Founders Journal 72 · Spring 2008 · pp. 3-14
A Perspective on Church Planting
Twenty-two years ago, when I first began to make plans to move from my Alabama pastorate to plant a church in Memphis, I remember the puzzled look that I received from a minister friend. “You want to plant a church in Memphis?” he asked quizzically. “Why, they have more churches than gas stations in Memphis!”
I’m not sure about his church/gas station statistics but he was right that Memphis has a lot of churches. Southern Baptists alone, during that time in the late 1980s had 125 churches. But his theory met with stunned silence when I pointed out that the number of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches in Memphis had remained virtually unchanged while the population quadrupled.
Memphis does not stand alone in this category. While, thankfully, the number of SBC churches has risen by more than twenty since I moved to the city, that still only scratches the surface of the need in our community alone. During the period that I was planting South Woods, I concurrently worked on my doctor of ministry degree, concentrating on church planting in the “Deep South.” I concluded that with the projected population growth in the next 20 years, at least 29,000 new churches would need to be started in the deep southern states just to keep up with population growth; and that did not consider the existing population and existing communities that lacked adequate gospel-centered churches. Just imagine the multiplied population centers on the east coast, northeast, Midwest, west coast, and Sun Belt regions! The 29,000 new churches would be the proverbial drop in the bucket!
But let me offer a necessary qualification. The goal of church planting must never be to just start a church, especially if one considers a church only as a religious gathering of those who offer some profession of Christian faith. We have far too many of those kinds of religious gatherings! By church, we insist upon congregations of regenerate people, gathered in covenant with one another for the regular exposition of God’s Word, the exercising of discipline, the observance of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, intentionally gospel-focused ministry (including missions), and the ordering of the church according to the revelation of Scripture (that is, the church government is not left to chance but regulated by Scripture). I think that may narrow some of what takes place in the name of church planting!
If we enlarge our look at church planting to encompass the globe, we are staggered by population growth and the ethno-linguistic people groups without local churches. Millions of new churches are needed to meet this pressing gospel need around the world.
That’s a bit bigger bite than we can swallow in this essay or even in our local church’s priorities. So let’s focus our attention on church planting in our own local communities. Is it realistic for your church to think about involvement in church planting? Often, we relegate church planting to denominational mission boards; but that consigns the church’s responsibility to an agency instead of to the living organism of the local church. While denominational mission agencies can help facilitate church planting by providing demographic studies, materials, leadership training, and consultation, ultimately, churches plant churches. We cannot be satisfied with sending a few dollars to the denomination so that they plant churches; no, it’s our responsibility. We may not be able to single-handedly plant a church but we can unite with like-minded churches in establishing new, gospel-centered churches.
Let’s probe this idea of churches planting churches with a view toward involving all of our churches.
Why Church Planting?
Obviously, we cannot just begin a church-planting campaign because there are not enough churches. We’re not a food franchise or department store trying to expand its brand of products into a region. We’re the church of the Lord Jesus Christ; we’ve been purchased at the price of Christ’s blood; we’ve been established by the Lord of the church as missionary outposts to proclaim the gospel; we’ve been strategically placed as salt and light in the world; and one day we will gather corporately before the throne of God and the Lamb to eternally exult in His grace. So what we’re doing is dissimilar to the world of marketing. When the church succumbs to marketing philosophy it forfeits its gospel-dependence for man-centered techniques. Instead, we must be convinced that church planting is biblical and therefore necessary and blessed by God.
Biblical and Theological Concerns
My strong conviction through reading the Scriptures is that you cannot have a proper theology or methodology of evangelism without the church. By this, I do not mean that people can only be saved within the confines of a church structure. But I do mean that our evangelism must be in relationship to the church. Leon Morris wrote, “Salvation is social. It concerns the whole people of God.” He goes on to explain the continuity of believers in Old and New Testaments. Much more, we have continuity with those presently living so that we are saved in relationship to the church.
Church planting is not a new phenomenon; it originated as the gospel moved out of Jerusalem into Judea, Samaria, and the remotest parts of the earth. The book of Acts champions church planting! While some suggest it unwise to build a theology based on the book of Acts, when it comes to church planting, most of the biblical evidence for church planting is found in the book of Acts. Though not in epistolary form, the narratives of Acts take us from one church planting occurrence to another–without detailed explanation–as Christians evangelized their world. They knew nothing of the spread of evangelism without church planting. Even the commission that Christ gave to the church setting forth the missionary mandate cannot be fulfilled apart from church planting (i.e., if no churches exist among the people evangelized). Matthew 28:19-20 calls for disciple-making, baptizing and ongoing teaching of believers so that they learn faithful obedience to the Lord of the Church. Para-church groups are not equipped for that work nor called to it. That work belongs to the church, so the church must include church planting in its missionary and evangelistic plans.
