In my last article about Gospel Ministry, I introduced the first essential in planting a church:
Gospel Preaching. Preaching is, at the very least, one primary way people get the Gospel. Preaching must have primacy in your ministry. You should consider yourself willing to grow and mature in your preaching because our aim is to introduce and reinforce the Gospel Story.
The second essential of 21st century Church Planters is Gospel Mission. “We preach Christ to the unconverted” (2 Cor. 5:18-20; Rom. 5:6, 10).
Wherever a work of God is advancing there will always be a counter offensive by the enemy. That is true all down through church history and revealed in the book of Acts. Acts is the second volume of “All that Jesus continued to do and teach” by means of the Holy Spirit, after his ascension. The founders of Acts 29 played on the idea that the Spirit was not done at the end of Acts 28, but that Jesus continues to expand his Church today. I’m not an Acts 29 pastor but I love the name. I have teased my Acts 29 friends that I want to start Acts 3.0.
My gospel ministry mentor, Dick Kauffman, began a talk I heard some twenty years ago with this remarkable insight: “All of history is shaped by two great movements: the movement of the Holy Spirit…and the movement of the forces of darkness opposing…Christ is building his Church and the gates of hell are seeking to prevail against it. Repeatedly, the enemy imposes obstacles in the form of persecution, hypocrisy, distractions, money, racism and elitism, criticism, popularity, and false teachers (I might add illness and death). In each case, the enemy’s goal is to prevent the bold proclamation of the gospel [and the planting of new churches]. Christ overcomes the obstacles not only to the gospel by also through the gospel”.
I am well aware that everyone is talking about “Missional Church” and “Missional Communities”. I am not persuaded we get it though. I recently interviewed a church planter candidate and he mentioned that he was part of MC. When I asked him to describe to me what life in his MC looked like, it was as small group of Christians meeting weekly eating, doing a Bible study, and talking about mission but not actually being in mission.
Here’s some key thoughts about Gospel Mission in Church Planting.
1. You need a clear definition of Gospel Mission and a clear path to how that is lived out in your context.
It is going to look different in NYC than it does in Franklin, TN. At the end of the day, I believe a Church Planter in the 21st Century in North America (given all the ism’s and tion’s mentioned in my previous article), has a call to the mission of being a missionary-evangelist. My friend David Jackson wrote, “All legitimate church planting is evangelistic in nature and purpose. Church planting which simply moves ‘sheep from one pen to another’ isn’t really church planting at all” (Planted: Starting Well, Growing Strong).
We are on a mission field full of western post Enlightenment secularists on the one side and a flood of immigrants from various religious cultures on the other. We no longer live in the days when one could send out a few thousand mailers, hang out a Church Sign, and then have de-converted or de-churched people come rushing to hear a new band, drink coffee, and listen to the next great speaker in town. Now, if you try that approach, you might get some unhappy churched people.
We have to take a friendship approach. Inappropriate confrontational evangelism is not a loving gospel apologetic. Missionary evangelists see their work as a process not an event. They provide multiple exposures to the gospel in words, works of mercy, and Christian community. There is the apologetic of shalom—bringing peace to the world at war: globally, racially, sexually, religiously, etc, all of which is ultimately spiritual in nature.
A great starting point is to see that God is already working in and speaking to the world. God has been witnessing to them and we work to help lost people see “God pointers” that they already have experienced but have but unaware of it being God.
2. You need a clear path of making disciples.
Disciple-making is, at a most basic level, connecting with others where you intend to understand and discern their life story (how and why God made them; how the fall has ruined their created design as well as their world; how Christ has redeemed; and what mission the Spirit intends for them to be part in the renewal of all things); and to do everything possible through the Word, prayer and community, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to develop and encourage them in their gospel dance (Faith, Repentance and Following) so they love, mature and reproduce the way Christ intends.
“The [Great] commission is not fundamentally about mission out there somewhere else in another country. It’s a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple. …Thus the goal of Christian ministry is quite simple, and in a sense measurable: are we making and nurturing genuine disciples of Christ?” (The Trellis and the Vine, Marshall & Payne).
Some have a path that involves regular, organic times of meeting for encouragement, prayer, and spiritual questions. Others use some type of curriculum. What is your path? What do disciples of Jesus have to know, be, and do? Contact me at cmmnet.org if you need help in this area.
3. You will need to clear the fear of being a missionary-evangelist.
I’ve found an insidious de-motivator for being a missionary evangelist. If we are honest with ourselves, we find it hard to share the gospel story and message with others because we are afraid of criticism or perhaps view it as a threat to our personal peace. Especially when someone attacks the Christian faith as something superstitious or as unintellectual.
Who in the New Testament, in your opinion, had most difficulty with fear? There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but if you read the prayers of the missionary church planter, Apostle Paul, maybe it was him. Remember, prior to his conversion, he was a Pharisee. His identity was being a pure, righteous Religious leader. His glory was in his moral record. He was fearlessly pursuing the people of the Way. In fact, they feared him. He arrested, abused, had stoned, put out of business. He was hostile, mean and fearless. He had the power; both religious power and State power. But then he met Jesus.
He regularly asked for boldness and implored people not to be afraid to share the gospel. Yes, he did say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel” as a bold proclamation, but he told the Corinthians he came to them in weakness, fear and much trembling. He later admitted, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed in our hearts we felt the sentence of death…”.
However, he wrote, God loved him and gave his life for him (Gal. 2:20). Love is the antidote to our fear. Love given to us, our love for him and for his gospel. In the gospel we are embraced by a love so great it drives out fear and frees us to love others in need of the gospel. By gospel love you can be a missionary evangelist. Do not look for courage to share the gospel. Courage isn’t the absence of fear. You may always have fear of sharing the gospel.
Next we will tackle the Third Essential: Gospel Community. But for now, download your FREE eBook “Gospel-Centered Discipleship” today!
Dr. Tom Wood
I've been in the Church Planting business my entire career. I want you to know, you don't have to plant a church alone!