Re-thinking church planting

Church planting in the SBTC has come of age. Most of us recognize the need for more new churches of a variety of styles, models, sizes, cultures, affinities and languages. New SBTC churches have a healthy survival rate, a baptism ratio of three to one over established churches, and are becoming multiplying churches themselves.

Our statistics show that things are going quite well. Some occasional reminders of what church planting is all about, however, are certainly healthy. Ponder these:

Church planting is not the end, but a means to make disciples. The Great Commission is to make disciples, not to plant churches. Still, we plant churches because they are the local and culturally appropriate expressions of the church, which is the agent and sign of the kingdom. Local churches, we believe, are the best means for making kingdom-minded disciples of Jesus. Therefore ?

Planters must first be missionaries. Yes, planters must be pastors, teachers, evangelists, organizers, counselors and leaders. They must, however, first be missionaries in their communities and to their people. They must first study the community and the people they are called to reach and ask, “What will a biblical disciple of Christ look like here and now?” The planter, therefore, must be willing to jettison all predetermined methods, strategies, and models until he knows his community thoroughly. Therefore ?

Model and style follow missiology and ecclesiology. That is, ecclesiastical form follows ecclesiological function. The first question is “How will we make disciples from among this people/community?” The planter should be able to describe what a disciple will look and act like in his own cultural context. He should be able to describe how Jesus’ commands to worship and pray, love and serve, know and do, give and go apply to the disciple’s life and to the local congregation.

The Bible, after all, is relevant to?and judges?every situation, culture, and time. Can the planter say how this is so in his unique context?

The second question relates to form. Here is the tricky part. The ecclesiology?nature, characteristics, ordinances, mission of the church?must be biblical (see BF&M 2000, Article VI for the essentials).

The ecclesiastical form, that is, the methodological shapes, styles, models, systems, processes, programs, relationships, and ministries must be culturally appropriate. This is inevitable. Every church reflects a culture, but not always the appropriate culture. Whether jeans, suits, sandals, cowboy boots, ties, guayaberas, hymns, praise songs, coritos, piano, guitar, Stamps-Baxter, Third Day, Sunday School, home groups, communion crackers, loaf of bread, pews, chairs, pulpit, stool, steeples, multi-purpose, committees, teams, door-to-door, bulletins, websites, or any other form, they all reflect somebody’s culture from some point in time.

Everything we do in church, even the biblical functions described in Acts 2: 43-47, is wrapped in cultural expression. If this is the case, then ?

Let’s be careful not to make church an idol. That is, let’s not make our expression, our form of church, an idol. Whatever the cultural expression the question should be, “Are we making disciples of Jesus?” If anything gets in the way of that commission, it is an obstacle if not an outright idol. When we criticize how others are doing it, we sin. Hold to doctrinal purity; be flexible in method and expression. Consequently, we arrive at this conclusion:

We need to agree on a church-planting ethic to practice. Here’s a list:

1) An absolute commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible and to the teachings that flow from it. The SBTC is a confessional fellowship. All our churches and church plants are affiliated according to their affirmation of our doctrinal foundation.

2) No criticism of style or method. A healthy debate and an honest critique of methods and style are certainly acceptable. We learn from these. What we do not want to do is to offer dismissive criticism of what others are doing differently from us. Let God determine and correct if it is ineffective. Let God bless and honor if it is biblical and effective. We need all kinds of churches and all kinds of approaches to fulfill the Great Commission.

3) An appreciation for what others have done, are doing, and will do. No planter or church has the corner on the market of effectiveness. What a church, new or established, is doing may certainly be out of my comfort zone, but if God is being glorified and disciples are being made, I need to get over it.
We need to remember that we all stand on the shoulders of saints who paid the price long before we came along. We also need to remember that we are all only a short decade away from being criticized by the next generation.

4) A commitment to pray for, encourage, and cooperate with what others are doing, both through giving and going. Too often we talk about “kingdom work,” when what we really mean is “my piece of the kingdom work.” Can we commit to pray for others even if they are doing something really different from us?

5) A focus on conversion growth that leads to disciple making. Whatever the style, model, or method, if disciples are not being made then legitimate questioning is warranted. Perhaps the wrong model is being imposed. Perhaps the focus has been on attracting believers from other churches.

Whatever the case, the planter must start with the clear understanding that the church is to glorify God, exalt Jesus, and be empowered by the Holy Spirit, all for the purpose of leading lost people to become disciples of Jesus. Again, a missiological thrust must drive church planting.

Church planting is sweeping the country. Most denominations are making it a priority. Planting networks are springing up globally. Greater numbers of men and women are being called to be planters. Better assessment and training systems are being developed.

It is all very exciting … and risky. Still, there is no better way to fulfill the Great Commission. Let’s all celebrate together what we are all doing cooperatively in the SBTC.

Executive Director Emeritus
Jim Richards
Southern Baptists of Texas Convention
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