14 August, 2014 Peter Roberts
But how do we actually do it? Over the last few years I have had the privilege of observing a few church plants and reading some interesting books on the topic. Church planting seems to have become the new cool thing to do and, because of its raised profile, I fear it has become “over specialised”. Are we beginning to think that only special people, with special gifts, who have read special books, and been to special conferences, can plant churches? I could be way off, but I wonder if many of us think “Church planting is for ‘special’ Christians”.
Last year I started leading a small team planting a church in an urban area of Liverpool. In many ways we are an odd bunch and feel very ordinary (myself especially). We are not the most gifted evangelists; we are not originally from our area and we each struggle with things in our Christian lives. We are not special. We, like you, want God to be glorified by our non-Christian neighbours and friends coming to know the joy of putting their trust in Jesus and following Him.
So how can ordinary people plant a church? In one sense, we can’t; it is the Lord Jesus who will build His church. Churches only experience real growth through our triune God graciously being at work amongst them. That being true, I wish to suggest three common themes that mark healthy church plants.
How can ordinary people plant churches?
1. Genuinely love people
Most people in the UK are suspicious of evangelical Christians. For many, Christianity is at best irrelevant and at worst bigoted. Our culture is, in general, suspicious and cynical when it comes to the Gospel. Most people don’t actually have a Christian friend. Over the last year I have seen many Gospel opportunities open up as we have got to know and love people. As we genuinely love our neighbours, over time, many of their misconceptions begin to melt away.
A year ago our team moved into Everton to actively try to get to know non-Christians and to love the people around us. We have found that working together with non-believers on projects which are for the common good of the community is slowly producing inquisitiveness to the Gospel and an openness to consider coming to our church plant.
2. Use everyday situations to share the Gospel
“If all we do are good works among people, then we point to ourselves and our charitable acts. People will think well of us, but not of Jesus Christ.” Tim Chester
In the quote above, Chester helpfully shows the necessity of Gospel proclamation. We are not helping people eternally if we simply help them but never speak. It is important to genuinely love people and it is vital that we share the good news of Jesus with them. We need to gossip the Gospel.
Ask God to give you opportunities and boldness to talk with people around you about Jesus. Seek to understand how God in the Gospel will satisfy their deepest needs and desires. Then keep your ears open. As you talk with people, try to understand what they are living for. Help them to see how God in the Gospel offers them something better. Over the last six months we’ve been studying Mark’s Gospel as a team and I am enjoying being able to share what we have been learning with my non-Christian friends. I would really recommend spending some time re-reading a Gospel, reminding yourself of who Jesus is and what he did, and then using those stories and truths as you speak with friends.
3. Create ways for people to experience Christian community
How can we see God? A friend of mine recently reminded me that the New Testament offers two answers.
“No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made Him known.” John 1:18
“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4:12
If we want people to see God, then we need to introduce them to our Lord Jesus – God in skin. But we should also give them opportunities to observe Christians loving one another. God has created His church to reveal something of Himself to a dying world. As Christians love one another, God lives in us. Christians serving and loving one another is a beautiful thing; we should give non-Christians the chance to observe and experience it. As churches and small groups we should be willing and able to invite non-Christians along by making things intelligible and accessible for them. And as we do, we should be praying that God would reveal Himself through His Son, and that people would begin to sense His beauty as we love one another.
It’s not rocket science; nor is it a magic bullet; nor is it special or impressive – but I am praying that it will spur us on to evangelise our nation through ordinary people planting Gospel churches which are extraordinary.