Church Growth, Church Planting, Church Leadership, Church ____________ (fill in the blank)

In all of these titles, there is a common word which fits them in the same arena: church.  Yet the church in all these titles is descriptive or attributive. Church is penultimate. Growth is ultimate. Planting is ultimate. Leadership is ultimate.

I don’t swim in the sea of literature pertaining to church growth or church leadership that much, but I have committed myself to learning as much as I can to be useful in the work of planting churches.  And while I know that people are not always conscious of what they are meaning when they use the words “church planting,” I have recently come under conviction that the church is often treated as an assumption to planting.  What concerns me in particular is how so often the planting (process) and the planter (leader) are the foci rather than the thing planted (the church).  To phrase it in a question, are the planters and the planting serving the church or vice-versa?

Regarding the planting, I often hear talk about methodologies, best practices, strategies and field-tested pragmatism.  These are not necessarily bad, but it seems that the church becomes a laboratory for mad scientists such that fail-proof planting can be almost guaranteed with or without God.  I know that sounds harsh, but how much literature, how many conferences, and how many conversations around church planting center more on “planting” than “church”?  Could the same be said regarding the planter? I recognize the huge importance of assessment, qualifications, experience, etc, but among the fraternity of church planters, there is culture created that could unintentionally focus on personality, charisma, and being cultured (or cool). The church planting experience can easily glorify the process and glamorize the personality so that it is who is leading and what they are doing that gets the attention, not what is being created.

Perhaps my concerns are unwarranted (and if they are, then will readily own them as such), but I cannot help but think that there is a real temptation for the church to take a back seat to planting.  After all, it is church planting. We have phrased the practice to emphasis us, our practice, and not the church.  Yet, in the mind of God, the church is ultimate, not us.  The planter and the planting are instrumental and dispensable; the planted is ontological and eternal.   It is for the church that Christ gave Himself (Eph. 5:25) and the primary theater where His glory is to be seen (Eph. 3:21).  According to the eternal purposes of God, the church unveils the manifold wisdom of God to rulers and authorities in heavenly places (Eph. 3:10-11).  And what we know about the church is that Jesus Christ is the supreme planter who, by His Word and through His Spirit, begets kingdom communities where His reign will have no end.

I love church planters.  I am loving the process of planting churches.  My concerns lay around the danger church planters face in relation to where we find themselves regarding Christ and His church.  We can be investing our lives into church planting which, apart from Christ’s supremacy, would be idolatry.  We should continually remind one another that we exist to serve Christ’s eternal purposes through His church that He is committed to building.  We labor as servants with the good seed of the gospel because He will bring the increase.  In essence, we are joining Jesus in planting church, not church planting.  With that in mind, we will continually remind ourselves that it is not about personalities, programming but a people Christ is forming together who God will use to make Himself known to those on earth as well as those in heaven.

Consider this short clip from Piper on the nature of church planting: