By Shannon Youell
“The Bible does not tell us to plant churches.”
If you read this quote and–confused–scrolled up to indeed verify you are on the Church Planting Blog, have no fear. You are! If we look at the thing Jesus commissioned His newly minted Church, His “ekklesia” to do, it was disciplemaking, not church planting.
The above statement from J.D. Payne’s book Apostolic Church Planting, continues thus:
“Throughout the Bible, we read of the birth of churches–after disciples are made. Biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches. Another way to consider this concept is that it is evangelism that results in new disciples, who then gather together and self-identify as the local expression of the universal body of Christ. Churches are supposed to be birthed from disciple making.” ( p.17-18).
Though I may be totally wrong, I suspect that there would be little disagreement with Payne’s statement; “biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches.” And I am equally as certain that most of us would say a hearty “amen” that churches are “to be birthed from disciple making.” But what may get some pushback is in the defining of what is disciple making.
Defining a Disciple
Often, we define a disciple as one who has decided to convert to Christianity by confessing their sins past and by professing their faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord of their lives for their futures. That is certainly the crucial initial step to being a disciple and we should more accurately say that person had a conversion experience that brought them into saving knowledge of Jesus.
There seemed to be many of those folk woven into the gospel stories. People who encountered Jesus, recognized Jesus as Saviour Messiah, perhaps experienced dramatic healing and/or deliverance through that encounter and professed Him as from God, the Son of Man, the One who saves. Paul addresses several of these groups when he is consternated that they are still infants needing milk when they should have been matured to chew on meat. They are converts but not necessarily disciples.
In the gospels, we see a disciple of Jesus as someone who was taught all about Jesus and then lived it out; disciples obey everything they are taught. Jesus schooled them to be disciple-makers. And the task He gave them was to be disciple-makers who make disciple-makers who make disciple-makers. And as more disciple-makers were made, communities were formed, churches were birthed.
An Upward Spiral in the Grand Story
This model is one that assembled people together to be gospeled–to hear and celebrate and remember the Grand Story together–as the telos, the goal of the Story. The commission was towards the telos of becoming disciples so that we could make disciples who tell and enliven the Grand Story to those who have not yet heard or entered into the Story. And the upward spiral continues over and over and over again.
The outflow or result of following what Jesus called the early disciples to do was that, out of necessity, new communities were required to accommodate and facilitate the new disciples who were now being trained to become disciple-makers. And once a week or more, those new local communities would gather to hear, to celebrate, to remember the richness of the Grand Story, the glory and goodness of God who so loved the world He entered into human form to capture our hearts to love the world the way He does. A circular mission of disciples making disciples who gather in local neighborhoods to make more disciples.
So to go back to Payne’s quote, we see that telling the people we encounter in our lives the Grand Story and inviting them to see themselves into the Story and showing them the entrance point, creates a need for new churches to disciple them so that they can tell their story to others.
“… church planting is evangelism that results in new churches.”
The conclusion we can draw from that is that church planting is something disciples of Jesus do. So what does that mean for you, for us? Let’s explore that next.