In this article from the vaults, John Mumford looks at how we can obey the great commission by planting churches.
We’ve got a lot of work to do, haven’t we? Living in a Post-Christian society, in a New Millennium where 90% of the population don’t know and love Jesus, our task is great. Well, how are we going to play our part? The apostle Paul argues in Romans 4 that with any circumstance, any issue, any challenge or any problem we should always ask the question, ‘What does the bible say?’ So, what does the bible say about communicating God’s salvation plan, the gospel according to Jesus Christ, to so many people?
Paul again writes: ‘His (God’s) intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known’ (Ephesians 3:10). I believe in the church. As the apostle Paul argues here, God has designed his church as the means of rescuing men from the clutches of sin, as the means of reconciling them with their long-lost father. I love the church too: as a hospital to mend people, as a family to love them, as a school to train them, and as an army to advance God’s kingdom. And, because I love the church I’m dedicated to its unity and growth. To reach the millions of people who have not heard about Jesus we need more churches. As we enter this new millennium together, we need to cherish the old – grow our existing churches in this country – but also welcome the new – plant new churches in new ways for new peoples. Advancing the kingdom of God ‘through the church is about dynamic expansion, it’s about breaking new ground, it’s about growth and change. Let’s embrace our challenge as zealously as we can, obey the Great Commission as fully as we can, serve Jesus as best we can.
In this article I would like to take another look at fresh ways of radical church planting. By ‘radical’ I mean essentially ‘going back to the roots’ (the word ‘radical’ is derived from the Latin word meaning ‘root’). The ‘roots’ of church planting are in the early church, the remarkable work of Paul and others in the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts, the process of the Holy Spirit working through witnesses of Jesus Christ results in the planting of churches. To spread the news of Jesus – a man who had not travelled far – Paul set up churches far and wide, high and low, many and often. So what are new ways and models of church planting for us, here at the end of the 20th century, are actually old ways and models of the early church. In going back to examine church-planting ‘roots’ and in constantly asking the question ‘what does the bible say?’.
I think we’re inspired to ask more questions: How should we undertake our crusade to save the lost through the church? Are our past methods the only methods of planting churches? How can we utilize the different giftings of different people in order to achieve our shared goal and run our individual races?
Faith is Spelt R-l-S-K
It’s becoming a cliche, but this saying of John Wimber holds a profound truth for us. There is always a danger that a church movement will fossilize to the point that it’s nothing but an institution. By sticking to 20th century church planting methods (even if they’ve worked) we could become entrenched. Looking again at church planting as related by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, I’ve begun to see some new things. With uniting projects like Alpha, which involves local churches under a national evangelistic vision, and with a sense of unity as the body of Christ, we are all committed to the same cause. I think we can afford to take even more risks. However, there are two assumptions upon which we take risks.
Firstly, that God is in control and will bring glory to His Name. That is our focus, our first love, our primary intention. Secondly, that we believe our truth is absolute; ‘Salvation is found in no one else’, Jesus is ‘the way and the truth and the life’. No one gets to the Father except through Him. Thousands of people are dying every second without hearing about God’s redemption plan, the rescue mission undertaken by His Son. Therefore, to tell them about the one person who can save us we need more churches, and we need to take more risks. But my point is that they’re calculated risks. We trust in God, His power and His truth. If we experiment with different methods of church planting, if we consecrate our lives to bringing good news to the world through the church, I believe we’ll see hundreds more churches and thousands more converts in the new century ahead of us. We church plant so that we might reap the harvest.
Towards the end of World War II, at the Yalta conference, the ‘Big Three’ (Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill) drew up a secret document re-arranging the post war map of Eastern Europe. That document contained material which was extremely controversial, highly damaging and caused endless trouble long-term. It became known universally as ‘The Naughty Document’. The following assumptions within the Vineyard Movement are as flawed as those of Yalta. Here’s one: ‘Because I’m not a professional pastor, I could never plant a church’.
There are different skills and gifts required for different jobs. Being senior pastor of a large church requires pastoral skills (so they tell me!) Going on a ministry trip that might result in the planting of a church, however, does not necessarily entail this gift. Another assumption: ‘You’ve got to be highly trained and well-educated to plant a church’. While I don’t have anything against theological education (in fact, I’m very grateful for it), this education and training doesn’t have to happen inside a bible college or seminary. Now here’s the really naughty one -‘You can only plant a church among one type of people-group’. The truth is that our vision is for churches across the whole social, racial, geographical and cultural spectrum within the UK and Ireland. I long to see more churches on university campuses and more churches in inner city suburbia, more churches for single people and more churches for families, more churches with the young and the old, the sick and healthy, the rich and the poor.
Out of the UK population (56.5m), recent demographic studies demonstrate that 6.5% of the people are black, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or from other ethnic origins. Doesn’t that mean that 6.5% of UK churches should represent this? Who will plant these churches? My assumption is that someone from an Afro-Caribbean background will plant an Afro Caribbean church, some from an Indian background will plant an Indian church and so on.
These ‘Naughty Assumptions’ are in danger of making church planting an exclusive ministry, an elitist practice, a specialist occupation. But Jesus commissioned all his disciples to ‘go to all nations’. Assuming you’re a Christian and you have a pulse you’re qualified to minister’.
I’ve had a paradigm shift in my understanding of how church planting can occur. In the past, in the Vineyard we’ve used one model of church planting. That is, where a church planter (usually married) leaves one church to plant another. It is this same person who then pastors and builds the church. Now I’m not for a moment denouncing this model with which we’ve built the movement during the 1990s. All I’m saying is that this well-tried model is only one of many.
The apostle Paul in the book of Acts never limited himself to this one style or ideal. Instead of a catalytic church planter, who either carries on to pastor his church or passes it on to someone else, the apostles worked as a catalytic church planting team. Let’s dream for a moment. Imagine a team from a church in Glasgow going on a ministry trip to a part of Edinburgh. They gather a crowd, preach the gospel, worship the Lord and invite the Holy Spirit. If the Lord sends his Spirit, if the evangelism is powerful, then more likely than not several in the crowd might accept Christ. Before you know it, that crowd has become a church! There’s no building, there’s no leader, and there’s little experience. But you have a group of people who have discovered the truth. Who’ll clear up the mess? Well, the Glasgow church might support the group of people through prayer and resources, the particular ministry team could offer encouragement and advice, and the Holy Spirit would certainly guide, comfort and bless them! Leaders will be raised up among the people eventually, rather than imposed by the ministry team immediately.
This example is, of course, hypothetical. Yet I think it could happen. After all, it’s exactly what happened when Paul began to establish the early church. For the Vineyard, we’re a young movement, not dependent on buildings; we operate an Episcopal system built on relationship rather than geography and have fine resources in Vineyard Music Group. We have to allow our ‘naughty assumptions’ to evaporate, we need to encourage experimental church planting, we should try a new thing for a new millennium.
I’m not trying to be flippant in introducing fresh, and maybe naive ideas about this subject. Whilst I’m pressing the accelerator on church planting for a new millennium, it doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten the clutch or even the brake! By emphasizing one aspect of our ‘kingdom ministry’, it doesn’t mean we denounce, forget or under-emphasize other aspects of our calling. Of course, church development and discipleship are still vital; ‘old orders are good orders’.
What I am saying is that we have a lot of work to do, and it’s necessary to try new ways (or old apostolic ways!) of building God’s church. In order to grow, the church has to diversify and, at the same time, simplify. I believe that if we can do both, we’ll be able to grow a church movement that is firmly grounded in the truth, whilst also being able to encompass different personalities, different cultures and different styles of ministry.