So much of the discussion of church planting focuses on gathering the fruit without first deepening the roots. A flourishing church comes to life when there are people who have come to die. In the words of Jesus, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
As I have been reflecting on the church planting process, I have concluded the following: a well-planted church is the fruit of a well-planted gospel that is the fruit of a well-planted life.
As missionaries, we are called to go and plant our lives as those who have been sent to dwell. We come to a city and a people with the mindset to establish deep roots, make long-term investments, and seek the welfare of the city, not merely live as consumers of its goods and services. A well-planted life knows the soil (the people and culture) in which it is planted (often called cultural exegesis). The ground is cultivated and plowed through development friendships, loving neighbors, and building partnerships. Through and incarnational witness that demonstrates the love of God in acts of mercy and a robust orthopraxy reveals that indeed we want to be a city on a hill that cannot be hidden that they might see such good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.
The fruit of a well-planted life is that the soil has been cultivated for the purpose of planting the gospel. The gospel seed is the power of God unto salvation–indeed the power to transform lives, families, and communities when the kingdom of God is established in the hearts of men. The renewal our community desperately needs does not come from deeds of mercy (although they are important) but from the message of mercy–the gospel word. Like well-carved grooves in a harvest field, a well-planted life provides a pattern for faithful gospel proclamation in the soil that has been watered and fertilized through a life of sacrifice and benevolence.
The church is comprised of those in whom the gospel seed has borne fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold. Jesus is the ultimate church planter, and it is God who determines the increase. At the same time, however, a well-planted life dedicated to a well-planted gospel is the means that God uses to establish His church (“servants through whom you believed”). The church is not a machine or manufacturing plant that if you have all the parts and components that all you have to do is turn on the switch and it “works.” The church belongs to God, not to innovation or church growth professionals. It is formed by the gospel, not by an expensive marketing plan. It is a community birthed as the fruit of the gospel that has been planted by those on mission.
A missional Christian will plant their life and give it away for the good of the gospel. The church ought to be inherently gospel-centered because it is the natural outgrowth of it having been planted. What we need are not abbreviated timelines but and enduring passion to give ourselves for the advance of the gospel among a people. What we should hope for is the reign of Christ through the gospel word established by the power of the Spirit in a counter-cultural community which lives as a corporate witness and instrument of renewal and transformation. Mission serves the gospel; the gospel establishes the community; the planted community lives to fulfill the mission of God.
This is the process as I have come to understand it. Can we honestly expect abundant fruit in a well-planted church without deep roots of a well-planted life? Can we expect to experience a church to flourish without a well-planted gospel? We need to go deep, pray hard, and rely on the Spirit to bring life to dead bones.
May the soil in which we are called to plant the church be the soil in which we are happy to die.