Friday, March 11, 2011

Church Planting in the 21st Century

I waa asked to write an article for the journal of a theological a seminary in Nigeria on church planting today. Here are my thoughts.

As we consider church planting in the 21st century, here is a very relevant quote relating to the issue from missiologist David J. Hesselgrave during a conference in Kyoto, Japan, in anticipation of the 21st century:

“And now as we meet together we stand on the threshold of a new century, indeed a new millennium. Never has the challenge been greater; never the church larger; never mission involvement more diverse; never the need for divine direction more evident. But one of the most important would be the missionary task of planting and growing New Testament churches.” ( David J. Hesselgrave, “Essential elements of church planting and growing in the 21st century.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 36 (January 2000):25.

But in order to be sure to have clarity in dealing with “church planting” in the 21st century let us define the word church and the word planting with some preliminary remarks about the biblical context for the concept of “planting.”

I. Preliminary Definitions and Remarks in Thinking through the Planting of new Churches.

What is a local church? A local church is a “gathering” where the Triune God is present. This meeting together has come about by God’s supernatural working and is composed of a group of baptized believers who meet regularly under the authority and teaching of God’s Word, celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and practice discipline according to biblical standards. This gathering has leaders who conform to God’s standards. They worship God, build one another up, and have a “yearning ” for lost people to be saved and enfolded into their midst.

What is church planting? The concept of “planting” a church comes from Paul’s concept of a new church beginning in Corinth. Speaking of this new church start, Paul states, “I planted, Apollos watered but God gave the growth” (1 Cor 3:6). The beauty of this description is that although church planting is done by God’s servants, the true work of church planting including growth comes from God. The first two verbs are in the aorist tense and the third verb in the imperfect. So Charles Williams translates this, “I did the planting, Apollos did the watering, but it was God who kept the plants growing.”

Furthermore, in the light of recent linguistic study of what is now called “verbal aspect” in Greek we learn that the two aorist verbs emphasize the background whereas the imperfect verb emphasizes the foreground. An Australian scholar states that the aorist gives as the “perfective aspect” or “the view from the outside” whereas the imperfect gives the “imperfective aspect” or “view from the inside.”

This may appear to some like an academic nuance but as we will see later, these exegetical insights give us a greater understanding of the role of the church planter in his mission and the greater role of God in his mission and how they relate together. Paul is saying here – if you look as an outside observer you see Paul and Apollos in church planting and watering but if you look with an insider’s viewpoint you see God. Now the context shows how true this is as Paul continues stating, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7 ESV ).

And this leads us to what is developing in church planting in the 21st century in the domain of understanding church planting theologically.

More in our next blog: