a. The Bible
The Church planter needs to have the right seed to sow, and that seed is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the message of the Scriptures from beginning to end. All of the Scriptures testify of Christ and so when the sower goes forth to sow, he goes bearing precious seed – the most precious seed of all – the seed of the Word of God in general and the seed of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in particular.
b. The correct doctrine of the Bible
It is vital that the church planter has the right view of Scripture. This is important for two reasons:
i. The Church planter is going to need to be able to defend the faith that has been once and for all delivered to the saints. This requires him to have confidence in the reliability of the Bible. In theological terms we speak of the inspiration and the inerrancy of Scripture. Each Church planter must believe in the full trust-worthiness and reliability and authority of the Word of God.
ii. The Church planter also needs to be convinced that the Bible is sufficient for the work God has called him into. He must be sure that it is adequate and that he does not need anything extra. It is this which will strengthen his own spiritual life and is also the very means through which he will aid the growth and development of others in Christ.
If the prospective Church planter does not believe the Bible is God’s Word, he needs to find something else to do because his ministry will be more harmful and detrimental to the cause of Christ than beneficial. Church planting should only be undertaken by those who accept the full inspiration, inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture. The Lord Jesus Christ, in his high priestly prayer in John 17, declared in v17 that God’s Word is truth, and therefore we can depend on it completely and dare not alter it. Those who want to throw doubts on some parts of the Bible need to remember that Jesus himself accepted its historical reliability fully and completely. We dare not do otherwise.
c. Use all of Scripture
Knowing that all of Scripture is true raises this question, ‘Are there parts of the Bible that are more suitable for a Church planter to use, or should he be someone who uses the whole breadth of Scripture?’ Certainly a Church planter first and foremost is to give himself to the preaching of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is an evangelist. Although the New Testament begins with the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in reality there is only one gospel and it is communicated in the sixty six books of the Bible. So we cannot relegate the gospel just to the opening four books of the New Testament. There is one gospel and it is contained in Old and New Testaments alike. There are sixty six instalments, all of which are intended to help us to better understand it, and if we can begin to think this way it will help us. Mark Dever has helpfully said that the Old Testament is promises made and the New Testament is promises kept. In the Old Testament we see that Jesus is coming, in the New Testament we see Jesus has come and indeed is coming again. And so that is the great message we are to proclaim because it is the whole counsel of God.
One day Paul gathered the elders in the Ephesian Church at Miletus (Acts20). He had been at Ephesus just about three years. In that period of time he had been involved in church planting that had spread even beyond Ephesus into the entire region. When he spoke to the elders there that day he said in Acts 20:26-27,
“Therefore I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.”
If we want to be able to say that we are free from the blood of all men, we need to be able to say even as church planters that we have declared the whole counsel of God. In our passage in Acts 17 and the church plant at Thessalonica, it states specifically that Paul was reasoning with them out of the Scriptures. The only Scriptures that they would have had at that time would have been the Old Testament Scriptures. They were sacred writings that make us wise unto salvation through the faith which is in Christ. On the evening of the day when Christ rose from the dead he walked alongside two of his disciples who were travelling to Emmaus. Luke tells us what Jesus did in Luke 24:27,
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
Somebody has said it must have been the most wonderful sermon ever preached, and Jesus used all of the Old Testament to show that it foretold his coming and his sufferings and much more. He used the entire Scriptures, and so must we. Having said that, there are perhaps some Scriptures which lend themselves to being a good starting point in church planting as you begin to preach. One of the books that is particularly useful is the Gospel of Mark because you are aiming to reach people who have never heard the gospel. Mark can be divided into two main parts: the first eight chapters tell us about who Jesus is and the last eight chapters tell us why Jesus came. So working through Mark beginning with the first verse all the way through to the sixteenth chapter verse by verse you begin to give people a real understanding of who Jesus is and of why he came.
If you teach and preach expositionally through books of the Bible you will find that you are teaching and preaching the whole council of God. For instance, if you begin with working through Mark, you will discover many references to different Old Testament books and passages and will need to take your hearers to those. So by starting with Mark you are not setting aside any of the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament. It is important for us to begin to understand the New Testament in light of the Old. Let’s take another example, this time from the Gospel written by John. In chapter 3:14-15 we discover Jesus said this to Nicodemus,
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
Jesus was referring to the historical event recorded in Numbers 21 and so you will be able to show how you can actually see both the Old and New, the promise and the fulfilment, the symbol or the type and then the glorious reality that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ.
d. Bible exposition.
