There can be no doubt that the fulfillment of the Great Commission is disciple-making, and that should result in the planting of local churches. Not long after the church was born on Pentecost, church-planting became the chief endeavor for the Apostle Paul and his team as they were chased around the Roman Empire. If evangelism is the flower of the church, it is seen blooming when new churches are planted.
Thankfully, there is a church-planting movement in evangelicalism today, for which we ought to praise God.
Church-planting is a unique opportunity for many reasons. Your planting team gets to set the doctrinal direction and philosophy of ministry from ground up. Simultaneously there is an unmatched excitement in seeing Christ build his church first-hand.
But the reality is that with this trend, church-planting is becoming a glamorous ministry fad. It’s fashionable to be identified as a “church-planter.” With all the excitement and rush to get new churches off the ground, the movement is becoming hasty and careless, both from pulpits and in pews.
Having personally made many mistakes in my short time of church-planting (with more to come, I’m sure), I want to give a few cautions for us fledgling-planters. It’s always hard to rightly identify where we are off course in the midst of the storm, and it is especially difficult to see an error in direction when there is not a history to see it against. If we are going to plant lasting churches that endure, some adjustments need to be made which will stabilize us for the long-haul.
This is by no means an exhaustive survey of contemporary church-planting errors, but a brief summary of cautions to help ensure we plant in the right direction. These cautions are not restricted to church-planting, of course. But the prominence and consequences in planting will be the focus.
First, there seems to be a temptation towards, and permission of, pragmatism in church-planting ministry that is unmatched elsewhere. And the reasons are, in part, understandable. Once a fledgling-planter lands in his town, the shock quickly sets in of having nothing, while other plants across the country seem to be going from 10 to 1000 in a year. The lure to grab whatever model seems to be working is powerful and blinding. It is easy to simply imitate any guy that seems to be a fashionable planter evidenced by his filled pews.
Second, there is a dangerous de-emphasis of sanctification happening in contemporary church-planting. Many healthy discussions are happening around the topic of evangelism and missional living. To be sure, this is a joyful non-negotiable. However, there seems to be tendency to over-emphasize mission to the detriment of sanctification. Mission-olatry is strangling sanctification. Spirituality is being labeled as outward, but not inward. Prominence is given to mission over maturity. And when that happens, the dangerous result is a mission that is no longer relevant.
Third, there seems to be a de-emphasis of the Sunday gathering and expository preaching. It’s easy to make dangerous dichotomies like, “We’re more about being missional, you’re more about a pulpit.” That sounds catchy, but has destructive consequences in church-planting.
Fourth, church-planting is easily hijacked as a means to prove oneself in ministry. J.C. Ryle said that the heart of a young man is the perfect field for pride to flourish. While it is certainly exciting, and even right, for qualified young men to be planting churches, the allure to affirm oneself in church-planting is dangerously great. Church-planting offers an enticing opportunity for entrepreneurialism; to get one’s name in evangelical-lights. No one is above this temptation, and certainly not a young man who seems to be filling seats exponentially.
Over the next few weeks I’ll look more closely at each of these temptations individually, while looking at the repercussions of these easily-committed errors. Those articles will be linked here when they go up.