February 19 – Church planting: pitching tents for the joy of all people

by Mark Potma

The thought of pitching a tent can evoke wistful memories or a certain nostalgia about camping trips in the past, or perhaps excitement and adventure while preparing for an upcoming trip. Often it involves travelling to new places, getting used to different surroundings, and honing skills that are not part of our everyday lives. For many people in Bible times, and for some people groups around world today, the tent is a primary or secondary dwelling and a means of existence. Living out of a tent can also represent for some a rootless, exhausting, and sometimes even homeless existence. Church-planting missionaries like us know firsthand what it means to be sojourners and exiles in this world (1Pe 2:11). Even though we do experience God’s lasting presence in our hearts and in our church fellowships, we know that we are still only pilgrims on this earth.

Perhaps we can give Jabal credit for inventing the tent; after all, he was the father of those who live in tents and have livestock (Gen 4:20). For the patriarchs, the tent was not only a dwelling; it was also a place to meet with God. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob each pitched their tents at the same places where they erected altars to worship the LORD (Gen 12, 26, and 33). Made from the skin of sheep or goats, their well-worn tents foreshadowed a future glorious hope: Abraham went to live in the land of promise … living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Heb 11:9-10) We can all relate as we often groan in the temporary, earthly “tents” of our bodies, longing for our permanent, eternal home in heaven (2 Cor 5:1)

The place where the LORD met with his chosen people was in a tent: The cloud covered the tent of meeting and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle (Ex 40:34). When the cloud or pillar of God’s presence moved, the twelve tribes surrounding the tabernacle packed up their tents and belongings, only to set up camp once again as they journeyed to the Promised Land. Meanwhile, only the priests were allowed to enter this mobile house of worship, and later the temple, on behalf of the people. But our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, or “pitched his tent among us” (Jn 1:14), has prepared the way for us into God’s very presence: Through the greater and more perfect tent, he entered once for all into the holy places… thus securing an eternal redemption. (Heb 9:11-12).

As we plant churches in the Czech Republic, and as church planters around the world establish new local express-sions of the Body of Christ, we are “incarnationally “pitching our tent” among the people that God has called us to serve. This involves learning the language and culture, living among them, sharing the good news of Christ with them, inviting them to begin a relationship with God, and then gathering them together to grow in faith. The spiritual “tent of witness” (Acts 7:44) may initially be the church planter’s living room or a rented facility in the target area, and often involves moving several times to accommodate for size, financial needs, or other external conditions. God wants his church to have great expectations despite any adverse circumstances. Sometimes this means enlarging the existing “tent” and at other times it involves pitching new “tents” in the regions beyond (2 Cor 10:16).

Perhaps the most well-known proclamation in the Scriptures about tents is the word of the LORD in Isaiah 54:1-4. The barren woman is promised even more children than childbearing women; her offspring will spread to the left and the right; they will possess the nations; and the desolate cities will become populated. God is getting ready to do something that will simply amaze us. As we fulfill Christ’s Great Commission call by winning worshippers from all nations, God is saying to us, “Get ready!” How do we do this?

Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. (Is 54:2)

God wants us to get ready for the “ingathering” of a vast multitude of new brothers and sisters from all nations, tribes, peoples and languages (Rev 7:9) into the family of God. Let’s enlarge the place of our tent and stretch out the curtains! Let’s reach new regions, plant new churches, make new disciples, and train new leaders – don’t hold back! With a bigger tent comes longer cords – praise God for the rope-holders in supporting churches like LSA who intercede on behalf of new tent-pitching initiatives around the world. Lengthening the cords, holding the ropes through prayer and support, is what allows this gospel advancement to continue. And by pounding our tent pegs even further into the soil, by strengthening our stakes, we are trusting in the rock-solid promises of God and the foundational truths of Scripture as we see Isaiah’s prophecy being fulfilled before our very eyes. Are you ready?

Mark and Gretchen Potma are missionaries with TEAM in the Czech Republic, planting churches in one of the most atheistic countries in the world. They have four young adult children.

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