In every other area of life, most people think it is advisable to have a plan: plan your work and then work your plan, they say. Homemakers should plan their grocery shopping with a list and not buy on impulse. Business people live or die by their planning. The wise man said, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty” (Prov 21:5).
God Himself plans, and His plans are always ideal: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11). Of course, as believers, we don’t want plans that diverge from the plans of God; we want always to work in co-operation with Him. Solomon writes: “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established” (Prov 16:3). And again, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (v. 9).
One of the remarkable things about the Lord’s giving of the Great Commission was the absence of any stated plan. The Lord told them (and us) what to do but not how to do it. The first century Church had certain principles given to them in the New Testament as it was written, but no specific plan of attack. Of course, they also had the directive influence of the Holy Spirit.
It was soon evident, however, that the Christians developed plans for the work that lay ahead, plans that were open to the frequent and welcome adjustments by the Spirit of God. In the earliest days, one of their chief opponents, the leading Pharisee, Gamaliel, observed, “‘So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!’ So they took his advice” (Acts 5:38-40, RSV).
Clearly, the apostles made plans. When they entered a city, they looked for the best opportunities. They began in the synagogues or found places “where prayer was customarily made” (Acts 16:13). Why? They saw the advantage, if possible, in seeing early converts from those who were monotheists, convinced already of the ideas of God, sin, sacrifice, judgment, holiness and forgiveness.
If that proved fruitless, they often went to other places of public discourse—the universities (schools of the philosophers), pagan worship sites (Areopagus), or market places. Interestingly, we never see them trying to draw their own crowd to a building—something we are finding increasingly difficult. The early witnesses seemed to employ ways to use the crowds that the world had already gathered.
What plans do we have for taking North America for Christ? How much time do we spend discussing the subject, or examining the New Testament record for clues, or praying for guidance in this regard? I know there are small pockets across the continent where exercised saints are thinking in this area, and I know there are some old timers who are relentlessly storming the ramparts in prayer, hoping to see a real awakening just once more before they die. But should we draw the following conclusion—that the amount of growth shown by assemblies in the last 30 years fairly well matches the amount of planning and preparation which we have been doing?