This is part one of a three part series
“Why would I want to do that?”
That was the answer that I received when I asked a pastor if his church would support church planting.
Did he really just say that? Let me try this again, but this time I’ll rephrase it.
“Why wouldn’t your church want to be involved in the Great Commission?”
Now he had the same look that I had—confused. Bewildered. As if someone just stolen his lunch money. I was sort of in shock, but not really—I’m beginning to get used to this type of answer.
I won’t go into detail about how he justified his church’s involvement in the Great Commission by sending money to missionaries, feeding the homeless, and sending Christmas boxes (all good, by the way).
A Gospel Passion
The Apostle Paul proclaimed, “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16b)
People ask me, “Why are you so passionate about church planting?” I reply, “It is not church planting that I am passionate about, but the gospel.”
To be a disciple of Christ means, to desire to be more like Christ. Churches that plant churches that plant churches epitomize disciple-making and gospel-centered fruit.
In the beginning of this year, I founded a collaborative initiative here in Richmond called, Planting RVA (RVA stands for Richmond, VA). My goal is to see Richmond saturated with the gospel. With 121 countries represented, Richmond is ripe for the harvest—a diverse, cultural, and beautiful area, but one that desperately needs more churches planted. Richmond was one of the only cities on the eastern seaboard that was not affected by the Great Awakening—a spiritually darkened city.
With an original intention for a multipronged approach of house church movements, comprehensive and traditional church plants, satellite campuses, and revitalizations, it was an uphill battle from the get-go. I found that dozens of pastors were willing to talk about it, but very few were willing to get their hands dirty—to break up any fallow ground.
And so, my passion is not necessarily for churches, but for the gospel. Churches that plant churches that plant churches are gospel saturated. Their intention is outwardly revealed—to make Jesus known, to bring glory to God, and to make disciples. Church multiplication is the result of disciple-making, which is the command of the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20).
Paul’s “ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Rom. 15:20)
What did Paul mean when he said that he did not want to plant churches where “Christ had already been named”? He even clarified to the Roman churches, “I no longer have any room for work” (15:23). Did Paul establish a church plant in every village and every town? Did he reach every person? Why was he so ambitious to go and plant new churches in “Spain” (15:24, 28)? Did he reach all of Rome?
The understanding that church planters come alongside the working power and mission of God is an understatement—they breathe it!
Paul was a man moved by the Spirit of God to plant churches in new regions (Acts 16:6–10; Rom. 15:19). He understood the power of God. He also understood the missio Dei, the sending of God. For Paul, the gospel of Christ manifested itself in action and power wherever he went (c.f. 1 Thess. 1:5).
So, what did he mean in Romans 15:20? First of all, Paul does not consider the phrase “to preach the gospel” as some type of individualistic evangelism or an outreach event. We may view it that way today, but that was foreign to Paul. He was an apostolic pioneer—Paul established disciple-making churches. Discipleship was (and should still be) the DNA of the early church.
So, Paul was more concerned with establishing bodies of gathered believers (ecclesias) in two or three focused areas of resurgence, within each region. This meant that his assignment in each “region” was to create disciples who disciple people that disciple others, and so on.
Paul’s missiology was Christological. For Paul, Jesus was Lord of all. Paul’s passion was to assemble and see disciples create “reproducible ecclesias.” Paul was sold out. He believed in the power of the gospel to infect people with a pioneering discipling-evangelism. The “infected” people were then, also, sold out to the mission of God, within the everyday rhythms of life.
Paul shows that church planting is more than preaching the gospel, a building, or a vocation. Church planting involves discipling converts into an “obedient” surrendered faith (Rom 15:18). Church planting does not build upon another man’s foundation, but upon the work in Christ.
Paul’s driving “passion to work where Christ was not known,” was confirmed in his apostolic nature: “like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it” (1 Cor 3:10a). Paul relied on others.
The Apostle rightly assumed that anyone who was infected with the gospel would in turn, go, make disciples, and plant churches. Each church body became a sending church, not once or twice, but until the region was saturated.
So, the answer is that Paul did not have to reach every single person. Paul’s belief in the Holy Spirit affirmed his faith that God was at work within His church.
 Alan Hirsch, and Dave Ferguson, On the Verge: a Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 136.
The greatest church planting movements in history were accomplished without clergy hierarchy. Ok, stick with me—I’m not bashing pastoral work—I am one. I don’t want you to get the impression that pastors and leadership are not vital—they are—but in a different degree than you think.
In examining church planting movements, there are definite similarities and common killers. Let’s address three.
