- Conference Media
- New City Catechism
- Read the Bible
Why do church planters plant churches, and why do those motivations matter? This course explores various aspects of these motivations in order to clarify ministry aims of new church planters or church planting team members. The material in this course includes a variety of reading assignments, videos, and self-reflection projects designed to help those involved in planting take a deep look at themselves and a deep look at what the Scripture says about planting to begin reshaping their motives for the vital work of church planting ministry.
Created by Acts 29 and Oak Hill, Crosslands aims to provide excellent in-context theological training and resources to churches and church leaders in the UK, Europe and 10:40 window.
Crosslands is a new kind of entity, which we call a flexicademy™ – not residential training nor pure distance learning, but flexible learning and rigorous training for students where they live and minister. In other words, ‘Gospel training when and where you need it’.
Crosslands offers a range of courses at seminary-level (for leaders and trainee leaders) and foundation-level (for congregation members, elders and interns). They are also starting to develop entry-level materials for new Christians.
We live in a dark world. For all our technological advances and increased prosperity, the social fabric in the West is fragmenting. More marriages than ever end in divorce and, in its wake, divorce brings family break-up. The prevalence of mental health problems is higher than ever. Viewed from the perspective of the gospel, Europe is now a dark continent. The ten mega-peoples least responsive to the gospel are all found in Europe, according to the World Christian Database. A report by Greater Europe Mission concludes: ‘Although Europe has a high percentage of people who consider themselves Christians, the data shows that Europe has the least population percentage of Christians who consider themselves committed and evangelical.’ Europe, the home of the Reformation, is the world’s most secular continent.
What is the solution to darkness? The answer, of course, is light. So, it is striking that God’s first words in the Bible story are: “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). The context is the darkness of the primordial chaos. God had created the heavens and earth, but “the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep.” (Genesis 1:2) Into the darkness, God speaks, and the result is light. In the ancient world, the great lights of the sky – the stars and planets – were often deified. But in the Bible’s account of creation, they are created. It is God who is the ultimate source of light (Psalm 18:28; 118:27; Acts 22:6-11; 1 Timothy 6:16; 1 John 1:5).
Light does not simply solve the problem of darkness. It also solves the problem of chaos. The night is a time of fear and frights. Without light, we cannot locate our way or perform basic tasks. Darkness is a cover for crime. The night is ‘unruly’ and therefore dangerous.
But on the fourth day of creation we read: “God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.” (Genesis 1:16) Notice the word ‘govern’. God orders or governs the primordial chaos. And one of the ways he does this is by creating lights. The spread of light is the spread of order.
God’s creative and missional purpose is to overcome darkness and chaos.
And how does God bring light to dispel the darkness? I want to build a case for church planting by presenting a biblical theology of light. What we will see is that throughout the Bible story the answer is twofold: God brings light through his word and God brings light through his people.
What is it that brings light in the story of creation? The word of God. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3) God’s word is a light-bringing word.
Light and dark are not locked in a dualistic battle. Ancient cultures often viewed the universe in these terms. Chaos and order, darkness and light; they were held in a perpetual and precarious balance. But this is not the picture presented in the Bible story. Darkness is a genuine threat. But God dispels the darkness simply by his word.
We know from our own experience that light and darkness are a-symmetrical. Light dispels darkness simply by its presence, whereas darkness does not naturally extinguish light. You cannot have a ‘torch-dark’ that casts a beam of darkness into the light. But a ‘torch-light’ casts a beam of light into the darkness.
So, the first divine words of the Bible are programmatic for the whole story. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3) Wherever and whenever God speaks, the result is light:
The opposite is also true. “If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” (Isaiah 8:20) Where God’s word is absent, darkness closes back in (Psalm 82:5; Ecclesiastes 2:13-14).
In Exodus 34, we read: “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.” (Exodus 34:29-30) Moses encounters God, and it seems that as a result some of God’s radiance has rubbed off on him. He is glowing with the light of God. It is easy for us to think of this in visual terms. If you heat something up, then it glows and emits light. But the text does not say Moses was radiant because he had seen God. Instead we are told it was “because he had spoken with the LORD” (34:29). It is the word of the LORD that brings light.
