So I’ve been thinking about writing this blog post for awhile now, but have struggled with how to convey my opinion on such a hot topic issue (in some circles) without seeming pretentious and arrogant. This particular topic is a pet peeve of mine, and if you know me, then you probably know just how worked up I can get about it. I would say I’m a fairly passionate guy, and oftentimes I can covey my passions in an arrogant and unlovely manner. So please bear (and yes I intentionally spelled it like the animal, I prefer having peaceful dialogue with bears) with me as I discuss this issue.
A couple of disclaimers. In terms of practical experience in church planting I have none. (Although you could say most “church-planters don’t either) In terms of theoretical knowledge of the topic I have a Bachelors degree in International church planting from a Liberal (and the term “liberal” here does not mean politically liberal) arts university. So I’ll try to approach this post with some humility and say I could very well be wrong in my opinion on the matter. (And if you want to do your own research I’ll place some resources down at the bottom of this post.)
So (I apparently like the word “so” a lot) what in the world is this post about anyway. “Gabe, just freaking get to your point.” Well you don’t have to be in such a rush, but since you are, I’ll begin to make my way to the actual content of this blog post.
In the Evangelical world (this is my background and the one I’m most familiar with) Church planting is a pretty big deal. They have whole organizations devoted to this effort. The IMB and NAMB are two such Southern Baptist organizations. I am most familiar with NAMB (North American Missions Board). Much of what passes for church planting in this organization is what I would call “Trans-Planting.” To be distinguished from “Church-Planting. SO…What exactly does this “church-planting” look like. Well let me give you a quick run down.
Somebody normally decides they feel called to plant a church. So they spend some time in prayer trying to discern what city or people God is calling them too (not a bad idea). Once they have decided where their moving too they begin to build a “church planting” team. Once their team has been gathered they all pack up and move to the city, find a building to buy, rent, or use for free. Then they start passing out flyers, maybe have a block party to meet people. What’s called a “launch date” is tentatively established. The Launch date is the date their “church” will be officially open, and they will have their first services. Hopefully, the goal is, that on this launch date a bunch of people from the area will begin attending their services and come to hear them preach. (By this point they probably have a website.) The “Church planter” stays on as this group grows and pastors the people. What in my experience normally happens, and my experience is limited, is instead of people who don’t know Jesus coming to their services, its mostly white, middle class families who already know Jesus, and were already part of some church. Either they recently moved to the area, or just we’re tired of their old church, and wanted to find the new cool hip church that was supposedly doing ministry to the outcasts. (They actually may be doing ministry to the outcast)
Now, this is what I call Transplanting. Essentially when a group of people that already know Jesus move to a new area, and start having block parties, services, and start calling themselves a new church plant. But in reality they just relocated part of a church and started calling it a new church plant. “Okay Gabe, I see what your saying, but what is the big deal. What’s your problem with this model?” I’m glad you asked 🙂
- NOBODY is actually coming to know Jesus….And their calling it a “church plant.” In most cases the people who become part of this new church already know Jesus.
- Most of these “church planters” affirm Sola Scriptura but aren’t getting their church planting methodology from Paul. It’s just not consistent. “In practice, the Bible often provides our motivation for missions, but unfortunately not our methodology.” Don Dent. Basically you don’t see Jesus or Paul operating in the Transplanting model.
Paul I think, and Jesus even more so, are the people we need to be gleaning our understanding of Church-Planting from. The Pauline model/Apostolic Model of Church-Planting is firmly imbedded in a Incarnational approach to Ministry that is modeled and founded upon Jesus. The Trans-Planting model that I described is what is called the Pastor-Church Planting model. Which is not based on incarnational ministry but instead tells people to come to them. (Disclaimer: I should say that the Pastor-Church Planting model is not Incarnational to the extant that in its way of trying to reach people. That is, by drawing people out of their already established communities and trying to bring them into new communities. And of course there may be Pastor Church planting types that are reaching people incarntionally, but thats probably not the norm.) In his book “Apostolic Church Planting” J.D. Payne (who happens to be an Evangelical) says, “The weight of the biblical evidence is that churches should be birthed from the harvest fields. Biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches, not the shifting of sheep around the kingdom.”
The difference between the two models is significant. In the Apostolic model, the Apostle/Prophet team (you can call them the church planters) go into a new area, establish themselves in the community, become part of that community, build rapport and trust among the people. As they do this normally some people come to know Jesus. Once they do, the new followers don’t leave the community their from. (Removing them from the community is the opposite of incarntional theology. Jesus came into the community, he did not stand outside the community expecting others to leave their already established communities.) But their community is transformed/born into a church. They were a community before Jesus and now their a community with Jesus. The church planters don’t stay and pastor the new church, instead they appoint local leaders from the new church plant. These local leaders, since they are from the people themselves, know the culture better, and are more equipped to reach their own community with the gospel, and too continue too build up the body in ways that make sense to their particular cultural context, and empower the local people. Once local leadership has been established (sometimes before Paul couldn’t appoint local leaders before he was driven out of the city, so he appoint local leaders later) the Apostle/Prophet team steps into a more regional leadership position that is based more on networking than micromanaging; the locals are trusted with leading themselves in the day to day affairs of the church. And more importantly the Holy Spirit is trusted. The Church-Planting team stays in touch with the church, sending letters, visiting, sending emissaries in their stead to visit, all to encourage and help build up those churches that they have planted. But ultimately the leadership of the Church Planter is replaceable, and it was always meant to be. Their role is to empower others to leadership, and them to others. The only person’s leadership who is irreplaceable is the Holy Spirit’s.
The Holy Spirit is active and moving, introducing people to Jesus, and in no way do I mean to say that people cannot come to know Jesus through the Transplanting model. The Holy Spirit is able to bring fruit out of our less than effective efforts. But just because we cannot limit the Holy Spirit does not mean we should continue bad practices of ministry. The Jesus/Pauline model of church-planting has been followed by the likes of many spiritual father and mothers, Silas, Junias, Saint Patrick, John Wesley, Charles Wesley, etc. This model has been their since the beginning and effective throughout 2,000 years of church history. Who are we to deny this ancient tradition, and model found in scripture that are ultimately founded on Jesus and carried on by Paul.
Resources: Author followed by a book they’ve written. They definitely won’t agree with me on everything, but their good resources for your own study.
J.D. Payne: “Apostolic Church Planting”, Don Dent: “The On-Going Role of Apostles in Missions”, Neil Cole: “Organic Church” and “Primal Fire”, Alan Hirsch: “The Forgotten Ways”, Steve Addison: “Movements that Changed the World.”