Paul’s “ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Rom. 15:20)
What did Paul mean when he said that he did not want to plant churches where “Christ had already been named”? He even clarified to the Roman churches, “I no longer have any room for work” (15:23). Did Paul establish a church plant in every village and every town? Did he reach every person? Why was he so ambitious to go and plant new churches in “Spain” (15:24, 28)? Did he reach all of Rome?
The understanding that church planters come alongside the working power and mission of God is an understatement—they breathe it!
Paul was a man moved by the Spirit of God to plant churches in new regions (Acts 16:6–10; Rom. 15:19). He understood the power of God. He also understood the missio Dei, the sending of God. For Paul, the gospel of Christ manifested itself in action and power wherever he went (c.f. 1 Thess. 1:5).
So, what did he mean in Romans 15:20? First of all, Paul does not consider the phrase “to preach the gospel” as some type of individualistic evangelism or an outreach event. We may view it that way today, but that was foreign to Paul. He was an apostolic pioneer—Paul established disciple-making churches. Discipleship was (and should still be) the DNA of the early church.
So, Paul was more concerned with establishing bodies of gathered believers (ecclesias) in two or three focused areas of resurgence, within each region. This meant that his assignment in each “region” was to create disciples who disciple people that disciple others, and so on.
Paul’s missiology was Christological. For Paul, Jesus was Lord of all. Paul’s passion was to assemble and see disciples create “reproducible ecclesias.” Paul was sold out. He believed in the power of the gospel to infect people with a pioneering discipling-evangelism. The “infected” people were then, also, sold out to the mission of God, within the everyday rhythms of life.
Paul shows that church planting is more than preaching the gospel, a building, or a vocation. Church planting involves discipling converts into an “obedient” surrendered faith (Rom 15:18). Church planting does not build upon another man’s foundation, but upon the work in Christ.
Paul’s driving “passion to work where Christ was not known,” was confirmed in his apostolic nature: “like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it” (1 Cor 3:10a). Paul relied on others.
The Apostle rightly assumed that anyone who was infected with the gospel would in turn, go, make disciples, and plant churches. Each church body became a sending church, not once or twice, but until the region was saturated.
So, the answer is that Paul did not have to reach every single person. Paul’s belief in the Holy Spirit affirmed his faith that God was at work within His church.
 Alan Hirsch, and Dave Ferguson, On the Verge: a Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 136.
It is my privilege and joy to be a servant of Christ. I have found such great love and witnessed a great fortitude among many within the church that I pastor. Recently, I shared with them the three vital keys to our growth. When I arrived at the church, three years ago, there was approximately twenty active members; today, we are in the midst of an authentic move of God; true conversion growth, with new members coming forward. So, some might think this makes me more of an expert—hardly!
But, being a past church planter, an evangelism pastor, and now a church revitalizer, I do have a sense for finding a the missional DNA (mDNA) of a church. So, what’s the formula? What’s the new program? Honestly, you’ll never hear or read that from me—as I believe that God innovatively and authentically works within each body of Christ to reach each community. However, when the church’s mDNA meets the community’s DNA, a double helix is formed for interlocking growth–but, that’s my next book. Suffice it for now, that I provide the three key areas that we have focused on and continue to focus on.
Before, I divulge those; let me just say that the vision that God gave to me three years ago is terrifyingly precise. I say terrifyingly because there is a love that Christ has for His church—make no mistake that it is His—in that, He is unyielding with fervor, passion, protection, and strength for her. As the pastor, I passionately pray for the church universal and the one I serve, especially, as we engage our faith on either the frontlines of casual Christianity or brutal martyrdom. I pray for wisdom repeatedly—to lead with integrity and resolve and to lead by example. Everything we do is prayerfully conceived, thought out, and done with the aspiration of serving our King—everything that we do has purpose—from the way we worship, the style of worship, to the liturgical way our service is conducted and scheduled—these are all sought to honor God, exalt Christ, in the power of the Spirit, to edify the body. There is a vision and there is a mission. With that all being said, I’ll now address the three things, which have propelled us to move forward.
1. The Gospel
This is my first love. When I was baptized years ago, the verse which I declared was Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation.” As well, I relate to the Apostle Paul’s words, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel…” (1 Cor 9:16). As the pastor, I am fully dedicated to the gospel—I will not waiver, I will not compromise, I will not sell out to worldly goods, satanic attacks, fleshly pride, prosperity, or coercion.
One of my favorite pastors is now the president of the International Mission Board, David Platt; when he gave his last message before the church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, he said, “We don’t have time to waste on games in the church… resist comfortable, casual, cultural Christianity, because that’s not Christianity.” If our focus is on anything more than the gospel transformation through Christ—we’ve missed God’s will for our lives & our mission. Every week, the one constant that comes from the pulpit and taught, is the gospel.
As well, the gospel must be sent. Those with the gift of apostleship are cultural architects. We are to engage our modern culture, read it and understand it. The gospel is the driving force of our lives. As we endeavor to show grace to those who may not know Christ, we recognize God’s great love and mercy that was given to us. The gospel reminds us that Christ came and humbly served man–we are directed to do the same within community.
2. Unity in Love
When I arrived at the church, God gave me a mandate—that mandate was to love a people, but not just any love, a missional and Christ-centered love—to reach the hearts of the congregation and the hearts of the community. And so, I stress, WE MUST BE OF ONE ACCORD (Phil. 2:2)—inseparable—the time has come for the church to engage the faith in truth—we are THAT generation.
Our forefathers faced hard times, and our fathers faced difficult times—it is now our time to face up to the challenge and do it in unison. Yet, one thing I know and have experienced, you may agree, churches never grow when there is division more than unity, tradition more than innovation, complacency more than passion, and love of self more than others.
And so again, I as a pastoral elder, I have promised to defend them unabashedly, for the unity of love in the church, and if I ever see division or a cause for division, by the power of Christ and the authority of the church, which was given to me, the church can rest assured that their under-shepherd will protect them. I love them each very deeply and uniquely.
3. Worship in Heart
Worship is more than music; it is our walk, our talk…our thoughts. The word worship comes from worthiness, or honor—God is rightfully due honor. But we also honor God with our music. One of the saddest things I have witnessed in churches and assuredly the Lord has seen, is discord within His church due to worship styles—to me, it is an aberration of godliness…it is unacceptable. We have more important issues at hand—namely, the gospel.
When I arrived at the church, four summers ago, the music director and I sought the best possible way to incorporate the old hymns and the new music, for the sole purpose of the gospel, reaching across cultural, generational, and age lines—it was/is not an easy task. The current vision of the church stresses that we humble our hearts and raise our hands to God—for He has put a new song in our heart. We put aside our “comfort zone” with the understanding that church is not about me—it’s about the gospel—it’s about seeing true conversion growth. Our worship must come from the heart—whether from a screen, a hymn book, or something else—if it is not from the heart then it is all lip service—God will not reward lip service. Worship from the heart.
And so, I encourage you now, to love one another, serve one another, reach out to one another, and allow the gospel of Christ to transform you. Seek how your church can find the missional pulse of its church and community, fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt 28:19), and doing so with one accord.
Let’s also make this declaimer: While these three areas have proven results for the church I serve, it is not a cookie cutter blueprint. There is no silver bullet. Unity and the gospel; however, I would stress are non-negotiables, but love can be expressed in differing ways. With wisdom, seek how the Lord can be moving the body of believers that you’re connected to. If you have any questions, feel free to email me email@example.com