All who have planted or been involved in planting a church understand the enormity of the task. There are numerous concerns, tasks and action items that need to be taken, especially in pioneering a new church from scratch (e.g., to list a few: establishing doctrinal distinctives; cultivating vision and values; verifying roles; gathering, mobilizing and equipping a core group; much prayer; evangelistic outreach; developing a church planting strategy; organizing church structure and setting up finances; working towards launching a public worship service; establishing a children’s ministry; and the list goes on and on).
Church planting experts have stated that seventy percent of the fatal mistakes in church planting take place in the conception and prenatal phase and so paying attention to what happens prior to birth is the most important part of church development. For, when momentum catches up without a proper foundation and a lack of structure, the campaign often crumbles.
Without argument, the tasks and action items previously mentioned are critical in developing a sound structure and sure foundation. However, it is also possible to fulfill all the necessary checklists and to get very busy doing the “work” and yet fail to be centered on the key concern of church planting, the Gospel.
The truly fatal mistake is to assume the Gospel and thus not give it primary concern so that what is being built (or is built) doesn’t reside consciously on the Gospel. When the Gospel is merely assumed, churches inevitably cultivate a subversive alternative ethos.
The Gospel must rest at the heart of the church’s life and mission. It must permeate, like leaven, the entire ethos of the church so that Gospel-centered communities are being built.
Tim Chester and Steve Timmis have coauthored a thought-provoking book entitled, Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community.
In their chapter on church planting, the authors provide an important and wise reminder regarding the key thing in church planting (and I would add for church life in general). They write,
It is some times said that those committed to church planting fall into two camps. The first camp are those whose primary concern is with mission and who see church (in the form of church planting) as the most biblical or most convenient way to pursue their commitment to mission. The primary concern of the second camp is the church. They see mission (in the form of church planting) as the best way to pursue their radical vision of the church.
In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul reflects on what constitutes good church planting (and it is from this chapter that the expression ‘church planting’ comes). The key thing is that the gospel is at the heart of church planting. The Corinthian church plants had lost sight of the gospel. They were concerned with human power and wisdom. They were dividing over secondary issues. Paul puts the gospel of Christ crucified back at the heart of church and church planting.
Those whose primary concern is with evangelism can too easily get locked into pragmatism. The literature on church planting abounds with prescriptive techniques and procedures. Detailed plans are offered from forming a team through to holding a public launch and beyond. Paul reminds us of the sufficiency of the gospel of Christ crucified. People are saved and the church built through the sovereign grace of God and the power of the gospel (2:1-5). We should be careful that what we build rests on the true foundation of the gospel of Christ (3:10-11). It is God who ‘makes things grow’ (3:7).
“The key thing is that the gospel is at the heart of church planting.”
Those whose primary concern is church can too easily get absorbed with the internal dynamics or structures of the church so that getting the church community life ‘right’ becomes the priority. Paul reminds us of the centrality of the gospel. Our great desire should be for gospel growth. Only gospel work will survive the fires of judgment (3:12-15).
There is a third camp: those whose primary concern is gospel-centered communities, whose priority is the gospel and who see Christian community as the natural expression of the gospel.”