Since we have covered The Sending of God and how he calls, prepares, and sends out workers; and have discussed in a podcast “How God Makes a Worker”, I thought it only fitting to also end this series of posts with the idea of “planting” or laying a foundation for the church.
This, along with the sending, has almost been totally lost in our modern day thinking and application of how we start churches. Yet the foundation is everything! The beginning of a church will greatly determine the far reaching future of that church.
First, let’s look at the scriptural meaning of the word “planting”.
I realize that this term has been misused and misapplied by many organizations in the past. It’s usually used by missionaries or missionary agencies to denote the beginning of a “church” in the field. However, the apostle Paul never went on any “missionary journeys”. The idea of missions, missionaries, and missionary organizations and agencies are an invention of the institutional modern day church. The only thing we see in the story of the New Testament is the Work and the Church. The Work is those who are called, prepared, and sent out to preach Christ and plant churches. The Church is the universal term used by Christ in Matt. 16 to denote all believers in Christ. The churches (local) are the groups of believers that were planted by the workers in different localities. Christ referred to the churches (local) in Matt. 18.
1.) “Planting” is a scriptural term and is even defined by Paul in 1 Cor. 3:6-17. Here, Paul uses two images or types of “planting”. One is agricultural (planting and watering), and the other is architectural (foundation and building). In the context of this passage it is quite clear that he is using both images to say the same thing. In other words, planting is the same as laying a foundation. Watering is the same as building upon the foundation. But it’s very clear that the foundation (in both natural life and in the church) comes first! You can’t have a very good building without a foundation. Also, you will not have a very healthy tree if you don’t first plant it into the ground!
Also, it’s very important that in this passage Paul tells us what (or who) the foundation actually is: Jesus Christ! This is not referring to doctrines, teaching, theological systems and so forth. The foundation is actually the Person of Jesus Christ, that is, his very life! There can be no other foundation if we are going to have a church according to the mind of God. Also, as a quick sidenote, Paul stated clearly elsewhere that not only was the foundation he laid Christ, but the gospel he announced was also Christ (He Himself).
“… to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.“ (Col 1:27-28)
Now, I’m sure that you agree with what I have said so far. However, notice with me that both the planting and the watering were associated with certain individuals. “I (Paul) planted and Apollos watered.” Notice that individuals plant and water the church, not the church itself! Of course, these individuals are specifically called, prepared and sent by God to perform this task. This pattern holds true throughout the whole New Testament beginning with Jesus Christ Himself.
2.) We know that God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. It’s very important that our minds are renewed to function with His thoughts and His ways. If not, then we will make the same mistakes that Christianity has made in the past that have resulted in the man-made institutions.
God sends people to plant and water the church. There is no record of a church planting or watering itself. Even the new groups in Judea and Samaria (as a result of Saul’s persecution) were visited by apostolic workers for the purpose of laying a foundation of Christ alone (see Acts 8:14 and Acts 8-10). Now, of course, if there has been someone who has planted (laid a foundation) of Christ in that group then we definitely have no business coming to plant since Paul said that he never built upon another man’s foundation (Rom. 15:20). If the group has already been planted then I would ask the question: who was the person who planted it?
3.) Starting a group is not the same thing as planting a church. Not even close! People start Christian groups all over the place all the time. But do these groups have the true foundation of Jesus Christ (and only Christ)? According to the New Testament this can only happen if someone has been called, prepared, and sent to do that work. Unfortunately, this is very rare and that is (in a large part) why we are in the mess that we are in.
* However, we see in the New Testament story that there were some that were used to help “pre-plant” a church, that is, these folks would open their home, invited people to meet with them, and then call for the help of an experienced apostolic worker to actually plant the church. An example of this is the couple Priscilla and Aquila.
(Please understand that we do not use any of these words carelessly or lightly. They have been tested and proven in the scriptures and throughout history.)
So, what I have written above, in conjunction with those blog posts that I referenced, should give enough explanation. But if it doesn’t, then I also recommend the following books that cover this topic much more in depth:
The Church and the Work by Watchman Nee
The Stewardship of the Mystery by T. Austin-Sparks
Finding Organic Church by Frank Viola