So, God brings light through his word. But he also brings light through his people. This is a big theme in the storyline of the Bible, and one which has big implications for church planting.
The story of redemption begins with God’s promise to Abraham. God promises Abraham a people who will enjoy God’s blessing and live in a place of blessing. But God also gives this people a missional mandate right from the beginning. He promises that through Abraham’s family “all peoples on earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)
How will God bless the nations through Abraham? In Genesis 18:17, God says that “all nations on earth will be blessed through [Abraham].” Then he says: “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” (Genesis 18:18-19) Notice the word ‘for’. God will bring about what he has promised and what he has promised is blessing for all nations. And how will he bring about this promise? “I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just.” It is as Abraham’s family lives the way of the LORD that God will bless all nations. People naturally think God’s rule is bad news. They think they are better off without God. So, our job as God’s people is to live in such a way that we show it is good to know God and good to live under his rule.
Sadly, more often than not, God’s people did not draw the nations to the ways of God. Instead they were drawn to the ways of the nations. The result was exile.
But the prophets look beyond judgment to a time when God’s people will again be a light to the nations.
“In the last days
the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
as the highest among the mountains;
it will be raised above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
Many peoples will come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.’
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into ploughshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war any more.” (Isaiah 2:1-4)
Isaiah says one day Jerusalem will become the highest mountain. In other words, everyone will be able to see God’s people and as a result the nations will stream into Jerusalem. The nations will see that it is good to live under God’s reign. And what is Isaiah’s exhortation in the light of this vision? “Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.” (Isaiah 2:5) Live as a light to the nations.
Or consider Isaiah 60:1-3:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:1-3)
The LORD rises upon his people like the sun rising over the land and the darkness of night is dispelled. The darkness that signifies judgment is replaced by the glory of the LORD. The prophet tells us to do two things. He tells us to “see”. Look around you. See a world in darkness under judgment without the light of God’s word. But he also says, “Arise, shine”. What happens when God’s light shines on God’s people? God’s people shine. “Nations come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.”
Isaiah 60 continues: “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm.” (Isaiah 60:4) This is happening in the mission of the church. The nations are coming into the kingdom of God. “Lift up your eyes.” Marvel at what God is doing around the world through his people. “Then you will look and be radiant; your heart will throb and swell with joy.” (Isaiah 60:5)
The phrase “a light to the nations” is taken from the Servant Songs of Isaiah. Isaiah speaks of a Servant. Sometimes the Servant appears to be Israel. Sometimes the Servant appears to an individual who rescues Israel. The Servant is the One who embodies the calling of Israel – who is Israel as Israel was meant to be – and so rescues Israel. This is what God says of the Servant:
“I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:6-7)
“I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:5-6)
Text content for portions of this course is adapted from chapter one of this work, "Let There Be Light: Church Planting and the Story of the Bible," by Tim Chester.
Text content for portions of this course is adapted from chapter one of this work, "Let There Be Light: Church Planting and the Story of the Bible," by Tim Chester.
Eight hundred years later, an old man held a baby in his arms and said:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)
The old man is Simeon and the baby is Jesus. Simeon is saying that the baby is the Servant of the LORD, promised by Isaiah. Jesus is the glory of God rising upon God’s people, lighting them up so they radiate God’s glory to the nations. And he is himself the light of the nations.
Later, Jesus himself stands up and says: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12; 9:5; 12:46; Acts 13:47). Jesus is the servant of the LORD promised by Isaiah. He is the true person or people of God revealing the goodness of God’s reign through his goodness of life.
Not only does Jesus bring light because he is the true people of God; he brings light because he is the true Word of God. John’s Gospel begins:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)
Here is the story of creation being recapitulated. John deliberately echoes the opening of Genesis. As at creation, the Word brought light to the darkness. And the Word is Jesus. “I have come into the world as a light,” says Jesus in John 12:46, “so that no-one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
John says: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)
During the final meal of Jesus with his disciples we read a phrase full of foreboding: “As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.” (John 13:30) John has already told us it is evening, so we hardly need to know what time it is (John 13:2). So the ‘night’ that Judas enters is more than merely a time of day. Judas is going out to walk by night. The darkness is about to fall.
