Are Church Planting and Disciple-Making the Same Thing?

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This article is posted in September 2016’s issue of Church Planter Magazine.

            Let’s get right to it. This is becoming a hot topic.

I’ve heard the arguments, “We shouldn’t call it church planting—it should be called sowing the gospel,” or “Let’s call it missional disciple-making,” or how about this one, “Nowhere in the Bible does it command disciples to plant churches”—and the list goes on and on.

So, to find our answers, let’s go to the source, the Word.

Why do we plant churches? The answer: to obediently follow the Great Commission, right? Why do we make disciples? The answer: to obediently follow the Great Commission, right? So which is it? Is it one, and not the other? Are both synonymous? Are they interchangeable? What does the Bible say…?

What is the Great Commission?

What is the Great Commission? At the close of Matthew’s Gospel, he records a missionary meeting with Jesus and the disciples (Mt. 28:16–20). The resurrected Christ was given ultimate authority as the cosmic king and would provide his presence on a continual mission to baptize and make disciples of people from all nations. The Commission from Christ ordered the newly assembled Israel to go forth into the world with a mandate, a mission, and a promise.[1]

Matthew’s “Great Commission” displays an all-encompassing divine rule of Christ; Jesus has “all authority” (28:18), sending his disciples to “all nations” (28:19), to obey “all that” he commanded (28:20), being with them “all” of their days (28:20).[2] The Great Commission exalts Jesus as the missional Lord over all the earth and all people, sending obedient servants to teach everyone how to rightly serve and obey him. Lastly, Jesus reassured his disciples that his perpetual presence would be with them throughout their missional days. The Immanuel, God with us—has been fulfilled.

Are We Making Disciples or Church Planting?

Most notably within the Great Commission is the command to make disciples and to “baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19). Baptism becomes a major part of the command—along with teaching people to obey Christ’s commands (28:20).

Interestingly, within the New Testament (NT), we read that Paul did not baptize the Corinthian church (Acts 18:8b; 1 Cor.1:13–17)—so, then who did? If Paul was sent to preach the gospel (1 Cor. 1:14–17) then we believe baptism was an ordinance that belonged to the local church.[3] Christian baptism was the first obedient action of a new convert and “an expression of solidarity with Jesus.”[4] Through baptism, new disciples identified with Christ and were initiated into his community of followers. John Lightfoot expressed to make disciples signified to, “bring them in by baptism, that they may be taught.”[5]

So, the church baptizes new converts with the expectation of them becoming obedient Great Commission disciples. While there are a few examples of individuals receiving baptism within the NT (Eunuch & Centurion; Acts 8:27–36, 10:47–48), a question was posed whether someone could prevent the person from being baptized. The new convert was baptized and became a member of the body of Christ, with an expectation, of himself, being discipled and a disciple-maker. It’s reciprocal.

Can We Have One Without the Other?

We can have discipleship without church planting (sort of), but we cannot have church planting without discipleship—if that makes sense. In certain circumstances, church planting and disciple-making are interchangeable, but they’re also unique. In essence, a church planter must make disciples who will gather together and become a church (ekklesia).

But, if a planter merely gathers people, but lacks the observance of the ordinances (baptism & Communion) and does not teach obedience to Christ’s commands then it’s never a church—it may be partial discipleship—or mentorship, but not a church. Yet we know that discipleship occurs more effectively within a community of believers that engage and apply Christ-like actions to the daily rhythms of life. As the word ekklesia implies, the church are “called out ones” that gather together.

As well, the uniqueness of the terminology shows that an existing church can (and should) be engaged in discipleship—but they may not be engaged in church planting. One may argue (and rightly so) that if you’re not church planting then your not making disciples, or applying the Great Commission. Technically speaking (I despise that term), if you’re not church planting then you’re not following the Great Commission. Why?

Church Planting Fulfills the Great Commission

Ott and Wilson declare, “Church planting is essential to God’s salvation purposes and the fulfillment of the Great Commission.”[6] In my opinion, church planting is discipleship, so I agree with Ott and Wilson. I don’t think a planter can effectively sow the gospel into a community of people without making disciples (see what I did there?). In this aspect, church planting is directly related to and engaged in discipleship.

By obediently following Christ’s directives, we may say that church-planting reaches unreached peoples, gathers them together to form an ekklesia, baptizes them, and makes disciples of them by teaching them the commands of Christ; thereby, fulfilling the Great Commission. Essentially and foundationally, church planting is disciple-making and disciple-making (done right) is church planting. Therefore, church planting obediently fulfills the Great Commission to make disciples—the two cannot be divorced from one another.

[1] Michael W. Goheen, Introducing Christian Mission Today: Scripture, History, and Issues (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 61.

[2] David L. Turner, Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 687.

[3] Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission: Paul and the Early Church, vol. 2 (Leicester, England: IVP Academic, 2004), 1370.

[4] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2005), 1268.

[5] John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, vol. 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 379.

[6] Craig Ott and Gene Wilson, Global Church Planting: Biblical Principles and Best Practices for Multiplication (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 20.

Why does this keep happening to me?

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Why does this keep happening to me?

Have you ever uttered those words? If you’ve been a believer for any length of time, you’ve probably heard someone say, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Both of these statements are connected—but only one has been taken out of context. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he writes:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

The Test

In High School it was rare that I failed a test—but if I did, it’s because I failed to pay attention and study. Paul is saying that God can deliver us from temptations—but, the temptations that are occurring are not extraordinary—they occur to everyone. So, why would God provide a way out? Well—that’s one reason why we have the question, “Why does this keep happening to me?”

When we fail to endure a situation, we’ll most certainly see it again. Think about it—we learn more from our failures than our successes. Why do teachers give tests? To make sure students know the subject.

Escaping the Test

When we groan, “Why does this keep happening to me?” We’re failing to face the trial. We’re failing to pay attention to the spiritual principles that God has placed before us. We seek to escape. But God created us and knows our inner workings (Job 10:11; Ps. 139:13; Heb. 4:12). When God takes us out of those situations, as a merciful teacher who hates to see failing students, He will allow us to re-take the test at a later time. We have not learned the spiritual subject. Recently, I met a man during a church outreach. This man didn’t believe in God—or so he said. I told him about a miracle working God. I asked him, “If you could have one miracle in your life, what would that miracle be?” The man replied, “I just want to be comfortable.”

Enjoying Comfort

One major reason why we will continue to see the same test over and over again is comfort. We’re afraid to leave our “comfort zone,” or we view the test as too difficult. But we must remember that God created us. Let me provide an analogy.

Imagine that I create an off road racecar. My desire is for the car to climb steep hills, run on jagged rocks at high speeds, and jump to great heights. I want to see it go through thick muck and mire. It will be my prized possession.

Finally the day comes. My all terrain mud-bog racecar is ready to go! I’m also in luck. It rained the night before and the ground is muddy. I take my beastly car into a nearby field—it has tons of dirt mounds, jagged rocks, sandy pits, and the ultimate deep muddy trails. The moment of truth arrives. I fire it up—then slowly and carefully, I steer it around the puddles and jumps. I make sure that I don’t touch any rocks. I then drive it back without a splash or speck of mud on it. Wait—that doesn’t sound right? Why? Because I created my racecar to get dirty, muddy, and climb to its potential!

J.A. Shedd once asserted, “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.” Likewise, God created us, not with a spirit of fear but “of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). The testing in our lives will help us climb fears and learn to navigate through the muck and mire of life. We’re not made for comfort, but to overcome fear—trusting in God. Reoccurring things may happen when we fail to trust God. Salvation is free, but discipleship costs everything. We must learn to yield our lives to the Creator. There’s no situation we face that surprises God. So, do not pray, “God take me from this situation,” but rather, “God give me strength to endure and learn, in your most perfect will.”

 

Preventing Pastoral Burnout

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What is that noise?

The repetitious blast had me baffled and weary. After slapping at everything on my bedside table aimlessly. Fan. iPhone. Book. Repeat. I finally figured it out—it was my alarm. Ever do that?

It was dark out. Early a.m. and I was exhausted. I needed to go back to sleep. Then a Scripture verse rang through my head:

How long will you lie there, O sluggard?

When will you arise from your sleep? (Pro. 6:9)

I was getting up at my usual Monday morning time, around 2:30 am. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m a very early riser. I always loved the verse:

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

If Jesus woke up early before the sun had risen and prayed with the Father then I saw fit to do the same. I still carve out time every morning for my prayer and Bible time with God. However, I’m also a fitness junkie—so, going to the gym, or off on a run, at 3:00 am is not unusual for me—but this morning was different—I was struggling to exercise, struggling to read, and even struggling in prayer!

Relief in Sight

Thankfully, that day I was gathering with a man I highly respected—we’ll call him, “Dave.” I couldn’t wait to see Dave! He’s a very well known ex-pastor, someone I had listened to for years via podcast. I had waited for this day for over a month.