The Simpler, the Better
Everyone knows that the simpler something is, the easier it is to reproduce. Jesus made it really simple to plant the gospel. In actuality, Jesus does all the work for us and even gives us a “helper” (John 16:7).
The problem comes when we make the gospel complicated. We’re good at complication. We complicate things by halting movements of God. Think about it. God adds people into His Church (Acts 2:47). Once they get in, they’re told they need to be trained before they can be sent out. Example, a believer feels the call of God on his life. He asks the pastor for advice. What advice does he give?
Go to seminary and get trained. But is this simple, or complex?
When Mao Tse-tung became supreme leader of China, he executed the indigenous pastors, kicked out the missionaries, seized church property, and imprisoned the remaining leadership structure. There was an estimated 2 million Christians. When the curtain was lifted after his death, do you know how many believers were found? Over 60 million!
Imagine a church movement that grew without pastoral hierarchy and buildings. I know, you’re probably thinking—but there’s got to be heresy involved, right? Actually, that’s been studied. In the research, it was found that only 5% drifted into heresy—they were isolated from the others. Basically, the church policed itself.
Only 15% were with doctrinal errors, and a whopping 80% were orthodox! If you measure that model to America, guess what you’ll find—almost 35% heretical, yet we have seminaries and clergy, and more than 60% doctrinal errors. It seems simpler is better.
Distinctions Halt Initiative
The Methodist movement was one of the greatest discipleship movements in history. John Wesley had designed a “method” (while I may not adhere to prevenient grace, I do recognize the results) to discipleship by creating small groups with accountability. And so, Methodism was growing at staggering numbers, across the United States.
Men called to the gospel from one church got on horseback and became itinerant preachers—or circuit riders. And the churches remained strong. With no real headship (other than Christ), due to their discipleship groups, they exponentially grew. However, the movement began to plateau in 1850. By 1860, Methodism began to decline, never returning to its reproducibility years. Why?
According to one researcher (Alan Hirsch), this is when the Methodists were ridiculed for not have seminaries and not being “educated.” They were mocked by other denominations as being poor and illiterate, having circuit riders that were uneducated. And so, what did Methodism do? They built seminaries to make better pastors and ceased the discipleship model—hence killing the Jesus movement.
When the Church makes distinctions between clergy and laity, there is a class system that can evolve. This creates complexity (i.e. only a pastor can teach, pray, or make visits—he’s God’s anointed). Don’t get me wrong, I am a pastor, but I admit to our brokenness and failure. The power of God must revert back into the church bodies (the people) to reproduce, disciple, and send believers.
Pastor As Dynamic Leader
Unfortunately, the Western Church has created a model that requires a seminary trained dynamic leader to preach really well, in the hopes of entertaining, or even “teaching” people, by speaking at them for 45 minutes (at least that’s how long I preach). This dynamic model, however, is a broken and unsustainable model.
If 2,900 new churches must be planted within the U.S. every year, just to maintain a 26% evangelicalism rate, then you can see that the dynamic leader model will take hundreds of years. There is no way to start a Jesus movement without bi-vocational or volunteer church planters. Too often, seminaries can be costly. Once again, don’t hear me incorrectly, God uses seminaries and I happen to be a doctoral student of a fantastic one.
My point? Seminary trained people can become catalysts and apostolic leaders. But if we are honest, a Jesus movement will not occur with “occupational” leadership as the head speaker, prayer, discipler, and visitor. There is a five-fold ministry within the Church (Eph. 4:11–12).
The greatest church planting movements in history all managed to occur without dynamic pastors. Twelve ordinary disciples turned the world upside down by discipling people with a simple message of redemption, serving the body as a whole, and thought of themselves as slaves of Christ.
What are your thoughts?
“The world is a dangerous place. Not because of the people who are evil; but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” —Albert Einstein
Complacency is the art of doing nothing. And the Western Church has become good at it. “For lack of wood the fire goes out” (Pro 26:20a).
We live among a consumer-driven society. Christians want to be entertained, demand programs, and show up when they choose. It is a slow death. Here’s three reasons why complacency is killing Christianity.
Complacency Kills The Church
There’s nothing biblical about complacency.
In all the wonderful examples of men and women who have stepped out in faith, from Abraham to Rahab (Heb. 11), to Peter and Paul, lack of drive is never an attribute.
Complacency is killing the Western Church. There are many reasons: laziness, a lack of love for Christ, a flawed understanding of grace, clergy-driven churches, and a countless amount of others, but mainly, it boils down to complacency.
Christ is the head of the Church (Eph. 5:23). A failure to be obedient to the Great Command (Matt. 28:19; John 20:20-21) is a failure to heed orders from the Commander in Chief. The command is to “go and make,” not stay and do nothing.