Roland Allen, an Anglican missionary to China and Africa in the early 20th century, correctly summed up the theological mandate for church planting expressed in the book of Acts.
It is impossible but that the account so carefully given by St Luke of the planting of the churches in the Four Provinces should have something more than a mere archaeological and historical interest. Like the rest of the Holy Scriptures it was ‘written for our learning’. It was certainly meant to be something more than the romantic history of an exceptional man, doing exceptional things under exceptional circumstances–a story from which ordinary people of a later age can get no more instruction for practical missionary work than they receive from the history of the Cid, or from the exploits of King Arthur. It was really intended to throw light on the path of those who should come after.
With that in mind, let’s do a quick survey of the book of Acts and the church planting implications and evidences found in it. Acts 1:8 reiterates the same Great Commission earlier cited. Christ does not appoint the church to get decisions but to make disciples under the power of the Holy Spirit. That work cannot take place without local congregations assuming the role of disciple-making, ongoing training, and the accountability and corrective discipline of new believers. Acts 2:37-47, shows the beginning of the first church in Jerusalem, with all of the elements that Jesus called for in the Great Commission. They made disciples after clear gospel preaching by Peter and the Apostles. They baptized new believers (v. 41) and continued, with systematic teaching (v. 42) as well as regular evangelistic expansion (v. 47). Persecution arose after Stephen’s death, with the church in Jerusalem “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (8:1). “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word,” including Philip, who preached the gospel in Samaria and established the first church among the Samaritans (8:4-24).3
Though we often wish for more commentary, the biblical writers give us just what we need. After Saul’s conversion, Luke commented, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase” (9:31, italics mine). In that remarkable statement, Luke compresses the first surge of church planting in the early church into one verse! The church, viewed singularly as the body of Christ, continued to increase corporately as local congregations were established beyond Jerusalem into Judea, Galilee, and Samaria.
Acts 10 shows the church beginning in Caesarea with Cornelius’ conversion and a church established among new Gentile believers. Peter ordered the baptism of those evidencing regenerate life (10:48). Acts 11:19-26 tells the story of how the gospel came to Antioch. News of this gospel movement reached the church in Jerusalem’s ears, so they sent Barnabas to give leadership. He, in turn, sought out Saul of Tarsus as his assistant. Together “for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers” (10:26, italics mine). What’s remarkable is that Luke has no need to stop and explain the great expansion of new churches. He just states the obvious.
The one early church that became a “mother church” to more than any in the Gentile world was the church in Antioch. As the sending church, they commissioned Paul and Barnabas to take the gospel into the Galatian region. We find that they planted churches in Pisidian Antioch (13:44-49), Derbe, Lystra and Iconium (14:20-21). They did not leave the churches without leadership and structure. “When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (14:23, italics mine). These early church missionaries considered church leadership structure an essential mark of Christian congregations.
The letter sent to the new churches by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem in order to correct the problem sown by Judaizers, went “to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles” (15:23). That evidenced churches planted in the Syrian and Cilician regions with Antioch being the capital. Paul and Silas also took the letter to the established churches in the Galatian region “for them to observe” (16:4). The continued movement of the gospel beyond Galatia (modern Turkey) into Europe took place with the vision calling for Paul to come to Macedonia to help them (16:9). Consequently, the first church in Europe was established in Philippi (16:11-40). From Philippi, churches began in Thessalonica and Berea (16:1-15), Corinth and Ephesus (18:1-11; 19:1-10). Indications of churches in Troas (20:7-12), Tyre (21:3-5), Ptolemais (21:7) and Caesarea (21:8-14) demonstrate that where the gospel traversed in power, churches were planted. When Paul came to Rome (28:15-16), he met with “the brethren,” short-hand for the church that had already been established in the capital city.
The Epistles bear evidence of churches in the Galatian region, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, Laodicea (Colossians 4:16), Thessalonica, Crete (Titus 1:5) and a scattering of congregations addressed by James and Peter, including those in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia
(1 Peter 1:1). John identifies seven specific churches in Asia Minor in Revelation 1:11, including Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis and Philadelphia. Our Lord addresses specific issues of doctrine, discipline, persecution, purity and other matters pertinent to each of the Seven Churches that had been earlier planted, whether by Paul or other early evangelists (Revelation 2-3). Wherever the disciples scattered with the gospel, they sought to establish new churches.