But, I’ll be honest. I was feeling so drained that I didn’t feel like going.

Once I arrived, circumstances occurred where I was able to spend some brief time alone with Dave. I could have asked him anything—but for some reason, God knew what I needed to hear the most from him. So, I asked him about personal accountability. I’ll get to his advice in a moment.

Some Crazy Facts

According to a NY Times editorial, pastoral leadership is increasingly suffering from a lack of spiritual, emotional, and physical health. The report stated, “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans.”[1] George Barna reports:

  • 33% of pastors felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 40% of pastors are struggling with burnout and frantic schedules
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s health.
  • 75% report severe stress, panic, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 90% work more than 50 hours a week and have given up a scheduled vacation for a ministry emergency.
  • 1,500 pastors leave vocational ministry each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.

Wisdom from Dave…

And so, here I was—feeling burned out. I knew the numbers. I’ve studied them. I’ve taught them. But, now I was the student.

“How do you hold yourself accountable?” I asked Dave. It was an ambiguous query. But as if God were responding to my groggy morning ritual—Dave fully understood what I needed.

He suggested that I break up my day into three modules: morning, afternoon, and evening. There should be 21 modules per week. Each week there must be 7–10 modules of down time (no ministry—fully unplugged, no phone, no laptop, no email).

Of these 7–10 modules, 3 of them should be consecutive—establishing a Sabbath principle. As Joe spoke, I felt the conviction of God—I was only getting 2–4 modules per week—that’s not good.

Effective leadership cannot justify itself with sacrificial burnout. Moses did this. His father-in-law chided him for expecting to do everything (Exodus 18:13–23).

Leaders must have the proper rest—and the proper delegation. Assuredly, diet and exercise can be factors of burnout—but that wasn’t my dilemma. My problem was/is in saying “no.”

Pastors are allowed to say no.

Pastoral ministry is truly a blessing (something in which I do not feel worthy). But as leaders, we must be intentional about taking time off.

Dave admitted that there would be weeks when only 4 modules of rest are possible. When that happens, I should compensate the following week. The main point: I must be more intentional with my rest and family time.

Question for you…

  • How many modules are you getting per week?

Looking for more? Bethlehem Baptist Church created a great resource and made it available through Desiring God Ministries, click here. http://cdn.desiringgod.org/pdf/pastors_accountability_form.pdf

[1] Paul Vitello, Taking a Break from the Lord’s Work, New York Times, August 1, 2010, accessed October 20, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/02/nyregion/02burnout.html?_r=0.

Prone to Wander …

When I was six years old I went with my mother to the grocery store. As she was gathering items, crossing them off her list, and correlating which coupon went with which item, somehow, I wandered off and got lost. I can still recall the feeling of being alone; yet, I also knew that I was the reason for why I was lost.

One of my favorite hymns is Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. I enjoy hymns that have depth, doctrine, biblical trueness, and theological underpinnings. Many of our current hymns have been written in the 50’s and 60’s, but a pastor, Robert Robinson in 1757, wrote this hymn.

In one of the last stanzas, Robinson penned the melodious words that express human nature, my six-year-old trek away from safety, and most of my Christian journey. He wrote:

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it

Prone to leave the God I love

If ever there were words that showed why I love Christ so much, it seems that these take central stage. Throughout my life, I wandered and God sought me. I know I’m not the only one, as I’ve heard this confession many times, as a pastor.

Why is it that as believers, we tend to wander away? We seek after the same dark and dismal paths that we praised the good Shepherd from delivering us? Is it boredom? Is it a sense of discontentment? Is it that we really don’t love our Lord?

No. I don’t think those are the reasons. At least that’s what I want to believe. I believe Paul makes it clear, “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:17).

Obviously, for Robinson, a pastor, these words struck a cord with him, too. We must realize that the writer was not an unregenerate or newly converted Christian, but a pastor. I also think this is the reason that he introduced wandering words with verses of grace:

Jesus sought me when a stranger

Wandering from the throne of God

He to rescue me from danger

Interposed His precious blood

Oh, to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be

Let that grace now, like a fetter

Bind my wandering heart to Thee

            How biblical, and how true! Jesus sought us out—not the other way around. He rescued us from the darkness, by the cross—but me, a debtor to his grace—a debt in which I can never repay—pleads for more grace because I am simply a wanderer. Do you ever feel this way?

