I want to raise a question today: why church planting? Why are we spending time, energy and effort investing in church planting? Why do we in the Excel Leadership Network emphasize church planting so much? There are plenty of internal needs to be dealt with so why church planting?
For an answer to that why question I’d like to turn to Acts chapter 13. Our whole Church Planting philosophy and Excel strategies come from Acts 13. We’re about setting apart and supporting high level leaders. But that passage also tells us why we must continue to devote ourselves to outreach and planting:
In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul…
Let me pause here to say what an awesome church they had in Antioch. This was arguably the best church ever. Seriously. The church started in Jerusalem, but Acts 11 tells us that the Antioch church put Christianity on the map.
The disciples were first called “Christians in Antioch.”—Acts 11:26 (NASV)
It was an incredible church. Can you imagine being in a church where Barnabas was the lead dog. That church was great before Barnabas got there, but can you imagine how encouraging that congregation must have been. Can you imagine the giving campaigns they had in Antioch? Dave? It was a generous church—Barnabas was the leader and he came on the scene in Acts 4 because he sold land and gave all the money to God’s work.
The Antioch church was the first multi-cultural church. Before Christianity was a Jews-only deal. But the Antioch church changed all that—they welcomed Gentiles. And there was Simeon who was nicknamed Niger, which means “black.” Lucius was from Cyrene, which is in Lybia, Africa—maybe he was one of the founders of the church in Acts 11. And Manaen, who was Herod’s foster brother. Josephus has some amazing things to say about Manaen, and I suspect he had some interesting stories.
Then there was Saul, soon to be Paul. Can you imagine being in a church where the Apostle Paul was on staff? This was the church where Paul did his internship—can you imagine the excitement in that church. It was growing like crazy, things were happening, everybody was hearing about it and they must have felt like staying together forever.
But God says:
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
It’s a great church, but God says, “Send off Barnabas and Saul to plant some churches.” We’re not going to even think about becoming inward-focused. Set apart and support these guys for planting.
And so they did.
So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.—Acts 13:1-3 (NIV)
So, why church planting?
Church Planting is God’s primary strategy for kingdom expansion.
Peter Wagner says church planting is the most effective tool for evangelism. And Acts 13 says it is God’s primary strategy for kingdom expansion. Find leaders, train them up, then send them off to plant. It is the primary strategy for expanding God’s kingdom.
As I read the book of acts I only see three models for expansion. There’s the Jerusalem method in Acts 8; the Antioch method in Acts 13; and the Corinthians method in Acts 18.
In Acts 8 we see the Jerusalem method for expansion:
A great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.—Acts 8:1 (NIV)
Persecution is one strategy for church reproduction. Scattering because of suffering really works for outreach. Look at China or Cuba.
Maybe we should simply pray, “God we really want to make an impact so will you please allow some sort of horrific, terrible tragedy and suffering to hit us. We are too complacent and set in our ways, so really let us have it God so we will scatter and be forced into expanding your kingdom!”
I vote “No” on the Jerusalem method. If God wants to do that, he is God, so okay. But if I have a choice, I would like to pass.
In Acts 18 we see the Corinthians method for kingdom expansion:
But when they opposed and insulted him, Paul shook the dust from his clothes and said, “Your blood is upon your own heads—I am innocent. From now on I will go preach to the Gentiles.”—Acts 18:6 (NLT)
I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.”—Acts 18:6 (NLT)
This is the Earl Weaver model. Earl Weaver was the manager for baseball’s Baltimore Orioles for many years—so many years that for decades he held the record for being thrown out of baseball games more than any other manager or player. One time he was asked if there was a trick to getting thrown out. Was there a magic word or words that would automatically get him ejected? And he admitted, “One approach worked every time. If I really wanted to get tossed, I would slowly stroll out to the umpire. I’d look him in the eyes and simply ask, ‘Are you going to get any better, or is this it?’” That got me ejected every single time.”
This is the fig tree model. You’re not doing anything? Boom! May you never bear fruit again!
The Corinthian prayer is, “Dear God, we suck. We’re not doing a dang thing to reach people, so will you just curse us or better yet, just wipe us off the face of the earth. Seriously, we’re basically just in the way. So, smite us and be done with it, in Jesus’ name, Amen!”
Again, I vote “No!” I don’t like option one or option three. I propose the Antioch method. I suggest we set apart and support high level leaders. I recommend we continue to put time and energy and effort and money into finding high level leaders and supporting them in church planting.
Now I don’t know if the Antioch church raised any questions with God. I don’t know if they pushed back and said, “But God, Barnabas and Saul? Barnabas is not only our pastor, he’s out top giver. Saul has the potential to do great things here in Antioch. Sending them off would be too expensive. And what about us? What about our needs?”
I don’t know if they asked those questions. But I do know this. They didn’t let those questions stop them from God’s primary strategy for kingdom expansion.
Folks, we’re putting time and energy and effort and staff and cash into church planting. Let’s refuse to be stopped. Let’s continue on in the Acts 13 method of kingdom expansion.