Why planting movements are scary

Archie Poulos

A couple of weeks ago Michael Kellahan gave a glimpse of some of the great things he learnt at the Church Planting Conference at Moore College.

This week I have had the privilege of being part of the Masters course on Church Planting where over 20 brilliant pastors gathered and discussed aspects of church planting at the College. Over the next few weeks I want to mull over some of the issues with you.

In many parts of the world churches have moved on from attempting church planting to developing church planting movements.

Church planting movements, rather than seeking to develop a new congregation seek to create a momentum that keeps creating new church plants that spring up naturally and in many ways uncontrolled.

For example we heard the story from western Sydney of a Church Army evangelist began speaking with a man about Jesus while the man was walking his dog. The evangelist asked if he could visit and continue the conversation. When the evangelist turned up to continue the conversation he knocked on the wrong door, but the lady whose house it was keen to hear the good news. She was converted. Her husband did not share her faith but listened in as the evangelist discipled the woman. Soon her husband also came to faith. They then decided to invite some friends to join them as they learnt more about Jesus, and these friends gave their lives to Jesus too. After a few weeks the original couple began a Bible study in their home, with the hope that those converted will soon do the same in their homes with their friends.

This is an exciting story of the work of God. It is exhilarating to hear of the snowballing growth of the gospel.  But it is not controllable.

How can you ensure that true faith is taught in these Bible studies when it is new believers who lead the studies? What is the relationship between these new Bible study groups and the evangelist?

What can we do?

This problem is not new. Roland Allen, a missionary to China100 years ago, wrote that Mission organisations need to trust the Holy Spirit and let these movements spread.

While it is the Spirit of God who will watch over His people, it is still the responsibility of teachers to both teach the truth and correct error (See Titus 1-2). So what do we do?

I think the answer is obvious.

The evangelist, and people who have been Christians of greater maturity need to do "on the job training" with the new converts. Older Christians should apprentice/mentor/train/assist the fairly new believer as they share the gospel with their friends. That way we do not hinder the gospel growth, but we help to ensure truth is preserved.

I notice that often, because we don't stand beside people as they minister, but leave them to their own devices, we restrain them from doing any ministry until they are well trained: by which time they have lost their gospel enthusiasm, not to mention their non-Christian friends.

I'm all for Church planting movements, but not at the expense of standing beside and behind people as they speak the very oracles of God.