How can giving away our best people possibly be good for us?
This is precisely what many congregations wonder when they encounter the idea of church planting. I understand the question and concern, but I want to challenge the underlying mindset.
Send the Best
The we-can’t-send-off-our-best-people mentality is more like a baseball general manager not wanting to trade his best players than it’s like the New Testament ministry model. Paul and Barnabas were sent out from the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1–3); and when it came to our salvation, the Father sent heaven’s best for us (John 17:18).
Churches not on mission will be anemic in their discipleship and will lack healthy growth. Not only are we sanctified for mission; we’re sanctified through it.
So how does church planting bless the sending church? Here are six ways.
1. It keeps people’s focus on the Great Commission.
Consumerism is a big problem in America (and many other parts of the world). But when this reality seeps into the church, the problem is huge. Focusing on church planting helps to fight consumerism in the body.
Real church membership is not like going to the movies. It’s more like joining the military.
By being involved in church planting, you remind people that real church membership is not like going to the movies. It’s more like joining the military. The church is not a place to “eat popcorn” while the pastor preaches. Rather, it’s where we gather to worship God and get sent out together on mission. When churches stop focusing on the Great Commission, death is coming. The church that is not sending is ending.
2. It causes people to live as citizens of heaven.
Church planting causes people to say lots of “gospel goodbyes”—these are painful farewells driven by gospel purposes.
This is a hard one. We don’t want to lose our best people. It hurts. But we do it because of what’s at stake, and because Christ is worthy. As Christians, we know that we have trillions of years to spend together in glory, so a goodbye for a few decades now is worth it. This is part of what it looks like to live in light of our heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:20). There’s no pain we suffer now in service to Christ that will not be worth it when we see him face to face.
3. It sets a high bar for discipleship.
Discipleship must not be reduced to mere information transfer (as important as that is). Rather, we teach people the truths of God’s Word that they might be changed and live on mission as God’s people. We must disciple people in view of mission. Church planting emphasizes mission as a part of the discipleship process.
4. It fosters a culture of generosity and unity.
When a church keeps the gospel and mission central, then (generally speaking) a lot of the little squabbles won’t be such a big deal, because you’re focused on what is central. Unity is cultivated where people are focused on the main things.
Church planting also encourages generosity. In our church, a 74-year-old business owner gives regularly to the mission, including direct gifts to one of our young church planters in France. I love seeing the two interact with each other when our planter visits. It’s a beautiful picture of generosity and gospel partnership across generational lines.
5. It causes people to think about contextualization.
When churches send people to plant churches in various parts of the world, those church planters come back with all kinds of crazy—and sad—stories of the idolatry of the nations. Now, it can be easy to sit in judgment over such people, until we realize that we’re a nation too, and we have all kinds of our own idols (we’re often just blind to them).
Being in a church culture that constantly thinks about how to apply the gospel ‘among the nations,’ we’ll inevitably consider how to apply that same gospel ‘among our neighbors.’
But the positive side of being exposed to others’ idolatry is that it can cause people in the sending church to ask, What are my idols? What about my neighbors? What are they hoping in? By virtue of being in a church culture that constantly thinks about how to apply the gospel “among the nations,” we’ll inevitably consider how to apply that same gospel “among our neighbors.”
6. It emphasizes prayer.
Sending a church-planting team can intensely focus a church’s prayer life, since it heightens everyone’s sense of desperation. It’s common to hear church-planting teams say that when they set out to plant a church, their prayer life broke open like never before (something Tim Keller also said happened to him when deciding to plant Redeemer).
But it’s not just the planting team that experiences a revived prayer life; it’s usually true of the sending church, too. As church-planting updates are received, the church prays. As pastors lead corporate prayer times, the church prays for these new works.
Do you want your church to pray? Get serious about church planting.
And it’s amazing to witness how praying for gospel-advance around the world fuels further prayer among God’s people. So, do you want your church to pray? Get serious about church planting.
Planting churches will immensely bless your church. Will it be costly? Yes. Will the gospel goodbyes be hard? Absolutely. Will there be challenges? Certainly. Is this a “guaranteed recipe for church growth”? No. But we need to scatter communities of light among the darkness of the world. So let’s give ourselves to it.
And in giving ourselves to church planting, may we not forget that God will use it to sanctify and bless the sending church, too.