As you probably should know by now from reading my previous posts, I think that a certain British church called Jesus Army is amazing. Since it combines Bible-believing, charismatic discipleship with community of goods and care for the poor, it is one of the most Biblical churches I know of. The more people who join this church and/or adapt its model of charismatic community building, the better. But how, then, can it grow? Here are my three suggestions:
1. More Public Evangelism
The apostolic church in Jerusalem didn’t just experience miracles and practise community of goods, they also evangelised every day in the temple courts (Acts 2:46, 5:20, 42) as I’ve written about several times before. This can be adapted in various ways today: evangelism on the internet, in shopping malls, outside of mosques, on the streets, handing out leaflets, preaching, showing a drama, serving free pancakes, offering prayer for healing… God loves when we present the Gospel creatively!
However, since the evangelism of the early church was public and corporal, it cannot really be equated with private evangelism that an individual performs to his or her friends and family. I often meet the idea that this would be more effective than public, corporal evangelism, but it is very problematic to view Jesus’ and the apostles’ model for evangelism as ineffective, and it mostly has anecdotic rather than empirical support. Research shows that evangelistic activity is one of the most important things churches can do in order to grow, which is about as surprising as the scientific discoveries of fuel promoting vehicles to drive or consumption of food promoting human survival.
Since corporate, public evangelism is not just about reaching out but also about training disciples, people get more equipped to share the Gospel in other settings as well if they get evangelistic training by the church. Thus, there is no reason to say that we should cut back on public evangelism to promote friendship evangelism, because public evangelism already promotes friendship evangelism.
In fact, research in Sweden has shown that most churches are shrinking – and almost all of them support friendship evangelism instead of street evangelism. In Jesus Army’s case, I’m convinced that a cutback in street evangelism would be fatal since so many of its members live and work with Christians only in the communities and Kingdom businesses. Hence, public evangelism is extremely important if the Jesus Army wants to grow.
2. Planting Christian Communities Overseas
Jesus Army’s communities, where people have everything in common, have to a large extent been the bases for the work of the church. New areas and cities have been reached by planting new communities there. Strangely, the JA have limited their community planting to the UK, almost exclusively to England. This is quite unique since most revival movements quickly go international – look at the Salvation Army, Pentecostalism or the Vineyard for example.
The JA does have an international partnership network of churches called Multiply, through which they inspire, train and cooperate with other movements around the world. But as far as I’m informed, few of these churches practise community of goods like in the book of Acts, which is what JA has been doing during the last 40 years. JA should immediately take action to teach other churches how to start communities, and send people there to help them.
Not only that, but they should plant their own communities overseas as well. There’s no reason why the Jesus Fellowship shouldn’t become an international movement. I feel like this Scripture applies to JA at this present time: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Jerusalem is Northamptonshire where it all started, Judea is England, Samaria is Scotland, Ireland, Holland, Sweden and other nearby areas and the ends if the earth is obviously everywhere.
I think the Jesus Army has become stuck in Judea. Their Biblical, apostolic church model needs to be spread around the world, especially to poor nations. One of the primary purposes with community of goods is to exterminate poverty among God’s people: “There were no needy people among them” (Acts 4:34). The Jesus Army has a national trust fund to make sure that no community grows richer than others: imagine if they had an international fund, that decreased global inequality by distributing money from communities in the UK to communities in poorer nations.
Will the UK ministry suffer from this? Well it will certainly cost a lot of money initially, but JA likes sacrifice, simplicity and to help the poor so it shouldn’t be a problem. Obviously, God gets just as happy when people are saved in Zambia as when they are saved in England, so protectionism cannot really be used as an argument to abstain from foreign missions. It’s time to plant Christian communities to the ends of the earth.
3. Giving and Receiving the Fire
Community planting should of course also be applied in the UK, not just internationally. Similarly, efforts to inspire and train other British churches to start practising community of goods needs to be increased. Our main purpose as Christians should be to promote and spread the Kingdom of God rather than our own organisation, just as the apostle Paul didn’t really care who preached the Gospel as long as it was preached.
The apostolic model of charismatic communities combining miracles, evangelism and activism is what all churches are called to. The Jesus Army is quite unique in that they actually do what the Bible tells is to do, but how hard can it be to convince Pentecostals, Vineyarders or Baptists to do the same?
JA has already ecumenical relationships through the Evangelical Alliance of Churches in the UK, and these relationships can be strengthened by mutual visits, common meetings and partnership. Details on how to practically start a community and how the Jesus Army model work should be publicly accessible and shared with other churches. Ecumenical conferences on community life and radical Christianity should be arranged.
The JA also needs to catch fire from others – the church’s leadership is much aware if that they today lack the same zeal and power as in the early days. You’ll find a lot of zeal and power in other churches around the world though, even in the UK. Again, the Multiply network should be used for this, but the JA leadership shouldn’t feel afraid to invite speakers, prophets and evangelists from other churches and networks that aren’t part of Multiply yet, like Iris Global, New Wine and Global Awakening. Those who experience lots of miracles and lead lots if people to Christ, those should the Jesus Army listen to and invite to their festivals and church meetings.
As you can tell, I really care for this church and I identify myself with it – I’ve been carrying their red cross around my neck for five years, ever since I visited them the first time and was baptised in the Spirit there. I love the Jesus Army and pray that it grows, and I hope that the people involved there will see this and receive what I believe are some helpful, Biblical tips for church growth.