Sowing God's Word in London
Co-Mission is essentially a Bible Ministry.
We are churches co-operating in obeying Christ’s great commission to make disciples of all nations by bringing the message of the Bible that Jesus is Christ our Lord to London. Our uniting goal is to plant and strengthen 60 diverse "reformed evangelical" churches by 2025, which means churches that teach, enjoy, trust and obey the Bible.
We’re a growing family, multiplying our characteristic DNA which has prayerful exposition of the Bible at its heart. We’re an active network, sharing our resources to help each other proclaim Christ as he is revealed in the Bible. We’re a movement, empowered, governed and guided by God’s Spirit through the Bible.
Our theme for Co-Mission Sunday in January 2018 - the annual event when our network hears news and prays for our mission to London - is the authority, sufficiency, power and clarity
of the Bible.
Our rebellious hearts and culture will want to ignore God’s word in our behaviour and relationships. Some liberal churches will even approve of such defiance in order to seem acceptably tolerant. But we need to respect the authority of the Bible to govern our lives and churches because it is the written word of God. The Bible is God’s map - his "lamp to my feet"
(Psalm 119:105) - it is our reliable guide through life.
Our unfaithful hearts are easily persuaded that the dreams and pictures of our own imagination, or the traditions and decisions of church councils, are the contemporary voice of God’s Spirit. Adding to the Scriptures, charismatic churches may encourage us to welcome the pronouncements of modern apostles and prophets, while Roman Catholic churches encourage
us to welcome the traditions of popes and councils. But we need to rejoice in the complete sufficiency of the Bible, as the contemporary voice of God’s Holy Spirit, speaking all the
guidance we need in revealing Christ, in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge from God are to be found. The Bible is God’s Swiss-army knife for daily life - that we may be "thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:17) It is everything we need for serving God.
Our weak hearts may feel weary and timid in a broken and hostile world. Some prosperity gospel churches promise spiritual power for healing, success and prosperity to those with enough faith. But we need to resolutely trust in the power of God’s word to save and strengthen us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus on the way of sacrificial service, for the salvation of many to the glory of God. The Bible is God’s spiritual energy drink
- the power we need for suffering service, "for the Word of God is living and active" (Hebrews 4:12) - it is empowering the sacrificial worship of our lives and churches.
Our foolish and lazy hearts may be confused by the tortuous interpretations of worldly scholars seeking to avoid the plain meaning of the Bible. They do this to embrace practices that God’s Word clearly forbids, such as sexual immorality, same sex-marriage and gender choice. Some suggest that the Bible merely offers the reflections of a previous generation, launching "trajectories" of ideas that stimulate our thinking today. This leaves us uncertain and allows for radically unbiblical conclusions e.g. that hell isn’t real, that all religions lead to God or that preaching in church isn’t restricted to godly senior men.
But we rejoice in the clarity of the Bible to all believers. While the Bible is not always easy to understand, and we are often confused, the Bible text is sensible and not beyond the spiritual
comprehension of ordinary believers who study it carefully.
We try to make responsible biblical scholarship accessible to all our church members precisely because we can all grow in our knowledge of God through deep study of Scripture. And we
will not blindly accept the pronouncements of an elite class of worldly church leaders claiming to tell us what the Bible "really means". Nor will we abdicate the privilege and responsibility we
all have to study God’s word for ourselves. For not only is God, our human condition and the means of salvation the same in every generation, but the author of the Bible, God’s Holy Spirit,
indwells all believers to help us understand what he has written. The Bible is God’s clear message for us all to reflect upon today. As Paul writes, "reflect on what I am saying for the Lord will give you insight into all this" (2 Timothy 2:7) - God’s Spirit makes the Bible clear for us today.
But all this confidence in the Bible raises an obvious question: why does the Bible-teaching ministry of our churches often seem ineffective and unimpressive to unbelievers? While we
praise God for enabling us to plant thirty churches and ministries across London, and we rejoice in the unity and momentum he has granted us, the truth is that the people and churches of Co-Mission only seem to be growing slowly!
Churches that neglect or select from the Bible sometimes seem to gather bigger crowds and more resources. Should Co-Mission become more about transforming the city than proclaiming the Gospel? Should our churches emphasise "deeds" a bit more and "words" a bit less? Should our meetings focus more on celebration than instruction? Should our small groups concentrate upon praying for personal needs more than studying God’s Word? Should our counselling be all about listening and nothing about the Bible and should our family devotions be reading Christian novels instead of a Children’s Bible? Are we being old-fashioned, naive or unnecessarily restrictive in making Bible-teaching so central in our lives and churches?
