The Jesus Strategy
By John White
Why was Jesus so dissatisfied?
Two questions. (Actually, the same question repeated in two places.)
In Mt. 9:38, Jesus is getting ready to send out six church planting teams of two men each. If we understand that Jesus Himself was a church planter (see Roger Gehring’s book, House Church and Mission), we can see that He has just multiplied church planting capacity by 600%! (From one church planter (ie, Jesus) to six church planting teams.)
Wouldn’t you be thrilled with that? But, Jesus is apparently far from satisfied. He assesses the situation and says, “The workers, these six teams, are only a few.” (oligos = little, small, few) The Message says, “How few the harvest hands.” What was Jesus thinking that would cause him to be so dissatisfied?
And, notice that His dissatisfaction then leads to an exhortation for His disciples to begin doing what we must assume He has been doing all along (Lk. 6:40)- beseeching the Lord of the harvest for more workers (Lk 10:2b). The number of people praying the 10:2b prayer has just grown from one to 13.
(This prayer asks for more “harvest workers”. From the context of Luke 10, it seems clear that there were two kinds of workers. First, there were those in a “house of peace”. This is a household where God has been working preveniently in such a way that a church is ready to be birthed. The home of Cornelius is an example of this (Acts 10). This answer to the 10:2b Prayer results in one new church being planted.
The second type of harvest worker is the apostolic church planter. This person is called and gifted to plant multiple churches. The job of the apostolic church planter is to find the houses of peace and get those churches started. The 12 in Mt. 10 and the 84 in Lk. 10 are “sent ones” (from apostelo, to send in Lk 10:1). They are sent out by Jesus to plant many churches.)
Fast forward one year to Lk 10:2. Jesus is now sending out 42 church planting teams. (12 + 72 divided by 2) The 13 have been praying the prayer in Mt. 9:38 (“beseech the Lord of the harvest…”) and the Lord of the harvest has answered in a big way. Church planting capacity has increased by 700%. (From 6 teams to 42 teams.)
But, is Jesus satisfied with this number? Not at all! His assessment is the same. “These 42 teams are only a few.” (oligos) We must ask again, “What was Jesus thinking that would cause him to continue to be so dissatisfied?
Notice next that His dissatisfaction again leads to an exhortation for His disciples to begin doing what Jesus and the 12 have been doing for the last year – beseech the Lord of the harvest for more workers (Lk 10:2b). The number of people praying the 10:2b prayer has now grown from 13 to 85 (Jesus plus the 84).
Jesus’ assignment explains His lack of satisfaction
In Mt. 15:24, Jesus is clear about His assignment while on earth. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” So, how many of those “sheep” were there? Sociologist Rodney Stark writes that there were an estimated six million Jews in the first century. (One million in Palestine. Five million in the diaspora throughout the Roman Empire. The Rise of Christianity, p. 57.)
Now, let’s add Roger Gehring’s estimate of 15 people (between 10 and 20) in the average house church. (House Church and Mission, p. 87) That means that 400,000 house churches would be needed to reach all of the “lost sheep of Israel”. There is, of course, no indication that Jesus had a specific number in mind. At the same time, something was deeply motivating Jesus to repeatedly say, “That’s not enough! We need more!”
Now, we understand Jesus’ dissatisfaction!
While I don’t think that Jesus, while He was on earth, knew exactly how many “lost sheep” there were, I do believe His heart was to “find” every single one of them. (See the parable of the ninety-nine and the one in Lk 15:4.) That’s what drove him to repeatedly say, “That’s not enough apostolic church planters! We need more! Ask for more!”
Jesus was motivated by joy
On one level, we see Jesus’ dissatisfaction. But, if we drill down we see that, at the deepest level, Jesus is motivated by joy.
“Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents (metanoeo – to change one’s thinking) than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Lk 15: 3-7
Who are the lost?
No doubt, the lost refer to those who are not yet followers of Jesus. Non Christians. But, it also seems reasonable that there are Christians who, for whatever reason, have become separated from an intimate, conversational relationship with Jesus. Who are not able to connect with Him (or, perhaps, others in the flock) on a heart level. When either type of person becomes intimately connected with Jesus, there is great rejoicing.
The extent of rejoicing
Notice three aspects of the rejoicing…
- In the shepherd. The shepherd “joyfully puts (the lost sheep) on his shoulders and goes home”. What a picture of intimate connection with Jesus! This fills Him with joy.
- In the community. “Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.'” When even one person is reconnected with Jesus in this intimate way, a party breaks out with the rest of Jesus’ friends!
- In heaven. “There will be more rejoicing in heaven…” This is bigger than we ever imagined! The earthly party spills over into heaven. (Or, maybe it’s the other way around!)
What happened next?
