When I planted a church at the turn of the 2010s, we all knew the stories. We could point to men who parachuted into a community, started a church, and saw it grow exponentially. We listened to the stories, read the books, and heard the sermons from these heroes at the conferences.
We missed something important in all those stories, though, either because it wasn’t there or because we didn’t want to hear it. A man can’t plant a church alone.
The kinds of churches that seem to flourish only because of the gifted lead pastor will not produce healthy disciples in the long run.
In Ephesians 3:7-10, Paul describes the grace God gave him in allowing him to be a minister of the gospel. In describing himself and what God would be doing throughout history, he tells us something important about church planting.
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Most people would list Paul as the best biblical example of a church planter. Yet he didn’t see himself as a “rock-star” church planter. Paul knew himself to be a debtor to grace. He even described himself as the “least of all the saints,” as the Christian least qualified to preach the gospel and plant churches. He would magnify this assessment in 1 Timothy 1:15, calling himself the world’s foremost sinner.
Wisdom of God Proclaimed
Paul preached the unsearchable riches of Christ, but he didn’t do so in a vacuum. He did it in and through the local church, because that’s where the the wisdom of God would be proclaimed. Not just through one man or through the apostles, but through the church.
Paul preached the unsearchable riches of Christ, but he didn’t do so in a vacuum. He did it in and through the local church.
Perhaps this is why Paul frequently traveled with companions. We read of Barnabas, Luke, Timothy, Silas, and others working with Paul as he sought to preach the gospel and establish churches in every town he visited. In the pastoral letters, Paul showed how much he depended on those with him.
Those wishing to plant churches should not imagine one man standing on a stage, but a body of people gathered to reach a city. The Bible’s metaphors for the church apply from the beginning of a new church’s life.
The lead planter is a key piece of the puzzle in church planting, but he only has 24 hours a day, only knows a set number of people, and possesses a limited set of gifts. With every person added to the team, the new church adds more gifts, more relationships, and more hours to commit to the work.
This means that church plants need ordinary Christians; people who sense God’s call to plant their lives in a particular area for the sake of the gospel. Church planting is not only for the church planter.
New churches need people committed to hospitality, who love and welcome their neighbors in the name of Jesus. They need people who love to serve and step in and provide whatever the church needs to flourish. New churches cannot function without people committed to the ministry of prayer, who petition the Father day and night to work through the church’s ministry. If the church is a body, then it takes a body to plant a church.
Ask any church planter who has seen his church thrive and endure. They won’t tell you about their gifts and all the things they’ve done right. (If they do, there’s a problem.) Rather, they will tell you about the people God sent along with them to plant.
If the church is a body, then it takes a body to plant a church.
I’ve had the blessing of seeing this work in our church. Our church exists because a newlywed couple, who are both teachers, sold their home during the height of the economic crash in late 2008 so they could move to the town where we were planting. Two high-school seniors devoted their senior year to serving at our church and helping us get started.
God brought new believers, who’d never been members of a church, but had a passion to serve however they could. Without countless stories like these, no church could ever be planted.
If you are considering the call to plant, don’t just ask what city you will go to or what your strategy will be. These things are important, but without a team of ordinary, faithful men and women, it won’t matter how great your strategy is. Ask God to give you a team.
Start looking, even before you plant, for Christians who live in the area and have been praying for a new church. Look for young people with time and energy who can serve in the church and connect with other young people who need to hear the gospel. Pray that the Lord would send older saints who can bring seasoned wisdom to the plant.
Without a team of ordinary, faithful men and women, it won’t matter how great your strategy is.
Pray about partnering with new churches starting in your area. Don’t think that you have to possess a magnetic personality or the gifts that put you in front of people. If you love serving behind the scenes, if you love showing kindness to your neighbors, and if you love the city in which you live, you would be a great benefit to a church-planting team.
People who love to see their name in lights rarely plant healthy churches. But everywhere around us we see churches planted because Christians were willing to plod along in obscurity for the glory of King Jesus.