Church Planting 8
THE WAY AHEAD
It seems somewhat obvious to say it, but church planting should surely be the result of conversion growth. If it is for any other reason, I would seriously question the validity of it. If churches are seeing conversion growth, then it is that growth itself that will determine what kind of church is planted.
Could we see church plants that are modelled around Alpha? Jim McGillivray certainly thinks so, and why not? Are we so tradition bound to the congregation that we cannot see past the gathered meeting and will consider no other concept of church? Could we see churches beyond the congregation? Could we see church plants in businesses, sports clubs, coffee shops and schools?
Furthermore, can we see beyond the building itself? Murray says that ‘The closure and disposal or demolition of many church buildings acts as a salutary reminder that previous generations of church planters enthusiastically erected too many buildings, some of which were never effectively used.’
Growth in the number of buildings does not equal growth in people. It is common today to see church buildings being ‘converted’ for use as housing – does that say it all? If there are a number of Christians in (for example) the place where we work, then those Christians are church – but a building is out of the question.
We need to see church planting as an appropriate response to growth, not as a desperate measure to try and create growth. Only the gardener can plant, and he will only plant where there is new life. Shuffling saints around must become a relic of the past; making friends with the people we share our world with must become our priority. All this is relatively easy to write, but are we truly open to what God would say to us about being church, and how and why we church plant? If we say we are but we are not, it will be too late to repent on reflection.
If God is leading his people to truly become part of a community (of any kind or location – business, coffee shop, sport club, school, etc), then we need to see that the right appointed leadership is critical to the development of the life of God in that community. Life that grows is more important than methods, and it is critical to have a leadership in place that has the absolute trust of the people concerned and of the overseeing church(es).
The future of church planting may be quite different than anything we have considered up to this point in the life of Baptist Churches in Scotland. Indeed, the future of church itself may be quite different than anything we have considered up to this point in the life of Baptist Churches in Scotland. As Ravenhill said (quoted by Cymbala), “People say the church is ‘growing and expanding.’ Yes, it’s ten miles wide now – and about a quarter-inch deep.”
We need to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit in a way and to a depth that we have never been open before. The declining church of our day is a major opportunity for God to reveal the leadership that will transform it into the life that it should be.
As Sanders pointed out: ‘The problems we select to address, the evidence we cite, the interpretation we give to the evidence and the rhetoric we use to communicate our proposals owe a great debt to the communities to which we belong.’ The Baptist community has remained insular and independent for far too long; do we have the will and the heart to open ourselves to others that they may open themselves to us? What does the future hold? Cymbala declared that ‘You and I will never know our potential under God until we step out and take risks.’
In Neilston, we may sometimes think that we can see the future; that we can see where we are going. But, as we take risks, what God will do in our midst will astound us in the days to come. What the gardener will plant will be beautiful and bursting with life, and the birds of the air will nest in its branches.
Church planting is not about me or us, it is about the life of God throbbing through a community and growing into independent life. The Neilston Core Leadership Team is gently feeling its way forward and wanting to be open to whatever God has for us.
Queen’s Park Baptist Church will see what develops in Neilston and realise that it is unique and cannot be replicated in the West End, or anywhere else for that matter. The Queens Park Core Leadership Team will discover new things about how the Spirit of God wants his people to be his church, and this will profoundly impact how Queen’s Park thinks about church planting. Queen’s Park Baptist Church may never have a church planting policy that lasts longer than five minutes, but the life that it plants will live, grow and be healthy because God himself is the gardener, and only the gardener can plant.
The Baptist denomination in Scotland needs to stop grumbling about decline in its congregations, and catch the breeze of the Spirit and discover the direction that he is blowing in. The autonomy of each congregation can create a mindset of independence that needs to die, but being a part of the body of Christ creates an interdependence that grows life. As Lloyd-Jones said: ‘Belong to a denomination, but do not stand fast in denominationalism.’ I would also paraphrase Lloyd-Jones in this way: Belong to a denomination, but do not stand fast in autonomy.
The gardener wants to replant us! Will we allow him? Or will we kick and scream and cry foul? What do we really value: Life or structure? What Eddie Gibbs has said of the individual is equally true of the organisation: ‘The longer a person lives, the more he or she tends to dwell on the past rather than live in dynamic interaction with the present or be inspired by the hope of future possibilities.’
Questions about church planting inevitably raise questions about the whole truth of what church is and is not; and how we can make the change from what we are to what God would have us be. Warner said that ‘The modern world will not be reached effectively by traditional forms of church’, and traditional forms of church planting will be just as ineffective. Singlehurst pointed out that ‘We must hold a tension between the Holy Spirit and revelation on one side, and the Scriptures and strategic planning on the other.’
If the Baptist Union of Scotland wants to give leadership in this whole area, then I ask what is more important to the Union: Life or structure? Rick Warren has said ‘Every church must eventually decide whether it will be structured for control or structured for growth.’ Is the same not true of any Christian organisation? We all face a challenge to change, but what we have seen so far is only the tip of the iceberg; woe betide those who are still shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic when the whole iceberg is encountered.
Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Grand Rapids, ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1997
Eddie Gibbs, Church Next, (Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 2000)
Simon Hall, Anna Robins and Pete Ward, ‘Liquid Ministry’, Christianity and Renewal, July 2001, pages 14 to 17
Iain H Murray, D Martyn Lloyd-Jones – The Fight of Faith, (Edinburgh, Banner Of Truth Trust, 1990)
Stuart Murray, Church Planting, (Carlisle, Paternoster Press, 1998)
John Sanders, The God Who Risks, (Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 1998)
Laurence Singlehurst, Sowing Reaping Keeping, (Reading, Crossway Books, 1995)
A W Tozer, Faith Beyond Reason, (Bromley, STL Books, 1987)
Rob Warner, 21st-Century Church, (Eastbourne, Kingsway Publications, 1999)
Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, (Michigan, ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1995)