here for 25 years and no-one has ever done anything like this.” Our next door neighbour told us afterwards: “now the whole street is asking, ‘whose house shall we go to next?’”
But we also invited people from our Life Group to our neighbours BBQ, and so one of the people in our Life Group has arranged to play golf with the health club manager. Do you see? In this way Da Vinci Code man gets to see something beyond Adrian and Julia, He gets to see, there’s a community of Christians here. He gets to meet the body of Christ, which is Jesus body on earth.
These Thessalonians had understood something of this. Paul doesn’t write to them and commend one particular evangelist who has campaigns, no he says, you as a community of evangelising Christians, you have become a model to all the other believers. The Lord’s message rang out from you plural.
We’re launching a new church, Christ Church central London because we want the Lord’s message to ring out from us, like a trumpet, like a clarion call. We want our faith to become known everywhere, because we know that a vast number of people are going to be saved. I’m so glad someone told me. Maybe your mum or your Dad told you about Jesus. Millions of people in this city don’t have that privilege. In your office there are people who God has got his hand on.
They see you at work and they think, “hmnn, they’re a bit different. There’s something about them.” People think that way about you.
We were talking about this in our Life Group on Wednesday, what exactly is it that people are attracted to? But when they meet your Christian friends from Life Group, then they see that it’s not just you, you’re all like it. And that’s how the church grows. That’s how you plant churches that shake cities and shake regions.
That’s what we’re all about. That’s our dream.