Church Planting vs. Training Disciples

11 04 2008

There is an evident move of God in our day toward the launching of new works that has resulted in great interest in the planting of new churches . This fervor is correctly drawing from our understanding that new churches are far more effective at reaching emerging cultures than existing churches. But I want to ask a series of simple questions. Does Jesus ever tell us to go plant churches? Is this command anywhere in the New Testament? And maybe on a more controversial note – do we ever even see the practice of church planting in the New Testament?

The disciples of Jesus were given an extremely clear and narrow commission to “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations…” Why didn’t Jesus tell us to go into all the world and plant churches? Have you ever considered the difference? Until one year ago I was living as if the Great Commission said to go and plant churches, until a man from China literally showed up, out of nowhere, and practically stuffed my face in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). This began a journey for me of discovering how my strategies, thoughts and activities stem almost entirely from modern-day church practice (or emerging church practice) and not Scripture.

“OK, but what about Paul? Surely he was a church planter first?” It’s been interesting to note Paul’s recorded activities. We only see him actually doing two things – proclaiming the Gospel and training disciples. “But what about the churches that started in those cities?” They were the gathering of the disciples into bodies that occurs naturally among trained disciples. There is no need to corral the Sons and Daughters of God into gatherings and serve them. This is the strange anomaly of our day and merely serves to conceal our utter failure to make disciples.

Paul did launch city-wide discipleship training everywhere he went which naturally birthed house churches by the thousands but his focus was on the city expression of church which was more like a discipleship training center (such as the School of Tyrannus in Ephesus) and not the planting of individual bodies (churches).

If you intentionally make disciples you will plant many churches but if you plant many churches you will not necessarily make disciples. Which did Jesus command us to do?



19 responses

13 04 2008
Michael Foster

Jeremy, I think you will regret making a fast distinction between church planting and disciple making. They are one in the same. Yes, I agree that for many church planting is mainly starting a service on Sunday. That is wrong without a doubt. If that is what you mean you should be more careful to define your terms in such a public forum.

Don’t succumb to the modernity’s false gospel of individualism. Just because you were part of an extremely organic church doesn’t mean you are immune to this danger. Its is the systemic discipleship that your children receive from being part of your family that will primarily shape them though all your “systematic” lessons be important. The same is true for the disciples of Christ. It is in the belonging to a gospel driven community that will ultimately bring disciples into maturity. Without it you’ve only created better educated yet very orphaned sheep.

Just a brotherly and loving push back.

13 04 2008

Hey Mike,

Good Point – let me clarify one thing. I’m not trying to argue which is ultimately more IMPORTANT but which activity (church planting or training disciples) is most in line with our call and produces the most fruit. If you love to see new churches planted then train disciples first. You will plant 10x more churches if you train disciples and allow well-trained disciples to form bodies than if you plant traditional churches dependent on “the dude” (Driscoll’s word).

So even if your end goal is planting churches then let’s aggressively train disciples and plant hundreds of churches together instead of spend the rest of our lives building our own fiefdoms independently and see each other once every year or two at conferences.

And to your other point I agree 100% that the church is necessary for full discipleship but I think the way you get the church is to train disciples NOT to plant “dude-centered” churches. It’s too slow (to reproduce), too stagnant (after first 5 years tends to plateau), too isolated (pastors are left alone), too imbalanced (based around one person’s gift) and too stifling to the disciples you are training (who can gather on their own if shepherded by elders).

This post definitely builds on the previous ones but if people only read this I can see your point – they would misunderstand what I’m saying. Not sure how to avoid that when blogging because we all use these words so differently.

5 05 2008
David Reaves

Does this mean that you are going to change your “about” page?

30 06 2008

Thanks for posting this, Jeremy. I have been hearing and reading about church planting lately as the Lord is preparing me for ministry. So many people and organizations say that they want to go out into the nations and plant churches. SCP, saturation church planting, is the latest thing it seems.

The question that came to mind the other day, and is consequently how I found your blog, was this: Was Paul’s motive or intention to plant churches? When he left on his missionary journeys, what was the goal? I re-read through Acts again and noticed that what he did was not plant churches, but he preached the gospel and strengthened the existing churches. He followed Christ commandment to make disciples. Building up disciples will build up the church, but building up a church does not always build up disciples.

