About Jesus Steve Sweetman
Church Planting Biblical?
Some may suggest that
I’m splitting hairs in this article but I think I’ve got a point to
A few years back a pastor
invited some of us to help him “plant a church” 75 miles down the
road. We already knew of a
couple of Christian families there so we had a starting point.
After a few Sunday gatherings this pastor felt a business meeting
was in order to discuss things like a bank account, a treasurer, a
rented facility, and some good advertising among other things.
By faith this pastor
claimed a great influx of people within weeks. Well, after 2 years he
shut things down. The numbers just weren’t there.
“They are just a
home group”, he explained. “How
degrading” I thought. These
people didn’t deserve to be a real church so they were relegated to
being “just a home group” as if meeting in homes is second rate.
When the apostle Paul
entered a town did he head to the nearest coffee shop and make plans to
plant a church with the new
converts? Did he
survey the city to find a suitable place to rent or buy?
Did he present the new believers with an ecclesiastical flow
chart showing him to be the top apostle in the chain of command?
Did he open a bank account to collect their tithes?
Paul did none of these
things, and it’s not because he couldn’t find a coffee shop or a
bank. Paul didn’t do the
normal church planting activities because I don’t think he was called
to that, despite the common belief that apostles are church builders.
Paul was called to proclaim Jesus to Jews, to Gentiles, to their
kings, and to suffer lots along the way. (Acts 9:15)
That’s what Jesus wanted him to do.
Churches were a by-product of his preaching.
From the book of Acts we
learn that when Paul entered any town he went straight to the local
synagogue and preached Jesus (Acts 17:2).
If there was no synagogue, or if he got kicked out of the
synagogue he’d end up preaching by a river, (Acts 16:13) in a market
place, (Acts 17:17) or in a school. (Acts 19:9)
It’s a good thing Paul wasn’t called to sell real-estate
location, location” didn’t seem important to him.
When people received the
gospel in a particular locality a community of believers was born.
Paul would then leave for the next town, but not before baptizing
the new believers in water and making sure they received the Holy
Spirit. Paul did not implement structured church plans at that time.
It wasn’t until some
years later that Paul, Timothy or Titus publicly recognized elders that
God had already raised up in these places. Communities of functioning
believers had sprung up all over with mature men caring for God’s
people. Did Paul get it all backwards by not structuring these churches
before he left town the first time.
I don’t think so. He left the disciples in the hands of Jesus.
Here’s another point to
consider. In Matt. 28:19 Jesus commissioned the eleven apostles “to
disciple all nations”. This
might be splitting hairs to some but discipling people isn’t church
planting in my thinking. It’s
bringing individual people from all nations into a personal learning
relationship with Jesus. That’s what the word “discipling” means.
Once this learning
relationship is established, maturity depends heavily on the Holy
Spirit’s work in the disciples. You
might not know this, but Paul only visited the Philippian Christians 3
times in all his years of ministry.
This tells me that the success of the Philippians didn’t depend
on Paul or ecclesiastical authority alone, but on God. (Phil. 2:13)
Acts 14:23 concurs with this. After Paul, Barnabas and the body
of believers in
I believe the New
Testament emphasizes “discipling people” and not “planting
churches was secondary and simple, consisting of a group of caring
elders and their helpers called deacons.
When we set out to plant
a church down the road, we weren’t thinking of discipling
people. We had “church
duplicating” in mind, attempting to “copy and paste” our
particular brand of church structure somewhere else, which seems to be
what church planting is all about these days.
A missionary from Africa
spoke to us when I was at
I believe the Holy Spirit
desires to work creatively in every community of believers.
Simply duplicating cookie cutter churches isn’t creative.
Of course if we allowed the Holy Spirit to be creative we’d
have to understand that the church down the road might not look like
ours, and we might have to give it more autonomy and freedom than we’d
So does the New Testament
teach “duplication of churches” or “discipling of people”?
I think the answer is obvious.