Do We Need "Church Planters"?
Saturday Morning, January 2, 1999
Here are some thoughts responding to a slew of questions about the gift of “church planters.” Below is a cut-n-paste merging of several letters and conversations with folks from a number of places…
“As we’ve reviewed reading material (from various sources) currently available regarding the ‘beginning’ of a local assembly of Believers, one thing is emphasized over and over again. This is the concept that success can ONLY be had when there is a planter. This is pretty disheartening to us, as we have no planter. If Father’s heart is for us to have eternal life, and ‘eternal life is to know Him,’ then isn’t a true body of believers simply a collection, or coming together of those who have seen (a revelation of) their Lord? If any collection of people wants to chase Him, desires to have Him, and is willing to follow Him, isn’t that a ‘church’—planter or no planter?
“However! I also have to admit that we have many, many problems in our band of folks here. Our group is really quite immature with lots of reactions and suspicion. Many (though not all) have been badly hurt in religious situations previous to coming together outside of the institutional setting. Sometimes things don’t look very saintly around here. There are folks that are lazy, and others with out-of-control families. Some like to dominate, and with others you would have to wonder if there is anything inside of them at all. Some are friendly and ‘would give you the shirt off their backs’’—but are very shallow, at best. Some have agendas or talents or knowledge that they want a stage for. Others just want to do something spiritual while maintaining their worldly lifestyles—and WITHOUT anyone saying anything or touching it, or intruding into their evenings or hobbies or occupations. Others may be in love with Jesus (everyone seems to be when we’re worshipping, don’t they?)—but the fact that they have no interest in living any closer than twenty miles to other saints makes me wonder what is really most important to them. Are they seeking first the KINGDOM (the expression of His Reign in His People), or just adding some form of weakly ‘fellowship’ to a health food and home school lifestyle—with time, attention, and affection dominated by their own biological family units? I know that’s definitely not what Jesus taught us to do.
“SO, isn’t all of that really a sign of a lack of devotion to Jesus, rather than a need for a ‘church planter’? What good will a ‘church planter’ be if people aren’t really sold out for Jesus anyway? And if they are sold out for Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit, then we wouldn’t need a ‘church planter’ at all, would we? So, in either case, how would it matter if we ‘had one’ or not??”
Great question. Very important. I only have a few moments to offer some additional thoughts to you, but hopefully this will be helpful.
YES, the gift of apostle is very important in God’s Plan for a local assembly. Especially if many are lukewarm or confused or wandering. And especially if many are on fire for Jesus! Apostles are still extremely important!! The best masons, carpenters, electricians, and plumbers in the galaxy cannot build a house without the additional gifts related to seeing the design of the house in that locale. Paul called it the gift of “architect.” This gift can “see” how it all fits together. This gift helps give the other Believers the freedom to develop and use their gifts. The “apostolic” gift helps the other gifts to not step all over each other “laying dry wall before the plumbing is installed.” It really is an essential gift. Sure, folks can be Christians and enjoy Jesus and be saved and pray and worship together without this gift. You could compare this to the Jewish “place of prayer” by the river—where Paul looked for Jews who were “two or three gathered” in a city. This was where Paul found Lydia and a few others in Philippi. But an Ekklesia, a “Lampstand,” is a different matter. That gift of architect is extremely important if we want a Home for Jesus, a Bethany where He can truly rest, rather than having to fight His way through carnality day and night.
The truth is, most folks, even if messy and worldly in their current lives, would change and give up their worldly priorities, their early bedtimes (when necessary for Higher things), their selfish habits and spending, and their family idolatry and other stuff…IF they had something clear in front of them to live FOR.
“REPENT!” Why? “FOR THE KINGDOM IS AT HAND!”
“The people cast off restraint!” Why? “For lack of REVELATION.”
Some people are surely religious pretenders that don’t WANT everything to belong to Jesus. Jesus will do as a figurehead, or a genie-in-a-bottle. But they “won’t have this Man to be KING over them.” However, there are many folks that are only messing around in mediocrity because they don’t have a revelation of all that can be! They “cast off restraint” and live like carnal men because they can’t SEE it. They don’t repent because they don’t experience much of the Kingdom “at hand.” Guess what? The Foundational gifts help folks make it that were meandering, and exposes those that just look good on the outside, but don’t “love the Light.” Without these gifts, it’s not too likely that these things will be resolved very well or very quickly—if at all.