This survey of church planting in Acts with additional evidence in the Epistles and Revelation, indicate the pattern of gospel expansion for every age. Fortunately, since many churches have been planted throughout the world, we can link new believers with established congregations. From existing churches gospel outreach takes place. Where no congregations exist, then, we must insist, biblical evangelism has not been adequately done until churches are planted for the ongoing growth, nurturing and ministry of the new believers. To abrogate planting churches, while engaging aggressively in evangelistic work in areas that lack gospel-centered churches, misses the point of biblical evangelism. New believers are to be folded into local flocks, and where there are none, the conscientious evangel will seek to establish new churches. His work is not completed until a viable church exists to nurture and involve the new believers in gospel ministry. Roland Allen diagnosed this problem almost a century ago.
Men have wandered over the world, ‘preaching the Word’, laying no solid foundations, establishing nothing permanent, leaving no really instructed society behind them, and have claimed St Paul’s authority for their absurdities…people have adopted fragments of St Paul’s method and have tried to incorporate them into alien systems, and the failure which resulted has been used as an argument against the Apostle’s method. For instance, people have baptized uninstructed converts and the converts have fallen away; but St Paul did not baptize uninstructed converts apart from a system of mutual responsibility which ensured their instruction. Again, they have gathered congregations and have left them to fend for themselves, with the result that the congregations have fallen back into heathenism. But St Paul did not gather congregations, he planted churches, and he did not leave a church until it was fully equipped with orders of ministry, sacraments and tradition [italics mine].
Allowing for Allen’s Anglicanism, I think he struck the right chord in this issue. As we observe Paul’s methodology for evangelism, we find that it focused on church planting. Church planting was not a by-product of his evangelism but central to it–that’s the point that Allen makes so plainly.
I don’t want to suggest that church planting must take place in every evangelistic labor. Rather if there are no gospel-focused churches in an area, then yes, church planting must be under taken or else, if at least the shell of a church exists, the work of biblical reformation must be pursued to bring life to lethargic, theologically-anemic churches. In other words, our goal must not be to simply win converts but to make disciples–and that cannot happen without churches.
Sometimes geography demands new churches. Communities change; people move out while others move in. Some churches adapt to the change; others don’t. When they don’t we must not shy away from planting a new church where older churches exist. Where churches have abandoned the biblical gospel we must not be shy about establishing new, gospel-focused churches.
Several years ago, Stan Reeves and I were rooming together during a meeting. We spent much of our spare time talking about his burden to plant a baptistic, reformed church in the college town of Auburn, Alabama. While there were a number of Baptist churches in Auburn, none were distinctively reformed in theology, worship and ministry. While there were several reformed churches, none were distinctively baptistic, holding to credo-baptism. Stan, an electrical engineering professor at Auburn, felt an increasing burden to be involved in planting a reformed Baptist church that would have a strong outreach to the college and surrounding community. Another family joined him in this burden, putting their resources and energies into the process of establishing a new church. After a couple of years, Paul Stith moved his family to Auburn to begin serving as pastor of the new church. Stan and Paul met with Baptist and Presbyterian church pastors to let them know specifics of their plans and to enlist their prayer support. They met with receptiveness and encouragement from these pastors. Grace Heritage Church resulted and continues serving Christ in Auburn.
Memphis has a population of nearly one million with hundreds of churches. Not all of the churches faithfully proclaim the gospel or regularly expound the Scriptures or discipline their membership or make right use of the ordinances or practice biblical church government or maintain a gospel-focused ministry. It’s not the number of churches in Memphis that one has to consider when looking to plant a church in this southern city. Instead, it has more to do with the gospel-impact the existing churches are making. If they are not penetrating the darkness then, either new churches need to be planted, or the existing churches need reformation. Both are important and necessary works. Both require prayer-soaked strategies. Both require leadership with particular strengths: one with the patience and nurturing skills to plant a new work, the other with the patience and diplomatic skills to build layers of biblical reformation.
