One of our desired outcomes from opening the bookstore and holding the seminars was to see a new fellowship started. In preparation for this, we on the Net Team began to meet together on Sunday afternoons to “practice” being a fellowship.
One reason we agreed to a late afternoon meeting is that Sunday would then be more of a Sabbath: we could sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast, some nice family time together, a late lunch and then wander over to the meeting.
A second reason was that the locals are not early risers on weekends, often having only one day off in the week. It’s good for them not to have to rush off on Sunday mornings like they do on the rest of the week.
We established four principles to work by:
1. Be faithful to the Word—make sure we are working from a biblical worldview, not a cultural one.
2. Be simple—the more complex a plan is, the more chance of failure. A simple plan does not necessarily guarantee success, but it certainly increases the chances of it going well.
3. Be reproducible—do things in such a way that locals could imitate us. For instance, instead of using computers, projectors or piano, we began with hand-written notes, hand-drawn pictures taped to the wall and a Cappello singing.
4. Be empowerers as soon as possible—instead of hanging onto control transfer responsibilities to the locals as soon as it was feasible.
In line with these principles, we decided to start with inductive studies rather than sermons. It takes years of development before a new believer gains the knowledge, biblical insights and skills to write and deliver a sermon. However, a three-month-old believer can lead an inductive study from the Book which someone else has written, if he has proper preparation and someone there to coach him.
Inductive study also makes the gathering more participatory and teaches how to handle Scripture. It is common in a study of the Word with locals to ask a question and have someone answer without any reference to the verses involved. Even a second and third repetition of the question brings an off the cuff response. Finally, after saying again, “But what does this verse say?” it begins to get through and they start interaction with the Word rather than their own ideas.
The one thing we lacked for our start-up was a group of local believers. We were a fellowship without members! We had been praying for the last seven years that the Lord would bring the elect to us, that is, those He knew would believe, and He began to do just that.
In the few weeks leading up to our start-up date, the Lord drew the hearts of several locals to Himself and they were ready to join us at our first gathering. It is good to note that it is unusual for several to come to the Lord at the same time here—this was obviously the Lord’s direct work.
One of these who made a decision was the accountant we had hired for the bookstore business. I literally ran into him one day going into an apartment building. We began to talk and he gave me his card. It turned out that he had had contact with believers for several years and had attended a number of events put on by the fellowship we originally worked with. But it seemed that no one had done any personal studies with him.
Since I had to see him about once a week for business, I made it a habit to go early before his employees came so we could begin with a Bible study. He was really interested and asked good questions.
That made me ask myself, why was this successful, upwardly mobile, bright young professional interested in spiritual things? To find this combination is extremely rare. Such people are usually entirely focused on their goals of success, making money and getting ahead. The Lord gave me the answer one day when my friend opened a drawer in his desk and took out a thick stack of papers.
“These are my monthly physical exams,” he said. “I am so afraid to die that I keep a very close check on my health!” So there it was: the Lord had given him a fear of death to drive him to search for spiritual issues.
This provides another answer to the question many people ask: “What about those who have never heard the gospel?” God is so gracious—He gives each of us exactly what we need to draw us to Himself. To me, He gave a burning question about my purpose in life; to my Eskimo friend, He gave the realization that there is a good creator who is the true God; to Orin, He gave a question about the God of the ruined church; to the accountant, He gave a fear of death.
Note that the Eskimo, Orin, the accountant and I all had people who come from afar to give us an impetus to accept the gospel. God makes sure that those who want to hear have the opportunity and almost always uses people to bring the Word so the gospel can be understood.
Each of us are invited to play a part in accomplishing this great, personal work of the Lord, where every aspect is important: our prayers are important; going is important; sharing our faith with everyone we can is important. He wants to work hand in hand with us to reach the world. The question is: are we joining Him?
Shortly after having our discussion prompted by his fear of death, my accountant friend bowed his head, confessed his sin and asked Jesus to become his Savior. He then considered me his spiritual father, and since I would continue to disciple him, he started coming to our little fellowship gathering.
However, because his first contact had been with the leaders of the other fellowship, so they considered him to be under their spiritual care. Not wanting to compete, I encouraged him to attend there. Through attending that fellowship, his wife also came to Christ. God was at work!
Picture: young man similar to our early believers