by Jessica Scott #NPLOKC Church Planting Resident
Everything I have learned has been best summarized by my college professor Dr. Bruce Carlton. Based on Dr. Carlton’s work, here are ten principles for a church planting movement that have proved to be effective, biblical model to follow.
God authors, initiates, and accomplishes His mission. His mission is to fill all creation with His glory. That mission has been coded into the church’s DNA – God’s glory is the reason we exist and labor. Therefore, the work of God cannot be accomplished apart from Him. For this reason, abundant prayer is the first step in any Kingdom work, including church planting.
I have heard several testimonials of faithful disciples of Jesus who have seen incredible movements happen, but they always started with abundant, sacrificial prayer. When the Lord began directing me to pursue His global mission in small town Nicoma Park, Oklahoma, I followed the example of those before me by beginning in prayer. As I invited people from my church to join me in engaging the community around our church, we started by simply prayerwalking.
We did not talk to anyone for a while – there never seemed to be anyone around anyways; we just walked and prayed. We walked in the bitter cold, in the boiling heat, and in the middle of busy life. I felt foolish and anxious to actually start doing something; but, then, the Lord gently reminded me, “I am the One Who brings the results, not you. Be faithful and trust that I am Who I say I am.” To see a work of God, we must begin, persevere, and end with prayer that is given in humble dependence and faith.
Abundant Sowing of the Gospel
Continuing to walk in prayer, church planting requires the Gospel to be sown abundantly and broadly so that where there is good soil, growth may occur. Prayerwalking an area is a beneficial way to become a familiar face and begin engaging people purposefully. As encounters happen and relationships are built, it is vital that the Gospel is introduced as soon as possible.
Often when meeting people, I began by simply asking how I could pray for them. Sometimes, the conversation stopped there; other times, they allowed me to pray for them; still other times, this question led to deeper conversations. Whenever I was able to pray for people, I always tried to at least include the Gospel in my prayer. Whenever I was able to share the Gospel with people, I followed it with a question to give them an opportunity to respond.
The Gospel of Jesus is the power of God unto salvation. If churches are to be planted, the Gospel must be proclaimed so that the dead can be made alive.
Intentional Church Planting
When people begin responding to Jesus, it is time to gather the new disciples into communities and teaching them how to be the church together. This process often happens naturally when families or close groups come to the Lord around the same time. However, they come together, the church planter needs to begin leading them in learning how to obey all Jesus has commanded and what a healthy church looks like.
Furthermore, elders should be identified, equipped, and launched to lead. By enabling the church to fulfill Jesus’ call, the church will be able to flourish in a culturally appropriate way and the Kingdom will be able to continue to expand through them.
Although I have not had the privilege of planting a church yet, I labor with this principle in mind. Rather than spreading myself thin, I have been intentional in making disciples in a focused arena so the fruit may be fully developed. When the Lord opens the door to a person of peace or house of peace, I plan to devote my time to cultivating that relationship, praying to the Lord of the harvest to bring about the produce. Church planting intentionally means to devote the time, energy, and prayer persistently toward a localized point until the Lord moves one on to the next focus.
Scripture is the authority, not the missionary, not the pastor
Healthy churches are those who submit to the authority of God’s Word rather than human authority. The church must look to Scripture for all instruction and doctrine. The church leadership and the missionary/church planter must humble themselves to recognize that they do not have the final word – God does. Scripture must dictate how the church functions, what decisions are made, and which beliefs are held. The leaders cannot transpose their preferences, but must, rather, allow the Holy Spirit to guide the church through His Word.
As I have been discipling people, I have implemented this principle by driving our time with questions regarding Scripture over simply handing them instructions. When people are asked how the Spirit is speaking to them and they must look to God’s Word to find the answer. It is amazing how the Spirit teaches them. They take steps of obedience that I may have not considered for them. It requires humility when some pursue matters in a way I would not have chosen, but leaders must trust that the same Spirit that has been their guide will also guide the church.
Leaders typically come from within the church
The most authentic churches will be those which are indigenous to their culture. For this reason, it is best if the leaders come from within the church because they are most familiar with the culture – how to live in it, how to confront it, and how to make Jesus known in it. In addition, if a church is growing together, the people will be able to identify leaders by their known character, making the selection process a natural outworking guided by the Holy Spirit.
As I have discipled and worked with students in our church youth group, I have given close attention to identifying potential leaders and leaning into them so they may be equipped for the task if they choose to obey. Instead of giving all the answers or doing all the tasks which I could take care of more effectively, I offer students the opportunity to step up. Allowing students to draw their own conclusion directly from Scripture, for instance, empowers them to take ownership of their faith journey and to begin to apply specific acts of obedience in their lives.
If leaders are forced upon a church or come from the outside, attaining unity and growth comes with much more difficulty. Trust that Spirit has equipped and called others for the good of His Kingdom.
