What did Jesus mean? He came to cast fire on the earth, and wished we were already burning.
A few decades ago, Catherine Doherty linked these words of Jesus to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to engage in mission. “The invincible love of the Holy Spirit is among us,” she wrote. “We have only to open our hearts to it and we shall change the world. Then our own hearts will contain the fire and flame that Jesus sent to renew the earth. . . . Yes, Jesus came to cast fire on the earth. Would that this fire were enkindled in our hearts today!”
For the Church to share the Gospel of Christ in ways that connect with our ever-changing context, we need more than human insight and power. Apart from Christ we can do nothing. This is why our hearts must be aflame with the power of the Holy Spirit, and why leaders in the Church are called to have deep spiritual lives. As John V. Taylor wrote, “The main concern of any missionary training should be to help people to become more receptive to the revelations of God.” The question for us, then, is this: How do we become more receptive, more open to the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit?
These are the primary questions I ask when working with MDIV program students in Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Church Planting Emphasis. They are also the reasons why we’ve designed the Church Planting Emphasis as a comprehensive formational experience. Students share life in a cohort, allowing them to grow in prayer and relationship with one another, all while gaining real experience through special internships. Through it all, we grow in our attentiveness to the Holy Spirit, and our ability to look for what God is doing in the world.
We also have opportunities for pastors and church leaders to experience such formation. On October 17 and 18, our Church Planting Initiative and the Continuing Education Office at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary are hosting “Kindling Holy Fire,” a two-day hands-on equipping event for people who are starting new ministries and church plants in rural and urban neighborhoods in Pennsylvania and other states. Participants will practice exploring neighborhoods, will learn about the theological foundations of church-planting, and will have opportunities to converse with experienced leaders and coaches about their visions for ministry. Because these different components will all be saturated in prayer, they will be like kindling, the small pieces of wood that can easily catch fire and fuel a growing fire.
Jesus came to bring fire to the earth – the fire of hearts aflame with love for Him and for the world. May the Lord send such fire upon our hearts today.
 Catherine de Hueck Doherty, The Gospel Without Compromise (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press 1976) 16-17.
 John V. Taylor, The Go-Between God: The Holy Spirit and Christian Mission (St. Albans Pl: SCM Press, 1972) .
The Rev. Christopher Brown, coordinator of the Church Planting Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, received his Master of Divinity (MDiv) from PTS in 2008. He also co-pastors The Upper Room Presbyterian Church, a church plant in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.