I told an old college friend that I thought church planting was unbiblical and I’m pretty sure he thought I fell off the deep end. He quickly explained what his definition of church planting is and asked how I could disagree with that. I had no qualms with his definition, but what he may not realize is that his definition is definitely in the minority.
Here’s my beef with the prevalent model of church planting. The whole thing is people putting the cart in front of the horse and very little reliance on the work of the Holy Spirit. Here’s what I see, and correct me if I’m wrong.
A church is a body of believers. All elements within the church such as elders, deacons, buildings, worship teams, etc are all practical outflows. However, what happens is some guy gets an idea that he wants to start a church somewhere across the country. Why not in his hometown or in a neighboring state? That’s for another post.
So, he starts raising support, starts a blog (if he’s really progressive), takes a “survey trip”, begins writing down a plan for the first church-done-right, figures out a name with a great story/biblical explanation behind it, finds some ministry partners, and then figures out a cultural strategy to get people into this great church that doesn’t even exist yet.
Therein lies the problem. I thought a church was a made up of a group of people? Yet, you’ve already got a “church” and you’re trying to find people for it? That doesn’t sound like a church to me and definitely not a healthy way to start one.
Let’s consider for a moment perhaps something a little more biblical. Last time I checked, the apostles were just going out, preaching the gospel. Sometimes they stuck around for a few years, sometimes they were just passing through. They didn’t raise support (though some churches supported them). They had jobs and they made their own living as they travelled around. As men and women came to know the truth, they began meeting regularly, and voila! they had a church.
Going with the intent to plant a church and with preconceived notions about how it’s going to work is 1) unbiblical, 2) will most likely disappoint, 3) is harmful to the potential real church body that you might have. I feel like the mentality of these church planters is “I’m going to go be a pastor or bust”. If it doesn’t work out, they either give up or go somewhere else where they think it might work better which calls into question whether the Holy Spirit was really leading in the first place.
Instead their should be a mentality of “I’d like to live here, work here, and while I’m living in this place, I will intentionally make God’s name famous.” That way, if you don’t see a convert in 5yr, it’s no sweat off your back because you didn’t come with the intent to build a “church”, you don’t feel the pressure of supporters with expectations, and convert or not, you’re still accomplishing God’s directive for every Christian.
Second, these preconceived notions do not allow for the spontaneous working of the Holy Spirit among a church body. Instead of letting the church organically grow, let people’s gifts come out and uniquely serve in the body, and the church making decisions among themselves how they want their spiritual family to function; it’s all dictated by some guy who comes in thinking he’s got the right way without realizing that the Holy Spirit is far larger than he can comprehend and works in ways we have yet to see.
So, do I have a problem with this model of church planting? Yep…a big one. I’m more a fan of living life that glorifies God and making disciples while you’re at it. Letting the outflow of that happen naturally and in God’s timing.
As a clarification, I recognize that most things are practical outflows of a group of believers, but some things are mandated once a church has formed. These include elders, deacons, and the sacraments.