The term “church planting” has required some self-evaluation and re-clarification over the last few years because of its current buzz-word status. In the last three decades, virtually any church start, opening, or new location has been classified under the heading of “church planting”. This includes the organic small group meeting in a home that slowly grows to sustain a larger public service, to the opening of a full-service multi-site campus in a neighboring town. The experts in this field are split on how they define the missiological term “church planting”, but one thing is consistent – to plant something, it requires soil, seed, and water.
Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College and overall church planting guru, recently stated on a podcast, “Church planting involves sowing seeds in lostness, reaching people, and growing a church from there.” This, I believe, gets to the heart of church planting, or more specifically, the church planter.
The church planter is an invested and integrated member of his community. He works with, relates to, and interacts with others. He travels through neighboring towns, teaching the Gospel to non-believers and the un-churched. He looks over his ripe mission field with compassion. And he calls upon the Lord asking that workers be sent into the harvest (cf. Matthew 9:35-38).
Too often, we have assumed that a missionary is defined as one who is sent out on mission overseas or to a remote unreached people group, sacrificing their life of comfort to live among people in huts. This is true of the many faithful missionaries that have gone before us and still to this day serve in third world, tribal societies. But the term missionary is not exclusive to these courageous ministers of the gospel. They too are serving their communities, sowing seeds in lostness, and seek to gather communities of born-again followers of Jesus Christ. At the heart of a missionary is a church planter.
There is a disconnect in the American church over the terms missionary and church planter. It’s likely caused by a Christianity once established as the societal norm that unintentionally declared America “won” for the Kingdom. This mindset naturally, and nobly, created a desire to venture beyond our borders and seas to reach the rest of the world with the Gospel. Within the last four decades, large population centers across America have boomed, but the church has not kept pace.
Until now, the American church has lacked unified intentional strategies to reengage its own culture and society that has outgrown it in capacity and relevance. However, our strategies today remain severely under-supported and under-funded. Perhaps it’s because the data, research, and return on investment remains inconclusive in its long-term effectiveness. But this, I contend, is merely a first-world problem that emphasizes pragmatic and programmatic approaches to problem solving, which often leads to faulty measures of success in God’s economy of grace and redemption.
We need a paradigm shift. The American church needs to start seeing church planters as local missionaries who lead, train, and send out more missionaries – just like you.
Church, let’s come to terms that we’re out numbered and those disconnected from a local gospel-centered congregation are not walking in our doors or planning to come back anytime soon. Let’s acknowledge we live in a culture that has little to no understanding of who God is or His plan for redemption and restoration in Jesus Christ. Let’s admit we’ve spent more time behind closed doors throwing money at programs intended to “get them” in our doors over living as sent missionaries to their front doors. Let’s aggressively grow our missions’ budgets by spending less on programs and more on trained church planters and leaders. Let’s spend more time investing in the growth, renewal, and expansion of the Kingdom of God in every neighborhood and community across the country and globe. Let’s commit to serving, supporting, and funding God’s called and faithful leaders who are being sent on mission, wherever He chooses.
I’m thankful to be part of an organization like Reach Chicago that is eagerly leading the way in this vital, Kingdom-minded paradigm shift. Because at the heart of a missionary is a church planter, and at the heart of a church planter is a missionary.
I am a Pastor, teacher, and multi-talented leader of leaders whose calling is to inspire a generation in multiplying disciples of Jesus Christ by pioneering a transformational, gospel-sending movement through the local church for the renewal of our communities, culture, and world.
After 10 years as an accomplished Television Writer, Producer, Director & Editor, and multiple awards including two Emmy awards for my work in Chicago broadcasting, I made a bold career change to pastoral ministry. Now, I’m passionately leading and inspiring others in their journey to becoming intentional, life-long followers of Jesus Christ.
I blog about faith, life, culture, current events, and the church.
Here’s to our journey together!
Website for Matt’s Church, Restoration Church in Lake Zurich