As Jesus dies on the cross, we read: “From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.” (Matthew 27:45) The light is extinguished. The darkness falls because judgment falls. The judgment of God falls on the people of God in the person of Jesus. And the light of God’s people is extinguished.
But three days later, Jesus walks out of the tomb and we walk out with him. The night is over. The new day is dawning. We are now the people of the light. “You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” (1 Thessalonians 5:5; Romans 13:12; Colossians 1:12)
And so the story comes to us. Before King Agrippa, Paul said the Risen Christ commissioned him with these words: “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light.” (Acts 26:17-18) God’s mission has not changed. God’s purpose at creation was to dispel darkness by bringing light. And today, our mission is to dispel darkness by bringing light. God still brings light through his word and through his people.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds his readers of Moses having to cover his face with a veil because it shone with the radiance of God. Then he says we, like Moses, “with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory.” And as a result, we, like Moses, “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (3:18). We, too, shine with the reflected radiance of God.
But how do we contemplate God’s glory? Paul goes on: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4) We see the glory of God in the gospel of Christ. Christ is the Word of God which is spoken to us. And that Word is light. That Word radiates with God’s glory.
So Paul says we do not preach ourselves. We preach Jesus Christ as Lord (2 Corinthians 4:5) because, when Jesus the Word is proclaimed, something extraordinary happens. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6) The only parallel for what happens when someone believes the word of Jesus is what happened at creation. Creation happens all over again when someone becomes a Christian. At creation God spoke and there was light. And again, God speaks into to human hearts and there is light. There is, as Paul says in the next chapter, an act of new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The One who speaks and “there was light”, speaks to us. The One who addresses a Word to the darkness and brings forth light, who addresses the chaos and brings beauty, who addresses the emptiness and brings forth this world in all its fullness, addresses a Word to us. And that Word is Jesus. And his Word brings light. Through the preaching of Jesus, God makes “his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
Jesus says to his disciples:
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Mt 5:14-16)
The community of Jesus is to be the light to the world that Israel failed to be. They are the city on a hill to which the nations will stream, as Isaiah promised (Isaiah 2:1-5). The community of Jesus embodies Isaiah’s vision of peace and justice. And just as Isaiah’s application was a call to walk in the light of the LORD (Isaiah 2:5), so Jesus’ application is to “let your light shine before men”. And he promises that, as we do this, people will “see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
What does this mean for us today? What does this have to do with church planting?
First, we are communities of light. Mission is not something we achieve. It is part of our identity. Mission is central to what it means to be God’s people. For many people, mission has become an event. There is nothing wrong with missional events. They are an important part of the life of any church. But we cannot reduce mission to events or activities we put in our schedules. Mission is more than this. It is an identity and a lifestyle. It is about living all of life, ordinary life, with gospel intentionality.
The challenge to us is that of Matthew 5:15: “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” Our light must be seen. Our lives must be transparent. We need to be out there in the world. We need to be introducing our unbelieving friends to our Christian friends. We must be reaching out beyond the community, welcoming others and pointing them to the Father.
But we are not simply called to be individual lights for Jesus. This is not simply a matter of lone Christians living godly lives and doing good works. We are communities of light. We are called to missional community. In the Old Testament, it was the life of the covenant community that was to function as a light to the nations. And in the New Testament, too, it is the life of the community that commends the gospel. After Jesus has given the new commandment to his disciples to love one another as he has loved them, he says: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) Our love for one another reveals our identity and the gospel that gives us that identity. Jesus prays that those who believe in the gospel “may be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23) The world will know that Jesus is the Son of God, sent by God, to be the Saviour of the world; and the world will know this through the community of believers. The invisible God is made visible through the love of the Christian community (1 John 4:12).
