Over the last few months I have spent a great deal of time thinking about and preparing for church planting. The entire summer I attended the Grace Advance Academy where I was challenged on the subject, and now I am about to embark on the process myself. While there is much that could be said on the subject, I think that there are several key points that need to be emphasized to make sure that we are “planting with the right seed.”
The church should have the desire to reduplicate itself throughout the world by means of church planting. How this desire is realized will depend upon God’s providence in the life of the church. In some cases the church may have the opportunity to provide support for a church plant through prayer; in other circumstances the church may be able to provided financial support for a church plant; and in exceptional cases the church will even be able to provide gifted individuals and leadership to establish a church plant. Whatever the circumstance, the church should make it a priority to sacrificially use its resources to see biblical churches planted in areas of need.
The church that is being planted should adhere to the same biblical doctrine and philosophy of ministry to which the sending church adheres. Additionally, several keys must be emphasized in a new church plant.
I. The Preeminence of the Local Church
The local church must be preeminent in the planting of a new church. This should go without saying, however there are many endeavoring to plant churches apart from the authority and aid of an established local church. This goes against the model found in the New Testament. From the perspective of the New Testament it is churches that plant churches. For instance, it was the church in Antioch that ordained and sent out Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2-3). The argument could be made that even though Paul was an apostle he still planted churches under the authority of his sending church. At the very least it is clear that Paul relied upon the aid of established churches to plant new churches (2 Corinthians 11:8).
Beyond the practical considerations, a church planted independent of an established local runs the risk of being led by self-appointed and congregationally affirmed leadership. If there is no one to send and affirm a man/men for leadership it is impossible for the leadership to be proven and affirmed by god-ordained leadership.
In some cases God providentially creates the need for a church plant by calling together a group of believers in one particular place. In such cases these believers would be wise to seek out the assistance of an established local church as they develop leaders and plant a church.
II. The Prerequisite of Gifted and Affirmed Leadership
Ideally, gifted men will be identified and affirmed before a church plant is established (in God’s providence this is not always possible). This begins with the pastor who is able to equip the church through the preaching and teaching of the word (Ephesians 4:11-12). Without a gifted man the church is missing a necessary component for growth and effectiveness. Additionally, elders must be raised up from within the congregation to provide leadership and protection for the flock. Sometimes it takes time to develop and identify these elders (Titus 1:5). However, care must be taken not to affirm a man too quickly for any position of leadership. This is especially a temptation in a new church plant where leadership needs are often times more glaring. This is one of the reasons why it is so important for established churches to plant new churches. Elders in the established church can provide necessary wisdom and god-ordained authority to identify and officially recognize men as elders. Apart from this, elders in a church plant will either be “self-appointed” or “congregationally appointed”, neither of which are consistent with the New Testament model (cf. Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; and 1 Timothy 4:14).
III. The Priority of Healthy Growth
The purpose of a church plant is to meet a previously unmet spiritual need. Spiritual need can range from the need to have gospel influence in an unreached region, to providing sound biblical teaching in an area devoid of such teaching. Whatever the specific needs might be, a church plant should seek to grow the size of its ministry by meeting these spiritual needs. This requires that the church focus on biblically meeting these spiritual needs through faithful preaching, and personal discipleship. This must be the goal of the entire congregation, especially in the context of a church plant. To put it practically, church plants should seek to grow by feeding unfed sheep and by seeing new converts come to the Lord. The kind of “sheep stealing” that occurs as a result of polished marketing strategies, personality driven ministries, and attitudes of rivalries will not be blessed by the Lord.