Demographic shift in downtown Memphis left the city with very little gospel witness in that area. So, a couple of years ago, Jordan Thomas, a young man brought up just across the river from Memphis, returned to plant a church in the inner city. Jordan previously served on a church staff in the area and faced the anti-Calvinistic fervor of his church leadership. Confronted with the harsh reality of a church that did not appreciate his biblical ministry or the doctrines of grace, Jordan saw God’s providence in this as an opportunity for additional training at the Bethlehem Institute in Minneapolis. After receiving training under John Piper and the staff at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Jordan returned to Memphis, united with two friends and began Grace Church. Located near the river front, Jordan’s church focuses its ministry on the people that live in his area: down-and-outers, government apartment dwellers, as well as those living in upscale apartments and houses along the Mississippi River. Meeting weekly in rented space, Grace Church seeks to serve Christ and His gospel with a distinctively reformed, baptistic witness in downtown Memphis.
In a given community where there are plenty of church buildings with dying congregations limping through the motions of Christian worship but no viable gospel ministry, no passion for the lost, no missionary spirit, and no one willing to engage the culture with the gospel, then it’s time to plant a church! The goal, however, is not to trample on the existing churches. Perhaps in God’s mercy, existing but lethargic churches will be reinvigorated by a new church planted in their area. The new church will focus on reaching the unchurched that the existing churches are not reaching; and the new church will become a refuge for gospel-starved believers that struggle through their membership in gospel-weak churches.
Accompanying biblical, theological and geographical reasons for new churches is the desire to see Christ magnified and honored through churches that are unashamedly gospel-driven. Not given to the latest fads or gimmicks to attract uninterested people, gospel-focused new churches seek to display in their relationships, worship, preaching and ministry the centrality of Christ’s glory in the church. Unfortunately, many existing churches are depressingly void of Christ’s glory. They have organization, programs, liturgy and money but the savor of Christ and His gospel is noticeably absent. They may draw numbers and claim converts but lack the distinctively biblical marks of a church. In such a setting, it’s time to plant a new church for the sake of Christ’s glory in a community.
The New Testament offers many images to describe the church: the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16), the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27), God’s household (Ephesians 2:19; 1 Timothy 3:15), dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22), the pillar and support of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15) and the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-32; Revelation 19:7-9). That last picture of the church as the bride of Christ reminds us of the constant goal that must motivate our church organization and ministry. Rather than being shaped by the marketing techniques of the world, the church must prepare for the eternal marriage with Christ. He gave Himself for the church to sanctify and cleanse her “by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27). Yet many churches lack the evidence of Christ’s sanctifying work. Could it be that many are nothing more than religious organizations with Christian titles? New churches must be planted that live with the passion to do all that they do to the glory of Christ.
Why Not to Plant Churches?
Over the past twenty years, after planting the church that I presently serve, I’ve engaged many pastors and would-be pastors regarding church planting. One thing that concerns me in many of the conversations is the rationale for planting a church. Sometimes the reason is just not sound enough to venture into the process. Let me offer a few reasons why not to plant churches.
First, don’t plant a church in order to escape from dealing with issues in the pastorate. Perhaps a brother faces the long, grinding work of biblical reformation. That is a daunting challenge–yet a necessary one. We might not solve our problems by planting another church. We might just take our problems with us! Others face dealing with church membership, reducing the church roll to an honest number, or exercising discipline on erring members. Those are huge issues! Who can blame anyone from running from them–unless, of course, one is called by God to shepherd His flock.
Escaping difficulties by planting a church will only ensure that difficulties of different stripes will follow. I must admit, when I moved to Memphis to plant a church after pastoring three other churches, I thought that I would leave behind many of the typical issues faced by Southern Baptist pastors: unqualified deacons, poor organization, power structures, turf wars, nasty business meetings, to name a few. I did leave some of those things behind but inherited other issues that are common to church starts, issues such as power structures (sound familiar), relationship squabbles, building problems, leadership issues, no organization at all, etc.
You cannot escape. Issues come with the territory. With people come problems. But that’s why God has called you to the work–that you might point your congregation to Christ and His glory in all things; that you might serve as an example of godliness in trying times; that you might feed the flock the Word of God, nurturing and admonishing them to follow after Christ; that you might apply the gospel to every area of life and ministry.
Second, don’t plant a church on impulse. There’s been no strategy involved or increasing burden by the Spirit; just a mess that looks for a quick solution. Starting a new church seems like the way to go. Church splits have mothered many new churches! Trouble brews; a fight erupts; sides are chosen; and presto! A new church is formed!