Expositional preaching might be a new concept for you. This is preaching which seeks to read out of the Biblical text what it actually says rather than reading into it one’s own preconceived notions. Expounding a text is explaining it in light of its historical context, of its grammatical context, and even of its cultural context by delving into the actual content of that passage. The Bible expositor seeks to answer questions such as, ‘What does this Bible passage actually say?’ ‘What does it mean by what it says?’ In addition exposition is not complete without application so the expositor seeks to answer the question, ‘How does the meaning of this Bible passage affect my conduct?’ Really all preaching should seek to be expositional if we are going to handle the Scriptures correctly and let the Word of God direct both what we believe and how we behave.
Earlier we suggested working through Mark’s Gospel as a good place to start, but it may be that you have never preached a series of messages before and the thought of having to work through sixteen chapters may seem too difficult. With that in mind, it might be good to start with a much shorter Bible book. One of those would be Paul’s letter to Philemon. It has only twenty five verses and is one of the shortest letters in the New Testament. In it you have the wonderful story of how a runaway slave named Onesimus came to know the Lord Jesus Christ through the ministry of Paul during one of his imprisonments, and how after becoming a believer in Christ Paul helped him to know what he ought to do next. Paul told him he needed to return to Colossae and to his master, Philemon. At the same time he sent this letter with him so that he could plead with Philemon to receive him, not as he would a returning slave but as he would a returning brother in Christ. It is a wonderful story of how the Lord Jesus Christ, the one mediator between God and man, enables us to be received by his heavenly Father. Because of the simplicity of its content almost anyone called to preach could take the book of Philemon and over a couple of meetings give their people a wonderful picture of the Gospel and also a wonderful example of some of the practical changes that salvation brings to our lives and to our relationships with others. It shows us how we sort out various wrong things from our past with the Lord’s help. Philemon lived in Colossae and Paul wrote another letter to the church that met at Philemon’s house and that is another short book, so you could move in to studying Colossians which deals with the preeminence of Christ.
Sometimes we can address topics, but when we do we ought to do so expositionally. We ought to take a text that deals with that topic and expound it. In the church planting situation this verse by verse consecutive ministry through books of the Bible will lay a good foundation for the pastor who will be coming along to nurture the new Church. When you are planting a church in an area, one of your first converts in that area may at some point in the future become the pastor of that church. If we look at the biblical precedence, we do not see any church outside of the church at Jerusalem that is planted with an established leadership in place. There is none, and so it is after that work has been established, leaders begin to emerge from within that group. If you as a church planter have been modelling verse by verse, consecutive ministry through the Scriptures, this pastor in waiting is going to be taking all of this in and he will have that same commitment and that same approach when it is time for him to take the reins of pastoral leadership in the church.
e. The Church planter’s personal Bible study.
This is so important and often neglected. Church planters are often very busy. There are not only the pressing responsibilities of the church plant itself, but sometimes they have to work to support themselves financially. These pressures on time can regretfully cause time spent in study of the Scriptures to suffer and it ought not to be so. A good suggestion that Barry King has made is that the church planter study the Scriptures in the same way that he is going to teach the Scriptures. Take a book of the Bible and read it straight through, and then go back to that same book and read through it a second time, this time asking some basic observation questions of the text, such as, ‘Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?’ He should really grapple with what the text actually says and then after having done that a second time work through the book a third time but this time writing down your observations, your thoughts, your impressions as you work through the book. Before long you will have worked through that book three times on your own and you will be much better able to take someone else through that book.
We have rightly stressed the importance of the Bible and proper study and use of it in this chapter, but that does not diminish the important area of prayer in the Church planter’s life. Ideally the Church planter is to both study the Scriptures and pray. F.B. Meyer said on one occasion,
“If you must choose between prayer and Bible study, choose Bible study because it is infinitely more important for you to hear what God has said than for God to hear what you have to say.”
And so if the church planter will give himself to daily, devotional reading and study of Scripture then since he has studied this way, it will be much easier for him to preach this way and he will simply be showing people ground that he has already covered. This will be a great blessing to him as well as to the people he is teaching. Indeed, the Church planter will discover that his own study of the Scriptures will actually stimulate and guide him in prayer. Prayer and the times spent in the study of the Word are not competing with one another, they actually compliment one another. When we read the Scriptures God is speaking his Word to us and when we pray we are speaking God’s Word to him. The most important thing that a church planter can do is to give himself to the reading and study of Scripture and bathe that in prayer. One writer has said, “Really it is not church planting at all but it is Christian planting. You take someone who is in the Word and in prayer and they are planted in an area and they begin to reproduce after their own kind.” What a blessing.
Posted in: Principles of Church Planting