So Lauren and I set out on this trip to do some exploring and adventure together – not just to explore different sights, sounds and experiences but to explore some of what we have felt God calling us to.
Over the few months we have been away we have visited and spent time with over 30 different, projects, Churches, leaders, church planters and organisations. It’s been such an inspiring and formational time and it’s been a privilege to experience the things we have and glean so much insight and wisdom from some truly amazing people.
The main thing we wanted to explore was Church planting. This is something we felt a really strong calling to pursue – it’s also great being part of a Church (Ivy) community that carries this as such an important part of their mission.
Before we left, I really believed Church planting was a great idea – I was 100% behind it. However on reflection, I think I saw Church planting as simply an ‘alternative’ to what Churches and mission organisations were already doing to reach people with the message of Jesus and making disciples.
I don’t ever want to formulate my own opinion and try my best to convince people that my way of thinking is right – I have been guilty of this before but this is not the intention of this blog. Instead, in the most authentic way I can, I want to align my thinking, intentions and actions with God’s plans and purposes that He has spoken through the bible and through seeing Him at work in the world today.
In light of this, I want to begin by saying that however disheartened, frustrated, let down or disappointed we can be by the Church, God makes it clear that His Church is His plan A for bringing hope and transformation to the world – and guess what? There is no plan B (‘I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it’ Matt 16:18).
Bill Hybels says it like this… ‘The local Church is the hope of the world.’
Let me throw out a statement by Peter Wagner that I’ve kept coming back to over the last few months. To some it may seem a little controversial, or at least a little challenging… ’…the best long-term evangelistic method under heaven is the planting of new Churches.’
I whole-heartedly agree with this statement; not because I think it’s simply a good idea or that I’m fed-up with the existing Church, but because it’s biblical and I’ve seen first hand how true this is.
Take a look at the early Church – it was an explosive movement that, with out a doubt, changed the world forever.
The central ministry of this bunch of Jesus followers was making disciples and Church planting.
In the book of Acts and the letters of the New Testament we see how this movement spread and multiplied throughout towns, cities and nations. Wherever people were being won by the gospel, the apostles gathered these new believers together into communities – into a Church.
It was in the context of this community that followers of Jesus lived the call He gives to every believer: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with youalways, to the very end of the age.’ Matt 28:18-20.
This was their mandate, their mission.
This mission is one of multiplication.
When you make the decision to follow Jesus it doesn’t mean that you can now sit pretty with your ticket to heaven. No! Being a follower, a disciple of Jesus means that you go and do likewise.
Towards the end of our trip a friend of ours asked us the question… ‘What is the true fruit of an apple tree?’
‘An apple!’ We replied.
‘No’, he said. ‘The true fruit of an apple tree is another Apple tree.’
In the same way, the true fruit of a Church isn’t just more disciples – but more Churches too!
Back in the early Church the result of new disciples wasn’t just a scattered bunch of Jesus followers. Neither was it just one big Church in Jerusalem where it all started. The result was new Churches; communities of disciples in cities, towns and villages across the known world – all with the same heart, the same passion and the same mission… To make more disciples! Multiplication! (All the believers were one in heart and mind – Acts 4:32).
Many today will say, ‘surely we have enough Churches, why do we need anymore?’
‘To plant more Churches will detract from what the existing Church is already doing.’
‘Why don’t we just do more to help the existing Churches?’
I can see the validity in some of these questions and the perceived threat that new church could be to existing churches. However the truth is, that despite the number Churches there are in our nation, there are still millions and millions of people who still don’t know Jesus.
I don’t want to come across as a ‘church basher’ and seem like I’m criticising any Churches – far from it. Jesus calls us to love the church (…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… Ephesians 5:25) whatever it’s condition and I believe we need to pray and fast for the renewal of the Church in our nation all the more.
But the sad reality remains that there are so many Churches where new disciples are a rarity or even non-existent. We’re living in a time when the Church in the west has more resources and more level of reach than ever before and yet there is still a huge harvest out there!
The early Church shows us that when more churches were planted, more people became disciples. Recent facts and figures show that the Churches that are growing fastest and reaching more people with the gospel are newly planted churches or existing Churches that are in the business of church planting.
During our time away we have seen this first hand – the places where the most people are being saved and where communities are being transformed are where new Churches are being planted and the existing Churches are planting even more churches.
I believe this is not just coincidence. This is not just a nice idea or a different way to entice more people into church. It’s not even an excuse for us to feed our disillusionment with the existing Church and a way we can do Church ‘how we want it’ – that simply feeds a consumer church culture and can discourage a genuine pursuit of God.
I believe planting Churches is biblical and the best way of reaching the whole world with the good news of Jesus.
Think of it simply – the more Churches there are, the more opportunity people have of finding their way back to God!
Within your own city I bet there are 10’s, if not 100’s of different cultures, sub cultures, ethnicities, ages, languages and people groups. There is no Church that can realistically and effectively reach all of them – we need more Churches to reach more people!
Church is not a competition for numbers or about building your own empire or doing you’re own thing – but it’s a joint mission – a global mission of reaching the lost, celebrating each other’s victories and supporting each other in hard times. We are one body!
In fact we don’t do any building – we sow, we water, and Jesus builds His Church – ’…only God, makes things grow… we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.’ 1 Cor 3:7-9
For me Church planting is more than just a nice idea – it is a necessity if we are to fulfil the great commission of reaching every corner of the earth with the gospel!