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?

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How Senior Pastors are our Biggest Obstacle and our Only Hope

5 04 2008

In this discussion of returning to a more simple form of church one of the biggest questions is what to do with the Senior Pastor. Some have said, “isn’t this position an extra-biblical invention of a church wanting to both follow a man (preferably a celebrity) and delegate their responsibility to be a full-time, sold-out, radical disciple to someone else so they can get on with their self-focussed lives?” Yes, this and many other fair and well substantiated critiques have been leveled against this model of church leadership. But rarely do those who deconstruct this destructive form of church leadership give a satisfying answer to the next question and that is what do we do with these men if they are no longer Senior Pastors? Many of my house church friends think it’s realistic to plop men like John Piper, Billy Graham and Tim Keller in a house church for the rest of their lives where their gifts are equal with everyone else (1 Cor. 12). But you only have to imagine this arrangement for 10 seconds to see how this equalization will both largely neutralize their gifts or they will be so active in that little group of people that the same stifling could take place there that often happens in Senior Pastor dominated churches.

So what’s the answer? How are these men fully released?

First, I want to acknowledge how incredibly valuable and essential these men are. We need them! In Ephesians 4 Paul writes that when Jesus ascended into heaven he gave gifts to men. These gifts were in the form of 5 types of specially gifted and called people: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. We call this the 5-fold ministry. Almost every Senior Pastor embodies one of these 5 gifts given to the church. These are not in the same category as situational spiritual gifts given to the body as it gathers (1 Cor. 12-14) nor the unique gifts given to each believer at the point of salvation (Romans 12) these gifts are embodied in and through a man with a unique calling from God. Often the calling and gifting is so profound it makes sense to pay these men for periods of time so we can free them from non-ministry work so we get the privilege of enjoying more of their ministry through their gifting.

One of the biggest mistakes we make when transitioning to a simple structure of church is to design the church so it can no longer receive ministry from these men. But simple churches need MORE of the 5-fold ministry not less! And not just from one gifted man but many. We need all five to minister to all the churches at their point of need.

The problem with the Senior Pastor is not their gifting, it is their position. When the church structures itself like a medium to large size organization it requires the continual presence of a CEO style leader for continued growth and success. In fact, in that structure, the Senior Pastor’s level of gifting determines the growth potential of the church. Last month at a church planters boot camp Mark Driscoll said that in the Acts 29 network there is only one factor that determined the relative health and effectiveness of churches in their network and that is, in his words, “the dude”. He seemed to attempt various forms of verbal gymnastics to avoid calling this guy the Senior Pastor naming him the “dude of dudes” and “first among equals” as an elder but this describes one form of the Senior Pastor led church.

Few would deny that the concept of “Senior Pastor” is foreign to the New Testament but fewer seem interested in asking the question why. Why, if this man determines the effectiveness of his church did Paul not appoint Senior Pastors? Why is this position never mentioned? Why, when a church plant would blow up, like the Corinthian church, does Paul not tell “the dude” to get control of his church? Why, among all the leaders at Cointh, does Paul not address one of them as the solution to the problem? The lack of any appeal to a single leader in the book of 1 Corinthians, where church structure is described in more detail than anywhere else in the New Testament, and where things were going south, illustrates the enormous separation between the church structure Paul utilized and our structure today.

But Paul absolutely loved to discover, train and release the 5-fold ministry. But with a profound difference from us. When Paul discovered someone with a 5-fold calling and gifting he never, in recorded biblical history, told them to become the permanent church planting Senior Pastor of one of his church plants. Instead they joined Paul’s team and he would dispatch them for months or years at a time to build up specific churches when that church’s specific needs lined up with the specific gifting of one of the 5-fold members of Paul’s Apostolic team. So Titus was dispatched to Corinth NOT to replace Christ as the head of the Corinthian church but to build that church up so that they could better align themselves underneath their Senior Pastor – Jesus Christ.

But having a permanent Senior Pastor in one church will inevitably result in that church tilting toward the gifting of that man. Not because he is not gifted enough, but because his gifting is so powerful. So Prophets who become Senior Pastor often lead very charismatic churches.  Teachers who become Senior Pastors often create theologically obsessed churches (eg. Grace Community Church).  Evangelists lead outreach centered churches (eg. Willow Creek) etc.

I believe a day is coming again where men who receive one of the 5-fold gifts will equip churches and not lead them. Where thousands of apostolic teams will crisscross the globe on coordinated planting and building missions. Where these men will be in the foundation of the churches and not the roof tops. Where Jesus Christ will once again become the head of the Body and each member will align themselves underneath him alone being built up by the 5-fold ministry, shepherded by Elders and filled with the Holy Spirit.