I have been working as a church planter, and a western missionary, for the last year and a half in a small Canadian border city in Ontario called Sarnia. Canada is deemed a “post-Christian” nation and is largely secularized. Church planting in this context requires more than just launching a new church, locating space to gather and worship, and building out good programs.
The shift from pastoral, brick-and-mortar ministry to missionary work has been a challenge for me, with many ups and downs over the past year and a half. I was struck with insight, however, while recently reflecting on the beginning of Ezekiel’s ministry (chapters 1-3). Ezekiel, although a prophet, functions in many ways like a missionary.
I would encourage any new or prospective church planter or missionary, especially in a western context, to think through these points and ask themselves the following questions.
1. Ezekiel’s ministry began with a vision of the glory of God (ch 1).
It was striking to me how strong Ezekiel’s vision was. It was not simply a line at the beginning of the book that Ezekiel received a vision. The vision was laid out with specificity and clarity. It was so strong that Ezekiel bowed down to worship and yielded to God.
I’m sorry to say that my missionary work began with my vision for what I wanted to do. Over the past year, God has slowly eroded that and brought me back to his vision for neighbourhood-based micro-churches that enter deeply into and redeem the neighbourhoods in which the micro-churches dwell.
Does your ministry originate with a vision of God’s glory over a people? Or are you working to implement your own vision derived from a recent book you’ve read? What can you do to align yourself with God’s vision?
2. He was then sent by God to speak to rebellious people to declare God’s words (ch 2).
It was only after Ezekiel saw the vision and yielded to God that ministry became possible. It was at this moment that God sent Ezekiel to the mission field. He was sent to speak God’s words to rebellious people.
We can get excited about our vision and the notion of working to bring rebellious people back to God. But where is our confirmation of being sent? How do we know the people to whom God is sending us?
What is your sense of how God has called you to mission and to whom? Is it connected to the vision he has given you?
3. Ezekiel had to eat God’s word and let them sink deep into his own heart first before speaking to the people (ch 3).
I came to my location with a plan and I was ready to execute that plan. I had lessons to teach, words to say, and programs to involve people in. I missed this crucial step that God made Ezekiel go through. I am now convinced from my own failure that failure to deeply perceive God’s words for oneself is a critical mistake that must be corrected before one can find any kind of faithful success in mission.
God told Ezekiel to take the scroll of his words and eat them, and they were sweet to the taste. God’s words are encouraging and helpful and give us guidance not just for our own discipleship but also for how we engage in mission. Later, God told Ezekiel (3:10-11) to let the words sink down deeply into him first before he spoke to the people.
What are your plans to reach the people God is sending you to? Have you deeply reflected on his words for yourself first?
4. Ezekiel’s first act of ministry was to simply sit with the people for seven days (3:15).
I’m intrigued that Ezekiel’s first act of ministry was to simply sit with the people in their grief for one week. In church planting, we can deceive ourselves into believing that we have all the answers, that we have the programs that will change peoples’ lives, and that we have what everyone else needs.
Yet, contextual ministry takes time to develop. In post- or pre-Christian locations, the missionary must take the time necessary to learn the values and beliefs of the indigenous people. In first sitting with the people, Ezekiel came to know their grief and pain.
Are you willing to be among and with the people God has sent you to? Can you simply sit with people without an agenda in order to learn about them, their values and beliefs, and their lives?
5. Obedience to God’s words (not belief in God’s words) is where we see genuine response to God (3:16-21).
God’s word to Ezekiel was to teach obedience to God’s words to the rebellious people. They were rebellious because they had disobeyed God. In ministry, we often mistake belief in God’s words for obedience to God’s words. We believe that God said he will punish those who are disobedient, but we don’t believe those words apply to us.
We must be willing to measure ourselves according to God’s word and to be obedient to him in all things. Then, when we teach a message of obedience to God’s word, our actions line up with our words and reinforce the message.
Are you obedient to God in everything? Have you mistaken belief in God’s words for obedience to his words? What evidence exists in your life for a nonbeliever to see your obedience to God’s words?
6. God confirmed Ezekiel’s sending by showing him his glory (3:22-23).
After God had given all these instructions to Ezekiel, he instructed him to go to the plain. When Ezekiel went, God’s glory was there, and Ezekiel once again fell face down in worship.
Church planting and missionary work is hard enough when done with God’s presence. It is impossible apart from that. We must cultivate habits of the worship of God and live with a continual awareness of the presence of God with us, helping us to what he has sent us to do.
Are you living in a continual awareness of the presence of God? What are the habits of worship that you are cultivating?
At the risk of oversimplifying this excellent section in Ezekiel, I believe we can adopt these six points as principles or a pattern that will enable us to be faithful to God’s call. Beginning and ending in worship, we must follow God’s vision and be sent by him, know his word deeply before teaching it to others, be willing to simply be with people, and teach others to obey God’s words in all things while building hearts that worship God at all times.
(If you are a church planter, missionary or pastor and struggling with any of the things I wrote about here, message me and let's connect. I love to help folks like you learn how to better engage with the mission of God.)
[Also published at LinkedIn.]