What Are We Doing When We Plant a Church?

This past week I taught a DMin intensive at Azusa Pacific University on church planting. As a way to get us into the subject I raised the question:

What Are We Doing When We Plant A Church? 

First, let be clear about what we are not doing:

  • We are not building a brand of churches; very few people today understand the differences between denominations, even fewer care about our cherished distinctions
  • We are not trying to save or salvage a tradition; church planting as a way to keep a certain tribe in business may make some practical sense, but I have a hard time seeing God and the cloud of witnesses rejoicing at such a motivation

Think about this for a moment: Jesus comes announcing the kingdom of God; that kingdom, that rule and reign of God, the expression of God’s being and will, produces the church. The church is one for 1050 years; then we have the East-West split and have two churches until the Reformation—then we have a few. Today there are more than thirty-thousand (30,000) distinct Christian groups in the world!

Fitting church planting into that sad story of mostly negative division cannot be a good thing.

What then is the story that is both righteous and adequate for motivating church planting? We go back to Jesus and Paul and their conscious motivation: to create groups of people (churches…of any denomination) who are ordering their lives around being students and ambassadors of Jesus. We are creating outposts of kingdom living, of kingdom activity.

I know the vast majority of these church plants will end up in a denomination of sorts. I am not against denominations—I happily serve in one! I just know that the very best, most energizing and animating motivation to plant churches is to see them as an extension of what Jesus began to do long ago: make apprentices of Jesus who then live their lives for the sake of others.

Connect with Todd Hunter at the next Telos Event.