Let me hasten to point out that in God’s sovereign kindness, many good churches have started out of church splits. These churches have legitimate reason for their start only if every means to reconcile on the basis of truth has been exhausted. If the split occurs over disagreement on the color of the carpet or the time Sunday School begins or whether or not to give the church staff a cost of living raise, then humility and repentance must prevail over abrupt departure to start another church. However, if a split occurs over what constitutes the gospel or the essentials of the faith or biblical church leadership or maintaining regenerate membership or exercising biblical church discipline, then a new church might be necessary. I say, might, because these doctrinal issues can possibly be worked out with patient, humble teaching. Never rush to plant a church in a moment of impulsiveness. Seek to display the spirit of Christ in all things. Only when serious doctrinal and gospel issues cannot be resolved must a split occur for the sake of Christ’s glory in the community. And in that setting, the new church must never swagger with pride that they are the real church. Trouble could follow the new church, too, so give care to approach starting a new work with humility.
Third, don’t plant a church as a problem-solving panacea. Such idealism actually exalts man rather than the Lord of the church. Sinners are always messy; including the sinner that happens to be the church planter! New churches bring in their own problems. Though thinking that I would avoid many of the more nasty issues facing traditional pastorates, at South Woods I have still faced hidden agendas, strange and unorthodox beliefs, personality conflicts, leadership struggles, financial woes, and a bag full of other issues. Starting a new church doesn’t eliminate problems unless you eliminate people; and that’s not the goal of a new church!
Finally, don’t plant a church, necessarily, just because it seems the only option to pastor. I’ve run across a few men that have not been able to secure a pastorate in the more traditional way, so they view church planting as the means to secure a pulpit. Now, this brings up an important matter: that there are more pastoral candidates than open church pulpits might be a clear indication that some of that waiting number do need to plant churches. But not all of them; some need to be seasoned a bit longer before launching into starting a new church. Churches do not need to be started to accommodate men but rather to glorify and exalt Christ. Some men lack the necessary gifts and calling to pastor but nonetheless, think that they must have a church. Others are coarse and inflammatory, having caused divisions by their personality foibles, so they seek to plant a church where everyone will cooperate with them and overlook their unsanctified personality. Beginning a church to suit such a man is entirely inappropriate.
When someone approaches me about planting a church, I usually quiz them concerning their motive. Why do they want to plant a church? Why start from scratch without any history or tradition, without leadership structure or educational organization, without financial backing or arrangements, without children or youth ministries, without building or suitable location? Why do it? I would boil the right motives down to two. First, you see the need for a new church, not to escape problems but to establish a biblical ministry to reach people for the sake of God’s kingdom. The need is not so that you will have a platform but for the sake of Christ’s glory among a people that His name might be honored. Second, you sense the call of God on your life to do this work. It may not be as strong as your call to preach but it is nonetheless very real in your life. You test it and weigh it. You evaluate your motives and you consider the demands involved; none of this deters you from planting a church. You test your sense of calling with your wife and your spiritual mentors. They recognize God’s preparation in your life and the unique abilities entrusted to you for such a work. You are willing to risk all for the sake of establishing a new church to the glory of Christ. Only then are you ready to move forward in planting a church.
You might get the idea that I want to talk brothers out of church planting. But that’s not the case at all; I am concerned that my brothers understand the demand of Christ as they ponder starting a new church. They will wear different hats–preacher, pastor, organizer, educator, counselor, motivator, scheduler, group leader, custodian, nurturer, trainer, etc. They must be willing to work hard and long hours, often working another job to meet family needs. They must be willing to trust others who will join them, sharing the load, wisely distributing responsibilities, training leaders, investing in people and cultivating teachers. They must be accountable to others spiritually, financially, morally, ethically and ecclesiologically. They must be committed to the people among whom they are seeking to establish a church by being part of their lives, sharing their joys and sorrows, knowing their heartaches and trials. They must be teachable, realizing that as a church planter, there will be plenty of “firsts” that cross the threshold. They will make mistakes and must humbly admit it. They will need course-corrections from time to time as their “best laid plans” fizzle. This, in God’s providence, re-directs the new church’s ministry. They must be flexible in plans and organization but unbending in doctrine and commitment to gospel ministry.
Who Should Consider Church Planting?