The world lives according to the lie of Satan, believing that God’s reign is tyrannical. Jesus began his ministry proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. But most people do not hear this as good news. That is because right from the garden we have been persuaded by the lie of Satan. The Serpent’s lie in Eden was that God’s rule was harsh and tyrannical. Believing that lie, humanity rejects God’s rule. But God’s people are called to so live in obedience to God’s word that they demonstrate the reign of God to be a liberating, loving and life-giving reign. The nations will see that it is good to have God ‘near’ you (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). This is an apologetic that goes to heart of the matter – literally. It addresses the rebellion of the human heart. The lie that rules our hearts is that God’s reign is tyrannical. So God’s people are called to be a light to the nations, demonstrating that the lie is a lie, and that the truth is that God is good and his rule brings freedom.
This does not simply mean inviting people to meetings. If we think of church simply as an event, then being a community of light will simply become inviting people to events. But we are not called to create “meetings of light” or “events of light”. We ourselves are the light. We are called to be communities of light. It is about a shared life that reflects the gospel into which other people are welcomed.
One of the key rationales for church planting is this: church planting puts the Christian community at the heart of mission. If individuals were at the heart of God’s purposes, then it would be quite natural to put the individual at the heart of mission. But at the heart of God’s plan of salvation are a family and a nation. And so the church should be at the heart of mission. Together, we demonstrate the reconciling power of the gospel. Our different life experiences give texture and colour to our message. Our diverse gifts complement one another. We show that life together under the reign of God is the good life. The church should be at the heart of mission, and that happens naturally and inevitably when you are church planting.
It is often said that mission in the Old Testament was centripetal (inwards, towards the centre), but that mission in the New Testament is now centrifugal (outwards, from the centre). Clearly mission in the New Testament is centrifugal and, in a way, that was not the case as much in the Old Testament. We are to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). And yet at the same time mission in the New Testament has not ceased to be centripetal. As we have seen, we are called to be communities of light that draw people to the reign of God. What has changed is the centre. The nations no longer stream into a literal city of Jerusalem. They are drawn to the new Jerusalem – to the church. We are the new Jerusalem, the city on the hill. So now mission involves a double movement. Jesus sends us out to the ends of the earth and everywhere we go, we create communities of light that draw people in.
We have seen, firstly, that one of the key rationales for church planting is that church planting puts the Christian community at the heart of mission. The second key rationale is the converse of this: church planting puts the mission at the heart of the Christian community.
A friend of mine became a Christian in his twenties. He was a merchant seaman and had never been to church until he was converted. He tells how he was so excited about his first church business meeting. He had been to a few Sunday meetings and been baptised. Now his first quarterly church meeting was coming up and he was really looking forward to it. This, as he puts it, was where he assumed they would plot the downfall of Satan. He was in for a big shock. He discovered the main issue for discussion was the type of toilet paper they should have in the toilets. It was a big disappointment!
Mission very easily becomes one activity in church life among others. It sits on the agenda alongside a list of other items, vying with them for attention. Or it is left to the enthusiasts to get on with at the edge of church life. For other churches, mission seems a distant dream as they struggle to keep the institution of the church afloat.
But church planting inevitably and naturally shifts the church into missionary mode. Church planting ensures that mission defines the nature, purpose and activity of the church – as it should.
So church planting is the point where mission and church intersect. Church planting is, by definition, a missionary activity, arguably the core missionary activity. It ensures mission is at the heart of the church life. But church planting is, by definition, a church activity. It ensures that church is integral to mission. It defines mission as forming and building churches. Church planting puts mission at the heart of church and church at the heart of mission.
Christ died for his bride, the church. I am saved when, by faith, I become part of the people for whom Christ died. My identity as a Christian is a communal identity. We are called to community. But we are not simply called to community for our own benefit. We are communities of light, designed by God to fulfil his mission of bringing light to the darkness.
It is in the Christian community where God’s kingdom can be glimpsed. This is the reason for church planting: to be a light to the nations at street level.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine like stars in the sky as you hold out the word of life. (Philippians 2:12-16)
Church plants are led by ordinary men whose eyes are firmly fixed upon the extraordinary Saviour – men of gospel character, theological depth and missional commitment with a deep understanding of who they are in Christ and a deep dependence on the Spirit.
