Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Total Church: Church Planting

Chester and Timmis in this chapter discuss how they view church planting as a form of evangelism. They look very closely to the mission and church planting practices of the early apostles (especially Paul) to provide a template. They are not so committed to house church planting as the only biblical manner of evangelism and church planting, but they do see the benefits that can come from planting smaller missional communities in homes. It is much more efficient for growth and reproduction that building one central meeting place. And in those smaller communities, it is easier to relate to one another, share each others’ lives and for all members to exercise their gifts in ministry.

The apostolic approach to mission
For Paul mission meant planting churches. In the NT, wherever the gospel was preached local churches were established. In Acts, Luke deliberately portrays Paul as a church planter. This methodology involves a church planting team or an apostolic band. The team functions as a church even as a church grows up around it, providing a context for discipleship and a demonstration of Christian community. (89).

The Apostolic approach to community
The apostolic churches were reproducing churches, meeting in households. This meant they grew by adding further household gatherings rather than by adding numbers to one mega-congregation. So, for example, Paul writes ‘to the church of God in Corinth’ (1 Cor. 1.2), but can also talk about information from ‘some from Chloe’s household’ and how he baptized the members of ‘the household of Stephanas (1 Cor. 1.11, 16; 16.15).
In Acts 16, Lydia and the jailer’s ‘households’ are baptized and a church is planted in Philippi. In Acts 18 the household of Crispus believes and a church is planted in Corinth… So in his time in Corinth Paul presumably oversaw the establishment of a number of household churches within the city. The point is that he chose to establish a number of smaller churches rather than create one large congregation. In Ephesus Paul used the hall of Tyrannus, but for public discussions. Meanwhile he taught the believers ‘from house to house’ (Acts 20.20).
Constantly reproducing churches was the pattern of apostolic churches, but it was a pattern that gave fullest expression to the principles of Christian community. The household model is in some way defining of church. The church is the household of God (Eph. 2.19-22, others). The ability of a potential leader to manage his household reflects his ability to care for God’s church (1 Tim. 3.4-5). For NT Christians the idea of ‘church’ was synonymous with household and home. (90).

No slavish adherence to homes…the point is that, as they grew, the apostolic churches became networks of small communities rather than one large group, to safeguard apostolic principles of church life. It matters little whether these small groups are called churches, home groups or cells, as long as they are the focus for the life and mission of the church. (91)

Small communities create a simplicity that militates against a maintenance mentality: there are no expensive buildings to maintain or complex programs to run. They determine a style that is participatory and inclusive, mirroring the discipleship model and table fellowship of Jesus himself. One of the key expressions of NT ecclesiology is ‘one another’.
Many are unenthusiastic about church planting because of assumptions that big is better. But the household model of NT practice was no accident. (91)

Church planting and the renewal of the church
Good church planting is crucial to the health of the wider church. Good church planting forces us to re-ask questions about the gospel and church; to re-invent churches that are both gospel-centered without religious tradition and relevant without worldly conformity. Far from weakening a sending church, church planting is a vital opportunity to re-focus the life of the church on the gospel. The identity of the sending church should radically change. It cannot continue as the same church or repeat the same program. It must look again for new leaders to emerge. It must ask all over again how it will reach its neighborhood with the gospel. (93)

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul reflects on what constitutes good church planting. The key thing is that the gospel is at the heart of church planting. The Corinthian church plants had lost sight of the gospel. They were concerned with human power and wisdom. They were dividing over secondary issues. Paul puts the gospel of Christ crucified back at the heart of the church and church planting.
Those whose primary concern is church can too easily get absorbed with the internal dynamics or structures of the church so that getting the church community life ‘right’ becomes the priority.
Church planting is part of normal church life. At present church planting carries a certain mystique. Church planters are portrayed as a unique kind of rugged pioneer. But we need to create a culture in which transplanting is normal. Every local church should be aiming to transplant and raise up church planters. (94-5)

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