Planting the Gospel

Planting the Gospel

by Erik Reynolds

 

I don’t want to plant churches, I want to spread the Gospel. One might think that planting a church is planting the Gospel, but I disagree. Planting churches today often results in overwhelming transfer growth and very little conversion growth. The former is what I believe to be counterproductive to the latter. To plant the Gospel in a community is to preach and share with the lost the hope we have in Christ. All too often we are consumed as ministers and lay people in making our church members happy to the detriment of sharing the Gospel. This is often why church planting sees a greater number come to Christ than an established church[1].

Gospel planting naturally results in the creation of a church, but it puts the cart (church) in the correct place (behind) corresponding with the horse (Gospel). Many might look at Paul and the Apostles and see church planters, which I don’t necessarily disagree. However, I contend that their mission was proclaiming the Gospel, seeing people come to Christ, and then recognizing a group of believers as a church.

Many might believe that planting a church with a group of believers then doing outreach is the way to go. For some this might work well. This to me seems to put the cart before the horse. As mentioned above, putting the carts and horses in the proper order involves Missio Dei. God the Father sent God the Son, who sent the Holy Spirit. Jesus established the church and sent us into the world to make disicples, which involves going into the world we live in and proclaiming the Gospel (Matt. 28:16-20). Therefore, I’m advocating a model that involves a small Core Team being sent into a neighborhood, town, or city to live, work, serve, and proclaim the Gospel, then establish a church where God brings people to Himself. This is the mission driving the formation of the church instead of the church driving the formation of the mission.

What Does a Local Church Look Like?

Many of us Pastors and Christians have varying views on specifics such as eldership, congregational government, roles of men and women, church discipline, and membership. My definition is broad and basic but something that I hope we can all agree on, the church is a group of local believers who are centered on glorifying God. It’s not really a groundbreaking statement, nor does it need to be.

The definition of church is basic, but what does it do? We see an exciting picture of what the church can look like when it is focused on God and not itself in Acts 2:42-47.

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

We see this exciting church devoted to the Apostle’s teaching, to each other, and to prayer. The church was caring for one another through physical needs, caring more about others than their individual selves. These aren’t necessarily prescriptive in nature but descriptive of what a Gospel-shaped community looks like. The community that is centered on the Gospel will inevitably create a way to order itself and decide where they are to meet, but we must hesitate in judging our brothers place of worship when they are spreading the Gospel and seeing the lost come to Christ.

Proclaiming the Gospel by Planting

I have not been working in a church for very long, however, I have been working in a church long enough to see my priorities shift. I came into ministry eager to see the lost saved by God. I knew that my responsibility was to share the Gospel in my community and that God would call those whom He chose. Over time my priorities would change from seeing people know Christ to filling perceived needs of congregants. I find myself now so inundated with ministerial tasks that I have little time to be a member of my community. When we go into an established church eager to serve we can often become preoccupied with “church tasks” instead of being a member of the local community and proclaiming the Gospel.

Paul informs us that our role as Pastors is to equip the saints for ministry. However, we have dug ourselves into such a hole that many in our church would rather sit on the sidelines then be equipped. Over the years we have professionalized the clergy to the point that we no longer function as though we believe in the priesthood of all believers. Though part of our responsibility is to equip those in our church, so is sharing the Gospel to unbelievers; the Great Commission is charged to all believers, not just the lay people. I would charge that a contributing reason that many Christians aren’t sharing the Gospel is because their Pastor isn’t. We can be all too happy with our holy huddle on Sundays, hoping new people come but not if they are too messy.

What if we encouraged men to plant the Gospel message in a community where our churches weren’t reaching? Paul went to where he was called and often brought a couple of fellow workers with him to spread the Gospel. They would go into a city, preach in the synagogue or public place, see people believe through the work of the Holy Spirit, and then form a church body. What if we did the same thing? It’s scary to send the best leaders away when we would like to use them in an established church (especially when we pour years of mentoring into them), but the early church wasn’t afraid. Paul was also a tentmaker, meaning that he was a bi-vocational Pastor. This can be a difficult proposition for those of us who have tens of thousands of dollars in student loans from Seminary or Bible College, but it can also be more effective for ministry.

The problem with our current methodology of church planting isn’t necessarily bad. There are many who launch with big budgets and fully funded staffs that see the lost come to Christ. However, this isn’t the most attainable model for Advent Christian Churches. A much more likely scenario is sending out a pastor and a small core team into a place they already live and work to serve that community, share the Gospel with the community, see people come to Christ, and become a church. Do you see the difference? A typical model is to become a church prior to having a church body, the exact opposite of Paul and the Apostles. Many of our churches are regional, members travel twenty or more minutes to come to church. That doesn’t seem like a long time for the church member, but how will they ever invite someone to their church who is a non-believer?

 

Why Bivocational Ministry

When someone has a second job they have a mission field. If they have a second income they will be bolder in both arenas. A bi-vocational Pastor can direct the church in a way that God is calling, even if it is unpopular. If the church threatens to remove him he is more likely to stand his ground because he isn’t solely relying on that paycheck. On the flipside, he can proclaim the Gospel at work unafraid of losing his job because of his church salary. Have you ever heard a congregant say, “That’s what we pay you for”? I’m sure you have, many within the church have lost their vision to minister. If the Pastor is intentionally bi-vo, there is an understanding that the body needs to pull together for the ministry.

