The Person of Peace Strategy
Church planting is all about spreading the gospel, making disciples and establishing churches that reach underserved communities, people groups or population segments. While some churches may be started with a handful of seasoned Believers sent out from a sponsor or partner church, it is still possible to start churches totally from scratch using a missional approach. In this case, the church planter operates like a front-line missionary penetrating a new area or population where the gospel is lacking. Missionaries all over the world have found that a simple method taught by Jesus himself is still just as effective today as it was in the First Century.
Discovering People of Peace
When a church planter enters a new community he begins looking for people of peace. A person of peace can be a Christian believer, who is sympathetic toward church planting or a non-believer who is receptive to the gospel. In either case, they are people of influence and trust who help the church planter to sow the seeds of the gospel. Jesus taught this principle in Luke 10 when he sent out 72 disciples:
“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages.Do not move around from house to house. (Luke 10: 5-7)
A person of peace can be a neighbor who welcomes the church planter into their home, a co-worker who responds positively to an invitation to coffee after work, or just about anyone who is non-hostile towards the gospel and church planting. Jesus taught his disciples not to be discouraged if someone turns out not to be a person of peace. Nothing has been lost if a gesture of peace has been rejected. Like water off a duck’s back; church planters shouldn’t let discouragement soak in when they are rejected, because God has placed people of peace in the right places at the right time. As Jesus encouraged Paul while he was in Corinth:
“Do not be afraid;keep on speaking, do not be silent.For I am with you,and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” (Acts 18: 9b-10)
Even when a church planter is rejected outright, Jesus said to shake the dust off and be reminded that it is not the planter who is being rejected, but Jesus himself:
“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10: 16)
When a church planter is well received by a person of peace, he doesn’t have to look any farther for a place to start sowing gospel seeds. Jesus said not to go house to house, but to stay with the person of peace, enjoying whatever hospitality they bestow. When a church planter invites a co-worker out to Starbucks after work and the person accepts, offers to treat and offers to do it again; the church planter should recognize that as overtures of a person of peace. He should invest some time in a relationship with that person, because it is the person of peace who is going to reach the next generation of disciples. Instead of doing all of the outreach work himself, the church planter should look for Kingdom multipliers and disciple them to reach and disciple others. The process should be repeated so that the result is multiple generations of disciples making disciples resulting in exponential growth of the church plant and multiplication into new church plants.
Church planting begins with sowing gospel seeds and results in the reaping of a spiritual harvest, which is much larger than what was sown. Jesus used agricultural similes when conveying Kingdom truth to his disciples. Christian Schwartz contends that Jesus did this, not only because He was in an agrarian culture, but because agricultural comparisons are timeless and that they convey God’s “biotic” principles.[i] Jesus often said, “The Kingdom of God is like…” and then followed with an agrarian parable. In one such parable, Jesus spoke of the difficulty of gospel sowing – that not all soil will be a productive place to sow gospel seeds:
Then he told them many things in parables, saying:“A farmer went out to sow his seed.As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred,sixty or thirty times what was sown. (Matthew 13: 3-8)
The good news is that the gospel is productive and reproductive when it is sown in the right “soil.” A person of peace is good gospel soil for church planting and reproduction. Neil Cole states that this is for reasons that are counter-intuitive to modern Christian thinking. A person of peace is good gospel soil, not because of clean living, but because of all of the “fertilizer” in their lives.[ii] People who are hurting, who are looking for answers to life’s brokenness are often more susceptible to the influence of the work of Christ than those who think that they have life all figured out. Not only does the gospel take root there, it reproduces exponentially as Jesus also taught in his parable – “a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” The role of the church planter at this point is to look for receptive people, sow gospel seeds and plan for reproduction.
People of Influence
People of peace are also people of influence – when they have their “come to Jesus moment,” many other people follow them to the cross of Christ. The woman at the well in fourth chapter of John is an example of a person of peace who reproduced the gospel. She simply went into town and told others about her encounter with Jesus and hundreds flocked to see Him. The woman at the well not only had a lot of “fertilizer” in her life, but she also influenced many others to come to Jesus. Church planters should spend their time wisely realizing that the most productive people for gospel multiplication will be those who know the most lost people. While people of peace are also people of influence, they may not be the most obvious choice in building a church planting team.
