Right from the beginning, I want to be extremely upfront and clear and say that I am for new churches starting and growing. I am also very much committed to the idea of those churches then birthing new churches as well. I would even consider myself a, “church planter” at heart and have very much been encouraged and in awe of what God has done through some of the church planting movements over the years.
So, why say something like, “Stop planting churches” then?
A good friend of mine during a conversation about discipleship and church planting said something that has continued to press on me. While we were talking about planting, he said, “I am not really sure Jesus ever asked us to plant churches. He only told us to make disciples.”
I had to process that a bit (like 3- years-a-bit) to really appreciate the wide ramifications of a jarring claim like that. Since then I have read a lot around the idea and prayed about it and have only been more convinced of it to the point that it is almost impossible to ignore.
State of the Church
If you are thinking then, “Well, how will people come to know who Jesus is and show others?” then you might be exactly in the place that I fear we have created and I was at once. If you believe the church is the body of Christ, the collection of people redeemed and called by God through Christ, then we are on the same page. I would pray that these churches are “planted” in absolutely innumerable amounts from now until the end of time.
The real difficulty is that when we talk about planting a church, we often mean much more than just that. We are usually referencing a process by which one person/group walks through maybe an assessment process (which is helpful), has a core group of people to work with (which is great), is sent out to a location that has been chosen which needs a church (which is needed), and a service/program/building/brand is established as a central point for people to, “come and hear” about the gospel (which is fun).
I believe some of these things are good and many of them beneficial but we need to be honest for a moment. The hard reality is not one of those things that I mentioned are ever asked for or commanded by Jesus in order to build the church – the followers of Christ. They are also not bad things either! They are then, at their very core, neutral – useful and helpful but not a necessity.
The Litmus Test
Now be honest with me again – anytime you talk with people about church or church planting what do you mostly talk about? It’s usually about the things Jesus didn’t even talk about – buildings, services, programs, core numbers, assessments, branding, websites, logos, property, 501(c)3 status, and so on. Please hear me again, some of these things are helpful and good and can be used very well but they can also become, “the thing” very quickly.
Herein lies the danger; we can make things that Jesus never spoke about the “main thing” very quickly. Click & Tweet! Anyone who has worked in a church/church plant knows this too well. I am so bothered now looking back on the amount of time I spent crafting 45-60 minute worship services over being with and getting to know the actual people the services were for.
Spontaneous Expansion of the Chinese Church
A lot of people have been looking to the Chinese church and their explosive growth. I have heard that one of the main reasons for their growth and churches starting is the awful and intense persecution they are facing. People’s lives are continually being threatened if they affiliate themselves with Christ and His church; a far cry from anything we are experience here. It has a natural process of filtering out those who aren’t serious about being a follower of Christ and likewise people see those who have truly been changed by the gospel, which then leads to real growth.
I think that’s true but not the whole of it. The other day, after talking with someone about this, the thought came to me. The church in China is having explosive growth not just because of persecution but because of what persecution doesn’t allow for. It doesn’t allow the followers of Christ to sit around a table and brainstorm how to get a building to hold services. There is no time for them to think of a 10-week sermon series that will be catchy to keep people’s attention. There definitely is not time talk about websites, children’s programs, new signs, logos, branding, or anything else. There is only time to live it out and let God build His church the way He sees fit.
The Ways of Jesus
Jesus left us with a winsome, adaptable, flexible, and powerful method for growing His church. I believe the things we have defined as church have become the weights around our necks. The growth of the church and the starting of churches has aways been done through deep relationship with God and with people. Structure and some of these other things are good but only as a response to what God has done, not as a means to reproduce what He has done in the past.
So, stopping planting churches. You go do what Jesus said to do – make disciples. Let Jesus do the rest.
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