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So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up.  And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.  Acts 9:31

I’m not against strategic plans.  I’m for them.  They have their place, as a matter of wise stewardship.  But they cannot generate the astonishing outcomes described in the book of Acts.

I remember hearing Michael Green at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974.  He asked us, Why don’t we see anywhere in the book of Acts a man-made strategic plan for evangelizing the world?  His answer: They didn’t have one.

What then did they have?  Two things, for starters: the fear of the Lord, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

In the fear of the Lord, they were teachable, they were humble, they were listening to the gospel, they were open and grateful and easily bendable.  They did not have a spirit of self-assurance.  They were eager to learn and grow and change in any way the Lord wanted them to.

In the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were gladdened, they felt forgiven, they were reconciled to God and reconciling with one another.  They saw their sins and failures, but they also saw the far greater reality of Jesus crucified for them.  To put it in a secular way, they couldn’t believe their luck.

Openness in a know-it-all world, comfort in an angry world – that ancient world simply could not resist these heaven-sent powers.  So the church didn’t just grow, it multiplied.

Those early churches had no master plan for their future.  But they were walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and it worked.

Church growth takes planning.  Let’s do it.  But church multiplication takes miracle.  Let’s be open to what only God can do.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on The Gospel Coalition on January 11th, 2017. Used with permission.

Ray Ortlund (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary; MA, University of California, Berkeley; PhD, University of Aberdeen, Scotland) is president of Renewal Ministries and an Emeritus Council member of The Gospel Coalition. He founded Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and now serves from Immanuel as pastor to pastors. Ray has authored a number of books, including The Gospel: How The Church Portrays The Beauty of Christ, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, and with Sam Allberry, You’re Not Crazy: Gospel Sanity for Weary Churches. He and his wife, Jani, have four children.

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