I have to give you props for posting this. I haven’t been able to find anyone else who has this view-point.

1 07 2008

Thanks Bethany, this has been a long journey for us in making sure the training of disciples is the center to our mission and nothing else. I read some of your blog and I’m excited to hear how things for you as you prepare to go to France on mission.

God bless!

1 07 2008

Thanks! It’s a hard thing to find the ministry to partner with. The majority of mission organizations are church-planters, and I know I am not called to that. I’m trying to find something more unique and non-traditional than the SCP organizations. It’s the key, I believe, and my dilemma. 🙂

19 10 2008
Evangelist Demehin Olusegun

Thank God for what He is doing with you and your humility to yield.
The focus of the twenty century was church planting and baptism and resultant boast of thousands of church membership, without a resultant positive impact on the society. And the missing link was discpleship. SomeONE said, “It is more valuable to plant men (disciples) than struggling to plant churches”.

pastor Uzor Obed of Glory Tabernacle mMinistry in Ibadan, Nigeria, isleading the Afican churches in this noble direction.

13 12 2009
Ed VonWahlde

It seems a Pharisee-type illusion to believe that church planting automatically leads to the forming of true disciples. As I read the NT, the Pharisees were interested in winning followers for themselves primarily. Emphasis on developing church organizations can lead to that being repeated in our day.

21 10 2008
Pastor Julius o.masieyi

Dear Servants of God
Greetings from Kenya, in Jesus most precious name. Thank you for your
blessing website. I have been able to open in your website
and was greatly touched with the blessing work you do for the Lord.
You have new light fire of evangelism in my life and i kindly pray that
you please pray to work a meeting with us next year 2009 in the month
of may in Kenya. We can pray to bring together all churches of this area
for your training if God brings you.
I kindly wait for your blessing email. Iam married and have 6 children
of whom we work with them in in this ministry.
God bless you
pastor Julius o.masieyi

2 12 2008
Mary nyabochoa

God Bless you, and greetings In the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, much Love Greetings and Encouragement from Africa Kenya. Let He Who Appointed you to Endeavor In Truth and Spirit Bless your Work, and be Crowned with Glory to Eternity. I’m your Bond Servant from Kenya who Prayefully seek for your Spirtual Nourishment, being an Evangelist of a small but Growing Congregation. We have been indeed touched by your Biblical Doctrine in your Website and that is why the Spirit of the Lord Has Instructed me ask you for some Spiritual hand In Affiliating You. By the Blood of Jesus, let’s be part of you kindly.We love children, we have some 19 orphans that this fellowship gives aid to within it’s reach. Pray for them Brethren.By the Grace of Jesus, we Invite you to Kenya for the Holy Expansion of your Ministry for the Glory of God. We will be so Blessed and Spiritually Motivated to read from you.
Thank you and God Bless you as His Household. Yours In Christ Jesus, MARY.

10 12 2008
Missional vs. Attractional vs. House Church Models all have the SAME flaw « From Eden to Zion

[…] they will be self-sustaining, training disciples city-wide and able to reproduce.  How, through the training of disciples NOT through the planting or building of churches. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Five Questions for my “Missional […]

11 02 2009
Pastor Benjamin Bonni

Dear Pastor,

Greetings in the wonderful name of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. My Name is Benjamin Bonni.I am a Pastor at local church in republic of Togo in West Africa. The name of my church is Maranatha Bible Church. We are doctrinal church. I went to site today and find that your mission is one of the doctrinal churches. So want to share this with you if you can help me. I have started my church six year ago and by His grace everything is going on well, but I need help. When I stated the church six years ago I haven’t got any support for the work so I have to work full time to support the work so I want you to help me. The place I need help are teaching Material, when I need advices, and financially. Why I write these for help is that is two things. First about 85% of members have got job so they can support the work. Secondly the third word country is very difficult to get support so if you will help me I will appreciate it lot you want to know more information about my church I can send them to you. Please I will like you to partner me in the ministry in Togo west Africa; I am looking forward to hear from you.

Thank you very much for your help.
God richly bless you.
Pastor Benjamin

5 03 2009
Kiwi and an Emu.

