Live blog 5: Missional Church Planting conference

Communications Staff — May 12, 2009

Speaker: Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research.

Stetzer began with some concluding thoughts from his final session yesterday.

Jesus’ mission is our mission

We don’t need to go searching for a mission. We need to go and find God’s mission and join Him on it.

  • To serve: Luke 4:18-19

Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor. He reached out to the marginalized. If the heart of your church plant does not match the heart of Jesus then are you are doing the right thing?

Evangelicals can’t speak of Jesus and not speak of justice, but at the same time we can’t speak of justice and not speak of Jesus.

Evangelicals have not been good at pursuing justice and carrying for the poor, marginalized and oppressed.

Consider the great commandments: Love God and love neighbor. You want lost people to know that you are about loving God and loving people.

  • To save: Luke 19:10

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.

‘Your church plant is not being formed only to care for the poor, marginalized and oppressed. It is being formed to reach lost people with the Gospel. When you are planting a church, reaching the lost is a focal purpose. When you are planting a church, you don’t have any saints to edify: you are seeking to reach those who are far from Christ.’

Consider the great commission: Jesus told His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe everything that He commanded them.

‘Churches are not generally known for either of these: the great commandments or the great commission.’

Just saying ‘Preach the Word and love people’ is not enough. You have to learn about the culture you are in, seek the best way to reach out to them and reach out to them. Just training people to reach out to others is also not enough. You have to model reaching out to the lost.

Obstacles to reaching lost people in the culture

  • Tradition

People stumbling on the obstacle of tradition say, ‘We can’t do it this way, because we haven’t done this before.’ Or ‘We need to do what worked 10, 20 years ago, only do it better.’

‘If your church reflects past culture more than Gospel transformation then you are probably reflecting traditionalism more than transformed living.’

  • Technique

This obstacle is, ‘If I do it like this person or these people, then I will be successful.’ Stetzer said he has fallen prey to this obstacle in the past. ‘I thought if I got the right trick, then I could plant a church.’

Techniques can be tools, but when you think techniques are the answer and you focus on them, then they are an idol. Often times, people fall in love with someone else’s community or church plant and they try to replicate that. This can happen at church planting conferences.

Don’t get obsessed with techniques; instead be obsessed with Jesus and being on His mission.

Five steps to planting a church

1. Calling from God

You need a calling from God and that calling is to a people.

‘If you plant a church without a distinct calling from God then you will quit. I think the phrase ‘called to the ministry’ is unhelpful. If you use that language, it makes sound like other people are not called to ministry and God expects all people to do ministry. But I do believe in a calling from God to be a pastor.’

People in American Christianity talk about being called to preach. That is why pastors move around so much. Someone comes around offering them a position at a larger church and they say yes because that is an opportunity to preach to more people.

‘Instead, if you are called by God to an office and to a people, then you will invest in those people.’

2. Exegeting the community

Some people you just need to exegete the text. You need to exegete the text, but you also need to exegete the community. You need to be an expert on the community you are going to minister to.

You also need to know some of the sins in the community (consider Paul on Mars Hill in Acts 17). Then we need to speak against the idols in our culture and show how the Gospel trumps them.

3. Examining ways God is working in similar communities

If you are working in a church in a rural context, don’t go to the city to learn how to better reach the community.

4. Finding God’s unique vision for your church

What has God called you to do? Who has God called you to be? Be who God has called you to be.

5. Adjusting that vision as you learn the context

Often people start a church with a vision and they never change that vision even when they need to. You will learn more about people and the culture you are in as you spend time there. When that happens you need to adjust your vision.

As a church plant, I think you need to require people to re-covenant every year. They need to rejoin the church every year. And I would rethink the vision every year.

External cultural forces can hinder mission, but sometimes that is okay

There are some issues that hinder mission and cause you to be out of step with your culture, but in step with the Bible. You need to be out of step with the culture on these issues. One example would be homosexuality. You could be more culturally relevant and less biblically faithful if you wanted to. You don’t want to do that.

Gender roles is another issue. I believe firmly in complementarianism. I have lost people from churches because of my stance on this issue, which I think is important because it goes back to the image of God. There are dozens or other issues like this.

External cultural forces want you to move away from hard issues. But all the denominations that have done this are the denominations that are shrinking today.

The way that we can reach a culture that disagrees with us on stances on such issues is to show our love for them by serving them.

Internal cultural forces can hinder mission

As movements and denominations gain more traction and gain more of a foothold in a culture, they become more dignified. Such movements go from being based among the poor and destitute to being dignified and culturally acceptable. When ‘dignified’ people see undignified people planting churches, they look down their noses at them.

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