'Planting Missional Churches' is a book authored by an American church planter, Ed Stetzer, recognized as a key thinker in the area of planting new churches. It is fast becoming one of the must read books in this field of study and practice. In his opening chapter, he mentions some basics of church planting including some key qualities for anyone who is setting out to plant churches.
First of all, he says, church planters must be ‘missional’. By this he means that not only are they evangelistic but also they seek through their evangelism to plant churches that are part of the culture that they are aiming to reach. Some churches are no longer reaching the cultural context in which they are situated. For example, in cities such as Dublin and Belfast, the cultural context has shifted rapidly in the last twenty years, leaving some of the established churches completely cut off from society around them. This has been the experience of churches in many Irish cities and only highlights the need for churches to assess if they are really being missional, adapting themselves to reaching the culture around them. Effectively, it means that church members need to take seriously that they are missionaries to their own communities, disciples of the Lord Jesus, who need to think through the cultural context in which they find themselves in order to reach the community around them.
The posture that churches need to take towards their community must be missional, but also it must be, Stetzer claims, ‘incarnational’. It’s a fancy word that simply means we must be part of the community that we are trying to reach. It’s very hard to reach people you don’t know or don’t want to know, which is, unfortunately, the attitude that’s all too easy to have in a declining church. Being incarnational means that we live as the Lord’s transformed people among those we’re trying to reach. It’s all about friendship, making bridges into the community. You cannot evangelize people at a distance. We need to establish good relations with the people we want to hear the Gospel.
Effective church planting depends on ‘solid theology’. Being a culturally relevant and friendly group doesn’t of itself lead to people becoming Christians. Only the unashamed presentation of the Gospel can lead to lives being thoroughly transformed in Christ. Unfortunately, too many church plants, in the name of trying to be relevant, endeavouring ‘not to put people off’ by being ‘theological’ or being seen to be ‘bible-bashing’, are simply trendy religious clubs for people who like the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from ‘spiritual’ me-centred messages. You can’t build Christ’s church without Christ being at the centre. And Christ is at the centre only when we’re opening the Bible to teach who he is, and what he has done for us (solid theology indeed!). If we’re not doing this, we’re not church planting. To quote Stetzer, ‘Bible-based theology is the foundation for a successful church plant.’
Our Lord Jesus clearly tells us that he is the church builder at work today, through the Holy Spirit in the witness of his people, to build his church. A church planter then is someone, working in partnership with Christ, committed to gathering Christ’s disciples into a visible assembly of God’s people in the community in which he works. The church is not about ‘bricks and mortar’, choirs, robes, organs and all that goes along with the popular image of the word ‘church’. It is essentially a dynamic gathering of God’s people that visibly happens whether in a rented space, a house, or an old ‘church’ building. Church planters, by definition, are committed to building up such a community of God’s people through their evangelism. They are also committed to the life, unity and well-being of God’s church as he graciously builds it through their faithful witness.
The obvious must be said. No one can undertake the work of planting churches unless they themselves are transformed by the Gospel, living godly lives that are plain for others to see. As Paul tells Timothy, messengers of the apostolic Gospel must model lives that flow from being transformed by the Gospel (1 Timothy 4:12-16). Church planters therefore must always be aiming to make progress in their Christian life. Unfortunately, church planting is such a trendy idea at the moment that it can attract the wrong kind of people, such as the person who likes to have the limelight, or the person who wants to be in on the latest trend, or the person who just wants to be different and at the cutting edge. We don’t need these kinds of people. We need church planters who know the Lord and people can see that they know the Lord.
Some lessons from the Apostle Paul
Roland Allen (1868-1947) was an Anglican missionary to China, an ordained minister from the orthodox ‘High-church’ tradition of the Church of England. I’m reading his book, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?, on church-planting. His basic argument to his generation on church-planting was to move away from a paternalistic, colonial approach, and go back to the NT to discover the Apostle Paul’s approach to church-planting. Since I haven’t finished the book yet, I can’t tell you what he discovered! But, I firmly believe his instinct was correct. If we are to undertake a new Reformation of Ireland, it must be through the planting of biblical churches. Therefore, we need to learn lessons from one of Christianity’s foremost master church-planters, the Apostle Paul himself. For the following lessons from the life and ministry of Paul, I am indebted to Ed Stetzer in his book, Planting Missional Churches (B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, 2006; pp.44-47).
1 In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
Times have changed in modern day Ireland. Figures from the 2006 census in the Republic of Ireland show that after Catholicism, the second largest ‘faith’ group in the Republic are those who have ‘no religion’. Recently, ‘Atheist Ireland’ celebrated this with an international conference in Dublin where the High Priest of atheism, Richard Dawkins was the guest speaker. Gone are the days when Catholic priest and nuns roamed the streets being greeted with respect, people went to church in their droves, and what church authorities said was law! Modern Irish people are not interested and are not listening.
- Thinking again about church in the Church of Ireland
- The Patrick of St. Patrick's Day
- Why bother with orthodoxy?
- Ireland - Mission Impossible?
- Farewell to Ecumenism
- Ireland needs Protestants
- Alexander Dallas and founding of the ICM
- Anglicanism, a Protestant and Reformed Confession
- Evangelizing Ireland in the 21st century
- the gospel at gafcon
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