Here is a simple truth to our humanity. No matter how “devout” or how “godly” we think we are, God knows the truth and the secrets of our hearts. The great reformer John Calvin once equated our hearts to “idol factories.” We’re all “prone” to wander—we feel it—we know it’s coming—and yet—we can’t seem to prevent wandering from the “God I love.”

But know this, saint, in God’s amazing grace, you will ever be preserved. Our hope is in Christ, not in our works. God’s love never changes (Heb. 13:6) and it never fails (1 Cor. 13:4–8). If you find yourself wandering, you’re in good company, but rejoice in the fact that Christ is the good Shepherd, always going after the one who left the ninety-nine.

Rest in His grace, seek Him, repent of wandering, and gather back into the fold.

Armored Communities & Bomb Sniffing Chips: How The Gospel Answers Fear

One of my professors suggested that our doctoral cohort study culture and trends—something I was already inclined to do, but he offered a website that provides great insight. While the site, Faith Popcorn, doesn’t provide much analysis, it provides provoking thought and reflection. Reading the predictions through gospel lenses allows me stay a step ahead of culture.

I realize that this title may sound somewhat Orwellian, but humanity has arrived in the twenty-first century technological age. There are no flying cars, yet, or humanoids; however, not unlike the twentieth century we are still—perhaps even more so—engaged in an age of fear, anxiety, and paranoia.

Faith Popcorn predicts, “people will want guarded homes, there will be ways to filter your water, maybe bullet-proof houses, working more at home, not wanting to travel, armored communities where you will swap privacy for the privilege of living in a safe bubble.”

While some fear may be substantiated, Popcorn noted that “74% of Americans fear ISIS,” so the trends of tiny techno chips and fully disclosing our lifestyle seem to be the writing on the wall.

What do these future trends reveal?

Living With Full Disclosure

Does living within an armored city sound appealing to you? What about having all of your emails, phone calls, texts, and social media updates viewed and scrutinized—for the good of the community?

I see something grander at work here than protection or information gathering. I believe if people swap their privacy for safety something radical may occur. A community may accept sin as normal and justifiable.

Man will always desire to gratify himself. Sin feels good, tastes, good, and looks good. So, to think that an armored community would halt this would be naïve. Since the fall of humanity, man quests for pleasure, while also longing to hide the sin (inject Cain and Abel story, here). While armored communities may sound somewhat attractive at first, the realities of having every near-thought recorded and dissected will inevitably change how we will view sin.

If this future trend of walling ourselves in and being monitored by the thought-police occurs then we will inevitably be encountering some way to moralize or justify sinful behavior. Basically, no sin will be hidden from prying eyes, so to justify one’s actions; acceptability of the sin becomes normal. The community’s hearts become seared and accept sin.

Armored communities could easily become modern Sodom and Gomorrahs, not necessarily in a sexual sense, but in the sense of Ezekiel 16—following vanity and self-gratification.

The Fitbit Frenzy & Fear

Fitbits are probably some of the neatest gadgets manufactured. To think that this Star Trek-like accessory can sense our heart rates, fitness activity, record calories, receive text and call alerts, play music and wirelessly sync with our smart devices is pretty amazing. Newer technology trends are being developed to alert us if someone is strapped with C4 explosives or some type of dirty bomb.

I know, you’re probably thinking, how does this reveal the need for the gospel? A bomb sniffing Fitbit is just a man-made device created to help protect humanity—that’s good, right? Sure it is. But it is also revealing. It’s not the Fitbit itself that is so revealing; it is the reason for the ability’s design and demand. Why would people demand such a device? Surely, Apple would not create a product that people wouldn’t purchase—so, what does this tell us?

How These Trends Reveal and Plead For The Gospel

These two future trends reveal the hearts and minds of fearful living. The gospel’s power delivers people from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of God’s Son, Jesus Christ (Col. 1:13–14). Paul asserted, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7).

There’s nothing wrong with protected neighborhoods, many well-known pastors live within them, and nothing wrong with an explosive-sniffing-micro-chip—don’t misunderstand me, but the fact that we live in a society where these are good things, detects more than bombs—it detects man’s bondage to fear, lack of love, and trust in God—something which only exists in the gospel.

The art of neighboring seems to be long gone. Both of these trends spell out what the church will be faced with in the coming future—fear and paranoia. But, we, as gospel-centered people, must strive to boldly proclaim man’s redemption from sin, God’s graceful gift of joy, and the freedom from the bondage of fear, to the world. We are ambassadors and ministers of reconciliation, as God makes his appeal through us (2 Cor. 5:17–20). Trends of fear should be countered with gospel-saturation. “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).