Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Church Planting

Church Planting


Over recent months I have been thinking a lot about the term,” Church planting” and the role of “church planter” which has become such a prestigious designation for those engaged in that work. What can we find in the Scriptures about this? There is no occurrence of either term anywhere . In 1 Corinthians 3: where Paul says, “ I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” he was speaking of the preaching of the Gospel.The other reference is Matthew 15:13 where Jesus says, “Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.” If we then go to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), the command of our Lord to His disciples was not to go and plant churches but to make disciples. Before His ascension Jesus told these same followers, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses.” It was not “You shall plant churches.” Of course, we must acknowledge that, as a result of obedience to the commands of the Lord, churches or gatherings came into being. We must also recognize that, although scattered throughout the nations and growing in differing cultures, these churches bore no denominational labels. They were simply parts of the one Body of Christ.
The promise of Jesus was, “I will build my church” It was as His disciples proclaimed Him, that faith was birthed in the hearts of the hearers, who then became the “called-out-ones” the "ecclesia". These new believers were drawn together by the common life and fellowship they were now sharing and gathered to worship their Saviour and to encourage one another. We are all too aware of subsequent history how, gradually at first and then massively after Constantine, this amazing movement of life became institutionalized, ruled and regulated by men so that now we have the spectacle of literally thousands of human organizations all calling themselves churches.The result is that, today, the aim of most church planters is to establish in the location of their choice another religious organisation under the umbrella of their particular denomination. A few years ago the then Principal of the New Zealand Bible College wrote an article deploring this kind of church planting, and pointed out how it often served only to further fragment the Christian community in provincial towns.

Well, what about the rapidly expanding numbers of those who have felt called out of the institutional systems and who are part of what is often called “The Organic church”? Amongst them this same term “church planting” is emerging and there are those who train church planters in how to plant organic churches. It is my fear that, for all our good intentions to steer clear of institutionalism, we may be in grave danger of re-establishing what we claim to have rejected and are actually setting up yet more organized networks and under the control of men, non-institutional institutions if you like!Books like "The Pilgrim Church" by Broadbent or "The Torch of the Testimony" by Kennedy make it evident how often through history what was originally organic gradually degenerated to the institutional.

I may be too simplistic, but it seems to me that true organic churches just arise when believers individually are witnesses and others around them come to trust also in the Lord Jesus and are discipled by the one who led them to faith. Immediately those who put their trust in Christ are in the Church, baptized by the one Spirit into the one Body. Like the early believers they will desire to be often together, to share their lives and to come to know God ever more intimately. For a number of years I was involved in just that kind of gathering. No “Apostle” or “Church Planter” visited us, but, by a combination of circumstances, Father simply joined us together in the faith and love we had in common and drew in others over the years.May it not be true that if we obey Jesus in preaching the good news and in being His witnesses He himself will plant churches and build them up?