For many of us, mission is still mainly about what is done in far away places by particular kinds of people. This enduring image needs to be consigned to the wastepaper bin at the earliest opportunity! Mission is something that begins in our hearts as we apply the gospel moment by moment, and it doesn’t end until it reaches the far corners of the world – which means that it covers all areas in between those two points at each end of the spectrum. As Christians living in Western Europe (the mission field in our own backyard) our engagement with our own continent must be a missionary engagement. This means seeking new gospel opportunities and praying for the gospel to grow and bear fruit.
It is incontrovertible that Western Europe is a large and needy mission field. With a population of around 400 million and a total church attendance of well below 5%, there are in excess of 380 million people who ‘forfeit the grace that could be theirs’ and so are ‘without hope and without God in the world’(Jonah 2:8; Eph. 2:12).
The European Union provides a great opportunity for us to reach this huge and under-reached mission field for Christ, in that it provides us with unrestricted access in terms of travel and work. English is the lingua franca, which at least gives an initial point of contact, for both conversation and partnerships. In most cases, there is a shared dominant culture of ‘functional secularism’, which means that we operate in similar contexts, facing similar problems and enjoying similar opportunities.
There is an ‘indigenous church’ in each of the countries, with men and women who believe the gospel and want to see others come to know Christ. Church planting remains the most effective strategy for evangelism and discipleship, and Western Europe is wide open, which is where an agency by the strange name of Acts 29 comes in!
Acts 29 works with churches, networks, denominations and individuals throughout the region to encourage and support the planting of reproducing gospel-centred churches.
It was founded in 2000 as a network of qualified, entrepreneurial men who were willing to engage an urban city with the gospel through the starting of new gospel churches. It exists to make disciples by planting church-planting churches.
Acts 29 has three main emphases:
The major emphasis of Acts 29 is the gospel. The gospel is the power of God for salvation and sadly many churches are ashamed of proclaiming it. As a result we may not be experiencing the fruit of transformation in our churches that is normally associated with the gospel. Gospel transformation cannot take place outside of gospel proclamation.
The gospel can be summarised in the following manner: Jesus Christ, God’s promised rescuer and ruler lived our life, died our death and rose again in triumphant evidence as the first-fruits of the new creation to bring forgiven sinners together by the Holy Spirit to live under His gracious reign as His kingdom people.
The lead church planters are assessed on the basis of their qualification as elders, according to Scripture and their character as examined in an extensive review of their life and doctrine. This includes a thorough examination of a man’s leadership in his home. A man’s family is his first congregation and his wife and children are his first disciples. We are looking for men who have been transformed by the gospel and are captured by the grace of Jesus and are following His mission to make disciples.
We believe church planting is the best way to take the gospel to the community it desires to serve. We believe new churches are the best means for Spirit-led followers of Jesus to make disciples of all people groups. Not only is church planting the central process of evangelism in the book of Acts, it is also the means through which we spread the gospel to every people or group, large or small, in every corner of the world. Acts is essentially a church planting narrative and Luke is at pains to show Paul as primarily a church planter. In fact, that is one of the defining features of his apostleship. The book ends abruptly in Acts 28 with Paul in prison in Jerusalem, but it is an unfinished, ongoing story. Our mission with Acts 29 is to carry on that same process of discipleship-making church planting in the cultures where God has sovereignly placed us.
But Acts 29 is a missional movement of church planting networks and not a denomination. So technically, Acts 29 does not plant churches; churches plant churches. Every local church’s leadership assumes responsibility for their multiplying of men and churches. Our task is to serve them in their task. One of our key values is gospel generosity. So, for example, the website (which gets close to one million unique visits a year) is a veritable repository for church planting resources, and these are available for free. People and churches align under a common doctrine and a common name but no authority is exercised over the churches and no funds are required for the organisation. There are currently multiple regional networks that cooperate for the advancement of the gospel.
Our aim is to identify indigenous pastors who can be catalytic church planting leaders. We resource these men and work with them to teach, train and equip other pastors. We are not recruiting them to be Acts 29. We are exposing them to an understanding of a gospel-centred life, disciple making and ministry.
We are united in the gospel and not in methods. Our mission is to make disciples of all nations (people groups). We see church planting as an effective means to making disciples, but it would be foolish and arrogant to dictate how a church planter does that in his unique context and with his unique skills and gifts. Our programme, tactic, bottom-line and method is the gospel.
There are currently 400 men in the application phase who want to align with us. The Lord has been very generous in enabling us to assist in the planting of almost 300 churches. Our only subject is Jesus, our only means is the gospel, our only focus is the mission of Jesus to make disciples, and our only ambition is the extension of God’s kingdom and the fame of the Saviour.
There are 4 main areas where Acts 29 has a contribution to make:
- Assessment process
When the church planter is starting from scratch, church planting is a gruelling and demanding task. So many church plants fail for the simple reason that the wrong type of people undertake the task. A rigorous and focused assessment process helps people find out if they have the aptitude and skill set necessary.
Pioneer church planting can be a very lonely task. The isolation can contribute to the failure of a new initiative. It has been shown that having someone available for the planter to talk to, outside of the situation and who will help him think through the issues and questions, significantly increases the success rate of a new work. Acts 29 provides a trained and accredited ‘coach’ to help the church planter through the early stages of a new plant.
Through The Porterbrook Network there are tried and trusted training programmes available which means that an aspiring church planter and church planting core team can be equipped theologically for the task in hand.
- Peer to peer network
Being able to connect to and build friendships with church planters at various stages of planting is an invaluable resource. There is an active and well used social network site to which all Acts 29 planters have access which enables them to connect with one another. It’s not about consulting ‘gurus’, but building friendships with peers for prayer, advice, encouragement and counsel.
There are many needy areas in the world. Many are completely unreached with the gospel, and Western Europe does not have some moral precedence. But the pattern is always outward, ‘Jerusalem… Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). As we go into all the world in obedience to the command of our Sovereign, let’s make sure we make disciples on the way!
Steve Timmis is the European Director for Acts 29 in the UK.