We need to beware of allowing our preconceptions shape our image of a church planter. Many people see a church planter as a kind of spiritual entrepreneur – a bold trailblazer who will go where no one has gone before. In fact, you will not find the role of church planter clearly defined anywhere in the New Testament. You will find men who planted churches (the apostle Paul) and men leading new churches (Timothy), but never a clear definition of a church planter. The danger is that with a vacuum like that we fill in the blanks, injecting into the term what we think works.
So what is a church planter? Is there a difference between pastors or elders and church planters? Simply put: a planter must always be a pastor, but a pastor will not always be a planter.
When does a planter stop being a planter and start being a pastor? When they have gathered a team? When they have started a public gathering? After a certain period of time has elapsed? After a certain number of people are gathered? A better way to understand this would seem to be that it is a qualified elder who plants a church. He may very well have a gift set, skills and character that allow him to work better in a pioneer context, but at root, they are pastors from the beginning.
But not every elder will be a pioneer church planter. Paul tells the Corinthian church that he “planted, Apollos watered but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6, ESV). There are different church contexts and different seasons of church life that are suited to different leaders. Apollos was a ‘water-er’ while Paul was a ‘planter’. But the more significant point is that God brings the increase.
There is something about church planting that makes it distinct from pastoring an existing congregation. Some pastors who thrive in an established church would struggle in a church plant. Meanwhile, some who would flourish in a plant may feel inhibited and frustrated in an established church. One is not better than the other – both are required.
So, while not every elder is a church planter, every church planter is an elder.
Any number of definitions and understandings exist when it comes to what it means for someone to be ‘called’ into ministry. Some outline criteria that consist of a call based on biblical examples. Others point out that the language of calling is only used in the New Testament of the universal call to repentance and godly living. Whatever your view on a call to ministry, there are some factors that need to come together if someone is to be become a church planter.
A person has an inward sense of wanting to be an elder and involved in the work of planting a church. Paul tells Timothy that anyone who ‘aspires’ to eldership “desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1). The word ‘aspire’ has the sense of stretching oneself out, with the word ‘desire’ conveying a sense of longing. In 1 Peter 5:2, Peter exhorts the elders to “Shepherd the flock of God … not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you.” Elders are to serve in a way that resonates with a desire that they have within them. Where does that desire come from? Acts 20:28 says that the Holy Spirit is the one who creates elders. Clearly, the Holy Spirit uses more than simply an inward sense of desire, but the operation of the Holy Spirit was what ‘made’ them elders. So, while it might not be the case that a person dreamt about it from childhood, there is the sense that the Holy Spirit works within a person to create a desire for planting a church.
A person has the desire to be an elder and plant a church confirmed by others. Because the qualifications for an elder are focused primarily on character, the desires to plant must be considered within the context of spiritual maturity. And spiritual maturity is something that can only be confirmed from the outside, within the context of the Christian community.
There are a number of indications, for example, that the church recognised Timothy in his role as a pastor. Acts 16:2 says Timothy was “well spoken of by the brothers” (that is, his church community) and as a result the Apostle Paul “wanted Timothy to accompany him” on his missionary journey (3). Later, Paul reminds Timothy not to neglect the gift that came as “the council of elders laid their hands on you” (1 Timothy 4:14). If nothing else, this is an indication that the church played a role in recognising his vocation.
So it is vital that those around a potential church planter recognise and affirm their suitability. If a person is saying, “Yes, this is for me,” but the church community around them is saying something different, then it is not right for them to proceed. The Bible says much about seeking wise counsel and wisdom from others (Proverbs 11:14, 12:15, 15:22). Therefore, the assessment of church planters by organisations like Acts 29, while not superseding a local church, can provide valuable wisdom.
A person is granted the opportunities necessary to pursue church planting. This is the sense that God is making a way forward for a person to pursue planting. In 1 Corinthians 16:9, Paul speaks of the fact that God had opened “a wide door for effective work”. The reality is that a desire to plant a church, even when confirmed by the church community, does not always result in a church being planted. In God’s wisdom, the door sometimes does not open. Perhaps it will never will; perhaps it will in the future.
