As we prayed for the men and women who are preparing to plant churches in North America at the end of Every Nation’s Boot Camp for church planters in Nashville, I was moved by their vision and desire to go to new cities to preach the Gospel, make disciples, and start new churches. Each has a story of encountering God in a deep, life changing way. Each carries a sense of calling from God.
I know the passion and I know the endurance they will need. We planted a church about twenty years ago through many challenging circumstances, yet a vision and sense of calling still burns strong in me because I can’t think of anything more fulfilling. It’s about Jesus and helping people encounter His truth and grace in a way that changes darkness into light, hatred into love, despair into joy, wayward wandering into holy wonder, and death into life.
When I look at the piece of the Berlin Wall my husband broke off in 1990 a few days before German reunification, I am challenged to believe that anything is possible. He and a fellow missionary were en route to Ukraine with a suitcase full of Bibles. After the wall came down, people were freely able to preach the Gospel in the former Soviet Union. While we were passionate to reach people who had lived through oppressive Soviet times with the hope and changing power of the Gospel, we were also firmly convinced that we should live there and help plant churches. This conviction helped us stay the course when a former mafia member made it his mission in life to shut us down and tried to do so for seven years.
In October we returned from Ukraine where we were glad to find that the churches, led by Ukrainians, are reaching young people and planting a church through starting a rehabilitation center. During a time of crisis due to the conflict in the east, the churches are vibrant. A leader in the church in Lviv, Ukraine who went through those early years with us told us on this trip, “It was good that we went through that trial.” The relationships forged during those years are priceless.
Why plant churches?
Jesus told us to go make disciples of all nations. God, who created us in His image, desires to restore us to right relationship with Himself.
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)
The most effective way to make disciples is to plant churches. When you blaze a trail, it’s hard work. You have to study the culture or city you want to reach and ask such questions as: What do they value? What is the predominant worldview? What are the greatest barriers to belief? And then you have to consider how you will engage people with the Gospel. Different models for church planting grow in popularity and diminish, but the end result must be a community of believers who follows Jesus and leads others to faith in Him. A church expert who spoke at the Boot Camp said, “I want to hold my models loosely and my Jesus firmly.”
When Paul went to Ephesus, he lectured publicly every day for two years. So many people turned to the living, true God through faith in Jesus Christ that the market for the idol industry dropped. People were truly converted and left their old patterns of worship. He planted a church through effectively and frequently engaging people with the Gospel in a way that captured their minds, their hearts, and dethroned their idols. This enraged the tradesmen who made their living from idol worship. When you’re effective, sometimes not everyone will welcome you.
After people responded to the Gospel, Paul nurtured them until they became mature in their faith.
“The thoroughness of Paul’s mission practice is that he was not content merely with evangelism and church planting but was concerned to build mature communities of believers who could think biblically through the ethical issues they faced . . .” Christopher Wright.
I’m glad to be in the company of trailblazers – men and women – who want to do the same. As a new generation goes out to plant churches, they will not be alone. They will benefit from experienced coaches and regional gatherings for pastors and church planters to help them succeed.