Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Should we plant churches in the UK? (Part 2)

This is Part 2 and will mainly look at the how and by whom of church planting.

How, and by whom, should churches be planted?

Ideally I think a new church plant would come either from a ‘mother’ church releasing a group of people to go and begin a new ministry or from a group of people moving into an ‘area’ and starting a brand new church from scratch. It is true that this not Paul’s model, but Paul is also an Apostle and I don’t think that office exists now. That’s strictly planting, but the re-plant option of taking a group of people to partner with an existing congregation with the plan to revitalize their ministry is also a good option, one which I’m not sure we find in Scripture as most places had only just got started. This may be similar to what Timothy does in Ephesus and if so, that situation shows how hard it can be to try and turn a church around, re-focus it, and remain firm when challenges are coming from inside and outside!

It may sound obvious but, in any church plant, one thing that must precede anything happening is prayer. Without praying for guidance of where and how to go, and making wise decision based on Scripture and information gathered, it is pointless planting a church.

It could also do more damage than good if some of the above-mentioned things related to investigating the existence of churches in the proposed plant area is not done thoroughly and sensitively.

But presuming that does take place, how should a church begin?

Mother church sending a new church often involves the Assistant Pastor going out to take on the new church leaving the Senior Pastor back at the mother church to keep that ministry going, this is similar to Epaphras being trained by Paul and going to plant in Collosae. But, Paul often seems to leave others behind when he moves on to preach the gospel somewhere new. He is there at the conception of the church but then on many occasions heads off elsewhere, not abandoning the newly formed church but entrusting it to someone he knows will faithfully nurture and pastor it in it’s early stages. There are only a couple of places where Paul stays for a long time and effectively is the pioneer and pastor of the church.
So maybe the traditional model of the pastor of the church plant being the Assistant should be reversed and the Senior Pastor should take on the new role?

We must remember though that Paul was uniquely one of the Apostles with a special commission. That very narrow and specific office is no longer around. We won’t find any Apostles by definition now. So I wonder if we have to adapt the Biblical model seen to fit with our culture, not dis-guarding it but contextualizing it.

A group of people starting something brand new would seem to need to involve a lot of evangelistic endeavor to begin with. As Paul and his companions go into new towns they seek to preach the gospel to people in the places where they are gathered; synagogues, temples, marketplaces, various halls. This requires the ability to engage with people publically and relevantly but also to build relationships.

Overall it must come down to gifting and character. If we look at Timothy, we see a young guy working with a young church, seeking to establish and grow it. We can see that Timothy was a pastor and teacher. But, he was also called to “do the work of an evangelist”. Presumably this is to know the gospel well and to teach it to those inside and outside the church. Having a heart for God and a heart for people must undergird all of this and a church planter must meet the qualifications of an elder.

It is easy to see how an assistant minister taking a plant would have been tested. A pioneer planter will have presumably been attending a church and so I would expect that they would have been commissioned/tested in that context, or sought that input before going.

Timothy is called to, preach, not neglect his gifting, pray for the people, train others to faithfully carry on the work after him, defend the church against false teaching, helps set up ministries amongst and for widows. He is also called to watch his life and doctrine closely, not let others look down on him because he is young but set and example in life and purity and godliness and not to be timid. Timothy is to love God and love the gospel message. He is to be able to relate to various types and ages of people and apply the gospel to them.

I think from Timothy we can see that you do not have to be a gung-ho, up for a fight, in-yer-face kind of guy to plant a church. That’s a personality type not character although you do have to be ready to stand firm, hold your ground, fight the good fight of faith and care for the people of God with passion.

It seems obvious that Timothy had been called, gifted and trained to be a church pastor. He had spent time with Paul growing and learning. But Timothy also didn’t go into this entirely alone. He still had Paul encouraging and supporting him, even if it was from afar.

I wonder whether there needs to be a good support network around for guys who lead church plants. Older, wiser heads to run ideas by and maybe temper what can be misguided zeal. This will also help practically because it will be tough work, full of disappointments as well as joys.

If Appendix 2 (a blog post by Tim Chester) is a good overview of possible church plant problems and pitfalls, and the 5 points are true (be creative, be positive, be missional, be contextual and be biblical) then the church planter, or team, need to be firmly rooted in scripture, full of ideas, ready to be take the good things from their church experience and jettison the bad, but also be ready to outward looking, not just create their dream church where they are comfortable. Much of this has been touched on already, but the planter must be ready to lead and give direction to all of this, listening to opinions but also being decisive.

A church plant team is another option that could be explored. 2 or 3 leaders sharing the burden with a collaboration of gifts would possibly give a broader and firmer foundation for the conception of the church. All of them would likely need to be working part-time to fund this I imagine. The question would be whether, in a place like the UK that is struggling for leaders, you’d find 3 people willing and able to take this on.


In conclusion then, I believe there is still a need to plant new churches in the UK, because there are areas (as defined above) that either still have no gospel witness, or used to have one, as evidenced by the empty buildings, but no longer do. These need to be the places of first priority, but they are often not the glamorous ones and are more than likely not the easiest places to do it either, mostly working class and deprived areas.

Where some church plants are currently taking place, in areas that already have a small but faithful witness, the first option explored should be a re-plant. This would save heartache and be a wonderful witness to gospel unity.

There are some church plants that are too close to either the mother church or to other churches that are struggling but faithful, or maybe even where there are vibrant home groups from another church gathering. In those cases, the plant should be re-thought and done elsewhere because there are still loads of places with no witness.

Finally, the lead planters need to be identified as being gifted to preach and teach as well as obviously meeting the qualifications of an elder. Most of all they need a heart for God and for people. They need to be able to do the work of an evangelist and be trained (not necessarily formally in theological college) to be as prepared as possible for the many and varied situations they could find themselves in. On the job training as an assistant pastor or pioneer minister in a church could be ideal.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Matt
    Thanks for this - liking your thoughts. Particularly agree that where we can find a 'biblical model' of church planting (and I agree with your thoughts that, that is a difficult task given the uniqueness of Paul's office, the changes that come with culture etc) it would seem that the senior pastor heading off to plant leaving 'assistants' would fit... I know of at least 2 churches where that has happened to great effect - but it seems to be the minority. Do you think that's partly because of fear of instability in the planting church? Planting takes a huge amount of resource from the 'mother church' and perhaps there is a worry that losing the senior pastor would be a step too far... I would be the first to say that a lot of 'church planters' actually end up being church founders sticking with the one original church, even if sending people off to start new things. (Not that being a church founder is at all wrong - just a case of terminology perhaps being inaccurate!!)

    Re-planting/transplanting I think is an option not sought out often enough - but it is sad that where it is talked about the difficulty seems to end up being control issues - who controls the new church and sets the agenda and pace. Then there is the care needed in defining areas where church witness to Jesus has drifted compared to small and struggling but remaining faithful...easier said than done oftentimes! Thorny problems!

    Like you say, we should chat further!