Surely this was exactly what Jesus’ disciples were thinking when we meet them in Mark chapter 4. The first half of Mark’s Gospel describes Jesus revealing his identity by proclaiming the gospel from God’s Word, and illustrating his message with the powerful works of God’s long promised saviour-King. But his teaching has provoked increasing opposition from the religious establishment who are now trying to kill him (2:1-3:6). His teaching ministry
doesn’t appear very successful: his church-plant has dwindled to a motley gaggle of confused disciples and the government already wants him dead. At this point in his Gospel, Mark collects
together some of Jesus’ parables about word ministry: that while the Word is rejected by many (the parable of the sower and soils), grows unseen (the parable of farmer awaiting his crop)
and appears unimpressive (the parable of the mustard seed), in each case there is a bumper harvest in the end. In the first and foundational parable about a farmer sowing seed, Jesus
explains his own persistence in word ministry and manages the expectations of his disciples then and now, to encourage us to persist and never give up.
Then Jesus said to them, "Don't you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed
along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly
fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop--thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown."
In this parable Jesus is explaining that his apparently ineffective gospel-teaching ministry is like sowing seed in a field which, though unimpressive in the short term, will ultimately be massively fruitful. Indeed, this is how God continually grows his kingdom. He is also warning his hearers not to ignore his teaching by being distracted by Satan’s lies, scorched by opposition or strangled by competing concerns - like bad soil in a field. Above all, Jesus is training his disciples, then and now, to expect that many will remain hard-hearted to the Word of God, fall away when it becomes costly to obey the Word, or become distracted and neglect the Word. But they should still continue teaching God’s Word because eventually it will lead to an abundant harvest of fruitful believers. Here are some of his massive encouragements to keep us and our churches teaching the Bible:
THE SEED GROWS ALL BY ITSELF
However unimpressive or unpopular the farmer may be, the seed has power in itself to grow. The bumper harvest doesn’t come from an impressive farmer but from a powerful seed.
So however weak we or our preachers are, God’s power for salvation is in His Word. Indeed the growth and multiplication of Co-Mission churches, with ordinary pastors and limited resources, is living witness in London to the growing power of the Word of God.
FARMERS ONLY HAVE TO SOW
Farmers can’t expect to control the weather conditions or resent the quality of their field - they must keep sowing seed. Likewise, we can’t control our culture or resent the community we are in - we must keep proclaiming God’s Word. Indeed, in our Co-Mission churches across London, all kinds of people in all sorts of contexts are being saved by God through this same Word.
BAD SOILS CAN’T PREVENT THE HARVEST
The gospel is snatched away from some people by the lies of Satan before it ever penetrates their hearts. For some, the first shoots of faith are quickly scorched by the costs of following
Jesus. And for some the initial growth of faith is strangled by the distracting worries and wealth of this world before it takes root. But these people who never truly become Christians cannot stop some being saved by the gospel seed falling on the good soil of a receptive heart, softened by the Spirit through the Word. In time their lives bear fruits in others coming to faith. It is not one mass revival but steady multiplication that will eventually produce a bumper harvest of saved people. So across our churches, while most of the unbelievers who come for friends, or visit over Christmas, or attend a guest event will not turn to Christ, there are always a few who will be born again - and in time they will bring others. Through such multiplication, God’s kingdom grows.
SOWING ISN’T COMPLICATED
Sowing is hard work and a little training and some experience certainly helps, but there’s nothing complicated about it. You don’t need a degree to throw seed. Likewise, while training and experience helps, there’s nothing complicated or mysterious about sharing the gospel with friends. Even preaching is not a magic art - it takes hard work and training, and gifting and
experience certainly help - but there’s something very simple about explaining the Bible. Since I first arrived in Wimbledon in 1995, I have watched God save and grow people through His
Word, at Dundonald Church and across Co-Mission. This has happened through sermons, small groups, conversations and private devotions - and there’s been nothing magical about it.
Word ministry is something we can all be involved in as we share God’s Word with each other.
FARMERS NEVER RESENT SOWING
An experienced farmer knows that the harvest begins with sowing. He cannot be lazy and neglect the hard work of sowing just because he wants to be a reaper. Indeed, in the culture of Palestine in Jesus’ day, the farmer would usually work for a landowner who gets the harvest. Likewise, we can be content with the hard work of sowing the Word of the gospel when we realise that there won’t be any harvest if we don’t sow, but there certainly will be if we do. Our Co-Mission intermediate goal - planting 60 churches by 2025 and 360 in the long term - may well be accomplished long after we have moved or died - but we are glad to contribute in any way we can to our Lord’s bumper harvest, because we are so grateful that His Word has created new life in us.
IF WE’RE RECEPTIVE SOIL WE’LL BE PART OF THE GREAT HARVEST
If we’ve accepted the seed of the gospel, even though our personal impact for Christ may seem small, and though we may serve in a tiny struggling church plant that seems invisible to the world - when Christ returns we shall be part of his massive harvest – joining the vast multicultural people of God at Christ’s great wedding feast.
THE DIVINE FARMER HAS ALREADY SOWN THE SEED
The final twist in this parable is that it isn’t primarily about us at all – but about Jesus. For he is the original sower who has already sown the Word in his world, and now he is reigning in heaven watching the seed grow into a bumper harvest. In the end we want to keep teaching the Bible because as Co-Mission churches sow the word, our Lord Jesus is growing a massive harvest, to the glory of God forever. So let’s keep teaching the Bible!