Any one of these elements on its own is not sufficient. But when they come together, the conviction that a person should plant a church can be a great re-assurance in difficult times. Conversely, a mistaken belief in a calling to plant a church can result in the wrong person being in the wrong role, causing much heartache and frustration.
If all church planters are elders, then the core qualifications for being a church planter are the same as those of being an elder, specifically those listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. An elder, and therefore a church planter, must have a Christ-centred character. In fact, the focus in the New Testament is unquestionably on character rather than gifting. Tim Keller writes, “A Christian leader leads from character before skill. Character is far more important than skills in Christian leadership.”
This truth is all too quickly forgotten in the arena of church planting. Too often church planters believe that the key to success comes through the power of their gifts rather than the strength of their God. They believe the church plant requires that they come with strength, courage and swagger. In contrast, Paul describes coming to the Corinthian church in “weakness and in fear and much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3). Ed Clowney puts it like this: “A man’s ‘natural’ gifts cannot add up to a probability that he should chose the ministry. God has chosen the weak and foolish, not the mighty and wise, so that it might be quite clear that he alone is the Saviour.”
This is not to say that gifts are unimportant. But the process of planting a church will expose weaknesses and challenge strengths in a dramatic way. It can serve to magnify character flaws and imperfections. If a person is relying on giftedness and competency rather than a gospel-shaped character rooted in Christ, they will probably crumble. Or, if they do not, what they build will be more about them and their glory than it will be about Christ and his glory. An over-emphasis on the power of a person’s gifts can cloud the reality that church is actually about the power of God. Paul (although prodigiously gifted) spent far more time speaking, even rejoicing, in his own inadequacy so that the complete sufficiency of Christ would be centre stage. This flows out of his theology of the church. If the church belongs to God – created, sustained and expanded by his work – how could a person who leads in a church be anything but a person convinced of his own need for the power of God? So a rooted character – that is a deep, gospel-centred identity in Christ and a deep dependence on the Spirit of God – is vital in the rapidly changing context of a fragile new church.
The biblical qualifications for ministry are not a now-or-never thing. That is to say, there is scope for maturing and growth in a potential church planter. It might not be as simple as saying, “That person is not a planter.” It might that the appropriate thing to say is, “not right now.” That means that more people can plant a church than perhaps realise. Depending on context and model, a person can be developed, coached and trained in a way that means they will one day be able to plant. Given the need for gospel advance, we cannot simply wait for a church planting superman to arrive.
Consider the following self-assessment questions. These questions are from the ‘Testimony and Conviction’ section of the Acts 29 Assessment process. If you are applying to Acts 29 or thinking of applying, then complete them with written answers. If you have already been assessed, then use these questions as a review.
Using your responses, prepare a brief 15-minute presentation on what you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses as a church planter or potential church planter. You may prepare this in note form, but please ensure it can be understood by a reader. Share this assignment with a mentor.
Estimated time: 5 hours.
Conviction to Plant a Church
Is there anything from your past or present that you think needs to be addressed before continuing forward with the process of planting?
Church planting comes in many different shapes and sizes. So an overly prescriptive list can be unhelpful. Nevertheless, wisdom and experience tell us that there are certain features common to church planters.
Planting a church is hard. There are times where it would be far easier to give up. So a church planter must be determined to continue in the work. But this cannot simply be a gritted-teeth kind of determination. It must be anchored in hope in God. At the end of 1 Corinthians 15, a long and detailed passage on the reality of the resurrection, Paul writes this encouragement: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58) Paul tells us that when we live in light of the great sweep of God’s plans, we have a perspective that allows us to remain determined in our labours. We live in light of a glorious outcome that is sure and certain: a recreated, glory-filled new creation. It is only in that context that our gospel labour of planting a church is not in vain – especially when at a day-to-day level it can it often feel pointless.
If it is God who builds the church (Matthew 16:18), then a church planter must be someone deeply committed to prayer. Prayer is a declaration of our dependence. It is a cry to our Father that we are not sufficient and an acknowledgement that he is. The process of planting a church will often push a person to realise that prayer is not simply something that a Christian is supposed to do, but an urgent necessity. Prayer is the oxygen that a church planter must breathe.