(By the way, I don’t find “church planter” to be a reasonable or spiritually sound translation of the gift now often referred to in writings on the subject. I certainly DO understand why some would want to get away from the intimidating word that is translated/transliterated “apostle”—but “church planter” is far from the mark. It is too incomplete, and somewhat misleading, since the twelve were not primarily church planters, but were clearly apostles.
There is much more to being an architekton, a “wise master builder” than simply “planting churches.” There is a difference in how Paul expressed his Gifting, and how Peter, for example, expressed his. But in every case, “church planting” was not the primary issue or even the focus. It was often the product of what they were doing, or the starting place of what they were about to do, but not the goal. For that reason, calling this gift “church planter” instead of apostle, simply because a lot of folks are uncomfortable with this word, isn’t a great idea. It is too limiting. Jesus gave glorious new meaning to the word apostolos, as He did ekklesia, agape, and numerous other words that existed in His day. While we are NOT speaking of capital “A” Apostle—the Twelve—in what follows, I don’t want to trivialize or minimize anything God intends when He speaks of apostles, little “a,” either.)
Now, letting the Scriptures speak,
“He is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the shepherds and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ, until we come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature and full grown in the Lord, measuring up to the full stature of Christ.
“Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or because someone has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth. Instead, we will hold to the truth in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (Ephesians 4:11-16).
To be perfectly honest, no matter what we’d want to believe about it, these gifts are essential for about nine different extremely important things to every sincere Believer. This “list” of incredible things to be gained, mentioned in the scriptures above, is the result of interaction with these “Gifts” mentioned in the first verse. HOW does one become “no longer an infant”? HOW does one grow into “the full measure of the stature of Christ” and become useful to God by being able to do their “works of service”? Not by personal desire or personal commitment, but by relationship with the gifts that Jesus ascended on High to give to the Church. (Obviously this is not referring to the original Twelve in this Scripture, since He chose those twelve before He “ascended on High.” There is much more that could be said to make this point about the necessity of the present-day Gift, if He would give it, but we won’t delve into that subject at this time.) This apostolic Gift (Gk. apostolos) will be needed “until” (Gk. mechris) we all reach unity of the faith, and all the other wonders mentioned. That would certainly include our generation. No doubt about it.
And the troublesome situations you mentioned certainly would be much helped and eventually resolved (one way or another) by involvement of the gifts that lay Foundations (Eph. 2, 1Cor. 3)—“the apostles and prophets.” This, of course is not about the charismatic movements’ versions of gifts: bending spoons, memorizing birthdays, and stained-glass voices prophesying flattery or doom. “Church planting” is not the issue, really, either. But the GIFTS mentioned, “first apostles, second prophets, then teachers,” are necessary for the nine or so amazing and wonderful things God has listed. “Two or three gathered” can have a measure of good stuff going on. However, you will also find heartache, confusion, leaven, domineering flesh, and a bunch of other stuff—that can rarely ever really be resolved without these Gifts being involved. I wish it weren’t that way, but it is. Both scripturally, and experientially.
Let me give you an example from the world. A guy named Archimedes discovered, around 250 B.C., what is referred to as “the lever.” This “device” allowed a man to move objects weighing many times a man’s weight, from one place to another. He is quoted as saying, “Give me a lever long enough, and a place to stand, and I can move the entire world!” THIS is the awesome Gift of God in the “foundation of the apostles and prophets.” When a Foundation is laid in a relationship with Foundational, architectural gifts there is Spiritual “leverage” to move the ugly, complicated, unSpiritual problems that inevitably come up. There is a place to stand to resolve the issues and the challenges of daily life in the church. And they will come up! The apostle lays, as no other gift can, a foundation of “obedience of the faith.” Then, when the storms come, the house will stand. The gates of hell will not prevail. Now we can find answers. Now the “impasses” don’t separate God’s People. No longer is the only choice: “agree to disagree.” What a pathetic curse that would be.
