Three Days In Vienna
The New Testament churches described in Acts perpetually challenge me for this reason: they were consistently probing opportunities to advance the gospel of Jesus. And no church exemplifies this spirit better than Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). Not content to build a local dream team of pastors, when the leaders spent time praying and fasting and listening to the Holy Spirit, their response was to send their best guys (Paul and Barnabas) on mission. Rather than trying to hang on to gifted people, they were compelled by the command of Jesus to 'Go!' (Matthew 28:18-20).
The Every Nation Regional Leadership Team for Europe gathers annually to pray, seek the Lord, and ask God how he is leading us to go into the new year. Gathering in Vienna, I was joined with pastors from London, Marseilles, Innsbruck, Berlin, Krakow and Ukraine. What I love about meeting with this team is that none of us has to be persuaded to go; rather, our questions are 'where?', 'when?', and 'how?'.
When pastors get together, it is easy to let local church issues dominate the agenda. The consistent challenges facing us in pursuing effectiveness in local church ministry are more than enough to keep us busy. But following in the footsteps of Antioch, we must consistently rise above the horizon of our local needs and think with a continental perspective.
Europe needs the gospel. For example, the population of Germany is over 80 million. The majority of towns and cities in Germany with a population of 5000 or more do not have an evangelical church; in Bavaria, that statistic is over 75%. In Denmark, 50% of the population claims to be agnostic or atheist. So whereas there are some great churches in Europe, in terms of the need for the gospel, there are not nearly enough.
When I think back to the church plants I've been involved with, they've all happened in various ways: in L'viv, God sovereignly opened a door; in Ternopil, a contact invited us; in Novodnistrovsk, a woman whose family moved from Ternopil started sharing the gospel; in Edinburgh, the Holy Spirit put the city on our hearts; in Bathgate, we were asked to start a church.
Every one of these church plants has a different story. But the common denominator is that we were willing and ready to go through open doors that God seemed to be opening. In addition to that, we were wiling to probe and knock and seek and explore.
The accidental outreach in L'viv still remains the most remarkable two days of my life. What made it strategic is that God opened a door for ministry on the university campus - the University of Ivano Franko. Without intending to, we stumbled into an amazing network of people and relationships that gave us an open door for the future. The great thing about reaching students with the gospel is that they are open, they are available, they are the future leaders, and they can be trained and mobilised for gospel ministry.
Which all brings me back to Vienna. As a team already committed to gospel ministry and church planting, we were ready so say 'yes' to God. He had us at 'hello'. But through encouragement from my friend Dr. Rice Broocks, we determined to take an even more deliberate posture to church planting in Europe: we will take scouting trips, exploration teams, follow open doors, and seek out new contacts. Following in the footsteps of Antioch, we will resist the temptation to get comfortable with building local church dream teams, and we'll send our best to pursue gospel opportunities across the continent.
Like Bilbo Baggins being willing to walk out his front door, it's a dangerous thing to spend three days with a visionary team in a hotel function room with the Bible and the Holy Spirit, praying about gospel advance in Europe. God may just answer our prayers - and he will probably use us as part of the answer. To be challenged in faith and refreshed in our gospel mission - that's worth three days in Vienna. Even if it was very, very cold.