Church Planting Without Fixating On Church

I’ve been thinking about apostolic / missional leadership a lot over the past week, as you may have gathered, and this evening found myself grazing through “Church Planting” by Stuart Murray. In particular I was drawn to his critique of ascribing too much to church:

“Several church planting movements have given renewed attestation to the Gospels, usually because they suspected the older churches of marginalizing the radical teachings of Jesus contained in the Gospels … But not all church planting movements have been energized by their concern. They have searched the New Testament for guidance, but have concentrated on the Acts or the Epistles, rather than the Gospels. Church planting, consequently, has frequently been ecclesiocentric rather than Christocentric. The fact that there are only two recorded instances where Jesus spoke about the church has perhaps discouraged church planters from engaging in the search for Jesus’ view of the church, but has arguable resulted in distorted emphases and unexplored issues. In particular, it has allowed church planting to become detached from the central theme of Jesus’ teaching – the Kingdom of God.”

Do you find it surprising that Jesus said so little about churches? How might that effect our interpretation of the New Testament? Murray goes on to say:

“The fact that Jesus did not refer often to the church might in itself be significant. His emphasis on the Kingdom of God, as a divine initiative that, in mysterious ways, is at work to transform the created order, warns us against ascribing to the church any more than penultimate significance. The church is a sign, an instrument, an agent of the kingdom, but no more than this. Deeper engagement with the Gospels might help church planters avoid excessive interest in the church.”

Interesting warning eh? Church planters should not fixate on church if they wish to be true to the gospel. And the implications? Murray asserts:

Jesus’ teaching about wealth, violence and power are also of fundamental importance in church planting. Changing terminology, structures and styles of worship are of far less significance than creating communities where new patterns of economic sharing, peacemaking and servant leadership are developing, communities that are rooted in the teachings of Jesus and contextualized into diverse social contexts.

Ring any bells?

6 thoughts on “Church Planting Without Fixating On Church”

  1. Besides involvement in a church plant in the late 1970s, I’ve been helping with church planting and pioneering ministries since 1995.
    C. Peter Wagner’s book on Church Planting was sort of a standard read in the ’90s and early ‘oh-ohs, until more organic models were being written about. To paraphrase the oft-quoted slogan from Wagner, “Church planting is the most effective means of evangelism under heaven.” Sounds good, right?
    However, if we’d been more discerning, and understood paradigm issues more, perhaps we wouldn’t have gotten sucked in. His statement reflects the typical western logic of division into categories. Evangelism is split from discipleship, church is assumed to be split from society, the model is attractional, etc.
    While I’m glad for the motivation to do church planting, it got us off course. I’ve since come to the conclusion that the key task is disciple-making, not church planting. If Christ wanted us to focus on something other than disciples, He surely didn’t make that pronouncement clear in the “Great Commission.”
    Which was all a very lengthy way of saying, Yup. Right on, Matt and Murray. If our church planting efforts are not about disciple-building at the core, we’ve missed Christ’s mark. If we are about disciple-building, then it’s likely some kind of churches will be planted.

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  2. The Abbess heartily agrees…more about replicating disciple-makers and less about perpetuating institution-makers.
    I am becoming more convinced that something along the lines of a Missional Order and CovenantClusters will be helpful in returning the focus.

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  3. I think Murray’s is the best “theology of church planting” out there. Typically planters focus way too much on the pragmatic aspects of planting (guilty as charged, I can speak from experience). Not surprising however since 95% of the books on planting focus on the how to. But Murray’s is different. I like this:
    “Church planting presents an opportunity to express something of the nature of our missionary God . . . consciously engaging in church planting as fellow workers with God and with others. . . . The practice of church planting is thus placed within theological, rather than mere pragmatic, frameworks.”

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