Complacency says, “I don’t need to do anything.” Christ says if you love me, you will keep my commands (John 14:15). But the Western Church does not obey commands.
Here’s a sobering statement, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). When the Church fails to be on mission, it fails Christ.
Complacency Kills the Work of the Spirit
Christians are warned not to “quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19), not to “put out” the flame of God. How quickly a fire burns out when its embers are not stoked.
Complacent “Christians” are those who desire the gift of salvation without understanding the call to follow Christ. They expect others to “stoke” their fire—to listen to messages from speakers, preachers, and practitioners—yet they fail to be led by the Spirit.
Jesus stated, “You must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8).
If you are born of the Spirit, you listen and obey the Spirit. The work of the Spirit of God is quenched and killed by complacent Christians.
Complacency Kills The Gospel
If complacency kills the church along with the work of the Holy Spirit then naturally, complacency kills the gospel. There is no good news if no one is bringing it! As Paul clarified:
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel … ” (Romans 10:14-16a)
There are millions of people who live their lives without the gospel. Yet, churches fail to follow the Great Commission and send people, or to plant new churches. The loud voices, “It’s not my job” by the myriads of “believers” is deafening. Maybe we should call it, “Couch Christianity.”
They fail to gather as the church and when they do, they lack ears, hearts, and passion. They lack an understanding that discipleship is about submission and intentionality. No. They’re dead men, living with bones and skin. They may say they believe, but they do not do; hence, their fruit is evident in not following Christ’s commands.
The shot across the bow from Christ:
“The servant who knows what his master wants and ignores it, or insolently does whatever he pleases, will be thoroughly thrashed. But if he does a poor job through ignorance, he’ll get off with a slap on the hand. Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!”
It is impossible to love Christ and not love His Church and not do what He said.
Complacency is the silent serial killer of Christianity.
 Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), Lk 12:47–48.
There is one quote that I have placed in every book that I have written. It is by far one of my favorite quotes—I’ll get to it in a minute.
My favorite quote was stated by one of the most famous missionaries, known as the “father of modern missions.” His name? William Carey.
If you’re not familiar with William Carey, you should be—his story of what God can do with a humble and willing heart is profound.
Another one of Carey’s accomplishments, was that of a Bible translator. He was the first to translate the Holy Scriptures into Bengali. Carey also translated it into twenty-eight other languages. Amazingly, Carey was a self-taught man. He only had a fifth grade education!
Needless to say, it never hindered his passion for Christ.
When Carey desired to follow his calling into India, he had little—to no—support. The larger and more “established” churches would not recognize his desire to see foreign missions attached to the local church.
However, Carey knew that mission and church were inseparable. He would be way ahead of his time, asking for a collaboration of denominations. Carey desired to see Christ’s church set aside its ecclesiology for the aspect of evangelization and mission.
While in India, Carey was mostly viewed as a fanatic. His “enthusiasm” in wanting to see the world come to Christ and Christians work together for the gospel was viewed as abnormal.
Carey once declared, “Would it not be possible to have a general association of all denominations of Christians, from the four corners of the world…I recommend this plan, that the first meeting be in the year 1810, or 1812 at furthest…”
It never occurred in Carey’s lifetime—but it was established 100 years later, in 1910. Carey was a man before his time. Sometimes the greatest fault of visionaries is exactly that—they see what others cannot see and yet they press on with passion for what they see and believe.
John the Baptist was such a man. He paved the way for Christ; a man who only ate locusts and wild honey and wore garments of camel hair. The camel hair symbolized a coarse, itchy, and abrasive culture against God’s purposes.
Of course, John paid the ultimate price for his obedience by losing his head, but he gained eternity. The Baptist was never ashamed to call himself a servant of the Most High God. He was never afraid to confront the fears of being disliked or being less than someone else. John was humble; yet passionate that God was doing great things.
Likewise, Carey was eerily similar in his understanding of God’s calling.
This brings me to that famous and favorite quote of his; Carey once declared, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”
I have always tried to attempt great things for God, not out of compulsion, but love, and yet, I always expect great things to happen. One aspect of Carey’s statement that baffles me, and yet also inspires me, is that Carey believed we ought to “expect great things from God,” even before we “attempt” them.
Don’t misunderstand him, he wasn’t in the “name it and claim it” crowd, but believed that God was sovereign over all things. William lived his theology. He took such bold adventures because he believed in a God that had already overcome death and sin and given him life eternal.
So, let me ask you…do you expect great things from God and attempt great things for God? If not, what’s stopping you? As Carey said, “Go ye’ means me!”