The apostle Paul understood and utilized the person of peace principle on his missionary journeys. Paul usually went to the Jewish synagogue whenever he entered a new city and preached the gospel to those who were anticipating the Messiah. He usually found receptive people there and would stay as long as those who were hostile toward the gospel would tolerate him. After being ejected from the synagogue Paul would then take the gospel to the Gentiles – looking for “God fearers” and others who were open to his message.
In Philippi, however, there was no synagogue. Paul chose to go to Philippi after accepting the call of God to go to Macedonia because Philippi was an influential city. Since there were not enough Jewish males to form a synagogue, Paul had to look for a person of peace elsewhere. When Paul arrived at Philippi, he went outside of the city looking for a place of prayer. He found a group of women who were praying down by the river. It was there that he met Lydia. She was a Gentile woman who feared God, but had not converted to Judaism. Lydia was a person of peace and a person of influence. When she accepted Christ and was baptized, the people in her sphere of influence followed her - each into their own relationship with Christ (Acts 16:15). Lydia was the first recorded convert to the gospel on the European continent and a part of the core group of the first church planted in Europe.
We know that a church was started in Philippi, because we have Paul’s epistle to the Philippians in our Bibles. Where did that church start? Most likely, the church at Philippi started in Lydia’s home. People in Lydia’s household, which likely included family members, extended family, servants, and close friends, had accepted Christ as Savior. They had been baptized and they were meeting together with Paul and his band of missionaries. Luke tells us that after Paul and Silas were released from the Philippian jail, they met with the core group of the Philippian church:
After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house,where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.
(Acts 17: 40)
When Paul and Silas left Lydia’s house, they left behind a fledgling church that grew and multiplied all over Macedonia. They became an example to others in their faith and generosity. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he expressed his love and affection for their partnership in the Gospel (Philippians 1: 5). Paul used the Macedonian Christians as an example of generosity, especially when it came to supporting the work of hunger relief in Jerusalem. When writing to the church at Corinth, Paul encouraged them to give like the Macedonians who had experienced the power of God’s multiplicative increase:
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (II Corinthians 9: 10-11)
Church planting is a team effort and effective church planters rely upon gospel multipliers who spread the good news to others in their spheres of influence. The planter can’t do all of the evangelism by himself. He must encourage those whom he reaches with the gospel to spread the gospel as well. Those who have close relationships with lots of lost people are often the most effective at bringing new people to Jesus. People of peace who are people of influence are critical to the growth and survival of church plants.
People of Trust
While a person of peace may be someone who has experienced many of life’s hardships, they need to be someone who is well trusted by their friends and family. They may have made mistakes in judgment in their past life of sin, but they have a reputation of transparency and truthfulness. The trust factor is important, because people of peace need to be believable when they share their faith story with people in their spheres of influence. Cornelius was a Roman centurion who feared God, gave to the needy and prayed regularly (Acts 10: 2). He was a trustworthy person who not only led military men, but his household followed his leadership and were receptive to the gospel when Peter shared the message of Christ in his home.
The gospel spreads rapidly among people of peace because of their relationships of trust. Their friends and relatives recognize genuine life transformation that has occurred as a result of the gospel and they want the same thing for themselves. My own father is a person of peace, who went through a radical life transformation in Christ that led to not only our family coming to Christ but to many friends and neighbors as well. Over the years, he has developed several relationships of trust and has often times found himself responding to people in times of personal crisis with compassion and sound Spiritual advice. This has led to many people of peace responding to the gospel while leading others in their spheres of influence to Christ. These new disciples are growing in unity with other believers resulting in the starting of at least seven churches.