When the Foundation of Jesus and “obedience of the Faith” is laid, the teens will NOT be lost to the world, and will NOT “sow their wild oats.” This is an incredible rarity, instead of the norm. There won’t be constant problems with out-of-control children, manipulative women, and spineless (or dictator-like) men. You won’t find yourself wondering if those that are part of the “fellowship” are even truly in love with Jesus and consecrated to Him. In most situations, without these gifts, you won’t even know if half of the folks in “the fellowship” lead worldly lives. There isn’t enough mutual daily relationship to even know. Leaven can easily coexist, against God’s clear command, in such a disconnected environment. Crisis after crisis, leaven galore—and little of it can be solved. (And nothing can be solved with legalism, obviously.)
This is the dilemma usually encountered when a group of Believers does not have involvement with the Gifts Jesus ascended to give to His church. Problem after problem. And you just can’t sing or preach or program your way out of those kinds of things. Nor can you ignore the sins and problems and claim no responsibility (“The Holy Spirit will solve it”) without defying many, many commands and teachings from God.
As was said earlier, though, these problems of ongoing sin and devastation will seldom happen in an environment of LIFE, and a True Apostolic Foundation. And when the problems do come up amongst the new Believers or those that move in, or those that temporarily lose their way (and this will happen), the problems can be solved with Grace. Why? Because the Scriptures say that on this Apostolic Foundation (assumed in the New Testament beginning days), folks will “admonish one another DAILY…so that none will be hardened and deceived!” Without a proper foundation, dealing with problems cannot happen without all sorts of weirdness and difficulties. With a Foundation, and relationship with the Gifts Jesus ascended on High to give to His Church, problems can be addressed and solved with grace and love and prophetic Wisdom. “From the least to the greatest” they will all love the Light, and all KNOW HIM!
So, you really should build some relationships with those that MAY be able to help lay a Foundation there. You’ll likely lose some of the people that are self-centered and worldly. There are always the types that you won’t be able to Work with: Ananias, Sapphira, Alexander, Hymenaeus, Achan, Simon the sorcerer, Elymas Bar-Jesus, Jannes and Jambres, the oozing hyper-spiritualists, Demas (“who loved this world”), Diotrephes (“who loves to be first”), Korah (“But WE have the Holy Spirit TOO!”), Balaam (who is motivated to “serve God” by personal gain), Cain (who has his own way of doing things, and is crazed with jealousy, and mocks the idea of being his brother’s keeper) [these last three are spoken of in the book of Jude as modern assaults on God’s Plan]. And others (Tit. 3:10; 1Cor. 5, etc.). (Please take the time to consider the spirit of each of the men that I’ve mentioned above, one by one. You’ll see real people like them again and again in the years to come.) However, when there is a “Foundation,” these sorts of issues can be resolved. Where there is not an Apostolic Foundation and relationship, there will be confusion, and worse.
Frankly, I wouldn’t write off the necessity of foundational Gifts as essential for ongoing corporate Life. They will actually help solve those sorts of problems that you mentioned. They will do it by inspiration, by example, by supernatural gifting to expose and strengthen, and whatever else is required. Biblically, spiritual growth is not simply about sincerity and commitment. Sincerity and commitment are greatly enhanced by the foundational gifts we’ve spoken of. And for those who are weak, but want to be fully given to Jesus, they will be tremendously helped (Eph. 4:11ff). The pretenders that love the world and the things of the world (while putting on a good external religious act, of course, and glad to “attend” something “cutting edge”) will hate these gifts. Remember Paul said, with good reason, “We are either the aroma of life, or we are the stench of death.” Does a man “love the Light” or “hate the Light” (to put it in Jesus’ Words)? His receptivity to the Gifts Jesus ascended on High to give to His Church…will be proportional to how much he desires Light to expose him in the inner man.
All over the world, literally, many, many attempts have been made to have meaningful corporate life. The motives are usually very pure: for Jesus’ sake, and for the sake of His lambs. Some approach it innocently, in a misguided way: “We’re all Christians and ‘love the Lord’ so we ought to be able to just love each other. Any good Christian should be able to have real church and real daily life. And we don’t want any more ‘clergy’!!”