The ability to create a gospel-shaped vision for the church being planted is essential. It is the unique role and privilege of a church planter to set the culture of the church because culture is more important than strategy. Having a strategy is not a bad thing, but the creation and cultivation of a gospel culture within a church plant is far more important. A clear gospel vision is vital, as a church planter will spend a lot of time asking people to join them when nothing is there but the vision.
Above and beyond the ability to teach the word, that is required of every pastor (1 Timothy 3:2), the ability to articulate the theological vision of the church is extremely important for a church planter. After all, even if someone has a stirring vision, if they cannot winsomely communicate that to others, then it will be extremely difficult for a church plant to get off the ground.
A church planter will often be required to perform a wide variety of tasks and duties that push them beyond their natural strengths, gifts and abilities. This does not require omni-competence, but it does require a joyful flexibility that often sees a church planter doing things that they would rather not do.
Cultures are set by leaders. Church plants need an evangelistic culture. So church planters need to be passionate about evangelism. They need a love for the lost and personal involvement in evangelism. Experience suggests that churches that grow through conversions are not those with the best systems or gatherings or preaching or presentation or even theology. They are churches where the congregation see a passion for evangelism modelled in their leaders. You may not be the world’s most natural evangelist, but, as Paul says to Timothy, you should still “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). You can still model a concern for the lost.
Watch as church planters give their perspectives on what is involved in being a church planter.
All human beings are complex. Our fallen nature, even with God’s grace at work within us, means that our motivations are never free from the effects of sin. Our fallenness means that there are many wrong reasons to plant a church. Some of the most common wrong reasons are:
But what are the right reasons for a person to plant a church? The answer is: the immense privilege of being a part of God’s redemptive plans for the whole earth. If the church has always been central to God’s plans, then the honour of serving in the planting of new churches cannot be under-estimated. To desire to be a church planter because it is edgy, cool or en vogue is vacuous compared to the true beauty of serving in this way. Above all else, a church planter must be enthralled with the majesty of God, amazed by his plan of redemption and humbled that they get to play a small part in them.
Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is that they would have eyes to know the hope to which God has called them, the riches of their glorious inheritance, and the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for them (Ephesians 1:17-23). This power has been exercised in Christ when God raised him from the dead and enthroned him above all authorities. The risen and ascended Christ is now supreme over the universe. Paul continues: “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” In other words, Christ’s dominion over the cosmos is for the benefit of the church. The church, says Paul, is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. With this in view, could there be anything more glorious than planting a church?
Experience, however, seems to tell a different story. Many church planters testify that it is one of the most demanding and heart-breaking endeavours in the world. Two pastors summarise this aspect with raw eloquence:
We are looking for men and women to work hard in small churches in difficult situations. There will be small reward, constant confusion and frustration. You will be misunderstood, misrepresented and maligned. If you join an Acts 29 church plant or take a Crosslands Course (see here for more details), you will receive training and mentoring. This will equip you for a life of unknown, unsung, heart-wrenching and often unfruitful ministry. And an undying joy and wonder in the presence of Jesus Christ. You will be a nobody who has nothing to offer. But you will follow Jesus, and you will know you need nothing else.
Is there a contradiction between Paul’s glorious vision of church planting in the power of the risen Christ and real life experience?
No, there is no contradiction. 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” But there is a tension which can be understood in light of inaugurated eschatology. The kingdom has come – and therefore churches are being planted. The kingdom has not come in its fullness – and therefore planting is often challenging.
Watch Matt Chandler speak on good and bad motives for church planting.
see pages 77–91
see pages 77–91
What role might ambition play in the desire to plant a church? Can ambition be sanctified? Is there a danger of a lack of ambition? What dangers come with ambition?
Write 300–400 words on the following:
This is Question 1 of the Strategy and Timeline section of the Acts 29 Assessment.
Estimated time: 2 hours.
Our desire for this course is that it has crystalized your motivations for planting. If you want to pursue planting in earnest, please consider taking some next steps toward partnership with Acts 29 or furthering your training with Crosslands.