The Jesus Strategy. No doubt, Jesus’ disciples caught both His dissatisfaction and His joy. I believe it is reasonable to assume that the 84 continued praying 10:2b and taught their disciples to do the same who taught their disciples to do the same and so on. (The very definition of a disciple, a follower of Jesus, was that they “obeyed everything He commanded them to do”. Mt. 28:19. Praying this prayer was one of His commandments. (The word “beseech” in Lk 10:2 is an imperative.)
As a result, more house churches were planted and more apostolic church planters were sent out by the Lord of the harvest. More lost sheep were reconnected with the Shepherd and the joy in heaven an earth increased. All of these church planters were taught what Jesus taught in Lk 10 and this cycle continued to repeat itself. (ie, the Jesus Strategy for the fulfillment of the Great Commission!)
200 house churches. We have one numerical picture of this process in Acts 2:41 where Luke records that 3,000 were added on one day. These people were all apparently incorporated (for a time) into what I assume were existing house churches. “Every day…they broke bread from house to house”. In the next part of the verse, we hear the joyful emotional component of these meetings. “… and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…” Acts 2:46) (Most of these converts were just visiting Jerusalem – Acts 2:5.)
Using Roger Gehring’s estimates again of 15 in a house church, this means that there were at least 200 house churches in Jerusalem at this time. (3000 divided by 15.) This was probably less than a year after the sending of the 84 in Lk 10! The Jesus Strategy was producing great fruit and great joy!
Note also the regional element with these 3000 Jews in Jerusalem. You can begin to see the next stage of the Jesus Strategy to reach Jews, the lost sheep of Israel, throughout the known world. “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” (Acts 2:5) “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs.” Acts 2:9-11. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that, in the 200 house churches, these Jews were taught, among other things, the Jesus Strategy from Lk 10?
Jesus’ disciples (no doubt!) prayed 10:2b. Who were some (by no means all!) of their answers?
Possible or probable houses of peace: Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8), Cornelius and his household (Acts 10), Philip (Acts 21:8-9), Simon the tanner (Acts 9:43), Judas (Acts 9:11,17), Lydia (Acts 16:11-15), Philippian jailer (Acts 16:25-23), Jason (Acts 17:1-9), Phoebe (Rom. 16:2), Gaius (Rom. 16:23), Priscilla and Aquila (1 Cor 16:19), Titus Justus (Acts 18:7), Crispus (Acts 18:8), Stephanas (1 Cor 1:16), Philemon (Col. 4:9, 4:17), Nympha (Col. 4:15)
Apostolic church planters: Saul (Paul… certainly the most surprising 10:2b answer in the NT!), Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Andronicus and Junia (the first female apostle? Rom 16:7), Silas (1 Thes 1:1, 2:6), Timothy (1 Thes 1:1, 2:6), Apollos (1 Cor. 4:9
Fast forward to 300 AD. Rodney Stark estimates that there were by then 6 million Christians (10% of the Roman Empire). (The Rise of Christianity, p. 6.) Most, if not all, of those believers met in homes. (“There are no evidences of larger places of meeting before 300.” Snyder, Archaeological Evidence of Church Life Before Constantine, p. 166)
Using Gehring’s estimate of the average size of a house church again, we would conclude that there were roughly 400,000 house churches by 300 AD. More evidence that the Jesus Strategy had been hugely successful!
Derailment! Stark goes on to estimate that, if the rate of growth of Christianity had continued, there would have been 33,000,000 Christians by 350 AD (p. 10). (Something over 2 million house churches!) And, we could surmise that the Great Commission might have actually been completed by 400 AD at that rate of growth. What happened to derail the Jesus Strategy? In a word, Constantine. But, that’s a whole other story.
Restoring the Jesus Strategy
The LK10 Community is committed to restoring the “Jesus Strategy”. That is, we see the 10:2b Prayer as the critical practice towards our LK10 Vision of fulfilling the Great Commission by seeing a “vibrant family of Jesus in easy reach of every person in every region and people group on earth”. We are motivated by both the dissatisfaction and the joy of our Shepherd. The dissatisfaction of seeing many who are far from Him. And, the great joy of seeing even one connect intimately with Him and with His people.
One of the ways we do this is by including “The 10:2b Round” in all of our Leader Team meetings. (Leader Teams are part of our Leader 101 Course.) Each time we are in a meeting with our Leader Team, we are identifying our region (or people group) that we feel called to pray for. We identify the number of vibrant families of Jesus needed in that region. (We call this our “crazy goal” because the numbers are so large that they would seem crazy apart from God doing the work.) And, we tell joyful stories of any 10:2b answers we seen since our last hangout.
The point is that God is restoring the Jesus Strategy! He is beginning to expand our hearts and minds and prayers to reflect the immensity of the epic story that He has invited us into. This is the Joy Revolution that Jesus started almost 2000 years ago.