So I wrote a book about this whole thing. Seriously. I really did. It’s called Church Zero (Cha-ching!). I’d like to give you a copy, but publishers have this funny thing about making people buy it, so I can’t quite reproduce everything that I wrote in that book or I’d be infringing copy write laws. Plus, I worked pretty hard on it. So let me say that if you’ll forgive a shameless plug, I’d appreciate you picking it up if you want the full shotgun blast to the face.

In this original blog I’m writing to train church planters, I want to introduce you to the 1st Century style approach to multiplication.

Gather around with your graham crackers and marshmallows boys and girls, because Uncle Peyton is going to tell you a little story…

Alright campers, it all began about 2000 years ago when the Apostle Paul hit the mission field at approximately 45 years old. That was 12 years after he’d seen the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus, and when God opened the door for him, Paul charged onto the field like a bull out of the gates. There was no stopping him. Tireless, seemingly fearless, and undeterred by hardship Paul and Barnabas had sailed from Antioch to Cyprus, whipped, beaten, and stricken with malaria, eventually passing over the Taurus mountain range and into Galatia. They traveled across the map, traversing the uplands of Asia Minor, and planting multiple churches across Galatia traveling Eastwards towards home. The journey took approximately a year, and they arrived back in Antioch and continued ministering there, business as usual. However, sorting through his mail one fine morning, Paul spat out his coffee when he read about the condition of the churches he had planted less than one year earlier. It would seem that the churches in the region of Galatia had adopted a “Jesus and…” theology. They now looked for salvation in both Christ and their own obedience to the ceremonial law. Paul shot off an emotional, pain-filled letter bitter with disappointment, tinged with grief, and filled with regrets and fears that he’d wasted his time with them. Paul wrote his harshest letter on record, and through Paul’s large letters, hastily scrawled, we detect the shock of a missionary who is still finding it hard to come to grips with the imminent collapse of the house of cards he so painstakingly built.

Perhaps you know all of this, but what’s important, what really matters, is what Paul did next. He changed. Yep, you heard me right. Paul, the master foundation layer (1 Corinthians 3:10) and expert church planter changed his tactics. You see, you don’t become a master at anything without first mastering how to handle failure.

Paul mastered failure by examining what went wrong and then taking the next action steps to correct the mistake, and effect the necessary changes. You could argue that Paul did this on every single mission trip that he engaged in. Each of Paul’s three missionary journeys recorded in Acts were an opportunity for course correction in his quest for greater kingdom impact. You’re going to make plenty of mistakes, just like Paul did, but the good news is that God will mentor you, just as he did Paul to make you increasingly more and more fruitful. What if God isn’t so much using your mission to change your community, as much as he is using it to change you? After all, Paul said, “The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops” (2 Tim 2:6).

At the start of every missionary journey, Paul changes his tactics and approach based on something he learned on his previous journey.

It’s fair to say that the first missionary journey was really Paul’s fumbling forward into mission work. Metaphorically, he and Barnabas were creating a missional rope bridge into Asia minor, and it’s always hardest to be the first guy to leap across the chasm. Nobody has gone before you, or can show you the way. When you’re the first mountaineer with the first line of rope over your shoulder, you misstep, lose your grip, and learn the hard way.

On the first missionary journey, Paul only takes Barnabas, and Barnabas’s nephew, John Mark. Months after the voyage from Antioch, they were scourged after preaching in Paphos on the isle of Cyprus, en-route to Antalya on Turkey’s Southern shore. They had to cross through the lowlands of Turkey to get to the highlands of Galatia. The only problem was that the warmer months brought an infestation of malaria carrying mosquitos. When Paul speaks of his illness when he arrived in Galatia, he follows up with “you would have plucked out your own eyes” giving evidence was stricken with Malaria during his travels there, which often causes blindness. Arriving at the dagger peaked Taurus mountain range, Paul sick, tired, and in danger of being robbed on the dangerous path through the mountains, John Mark turns back. It’s evident by his refusal at the start of his second missional journey, that this hurt. Perhaps Paul saw it less as an act of betrayal, as preachers portray and more that when the chips were down, and Paul was sickest, and needed him the most, John Mark was at his personal breaking point. Years later, Paul would change his mind about working with him, but probably because as he matured John Mark showed he was made of tougher stuff.

But here is where Paul changes on the second missionary journey. Learning from the first, he decides to take more than one. Simply put, Paul didn’t have a big enough squad to cover the ground that they did. Things can, do, and will always go wrong with your team on mission. You can count on it. But Paul learned the hard way that when somebody on the team takes a bullet in the side and utters the cliché “Go on without me…” there are others who can carry the litter of wounded soldiers. In other words, Paul needed a bigger team.

Everybody likes to say that this “isn’t my first rodeo” but the first rodeo counts. It’s where you learn. Paul and his team got bucked, and landed hard, and it was the news that he got on the return nearly a year later that made him go back on his second journey. The Galatian churches had fallen into heretical beliefs. Turning to Barnabas, he said “Let’s go back and visit each city we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing” (Acts 15:36).

He’d go back, but this time it would be different.

(To read more along these lines, check out my upcoming book: Reaching the Unreached: Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art. Currently on pre-order discount )

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