Church planting is 'biblical assumption'

OWASSO, Okla. (BP)--The overwhelming assumption of the New Testament is that local churches will plant other churches, Ed Stetzer said June 26 in the keynote address at the 26th annual Southern Baptist Founders Conference.

The director of LifeWay Research and LifeWay's missiologist in residence, Stetzer challenged pastors to avoid leading local congregations that are theologically sound but inwardly focused (a "cul-de-sac church") and encouraged them to wed orthodox theology with church planting.

The conference was held June 24-27 at Bethel Baptist Church focusing on the theme of "Lengthening the Cords & Strengthening the Stakes: Renewing and Planting Local Churches." Founders was formed in 1982 to promote Reformed theology.

"What was normal in the New Testament has become abnormal today," Stetzer said of church planting. "The New Testament church was always multiplying and the church today must always be multiplying. Mission is to be wrapped together with good theology.... God is a sending God."

Preaching from Luke 10:1-12, Stetzer gave six principles that undergird church planting:

-- Prayer is essential to successful church plants. The proper place to begin a church plant is on one's knees, Stetzer said, but many church planters have a tendency to shirk the duties of prayer because they are self-starters. When a person begins to pray for the place where he is going to plant a church, God will break his heart for that place, he said. A church planter must go where he has a deep love and concern for the people and not where the latest demographics predict a favorable outcome, Stetzer said.

-- Prayer flows into a radical reliance on God. All Christians are called to be on mission with God, Stetzer said, but the church has created a false three-tiered Christianity: lay people, those called to full-time ministry and those called to ministry but not called to missions. "We're all called," he said. "The only questions are 'Where?' and 'Among whom?' There is not a separate call to missions." Church planters must not wait until circumstances such as personal financial resources are right, but must radically depend on God, he said. "You will never have enough resources to plant a church," he said. "God will provide."

-- Church planting blesses a community. A church planter can go in confidence that God is already working in the hearts of some in that community, he said. Churches are to go and serve all the people in their communities and be a blessing to them, he said.

-- Build relationships and settle in. A church planter should become a part of the community which he serves and must build deep relationships, while preparing to stay for the long haul and engage the local people with the Gospel, Stetzer said. The planter will likely have to leave some of his own culture behind, especially if he plants in a place far outside his native territory, Stetzer said.

-- Meet needs and serve people. One of the means God sometimes uses to bring people to Himself is through Christians who meet practical needs of people in their community, Stetzer pointed out. Serving others often builds a bridge to the Gospel, he said. "Though salvation is entirely a work of the Lord, we have an obligation to use means," Stetzer said.

-- Church planters are announcing the kingdom of God. "When we plant churches, we are extending the boundaries where Christ reigns -- a church as a sign and instrument of the Kingdom of God. The world around us sees what the Kingdom of God looks like when visible saints express the love and life of Christ."

Stetzer concluded by challenging all church leaders to make sure their churches are involved in founding other churches. The task of church planting is not fundamentally a denominational function, he said, but is a function of the local church.

"Part of the problem is that we believe that church planting belongs to denominational agencies and not local churches," he said. "Less than five percent of SBC churches are mother churches. This is a movement that was birth from a missions movement. If you really believe the agenda of the Kingdom of God, if you want God's name and God's fame magnified, how can you not want to be a part of church planting?"

Jeff Robinson is a free-lance writer based in Louisville, Ky.

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