Jesus' Strategy for Taking the World
Pastor, does your definition of success in ministry include build-ing a big church in a big city? By North American standards, this means a congregation of over 2,000 people in a large city of a million plus. Do you want to attract churchgoers who want to belong to a church that offers all the amenities including children and youth programs and a whole spectrum of options for training and entertaining?
This was my concept in the early ‘90’s. I remember talking with Carol about it. I was desperate to move from her hometown of Stratford, Ontario with a population of 27,000 to greater Toronto, my hometown, with a population of over 4 million. I wanted to go where the fish were, I thought, where the opportunities were greater, in order to fit into my paradigm of successful ministry. After all, bigger is better, isn’t it?
I realize now that God was using my old concept of success to prompt us to move to Toronto, but late last summer, the Lord spoke something into my spirit that is causing that paradigm to change.
I was feeling good about our cell group structure and the young men and women that Carol and I are privileged to disciple in ministry when I suddenly realized that Jesus trained and prepared more than his immediate twelve. The Lord said to me, “John, I had 70 others as well.”
I immediately turned to Luke, chapter ten. Jesus sent out seventy others, two by two, into every city and town where he wanted to spread the good news of the Kingdom into the hearts of the people. It was a bold and daring plan. The seventy needed the same anointing of the Holy Spirit He had and the same faith in the Spirit’s enabling and keeping power to enact Jesus’ plan of multiplication.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few…,” Jesus said. He sent twelve out first, followed by 70 and eventually hundreds, all preaching to hungry masses the gospel of the Kingdom of heaven with signs and wonders following.
So where did Jesus send them? Was it Jerusalem? No. He sent them to the small towns and villages of Israel to find His lost sheep. I had often wondered why Jesus Himself based His own ministry in Capernaum rather than Jerusalem. Compared to a large city like Jerusalem, what was so attractive about a small town?
REVIVAL DYNAMICS IN A SMALL TOWN
Another attractive aspect of the smaller community is its tendency toward conservative values. In an atmosphere where people already know something about God, a miracle has the ability to shake the populace and challenge its religious tradition.
The historic revivals of Luther, Wesley, Edwards and Finney spread more quickly in small towns. The news of revival spread from one town to the next as travelers carried the news. Today, half of the world’s people live in mega cities, but for the last two thousand years of the church, 95% of people in the world have lived in rural, agrarian villages.
I was recently in London, England standing beside a life-sized statue of John Wesley, the evangelist whose preaching revolutionized Christianity in 18th Century Britain and the U.S. He did it through preaching to thousands in hundreds of little communities, and then drawing his converts into little discipleship groups for study, fellowship and growth. The collective impact of his circuit-riding evangelism changed the nation.
The revival we have been experiencing in Toronto since 1994, on the other hand, has renewed the church in practically every country in the world, yet the city of Toronto itself scarcely knows about it. I believe that if we could win one hundred little towns, the streams of revival from those little towns would reach into the big cities and into Canada.
ONE PERSON AT A TIME
Last August while Carol and I were speaking at the River Camp in Evesham, England, I had a captivating conversation with a pastor there. He shared how at one time he had pastored a church in a large city, but for the last several years, he was ministering in a small town.
In the small town, he felt that his influence was like that of a big fish in a small pond, rather than being the other way around. The smaller community appreciated all their church’s efforts to reach out to the community with practical ministries like food and clothing. Their outreaches were much more effective compared to similar efforts in the large city.
Soon after he had arrived, the church in the small town held a tent meeting for one week, and the town responded with much interest. The following year the tent meeting was good, but it was not as effective. In the third year it was not effective at all, so they did not do it the fourth year.
Later he learned of another church that held a tent revival that produced much fruit during the first week and so decided to keep going. They carried on for thirteen weeks and those meetings left a lasting impact on the town. The sponsoring church became the most prominent and effective ministry in that community.
The second church reaped the benefits of what I call “momentum.” When the Holy Spirit honors meetings like this with His presence and revival is happening, whatever you do, keep going. Momentum builds as more and more people are curi-ous to come and see what is going on.
If you stop after one week thinking you will return next year to the same degree of expectation in the town, you will be disappointed. The revival will cool. By then it will be old news and the curiosity that the Holy Spirit is creating in the seekers will be quenched. Critics will have undermined much of the good that was done. I believe that the very best way is to go full on and keep going, one day at a time, until you feel like the meetings have had a lasting impact.
In northern Canada, Andy Koonstra and others took the fresh fire of Toronto’s revival up to Inuit villages in the Arctic. The revival fire swept through entire villages, and soon there were several towns of 600, 900 or 1,200 people where ninety per cent of the population had been saved and freshly filled with the Holy Spirit.
It was a dramatic breakthrough for these communities that attracted the coverage of the media. Part of the revival is documented on the video production “Transformation II.”
I believe that this can happen again in every nation. The harvest is plenteous. It is the laborers who are few.
WHAT IS REAL SUCCESS?
Why don’t you become a part of the army of “seventy others”? Why not devote your “after work” hours to be a part of a team that will go for several weeks to the same little town until the entire town has been won? Are you willing to go out and give away what you have received to a small community? Imagine the effect the River would have on a small town that has clung to its godly values, yet its religion has become rou-tine. These dear folks are probably tired of seeing their young people leave for the big city only to waste their lives on drugs and alcohol, and hanging with the wrong crowd. Something has to change now.
TACF has decided to start by launching an outreach to one little community and reach out to them until we have made a significant impact. We will target a community that is ready to open its heart to the gospel of the Kingdom and that appreciates servant evangelism with signs and wonders. I know already that it will work.
God is looking for a community where a pastor there who is in the River can be a bridge or where a Soaking Center is ready to give away the power of the presence of God you have been soaking in. When miracles happen, families will appreciate it and keep coming back for more.
I remember seeing amazing results in Bath, England. One night the Lord instantly healed a nine year old girl with a deformed foot. She returned the next night with her father who was so amazed by the goodness of the Lord that he was no longer resistant to the gospel. He surrendered his life to the Lord Jesus Christ. The momentum started to build and there was much good fruit for the Kingdom.
I challenge those of you who are reading this who live in small towns to invite someone you trust who is in the River to come in and hold meet-ings in your little town and not just for a day or two. Make plans and lay the foundation so that you can keep go-ing until revival comes to your town. If the “big names” are too busy to come, invite one of the “seventy other” no-names. Pray and believe for miracles and a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Young people, you can do this. Come with me and others like me, and I will give you a strategy of success that will transform your nation, one small town at a time.
Reprinted by permission from "Spread the Fire" Magazine, January-February 2006.
John Arnott is the senior pastor of Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship. He and his wife Carol are the hosts of the daily “Catch The Fire” television program. They travel extensively around the world spreading the fires of revival.