Written by Curtis Hartshorn
If someone had told me five years ago that I would be planting churches, I wouldn’t have believed them. The thought of starting a new church would have overwhelmed me to the core! If God told me to plant a church back then, I might have declined, justifying it by saying “I’m just not ready” or “It’s too hard.”
Mission in Malawi
In 2016, my wife Sylvia and I travelled to Malawi, Africa through an internship program at Tyndale University and while there, I was given the opportunity to teach at a local seminary. God used the students at this school to break our ministry box wide open, and bring us back to the Scriptures in a way that has left a lasting mark on our lives. One conversation in particular had a powerful influence on us; we listened to a student as he told us about his simple strategy for church planting: he and his wife would save up enough money to travel to a village that didn’t have an established church, they would call the neighbours out of their homes, share a meal with them, and share the gospel with every single person in the village. Some people would respond, get saved, and he would baptize them and begin discipling them so they could become the leaders of this new local church. Being stripped away from our cultural context and seeing the strength of the Malawians’ faith brought us back to the Bible with fresh eyes, ready to rediscover what the Church was meant to look like.
For the remainder of my time in Malawi, I decided to go back to the Gospels and Acts. As I did this, I began to see a chasm between my life and my understanding of church and what I saw in the Bible. Sylvia and I recognized how off-the-mark we were, and we resolved to leave behind the shallow walk with God that we had, and decided to start planting churches like what we saw in Acts 2.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.” (Acts 2:42-44)
When I observed how the lifestyle of the Malawian Christians lined up with Acts 2 I had a profound realization about church: it was always meant to be simple. The Malawians didn’t have any of the requirements or resources that were expected in my Canadian context, and yet they were bearing significantly more fruit. Why? I believe it was because they had a simple but strong faith. They would simply open the Bible and do what it said, trusting God to bless them as they did. And he has indeed blessed them immensely.
Church in Canada
Currently, the church in Canada is facing a serious crisis. The statistics are clear that there are more churches closing their doors every year than there are new churches being planted. We can’t keep up. I believe that one of the largest underlying reasons for this crisis is that we have made church complicated, when it was always meant to be simple and easily reproducible.
A good friend and mentor of mine Troy Cooper calls this the problem of “Saul’s armour.” When David was about to fight Goliath, the leaders of Israel insisted that he put on King Saul’s armour for the fight. They thought that it would be the “wise” thing to do. The problem was that David had never put armour on, and he wasn’t a trained swordsman, so the effort meant to help him only hindered his ability to fight. The rest of the story tells us that David decided to cast off the armour and approach Goliath with only a sling and stones, coming against his enemy with a simple, but powerful faith in who God is. I believe that in Canada, we too are at a point in time where God is calling His Church to cast off all of the extra-biblical requirements we have invented, and return to His simple commandment, “go and make disciples,” (Matthew 28:19).
Since our return from Africa, Sylvia and I have returned to the foundation of the church in Acts 2; we have been engaged in tons of evangelism, we’ve been baptizing new believers in our bathtub, meeting in our homes for teaching, worship and communion, sharing our possessions and helping each other financially, witnessing the power of the Holy Spirit as He heals people and sets them free from demons. We are continually growing in making our homes places of daily prayer where we cry out for revival.
A Biblical Community of Believers
In order to reach out to our neighbours and build a strong community of believers, we all decided to move into a high-rise apartment complex together. As we have pressed on into this vision of simple church, our whole community would agree that it has brought a revival in our lives. We are sharing the gospel more than ever, praying with greater expectation, worshipping in greater freedom and enjoying life with God more than ever before.