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?