Thom Rainer discusses in his article 10 Reasons Bivocational Ministry Matters[2] many pros to this sort of ministry, I find the following most compelling for our situation as Advent Christians:

 

1.     Bivocational leadership affirms vocation as ministry[3]. The Pastor has an opportunity to teach and preach on how to use vocation as a tool for the Gospel. He is now speaking from experience, which will be more effective.

2.     Bivocational ministers can now get theological training without leaving their place of ministry[4]. With the increased options of online training, Pastors and emerging leaders can learn without leaving their local context. Many young Pastors with whom I spoke hope that eBerkshire would become the preferred option.

3.     Bivocational ministers lead churches that often have a higher percentage of funds available for ministry and missions[5]. Let’s face it; most of our budgets are geared towards making church members happy instead of spreading the Gospel. Our budgets show that the priority is paying the staff and for the building. Both of which typically serve church members and not lost people.

 

What I find most compelling about bi-vo planting is its ability to replicate and that its focus isn’t on stealing other sheep. If you plant the Gospel in a community you are looking for opportunities to train leaders. The drug dealer who came to Christ through your ministry could be an elder at some point, maybe even planting the Gospel in another area of the town or city. Start up funding is minimal as it could start in a home, storefront, or anywhere else God provides.

I can’t stand transfer growth. Its one thing if someone new moves to the area, but other than that, it isn’t growing God’s kingdom, it grows our ego. If we go into a neighborhood, town, or city and proclaim the Gospel to unbelievers then inevitably God will call those who He has chosen. Maybe they go to another place to worship, praise God! But when we incorporate a church thinking that the right advertising and flashy website will lead people into salvation, we are only fooling ourselves. Consumer Christians care about that stuff, not the lost. Being bi-vo allows a Pastor and Core Team to focus on reaching the lost and discipling them as God saves.

Sounds Good, But What Does It Look Like?

I don’t think there is any one correct way to do ministry, or plant the Gospel and churches. This is only a suggestion meant to spark creative ideas. I find anyone who says, “This is the only way” a bit repulsive, unless it is clear in the Scriptures. So here is a sample scenario.

Pastor is burdened to serve in a particular area, maybe as close as the next town over from another AC church. The planting Pastor and that local church work together as they canvas the area to see if this is where God is leading him. The sending church helps this Planter to develop a small Core Team who preferably live and/or work in that area. The sending church helps support this Pastor and Core Team through whatever means they can; prayer, office space, clerical support, unused equipment, etc. Notice that none of that costs money.

As the Pastor and Core Team have already canvassed the area, they develop relationships in the community. They begin to serve the community in meaningful ways; volunteer at schools, retirement homes, parks, as youth coaches, etc. As these relationships build you begin to learn the culture and context of the community in which you plan to plant the Gospel.

At this point the Pastor and Core Team will have already been meeting for Bible Study, prayer, and planning. My recommendation is to have some of these meetings in a community venue such as a coffee shop, food court, bar, etc. This could provide a great opportunity to meet more people. As relationships are built you can now invite people with whom you share the Gospel to one of these gatherings. These gatherings would likely need to change as people are added, but that’s a good thing.

When it comes to a point where the team is ready to start weekly worship services there are a plethora of unused venues in many New England towns. Union halls, American Legion/VFW Halls, homes, and even other church buildings could all be used for such an event.

Let Me Finish

You may rightly ask why I didn’t talk about discipleship here. I love seeing people grow in their walk with Christ and it is an extremely important part of ministry, but the focus for this article has been strictly on how we might initially plant the Gospel in a community to reach the lost. There are many ways to do church that God uses to save, and this is only one of many ideas. My only premise in writing this is that we must plant the Gospel message in a community prior to becoming a local church and there are many ways to do this, bivocational Pastoring and team planting is one of them.

There has been much discussion in our Advent Christian circles of the best way to plant churches, while not many are being planted. We often discuss the role of local Conference, Region, and ACGC. As you see with the model proposed here, none of these associations are mentioned, this is by design. Conferences, Regions, and ACGC likely have something meaningful to contribute and I encourage their input. However, overreliance on these associations could result in the stifling of a new Gospel plant.

 

 

Further Reading

I highly recommend the following for those who are interested in church health and planting:

Planting Missional Churches, Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im

Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches from New Believers, J.D. Payne

Church Planting Is for Wimps: How God Uses Messed-up People to Plant Ordinary Churches That Do Extraordinary Things, Mike McKinley

Who Stole My Church? , Gordon MacDonald

The Vine Project, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

 

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Erik Reynolds is the Director of Student Ministries at Oak Hill Bible Church. He is a former Army Paratrooper with combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan who is still trying to figure out how not to use HOOAH in every sentence. He is a graduate of Liberty University and is currently a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, MA.

 

 

[1] In a scientific research project done in a PhD dissertation researching 624 SBC churches that had planted a church, attendance rose 21.5% for the five years after a church plant. Additionally, monetary growth was favorable in 7 of the 8 variables tested, including designated gifts (77% increase) and tithes (48%). (Source: Jeffrey C. Farmer, 2007).

A church on mission prioritizes its sending capacity over its seating capacity. This reproductive generosity brings health to the mother church as well as to the baby churches. Read more here: Five Reasons for Church Planting - ChurchPlanting.com

[2] Thom Rainer, "10 Reasons Bivocational Ministry Matters," ThomRainer.com, June 22, 2015, , accessed March 11, 2017, http://thomrainer.com/2014/08/10-reasons-bivocational-ministry-matters/.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.

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