As I Was Saying

Don’t Plant a Church; Mobilize It

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

I’ve never seen anyone planting dandelion seeds. And yet, what many people consider to be “pesky weeds” seem to proliferate at the speed of light. Get up one day and the field that was green has turned yellow overnight. Every flower is a weed multiplier. So is every believer. Every Christ follower has the potential to be a multiplying agent for the kingdom. In fact, as the Diocese of London in the U.K. puts it in rolling out their new “Ambassador 2020” initiative, every believer is an ambassador for Christ ( http://www.ambassadors2020.org/about).

Yes, I know some are called to enter unknown territory to seed God’s kingdom in those places; to find out what God is up to and find ways of connecting; to be channels of hope and light in dark places. That is a specialized ministry, a calling given to those such as the apostle Paul, more contemporary missionaries, and other church planting (that is, starting a faith community of new converts in a new location) entrepreneurs. But those kinds of people account for less than 1 percent of the body of Christ. What about the rest? Are we called only to give money to fund the 1 percent (the ones we sometimes call church planters), or are we invited to live out our calling to be kingdom ambassadors?

Jesus’ strategy for kingdom building seemed to support the latter. His mandate for all believers to “disciple as we go” is a strategy that engages the whole church. Notice the intentional change from the familiar “Go, make disciples” (which is a mistranslation of the original meaning of the mandate given by Jesus to his disciples and by extension, all disciples).

I am of the opinion that somewhere in the organizing of our Christian faith into what we now know as Christianity, an organized religion, we have hijacked the intent of Jesus’ words in Matthew 28. I’m not for a moment suggesting that our missionary work (overseas) has been in vain. But I am suggesting that the mandate Jesus gave all of us has been inordinately appropriated by mission agencies, leaving the rest of the church increasingly disempowered and unmotivated to carry out this important kingdom building task.

Now, with the influx of so many foreign and diverse nonbelievers into North America, the work of missions has come home. So what do we do? We go to the familiar—make the work of home missions the domain of the specialist, a.k.a. the church planter. S/he is the one who is trained, empowered, commissioned, and paid to go into the world and plant churches. All this while the rest of the church (which is already in the world) sits idly by and watches this phenomenon unfold with muted interest, as if they live in two worlds: the institutional church and the world.

What we need is not more church planters but church mobilizers. If and when lay folk (yes, us believers) take our calling seriously to be Christ’s ambassadors in the spheres of life we engage with and to be the church in the world, there will be less need for specialist church planters. In fact, the term “church planting” seems a misnomer: a specialist going into an unknown area, finding a meeting space, gathering believers and putting together a team to create a church hardly seems to reflect a strategy of how the early church grew.

In many ways the decline of the western church, though seen as a crisis, seems to be a God-given opportunity to reexamine our whole approach to what church is and should be. We are moving to a situation not dissimilar to the early church, when excitement in sharing a simple transformational faith in Jesus and a genuine love for neighbor preceded the power, influence, and control of Christendom.

Believers sharing meals in their homes, sharing belongings and life with their neighbors and one another, praying and studying God’s Word in community seem to be more like the picture we see in Acts 2. What’s stopping us from modeling this scenario? I can list a few things. Can you?

About the Author

Chris Pullenayegem worships at Friendship Community Church in Toronto, Ont. With an academic background in law, psychology, and change leadership, Chris helps congregations discover and fulfil their God-given potential, especially in rapidly changing environments.

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