Leaders are lay people, not payed professionals
The traditional practice in Western culture is for church leadership to be those who are fully supported by the church; however, the example from the New Testament is people with normal livelihoods leading churches. Fully supported ministers are not condemned in Scripture, but from a practical stance, church planting can move forward with greater ease when the financial burden is minimized.
I have become drawn to the idea of having a “tentmaking” job, so I can support myself while living on mission daily. Furthermore, this allows me to be an active member of my community. Currently, I am working as a manager at a dry cleaner and through this I can obey the real purpose for which God has me in Oklahoma. As I disciple others, I commit to equipping every believer to partaking in God’s mission as He has gifted them to do.
Churches typically meet in homes or small groups
Here is another biblical model that is not the norm in Western culture. In Oklahoma, church steeples are prominent on every corner. Mega churches have rapidly gained popularity not only in the West, but also in places like South Korea. Although these models can be utilized in a way honoring to God, many use them to indulge their comforts and preferences. The New Testament, on the contrary, shows groups of believers binding together in intimate community in locations that were readily available to them, such as in homes.
In addition to my home church, which is a traditional Baptist church that runs in the 200s, I am a part of a house church of church planters. This small group has demonstrated replicable format that I can use when discipling others or leading a group to become a church. We do not have the financial weight from maintaining a building or supporting a staff; therefore, all our money goes to reach immediate needs and to contribute to our times of fellowship.
With my foot in both expressions of church, I have learned how to celebrate the strength of each and unite together to strengthen the Church as a whole. If established churches already exist, forming small groups that function in a similar manner as a house church will allow for greater depth in discipleship. As the church labors, houses churches may be established as a result. When laboring in the harvest, directing new believers in the house church model by beginning studies in homes can lead them to identify as a church and live out a lifestyle of obedience.
Churches plant churches
When churches are formed, they are not supposed to stop reproducing or focus on enlarging themselves. Churches go out from within their group and seek to multiply rather than just add to their numbers. If a church is merely adding to their numbers, growth is slower and sustaining the fellowship practically becomes more difficult. If a church launches its members out fully equipped to do Kingdom work, then a wider span of ground can be covered. Churches can also adopt a specific people group or region on which to focus.
The house church I am a part of consists of people with a heart for church planting. We gather weekly, and then we commission each other out each week to work in the specific areas which God has entrusted to us. We support, pray for, encourage, and challenge each other in obedience. This is an example of disciples who have committed to one another as a church yet are continually going out to engage others and even help to establish new churches.
When the above principles are followed under the authority of Scripture and the Holy Spirit, rapid reproduction can be expected. Paul’s missionary journeys are a perfect example of how quickly churches multiply when the Gospel is proclaimed, people are gathered, and leaders are equipped. As opposed to the addition approach, churches will be able to multiply quickly whenever the Body is released to be disciple-makers, and even church planters, in accordance to the mandate given by Jesus.
I have learned that this process can start slowly in our eyes, but that is necessary for a solid foundation to be laid on which the rest of the structure can stand. The temptation to jump ahead and attempt to force results in our own power is prevalent, but we must have faith that God will bring about growth in abundance when we are faithful to Him. After all, this is His mission and He desires His Kingdom to grow more than we ever could.
If reproduction is not happening, the church should examine what their mission is and how they are working to achieve that. The Church is made up of people who are in the process of becoming like Jesus; hence, redirection is necessary at times. Our goal is to make God’s Name great to all the nations. If we are obeying Jesus, we can have confidence that we will begin seeing His will accomplished.
Signs and wonders
When working in the Spirit for Kingdom work, expect to see miraculous occurrences. The New Testament church grew with the accompaniment of signs and wonders; the same can be anticipated today. It is easy for most to accept that wonderful acts of God occur outside of the West, but since it is not as prevalent in the West, accepting and expecting it here is difficult for most. What is known is that God is mighty God Who acts in tremendous ways to move people to glorify Him. If this is His nature, perhaps we ought to change our posture and begin asking the Lord to act accordingly.
The miraculous is outside of my realm of comfort, for I grew up in a society where these things were not talked about, seen, or anticipated. I have heard stories and seen God move, but I have always been timid in awaiting anything big to happen. God has challenged my thinking with a simple step: begin praying for signs and wonders.
I hesitate to pray for miracles because I fear God will not answer, and how would I explain that? Nonetheless, I have been reminded of a truth which has altered my perspective: God cares about His glory far more than we do; therefore, if we pray for Him to act according to His nature, revealed through Scripture, it is in His hands to uphold His glory. God is a God who heals the sick, causes the blind to see, raises the dead, and commands the created order. Pray for Him work in alignment with Who He has already revealed Himself to be.
Walk in obedience to make disciples and plant churches, under the authority of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit, and God will bless your obedience. It may not be in the way we plan, but He has a bigger, greater plan He is unfolding. Nevertheless, following these principles sets the stage for God’s people to be used mightily in His mission.