Clergy, an official “head of the meeting” (in a religious building—or in a living room), an “official leader of the church”—these are all serious mistakes (made by most religious groups on earth!) But it is also true that the foundational GIFTS Jesus gives are incredibly important. Saul was a “clergyman” (king) of Israel. He was the official main person. Samuel was a “brother amongst brothers,” with a gift and relationship with God. He had no title, no office, no staff, no salary, no NOTHING. He was just a man who walked with God, and was gifted by God for the Tasks he was given. What a difference there was between Samuel and Saul, though both were “leaders of Israel.” One was assigned and empowered externally, and the other just did whatever he did. Did Israel need Samuel? Of course Israel was infinitely better off with his gifts available to them. They would never know how much they needed him. But, a gift can never be replaced with a “position,” as Israel attempted to do with Saul. Clergy? System? Scheduled visits of God? Gimmicks? NO, NO, NO!!!
Well, I’ve already said that I’ve never seen or heard of a, “We all have the Holy Spirit, so it’s my turn” group of folks prospering for very long. “Let’s make every Tuesday meeting ‘African-American Day’ where only they can talk. And then Thursday can be Ladies’ Day. And Friday will be ‘Happy Hour’ where people are only allowed to say ‘happy’ things. And, of course, when ‘revelation comes to the second’ (1Cor. 14:30), he’ll have to remember if he already has used up his five minute allotment for the week. There are rules that must be considered—before he decides if he can obey God and speak up and let Life flow from His relationship with Jesus and the saints.” I think it’s obvious that these silly things bear no resemblance to the apostolic and biblical story. They won’t be needed when Jesus is Reigning and His Gifts are finding their place, on a daily basis. Meetings are just “extra” anyway. Meetings are not the central feature of what Jesus has brought from Heaven to earth. Meetings are simply the overflow of what is already happening, daily, from house to house and workplace to workplace and errand to errand and chore to chore.
Days and years on end, those who are related intimately to architectural gifts are free to love Jesus, desirous of Light, and protected from the ambition and flesh of men. Given the chance to have relationship with Gifted men and women, and inviting them (as Epaphras did with Paul in Colosse) to have authority in their midst, I’d highly recommend the nine or so things in Ephesians 4 to anyone! (Be assured, though, that they will NOT function as mere men do as they exercise authority, or anything even close to that.)
Many are too ashamed to send some from “the household of Chloe” after Paul when the problems come. They have often been “blackmailed” by those with something to lose, locally. “You’re not going to call him again, are you? Shame on you. We can handle it—don’t always be calling them—we all have the Holy Spirit. You’re just being weak, and not trusting Jesus.” This is the song that some will sing that don’t love the Light and don’t respect the fact that GOD set it up to intertwine Gifts across the miles. Pride is a big problem. Why did the folks in Corinth and “the household of Chloe” feel so comfortable traveling many miles to give Paul a very detailed account of all the problems in Corinth? Because it was GOD’S Plan to utilize these Gifts to build up and protect His Body! The neglect of the Gifts He has given to help solve the problems will allow unnecessary tragedy in our lives and environment, more often than not. Whenever we refuse to call on those gifts that can help us (out of pride or laziness or man-pleasing or lack of understanding), the unnecessary harm to the Body of Christ, to teens, to young children, to marriages, to the neighborhood is very sad. Let’s not be afraid of the Ways God has set out to help His People! Remember this: GOD HIMSELF chose this Plan (Ephesians 4 gifts) for helping His People prosper. Why should we be ashamed or afraid of it?
Need to take off—the whole Church will be together in a few minutes…(Actually, now that I look at the clock, they’ve been together for a pretty good while now, and I’d like to get there.) Love to you!
P.S. Now finding disciples of Jesus with these foundational Gifts—Gifts that lead people toward Jesus and away from sin, and bring Vision and order to God’s House so that all the gifts can function on a daily basis in Life—now that’s a little harder than simply believing it’s necessary. But we have to start somewhere. (And a person that teaches about it—ain’t necessarily “it”! By their fruit you’ll know them, not by their leaves. Jesus said, “Wisdom is proved right by her children.” Look for real, living babies.)
Here’s the deal. If we’re not “asking the Lord of the harvest” because we don’t see the need, we’ve missed the starting place. PLEASE don’t “wait” on some ribbon-cutting ceremony, or for someone on a white horse to show up to be our hero and “plant” us. BUT, let’s at least, while we’re along the river worshipping, be asking that God would give us, or bring us, whatever “tools” are necessary to build His House in this location! And receive them as He provides. If they’re the real thing, they won’t push themselves on you, anyway. Only the pretenders are boastful and ambitious. Good night.