Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Church planting

A church that has no plan to church-plant is a disobedient church - disobedient to Christ and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-21), that is.

This needs clarifying - what counts as a "plan"? I do not necessarily mean a formal, written plan, or even an unwritten one where that means we have already identified places and dates.

What I mean is that:
  • The clearly revealed will of Christ is for his gospel to spread through all nations, amongst every people, language and cultural group (Revelation 7:9-10, Genesis 12:1-3, Matthew 28:18-21).
  • It is also clearly revealed that wherever the gospel spreads, believers are intended (commanded) to gather together in churches for worship, encouragement, instruction and discipline (e.g. Acts 14:21-23, Matthew 16:18, Titus 1:4ff, Philippians 1:1).
Evangelism is not an end in itself. Those who are saved are then to be trained up, gathered together in churches and equipped to carry on that same work themselves. Each church is to aim to fulfil the "three selves" articulated and championed by Rufus Anderson (no relation that I know of!), Henry Venn, John Nevius and others in the 19th century:
  1. Self-governing: Every church should work towards managing its own affairs without being dependent on outside leadership.
  2. Self-supporting: Each church should be looking to finance its own activities without depending long-term on outside money.
  3. Self-propagating: Every church should itself be seeking to do what it can to fulfil the Great Commission in particular in its own region, not looking to outside agencies to do or even lead the work for it.
It is against this big-picture criteria that historical mission efforts, ventures and missionary newsletters today should be evaluated. But this is not just for "missionaries"; it is for every church. God never sub-divided his church into "ordinary" churches which don't do mission and "missionary" ones that do. Every church is intended to be somewhere along the line, and no matter what trials and disturbances may knock it off course, yet to know where the goal is and how they intend to head towards it. Converts should be being trained and evaluated. Those with particular gifts in the area of evangelism, of teaching others and of leadership should be being looked out for and given particular mentoring attention and training. A watch should be kept on whether the church is outward looking and the members are mission minded. Opportunities should be sought. The pastors should be asking, "are we in a position yet to send some out, and if not, what steps are the next ones to take to move us closer?". The road might be very long - training, testing, correcting, etcetera, is not the work of a day or a year. But are we actually travelling on it?

What we need to be at war against is the conservative mindset that is forever saying, "we can't spare anyone, we're busy here, there's a lot to do, we have many problems to attend to, planting would be problematic, we're not experienced in that, etcetera etcetera." No doubt there may be a seed of truth in all of these things. So what? The aim is to please Jesus, and he's made his will clear. The actual step of sending out some members with a commission to begin a new work is just one (final) step in the chain, and the question is not if we know which date that will take place on (in Eldoret, we have no idea!). The question is if we actually are heading towards the goal at all in a meaningful way, or just paying lip-service to it. Are we traversing the other links that come earlier on, or just treading water and enjoying the comfort? Every worthwhile new church in the world was the result of someone taking these costly, time-consuming and difficult steps. Without them, the church will eventually die; churches are closing all the time - there need to be more opening so that the advance continues. Whose work is this meant to be? Not ultimately the work of missionary agencies, whatever their place may be.... but the work of individual local churches, working alone or in partnership as the opportunity arises. A church that has no plan to church-plant is a disobedient church.

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