An Annotated Bibliography for Church Planters

Quite often I’m asked what books might be helpful to church planters. In an effort to identify a few favorites, I’ve noted ten go-to books that church planters need to study and keep handy throughout their work. As you will notice, I’m heavy on ecclesiology rather than church planting techniques since we’re seeking to plant churches, and not plant clever techniques.

1. Mark E. Dever, editor. Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life.
Washington, D.C.: Center for Church Reform, 2001.

Polity gives church planters a biblical framework for structuring and organizing the churches they seek to establish, by considering polity documents from Baptist stalwarts from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Three contemporary essays set the stage and demonstrate the usefulness of historical models that guide the church planter to appropriate contextualization of polity that does not fall prey to novelty. This is an essential resource for developing a new church’s polity documents.

2. Roland Allen. Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962.

Allen corrects the provincialism of the early 1900s, the pragmatism of the church growth movement, and the hip-approach of the seeker-sensitive movement by demonstrating that Paul intentionally engaged in church planting—giving contemporary Christians a biblical model. Although written for international missions from his Anglican position, this book is just as vital for domestic church planting. Despite having been written over 80 years ago, Allen’s work refreshes the reader by returning to Scripture as the impetus and guide for church planting.

3. Eckhard J. Schnabel. Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods. Downers Grove,
Ill.: IVP Academic, 2008.

Intended as an expansion of and correction, at points, of Allen’s Missionary Methods, Schnabel’s work takes the reader on a tour of seemingly every detail of Paul’s missionary and church planting labors. Like Allen, he champions Scripture’s authority as the foundation for church planting, leaning away from dependence on strategies to dependence on the power of the gospel to create Christian communities. This readable book motivates me to discover afresh the contemporary relevance of God’s Word in church planting.

4. John Hammett. Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology.
Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2005.

While many books cover portions of ecclesiology, Hammett gives the most thorough treatment from a Baptist perspective. With Scripture as foundational to ecclesiological development, he also demonstrates how various Christians interpreted passages related to the church throughout history; yet Scripture, not history, must be the final authority for shaping ecclesiology. The lucid style of the book makes it serve as a virtual handbook for understanding and teaching on the marks of the church, church membership, polity, the ordinances, discipline, and mission.

5. Mark Dever. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, exp. ed. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004.

Dever expands on the Nicene Creed’s notae ecclesia and the Reformers’ marks of biblical preaching, sacraments, and discipline, by identifying nine essentials for faithful, biblical churches. He offers Scriptural basis for each mark, illustrates what it looks like in the local church, and then makes ample application. Church planters who begin with the Nine Marks as foundational to their ministry philosophy will set their churches apart from the ordinary, consumer-oriented congregations so common in North America.

6. Mark Dever and Paul Alexander. The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the
Gospel. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2005.

While Nine Marks offers the theological basis for a healthy church, The Deliberate Church illustrates it from Dever’s own pastorate in Washington, D.C. It is a book on how to do church from A to Z. Most church planters understand the theoretical issues but long to understand the practical, how-to of church life. From membership, the ordinances, the regulative principle in worship, church music, elders and deacons, and preaching, the authors guide the readers through land-mines that often appear laid in the pastor and church planter’s path, to help them arrive with gospel-honoring faithfulness.

7. Timothy J. Keller and J. Allen Thompson. Church Planter Manual. New York: Redeemer
Church Planting Center, 2002.

With one caveat that this manual looks at church planting in an urban setting, all church planters will find help in the practical instruction from Keller and Thompson. It’s illustrated by Redeemer Presbyterian’s story, interspersed throughout the book’s step-by-step approach to church planting. Those in suburban or rural settings will likely not identify with some applications but nevertheless, will find the book to be a useful companion in establishing a new work in any community.

8. Ed Stetzer. Planting Missional Churches: Planting a Church That’s Biblically Sound and
Reaching People in Culture. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006.

Like Keller’s Church Planter Manual, Stetzer takes the church planter from the basic concepts of church planting to understanding the various models of new churches to actually planting the church. In typical Stetzer fashion, the book is amply illustrated to show that he has more than theory in mind. Planters will use this book as a resource tool for each stage of church planting and maturing.

9. Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that
Changes Everything. Kingsford, NSW, Australia: Matthias Media, 2009.

Two Aussie practitioners help church planters (and any church leader) avoid the headache of establishing needless structures that cost time, personnel, and energy, yet fail at truly ministering. They focus on paring down “trellis work”—structures, organizations, and programs, while leading the church to doing “vine work”—which alone produces good fruit. Training and mentoring a congregation to do gospel ministry should be every planter’s goal. This book shows a clear path to accomplishing it.

10. J. L. Dagg. Manual of Church Order. Harrisonburg, Vir.: Gano Books, 1990.

As the first writing theologian among Southern Baptists, Dagg’s thorough treatment of all-things-ecclesiological takes the church planter to the Scripture for understanding and application on baptism, the local church, membership, communion, and ministry. Although sometime a bit archaic, Dagg is readable and useful as a resource, especially in his treatment of baptism. Every church planter will face questions over baptism and church membership—sometime difficult questions. Dagg proves helpful for framing biblical arguments with pastoral warmth.

Honorable Mention:

John S. Hammett & Benjamin L. Merkle, eds. Those Who Must Give an Account: A Study of
Church Membership and Church Discipline. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2012.

Jonathan Leeman. The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the
Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010.

Tom Nettles. Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon
Spurgeon. Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2013.

Phil A. Newton & Matt Schmucker, Elders in the Life of the Church: Rediscovering the
Biblical Model for Church Leadership. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2014.

Darrin Patrick. Church Planter: The Man, the Message, the Mission. Wheaton, Ill.:
Crossway, 2010.

Phil planted South Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee in 1987 and continues to serve as senior pastor of that congregation. He previously pastored churches in Mississippi and Alabama. He received his education at the University of Mobile (B.A.), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Fuller Theological Seminary (D.Min.), and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Ph.D.). Phil and his wife Karen married in 1975, and have five children and seven grandchildren.
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