When a person of peace becomes a follower of Christ, their influence and trust with people in their realm of influence is used by God to bring many more people to Christ. At this point, it is important for the church planter to release the second generation of new believers to do the same thing. Many of the people connected to the original person of peace will have their own relational networks that can be penetrated with the gospel. This is a critical point where there is potential for explosive growth or bogging down. Jesus’ strategy was to release people to go back to their families, friends and neighbors to share their story. When Jesus healed a demon-possessed man in Luke chapter 8, the man wanted to journey with Jesus, but Jesus sent him home instead:
Now the man from whom the demons had departed begged Him that he might be with Him. But Jesus sent him away, saying,“Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.”And he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him. (Luke 8: 38-39)
Church planters need to release new Christens to share the gospel and make disciples as quickly as possible. Often churches have weeks-long discipleship courses that bog down new believers when they should be out sharing Christ with their lost family and friends. In an effort to protect baby Christians from the mean and dangerous world, some churches encourage new believers to remove themselves from situations and relationships that could be the most productive environments for gospel sharing. When a lost person becomes a follower of the Jesus, the most natural thing for him or her to do is to share the good news with the people closest to them. Therefore, the discipleship process for new believers needs to be done in a way that it does not bog them down and keep them from immediately sharing Christ and training new believers.
The focus of discipleship should be obedience and not knowledge only. It is possible to disciple new believers while they are putting into practice what they are learning. Discipleship can take place better in the field than the classroom. The first step of obedience for a new believer on day 1 is to share the gospel of Christ with the people in their household. The person of peace does not need to complete a class on the theology of the gospel in order to share their story. They do not need to memorize scripture in order to describe what happened to them today. Scripture memorization and biblical theology can come later, but in the early days, it is crucial that new believers evangelize others.
A discipleship system that focuses on obedience and on-the-job training can result in new believers leading people to Christ in the earliest days of their own new life in Christ. These people of peace can also be trained to be disciple multipliers. Since they are people of influence and trust, they may see many of their friends and family come to Christ. So what do they do with all of these new baby Believers? Do they send them back to the church planter to disciple them? No, they do the same thing that was modeled for them. They practice obedience-based discipleship by encouraging the new followers of Jesus to share their faith with their household on day 1. Discipleship is a never-ending process of growing new believers into the full likeness of Christ. In the early stages, baby Christians exist on spiritual milk. They cannot handle more solid teaching. As Paul wrote to Corinthians:
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it,and even now you are still not able;for you are still carnal. (I Corinthians 3: 1-3)
Baby Christians do not have to wait to mature before they are able to share the good news of Christ with others or to start discipling new believers. It is a mistake for a church planter to wait until the end of a multi-week discipleship study before he encourages new believers to start sharing with others. It is an even bigger mistake for church planters to encourage new believers to withdraw from the world of non-believers and get all caught up in a church environment where everyone is eating rich spiritual food. There is a time for deeper understanding as the writer of Hebrews explained:
For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.But solid food belongs to those who are of full age,that is,those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5: 13-14)
The writer goes on to further identify basic Christian doctrines that are essential for new Christians. These doctrines are “milk” for baby Christians. These teachings can be easily grasped and passed on to other new believers all while the disciple is growing deeper.
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.
At this point, the church planter’s role is to make sure that all generations of new believers are receiving spiritual milk from the previous generation. The planter also puts into place a second stage of disciple maturing for the perfecting of the saints. Growing disciples are trained to be less dependent by studying scripture for themselves while being held accountable for putting it into practice. Greg Kappas, Vice President of the Timothy Initiative trains church planters to develop both short-term and long-term discipleship processes:
While milk must be provided by the mother, maturity is dependent upon the ability to eventually feed oneself and then practice this over and over. In the same way, long-term discipleship must be driven by the disciple’s own pursuit of the Lord. The disciple maker should choose materials that promote a healthy walk with the Lord, capable of transforming one’s family and community relationships as well.[iii]
The person of peace church planting strategy is biblical and easily reproducible. It depends on relational evangelism and practical discipleship to be effective. It is a process that Jesus practiced and taught and it is being used by effective mission organizations all over the world today.
[i] Schwarz, Christian A. Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches. Carol Stream, IL: ChurchSmart Resources, 1996. 9.
[ii] Cole, Neil. Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005. 72.
[iii] Kappas, Greg. Disciples Making Disciples. The Timothy Initiative, 2013. 92.