LAS VEGAS – I recently spent time in Southern California with 600 church planters and their wives during a Send Network Gathering. They are all planting churches in the Mountain and Pacific time zones.
If you could have been there in that room with those men and women of God who are joining in the mission of God, you would be so encouraged by what God is doing in North America and among our Southern Baptist family of churches.
On Sunday, March 19, our Southern Baptist family will recognize Church Planting Emphasis Sunday. It’s an important thing for us to recognize and remember. We’re in the season where our convention of churches is celebrating and giving to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering to fuel God’s activity across North America.
It is also important to note that as we recognize the importance of church planting in America and around the world, we also remember that the goal of church planting is not to focus on starting any one local, New Testament church.
As someone who has been involved in church planting for most of my adult life who just recently became the leader of Send Network, which is North America’s largest church planting network, it might surprise you to hear me say that. But it’s true. The goal is not the local church. The goal is to join in God’s activity of expanding His kingdom in cities and nations all over the world.
Many times, when people in North America think about planting churches, what they really have in mind is starting church services. A person or a group of people goes into an area, rents a facility, starts sending out mailers and launches worship services.
Now, it’s not that zero good comes from that model or that God hasn’t or doesn’t work through those circumstances, but there is a massive flaw to that missiological strategy. It is not the biblical model for church planting that we see in the New Testament.
When Jesus commissioned His followers, He did not instruct them to start churches. He commanded them to make disciples and promised that He would build His church. That’s exactly what we see Paul and others doing in the book of Acts as they travel on their missionary journeys. They enter a town or a city, start engaging the people of the city with the gospel, make disciples and then God births a church. When this happens, leaders are appointed and the church begins to send others out to follow the same pattern in order to multiply!
When my family moved out to Las Vegas more than 20 years ago to plant what became Hope Church, that was the model we followed. Throughout our time here, we emphasized the New Testament model to train church-planting missionaries and teams as we sent them out to plant churches throughout the western United States and around the world.
After transitioning out of the lead pastor position at Hope Church and into my role as president of the North American Mission Board’s Send Network, that’s the model we continue to use to train your missionaries and church planting teams as they go out to engage communities with the gospel, make disciples and plant churches that multiply.
By following the pattern in the New Testament that Jesus laid out for us, we join in God’s activity of expanding His kingdom. The early church carried out that plan, and 2,000 years later, it’s the same design that the church needs to follow today.
So, ultimately church planting is not the goal. The kingdom of God is the goal, and church planting is the God-ordained tool by which we see the kingdom of God expanding in cities and nations around the world.
As Send Network seeks to be a family of churches planting churches everywhere for everyone, we need as many churches, missionaries, and church planting teams as possible to engage in this work. Pastors and church leaders, I would encourage you to join in the effort with us as we seek first the kingdom of God in North America.