While the theme, churches plant churches, directs my understanding of church planting, it is also true that church planting normally begins with one person. There have probably not been many church business meetings where several people stood up spontaneously to recommend starting a new church! Only if someone has given thought to the need will it surface in a congregational meeting. That person may be the pastor or an elder or another leader who sees the need for replicating his church’s ministry in another part of the city where he serves. Or he may see the need for establishing a gospel-focused church in another community or even in another country. He carries this burden in prayer. He investigates and ponders it. Then he presents his thoughts to trusted leaders who join him in praying and seeking the Lord’s direction. Out of this consciousness to establish a new church the local church prepares to plant a church. The local church leadership carefully considers who will lead the new church, where will it be located, how will it be financed, who will it send out from their midst as the core group, what the mother church’s ongoing involvement will look like, and when to cut the apron strings to the new church.
This mother church model provides a network of accountability, support and stability to see the young church through. It may very well be the proving ground for the church planter where he is mentored for the work that the mother church has called him to embrace. I think of the incredible work that Pastor Tony Mattia and Trinity Baptist Church of Wamego, Kansas have done as a mother church model. They have trained leaders, sent out members, sacrificed financially and invested enormous energy in birthing a number of churches in Kansas. With Spurgeon’s dictate, “If there is no church…should you not commence one?” directing them, Trinity Baptist continues to take the lead in church planting among Southern Baptists of Kansas.
The cooperating churches model unites churches like-minded in doctrine and methodology in the work of planting similar churches. Some churches find that spinning off a significant portion of their membership to plant a church to be more than they can commit. So, they join others in planning for a new church, training the church planter and underwriting the initial expenses. With this model, two or three or more churches would form a steering committee to chart the course for a new church. Elders or other leaders from each church would do the leg-work necessary to lay groundwork for the new church. It may be that due to the size of each involved, bearing equal contribution of core members and expenses would be inappropriate. Instead, each contributes according to Christ’s provisions. Here the humility of serving one another in the name of Christ prevails, as the steering committee plans, trains, and launches a new work with the blessing of each congregation.
Sometimes the church is started by a church planter burdened with an area’s need for a gospel-focused church. The church planter must see his first priority as developing accountability with a sending church. That church may be in the same community or a thousand miles away, but the level of accountability must be intact and insisted upon. Our church planted a church over 5,000 miles from Memphis in Niteroi, Brazil. One of our long-time members, Kevin Millard, along with his wife and family, moved to Brazil to serve in student work. In a distinctly providential move, he became a church planter even though that was not his original intention when he moved to Brazil. He consulted our elders every step of the way. We talked preaching, doctrinal statement, ecclesiology, organization, leadership, membership, finances and location. One of the highlights of my pastoral ministry was preaching the dedication service as this new church officially began its gospel ministry in Niteroi. Our church continues to assist this church both with counsel and financial support.
But what if there are no churches interested in planting a new church nor a church planter in view, yet a community needs additional gospel-focused churches? This calls for the like-minded believers model for new church starts. These believers might be in different churches in the community, longing for a more distinctly biblical ministry or longing to see a particular part of the community with a gospel-focused church. Though their local churches may not be willing to initiate or invest in such a work, these believers are willing to do so. They sense an intense burden from the Lord to be part of this kind of work. So, they meet to pray, study the Word, and seek godly counsel for discharging their burden. If no local church exists to help them, then they may need to look outside the community, hopefully with the blessing of their own church’s leadership. A number of strong reformed churches have begun out of this kind of burden. Grace Heritage Church in Auburn, that I mentioned earlier, began with this model. Though no local churches sponsored them, the core group left their respective churches in good standing, and depended on churches outside the community for accountability and sponsorship. South Woods was privileged to be one of the sponsoring churches. Our role was to provide financial accountability–with our treasurer handling their finances until they were constituted as a church; counsel–which we regularly enjoyed via email and phone conversations; and some financial help.
Should your church have a part in planting gospel-focused churches in your community and beyond? That’s an important question to consider in these days where the gospel is diminished in favor of pragmatic, man-centered work. Perhaps you’ve not given much thought to church planting; you may even have found this essay odd to your tastes. Consider the biblical pattern of church planting and why it is necessary for ongoing evangelistic work. Ask the Lord what part your church might play in the grand scope of expanding the reach of the gospel among all people. Step out courageously and humbly as part of the network of churches and church planters across the globe that desire to see the glory of Christ Jesus shine through His churches, driven by the gospel and contented only with the honor of Christ.
1 Leon Morris, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 133.
2 Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962), 4.
3 All Scripture references from the NASB.
4 Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990), 561.
5 Allen, Missionary Methods, 5.
6 I recommend studying Mark Dever’s excellent book that considers the biblical marks of the church: Nine Marks of a Healthy Church–New Expanded Edition (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004; first published edition, Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 1997).