When Does Church Planting Become Kingdom Subversion?

21 09 2008

This post may feel like it’s coming out of left field but hear me out.  Anyone who studies church planting is very familiar with stats about how it’s the best method for reaching non-believers, how it allows you to create a form more effective in reaching emerging cultures and how there are not enough churches for the growing population.  However, I must seriously ask the question, “if Paul were to arrive in my city today would he plant a new church?”  My answer is that he probably would not.  He would most likely see this activity as an anti-Kingdom move and here is why.

Paul never planted a church in a city with existing Christians, and, even though he preferred to go to unreached cities, he spent a lot of time in cities with preexisting churches (Rome, Ephesus and Jerusalem to name three).  When Paul went into a city with an existing church he seemed to always –

  1. Recognize and honor the city church that already existed there (Acts 19, Romans 15-16)
  2. Build on the already existing foundation (as he did in Ephesus with the church Apollos already planted).
  3. Focused on imparting some gift or teaching they were lacking (Romans 1:11, Acts 19:6)

The thought that Paul would disregard the work that existed in that city and start a separate group that exclusively followed him would have seemed to Paul to be terribly divisive and self-aggrandizing (1 Cor. 3:4-5).

Paul would think it most strange that a church planter would move to a city and not even consider the possibility of working with the hundreds of churches that already existed there.  But here is where modern day church gets us all twisted up.

Paul only knew of 3 types of churches –

  1. The Universal Church (all believers)
  2. The City Church (all believers in a city)
  3. The Body Church (a small interdependent group of disciples usually gathering in a home)

Paul always wanted to build up the city church and today that doesn’t exist.  So I have come to this simple conclusion.  If Paul were alive today he would go into a city and attempt to create a city-wide church.  That city-wide church would disciple all the believers in that city and its natural fruit would be various body (or house) churches.

I’m sure that brings up a thousand more questions about how to organize it, would any existing churches join it and how do you agree on doctrinal questions.  All of these I’m working through (and the Bible answers each) but it starts with a very simple conviction – today there is still only one city church in your city (although it is mostly ignored) and it’s the only hope your city has of experiencing a city-wide sweeping move of God.

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6 responses

24 09 2008
Ali

Soooooo, when you say the city church is the only hope a city has for a city-wide sweeping move of God, do you mean the city church has to recognise it is the city church, or do you allow that God can operate from his perspective through the city-wide church, even if the individual groups within a city don’t recognise their oneness?

The second option is really a repeat of my previous comment re. God raising up different aspects of a city church even though they have not been recognised or even operated completely as such (eg. YWAM DTS/Bible College/Seminary as a Discipleship Training Centre, home groups as individual gatherings, cooperation between existing churches in the city as citywide eldership etc.)

24 09 2008
Sam

This would have made sense in Paul’s day. However, churches have changed radically since then. In our city most churches have little connection with each other. Most are heavily invested in their group – they own large plots of real estate, have paid staff and expensive programs. Some are independent and some are part of a larger “chain”/denomination, but most basically operate independently of each other.

If we are thinking of planting another church in the city that is similar to the existing churches with only slight tweaks (more contemporary music or whatever) that probably does not make much sense. In reality, that church will probably attract mostly people who are not happy with their current church, and perhaps a handful, at most, of the unchurched.

On the other hand, if we are thinking of planting a church that is radically different from the religious organizations in the community that call themselves churches – something similar to the church of the first couple of centuries, then perhaps we are not being “subversive”, but are attempting to re-establish the true church. To me all this goes back to one’s understanding of the church – Was the first century church closer to God’s plan for the church, or is today’s “evolved” church closer to God’s plan?

If Paul were to suddenly appear in my city today, I think he would try to establish a true city-wide church similar to the first century church. I think he would try to enlist existing churches, but due to their huge investment in the way most of them currently do church, I doubt that most of them would be interested in joining with Paul. So would Paul continue in his efforts, move somewhere else to try to organize a city-wide church, adjust to the way most churches do church today, or get in his time machine and go back home to the first century?

My observation is that most churches will consider changing what they are doing now only if forced to, and that usually means that they have lost enough people and income that they are having significant problems paying for the real estate, staff and programs. At that point the church will probably try to make some changes to “attract” some new people to help pay the bills. Or the group may decide that the problem is the evil culture, and close the doors.

I eat a healthy diet, exercise and do other things to maximize my health, since heart disease is endemic on both sides of my family. Over the years lots of people have asked me how I stay slim and in good shape. When I tell them, and tell them why, almost to a person they say something like “That’s nice for you, dear, but I don’t plan to give up the way I eat and live, because I enjoy them. If I have a heart attack and fall over dead, so be it.”

Our family doctor, when I told him this a few years ago, said “You’re my last appointment for today. Next I make my nursing home rounds. Some of those people didn’t have a heart attack and fall over dead. They had their heart attack or stroke and now they are living in the nursing homes. They drool. They wear diapers. And they’re not enjoying it. Some of them are as young as forty.”

In my experience, most people don’t want to change their lifestyles and don’t even want to hear about what may happen if they don’t. Likewise, most of these same people do not want to change the way their church does things (unless they might consider a few minor changes to raise money). I see no reason why they would want to join Paul in his campaign to form a true city-wide church.

26 09 2008
Luke Crook

Jeremy,
I am really curious about the questions you raise here…they are questions that have been in the back of my head for years, but usually relegated to that super-idealistic part of my brain. Thanks for asking the question…I look forward to seeing any more thoughts on the specific challanges that you brought up.

6 02 2009
mr alex

Well it is hard to believe that all those place names are now in a country called Turkey. If one day you want to make a visit to biblical sites please visit the link which i post .Thanks,
http://www.ephesuswalks.com

5 03 2009
Kiwi and an Emu.

[…] When Does Church Planting Become Kingdom Subversion? […]

11 12 2010
Wayne

Personally I do not think you would get that many move from their local church, apart from those discontented in their own church. However is this the purpose you are looking for? taking from one flock to build another? Or to build the overall church from those not reached and maybe bring back some of the lost sheep that have strayed?

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