[…] Church Planting vs. Training Disciples. […]

17 11 2010

I was wondering how to contact the author of this blog?
Jon Howe

12 01 2011
John White

Hi Jeremy, I just discovered your blog and am enjoying looking around. On the subject of this particular post, I’ve come to believe that the debate about making disciples vs church planting is mostly a result of our Greek “either/or” thinking. The Hebraic perspective would embrace both activities as intimately intertwined.

Of course, the kind of churches envisioned in the NT were not building centered organizations but small, family-like groups. It’s in the context of family that our values were originally shaped as we grew up. And, it’s in the context of a 24/7 spiritual family (like Jesus with the 12) that our spiritual values are shaped (ie, disciples are made).

Further, I’ve come to believe that Jesus did plant churches – faith communities in the homes of people like Peter and Martha. In fact, I believe that this kind of church planting was His primary strategy for fulfilling what we call the Great Commission. The clearest example of this is found in Luke 10 where Jesus is sending “the 72 others” to find “houses of peace” where they are to impart the “virus” of the Kingdom. Although the word “church” (ekklesia) isn’t used there, it seems clear that that is exactly what they were doing. The book that shaped my thinking on this is “House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity” by Roger Gehring.

Would love to talk to you more about this. Our ministry is focused on the goal of seeing a “vibrant family of Jesus (ie, house church) within easy reach of every person in every region and people group”. Sounds similar to what is on your heart. Check it out.

31 12 2011

It is only recorded 3 times that Jesus used the word “ekklesia”. One of those times was when He said He would build His church… If Jesus meant for church planting and church planting movements to be our primary task, He would have been very clear about that…. Turns out He was very clear about something and it’s recorded several times for us. He said to go and make disciples as we proclaimed the Good News about Him. It can’t be much clearer than that… The primary task that all other activities falls under is to make disciples.
The common response is about Greek or Western individualism and that you can’t have a bunch of lone ranger christians scattered here and there… The reason this argument is often presented is because we largely don’t know what discipleship looks like in our modern world. We think discipleship is about knowledge but it is more than that. It’s a process of one person following another and learning knowledge, behavior and other aspects of the new life through modeling. If a body makes truly biblical disciples, they will be praying and hearing God’s Spirit as He leads them and ekklesia-ing will be properly modeled for the disciple maker. A disciple of Jesus Christ will have His Spirit within him and His Spirit will lead Him into all truth and the new nature will long for community/body life like never before. True discipleship will lead a person into a mutually dependent relationship with all those within their community of faith. No, church planting and disciple making are not one in the same. There is a cause and effect or a branch and fruit effect. The foundation is discipleship and the fruit is community/ekklesia/body.
What’s the big deal, it all sounds the same right? With true discipleship there is much less room for pew sitters. Our Western model of sunday programs provide a very safe environment for non-disciples to come and attend for 40 years right into their grave and no one took the time, or was afraid to offend, by getting real with that person. Having a building/gym/house does not mean you will have disciples within. But if you have disciples, it won’t matter where you gather, you will have the living Body advancing God’s Kingdom wherever they are. If you take 5, 7foot tall guys and put jerseys on them and put them on a basketball court, this does not mean you have an NBA team. The will look good and may be able to run the court but they will be no match for their opponent. Take 5, 6foot 3inch NBA all stars and put them in t-shirts and shorts and put them on a court… They will be an NBA team through and through and will be equipped to deal with an opponent. We have “churches” with a form of activities made up of largely non-disciples. If this were not true, then pastors and church leaders would not have come up with the 20-80 rule about those who participate versus those who do not.
It is a matter of fruit and the fruit Jesus said would indicate His sheep would be what we do or do not do unto the least of these. Read the last part of Matt 25.
You are on the right track so please keep lifting the simple truths from scripture as the guide for what we do in the body of Christ.

13 03 2014
Pastor Emmanuel s mbawa

The heart beat of our indegenious church is planting churches which on course and we are extending a macedonia call for you to see our work. May God knit us for His kingdom work. Accommodation will be our priority.God bless you in Jesus Name!

13 03 2014
Pastor Emmanuel s mbawa

This a very good work for the Lord i want to be part and my ministry

18 03 2014
Pastor Emmanuel s mbawa

I want to be part of the church planters. We extend a macedonia call to come and host a seminar with us

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