How following Jesus and exploring His continuing mission led an Avondale alumnus to call for the transformation of church
A book drawing on the ministry, evangelism, church-planting and teaching experience, much of it across cultures, of an Avondale College of Higher Education alumnus became a bestseller in 2017. Following Jesus: Disciple-making and Movement-building by Dr Peter Roennfeldt finished at number two on an annual list of the top 20 bestsellers through Adventist Book Centres in Australia and New Zealand. Its close study of the life and ministry of Jesus supported the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific’s focus on discipleship. It also featured in life groups and on social networks as a study guide. Now comes the follow up: Following the Spirit: Disciple-making, Church-planting and Movement-building Today. Roennfeldt answers questions from Signs Publishing Book Editor Nathan Brown about the new book.
Apart from the obvious progression from the Gospels to Acts, how do the two books fit together?
Following Jesus explores the progression of Jesus’ disciple-making on earth, reflected in the Gospels. Following the Spirit explores His ongoing movement-building-from heaven through His disciples on earth. The first book examines Jesus’ model; the second how early believers applied what He taught in disciple-making, church-planting and movement-building.
You’ve been sharing Following Jesus in many places over the past year. What have been some of the highlights?
I’ve loved visiting regional offices of the Adventist Church where employees are reading Following Jesus then discussing it in weekly worship. Local church leadership teams are systematically working through the book, applying insights from Jesus’ life and movement-building. School chaplains are using the Discovery Bible Reading plan, with Following Jesus, in schools. I receive emails from parents whose children are engaging with the stories of Jesus, especially through Discovery Bible Reading. I’m participating in community groups where neighbours and friends are working through the Gospels with this book, and I’m seeing the insights of online book clubs working through Following Jesus.
Following the Spirit sounds an unusual way to talk about our relationship with God. What does this mean?
The Holy Spirit plays a vital role in our relationship with God. Jesus was conceived, filled and anointed for disciple-making by Him, and Jesus is still active through His body—the disciples who are born again, filled and baptised by the Spirit for mission. Since Pentecost, we’ve lived in the era of the Spirit. In “following the Spirit” we follow our Saviour’s radical example in incarnational and relational mission.
What place does Acts hold in your ministry experience?
The Gospels outline Jesus’ model for disciple-making and movement-building. Acts is our textbook for church-planting, for exploring the challenges faced when introducing the gospel. Since beginning 46 years ago—encouraged by my regional church president Pr Clive Barritt—my wife, Judy, and I have planted more than 20 Adventist churches with teams of members and ministers, and I’ve equipped hundreds of church-planting teams in almost 60 countries. And I’ve encouraged every member of every team to read Acts—and I read it each time. It’s inspiring, and transformational. I’m scheduled to conduct at least eight multiplying-disciples-and-churches conferences as well as leadership meetings for ministers and young adults, so I’ll re-read Acts at least eight times.
So, what’s there still to learn? What did writing Following the Spirit teach you that you didn’t know before?
The impact of the apostles taking Jesus as their hermeneutic. Jesus’ life, ministry and teaching reinterpreted Scripture for them, particularly their understanding of prophecy and God’s kingdom. While the Pharisees in the Jerusalem church clung to a national, Jewish temple focus, the early missionary movements represented by Antioch and the apostles cultivated the vision of God’s kingdom where the evils of national, gender and status discrimination were eradicated by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Tensions and the threat of schism were ever present. The issues Luke writes about in Acts apply just as much to us today.
It’s impossible to return to the first century and start over, so in what way should Acts influence our lives?
You’re right, we can’t go back. And Following the Spirit isn’t a call to return to an imagined glorious past. We are to make disciples and plant churches in a pagan, post-Christian and next-Christendom world. This is where we are! Read Acts. Is radical change at the very core of church needed? Just as with his gospel, Luke finishes Acts with no conclusion. A new chapter is needed. Digging into Acts and exploring Jesus’ continuing mission will shape and cultivate the resilience needed for us to write the next chapter—Acts 29.
If radical change is necessary, how do we transform established churches and denominations?
Many good books have been written in response to this question, including Dr Kayle de Waal’s Mission Shift. In Following the Spirit, we look at the essential elements for transforming established churches and denominations. Chapters 21 and 22—“Paul’s good news master story” and “Paul’s idea of church”—and the appendix with five Acts 29 worksheets raise critical issues related to transforming established churches and maintenance denominations.
Following the Spirit
Following the Spirit is available from Seventh-day Adventist bookstores in Australia and New Zealand or from www.hopeshop.com.PURCHASE