In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin tells of the time he wanted to convince the citizens of Philadelphia to light the streets at night as a protection against crime and as a convenience for evening activities. Failing to convince them by his words, he decided to show his neighbors how compelling a single light could be. He bought an attractive lantern, polished the glass, and placed it on a long bracket that extended from the front of his house. Each evening as darkness descended, he lit the wick. His neighbors soon noticed the warm glow in front of his house. Passersby found that the light helped them to avoid tripping over protruding stones in the roadway. Soon others placed lanterns in front of their homes, and eventually the city recognized the need for having well-lighted streets.
That is the power of example. Samuel Johnson once wrote, “Example is always more effective than teaching.” Albert Schweitzer said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” Children become like parents; students become like teachers—all because of the power of example. Coupled with the Word of God, there may be no greater power on earth to change the behavior of others.
The Apostle Paul undoubtedly knew about this power when he wrote, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1, 2 ESV).
Followers of Jesus are to be imitators of God, to walk in love and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. When we live like this we become powerful examples of Christianity. But this is no ordinary example; no ‘any kind of example.’ No! When Jesus’ followers become light in the darkness, sins are exposed by the shining light and an amazing thing happens: darkness can no longer hide its nature and acts in secret. All is exposed to light. Light that makes everything visible brings an even more radical element.
This is what Paul means in verses 13-14: “But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:1, 2, 13, 14 ESV). Everything that is revealed is (or becomes) light. Light turns darkness into light. This is the church’s mission.
So, I am thinking now about how this applies to church planters, that rare breed of servants who I serve and really love: “How do you go about effectively planting a church?” You deliberately live as imitators of God in your neighborhood. You become known in your neighborhood as men and women of God, thus becoming light in the darkness. As Benjamin Franklin did in Philadelphia, show your neighbors how compelling a single light can be. Your neighbors will soon notice the warm glow coming from your home. In addition to simple example, you will have the supernatural power of the indwelling Holy Spirit whose power will turn the darkness of your neighborhood into light! Church planting is far more about this than it is about forms and functions. So, in your neighborhood, turn your inner light on unashamedly, and see what Jesus does!