Like most other baseball fans, I love spring training. At that point, almost every team has reason to hope that they’ll be playing in the World Series. The atmosphere of the games is open, accessible, and fun. Fans can get close to players in smaller venues. Last year, I took my 10-year-old to one of these games. He thought it was hilarious that the big-leaguers he admires were running the same drills his little-league team does, just faster. Spring training focuses seasoned athletes on the fundamentals of the sport. There’s an important reminder in the fundamentals for church planters as well.
Church planting is often driven by innovation. A planter sees a need in his community that isn’t being met, a way to approach things differently, an opportunity to reach unreached people with the gospel. This is all good and helpful in joining God in his work in our communities. As we plant churches, though, let’s be careful not to get away from the core essentials that must be present in all Christ-centered churches.
When 16th-century citizens asked what defines a church, the reformers answered with the Belgic Confession (1561):
The marks by which the true church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing sin. (Belgic Confession, Article 29).
In a modern church-planting culture that invites creativity and welcomes pastors that are younger, hipper, and more entertaining, we must remember the basics. And what are they? Preaching the gospel, administering the sacraments, and exercising church discipline. Pastors, let’s not stray from these essential elements as we plant churches.
Preach the Gospel
Our foundation is God’s Word, where his rescue plan is declared. The church must be firmly rooted in the inerrant, infallible, authoritative Bible. It is indispensable for the people’s spiritual development (2 Tim. 3:16). We are proclamation people.
We never move on from the fundamentals. The most seasoned church planters are always going back to basics.
Reliance on the authority and sufficiency of Scripture must focus our worship, shape our church, and drive our mission. Let’s work hard at finding innovative ways to contextualize, so we can meet the needs of our city without compromising our foundation. Never apologize for Scripture to soften it; rather, stand boldly on God’s Word and pray that his Spirit increases and multiplies it (Acts 6; 9; 12). Keep the Bible at the forefront of your church plant.
Administer the Sacraments
The statement of faith of the church I pastor says, “The Lord Jesus mandated two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which visibly and tangibly express the gospel. Though they are not the means of salvation, when celebrated by the church in genuine faith, these ordinances confirm and nourish the believer.” I love this language! We celebrate baptism and the Lord’s Supper as anchors that center our worship on Christ and fuel our faith.
Baptism powerfully displays Christ’s redemptive work as we’re brought into a new-covenant family in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Approaching the Lord’s Table each week reminds us that we’ve been reconciled to God and to one another, and that the good news of Christ’s salvation is celebrated with family feasting.
As we gather weekly to worship God through preaching, singing, praying, giving, and observing the sacraments, we celebrate Jesus’s resurrection. Worship then extends into our individual lives as we go out into our communities and obey his commands. Our corporate liturgies shape our individual rhythms.
Exercise Church Discipline
The idea of discipline doesn’t evoke warm and fuzzy feelings for most of us. No one wants to be scorned for their behavior. The biblical practice of discipline involves more than mere rebuke, though. Just as children need parents who lovingly guide, teach, encourage, and help them develop, we need church families to do the same.
Don’t plant a church that is all flash with no fundamentals.
Meaningful membership and gentle discipline show God’s holiness (Ezek. 36:16–21; 1 Cor. 5:1–5), protect the church (1 Cor. 5:6; Heb. 12:15–16; 2 Tim. 2:14-18), and restore repentant sinners (1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 2:5–11; Heb. 3:12–13). All of this fosters a focus on Jesus and his mission.
Innovation is good. Strategic thinking and hard work are necessary. But don’t plant a church that is all flash with no fundamentals. The best athletes work constantly on the fundamentals of their game to build muscle memory so they can accomplish their goals.
We never move on from the fundamentals. The most seasoned church planters are always going back to basics. And this is good. Let’s put in the effort to faithfully preach God’s Word, administer the sacraments, and exercise church discipline, building up spiritual muscle memory. May our gloriously basic churches bear witness to the incomparable beauty of Christ Jesus.