For Dummies books have become a phenomenal success.
Taking the complexities of anything from computer programming to French wine, and simplifying them for the everyman, sales have exploded. The reason for this success is doubtless because they tap into our desire to be given a simple way to master something that, otherwise, might take a long time. They offer a shortcut to success.
It’s no surprise, then, that when it comes to church planting, there are plenty of “For Dummies” guides available. Christian publishers have missed the boat if they don’t have their version of “Five Easy Steps to Successful Church Planting,” complete with a foreword by their planter of choice.
Any church we want to see planted, if it is to be what God has designed it to be, must be established according to Scripture.
On the whole, this is a good thing. We need all the help we can get. But the danger with many such resources is the underlying pragmatism and personal testimony that tend to win out over biblical teaching. Any church we want to see planted, if it is to be what God has designed it to be, must be established according to Scripture.
So, while there are many things that you may do as you plant a church, here’s one thing you must do: give the Bible functional authority in every aspect of your ministry.
A simple glance at Paul’s ministry reveals that proclaiming God’s Word was given the utmost primacy. A brief overview of 1 Thessalonians 2 shows us this:
- “We had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God.” (2:2)
- “We have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” (2:4)
- “We proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” (2:9)
- “When you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (2:13)
Paul’s ministry was—first and foremost—a ministry of God’s Word. The reason for this is simple: God’s presence and work in the world is mediated to us by his words. Throughout the Bible, from start to finish, his words create, sustain, give life, and sanctify.
This is why, when Paul passed the ministry baton to Timothy, he urged him to prioritize proclamation:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Tim. 4:1–2)
And this is where we must start as we plant churches today.
Now, I realize this statement is not a great revelation to evangelicals. But that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. We must remind ourselves of the priority of the Word in order that our practice on the ground reflects this reality. Without God’s Word—regardless of what you’re doing—your new church has nothing distinctive to offer your community. It offers nothing that any other organization could not provide to some degree. Indeed, without God’s Word, you will not actually have a church.
Without God’s Word—regardless of what you’re doing—your new church has nothing distinctive to offer your community.
Therefore, we must never assume the centrality of God’s Word. If we do, we will end up functionally prioritizing other things. These may be good and important things, but we err significantly if we allow anything to depose the Word of God from its central place.
So, to keep the Bible central in the churches we plant, we must cultivate discipline, humility, and faith.
When you start—particularly if you’re planting a church from scratch—if something is going to get done, chances are you’ll have to do it. And there are hundreds of things you could do—fundraising, meeting people, developing a website, updating social media, formulating a Sunday-school curriculum, providing coffee and tea after the service, organizing your signage, advertising your presence, and so on.
These are all important. But on your priority list, they need to find their place underneath your careful study and preaching of the Scriptures. To prioritize God’s Word like this—which involves saying “no” to good things—takes discipline.
When planting a church, many actions will get you a pat on the back, will make you look good. But few people will praise you for teaching the Bible week after week, for spending adequate time in the study. Building the church on God’s Word is not glamorous, and it takes attention away from us. That is a good thing, but it does take humility.
The Lord Jesus Christ has promised that he will build his church, and we must receive that promise by faith. This is particularly the case in regions like Europe today, where the life-giving and sanctifying work of the Word is painstakingly slow. So, to keep God’s Word at the heart of your ministry requires you to trust him.
Do you believe that the one thing your neighborhood and people need is the Word of God? It’s really that straightforward. As Mike McKinley has put it:
Teach God’s Word. Evangelize using God’s Word. Disciple people using God’s Word. And then, when you launch a public service, preach God’s Word.
Finally, I want to urge you not to lose your nerve on the sermon. In a right desire to recover the importance of Word ministry in other contexts in church life, I think in recent times there has been a shift away from authoritative preaching. This is a mistake.
Paul instructed Timothy to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2), and it’s been the practice of the church down the ages. God’s design is that his people gather to humbly listen to a man who stands in his place, to deliver his message—and through that event his Spirit works in power to bring his chosen purposes to pass.
May it be so in all our churches.