In our consideration of church planting work we have so far looked at two broad areas, namely the sower and the seed. By the sower we mean the kind of man who is to be the Church planter and the biblical requirements demanded of such a person. By the seed the Church planter is to sow we mean the Word of God. We need now to give consideration to the soil, the actual place where the Church planter is going to be preaching the gospel and aiming to plant a church. Where does the church planter need to go?
a. Seek the Lord
By ‘soil’ we mean the place where you are going to work and in particular the people you are going to reach with the gospel. Significantly Jesus used this concept of soil when he taught the parable of the sower (see Mark 4) he described the different types of soil that exist. He explained these were the different kinds of people we will meet in Church planting work and the different responses each make to the Word of God. At Thessalonica (Acts17) Paul passed through two other places before coming there and settling into his Church planting work. So how do we determine which is the place to go? For Paul there was a synagogue in Thessalonica which would have been a good starting point as at least there were people who would have been familiar with the Old Testament. We do not have synagogues in every town and city and village these days, so we are in a different situation, so how do we determine where we ought to go?
Barry King has noted that it is quite normal for the Lord to put into our hearts the desire to go to a particular people. We read in Psalm 37:4,
“Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
If we are reading his Word and if we are praying and if we are walking with him, and he gives us a desire to minister in a certain city or in a certain region of the country or amongst a certain people group then we should prayerfully take note of what the Lord is doing. We should do what Paul did in Acts 16. We read there that he tried to go to several places but God stopped him and directed him to Philippi. If the Lord has given a burden to reach a certain people we should proceed and wait for him to say no. He is able to do so providentially, as he did with Paul. If we have a desire to preach the gospel wherever he gives us the opportunity to do so, we probably will not go wrong in this area of finding the soil. For some the Lord will direct them to a village, whilst others to the towns. Being able to pray about this with your own Church leaders is vital as their fellowship and support will mean much as the Church planting project proceeds. Remember it is your Church who is to send you out.
b. Do research
When the Lord has given you a desire to take his Word to a certain people you should want to know as much as possible about them and the area. What is required is a little bit of sanctified soil analysis so that you can know who these people are and what they are like. We are not going to change the gospel but we do need to consider how we can present the gospel to them in a way that will be very effective and we trust by God’s grace very fruitful. Doing background research also helps us in praying for these people as we discover their spiritual needs.
If in our research we then discover there are other churches present in the town then we need to carefully take that into consideration. We need first to see if these are Biblical churches who preach the gospel. This is done by visiting them and if there is a pastor by meeting with him to share the burden that we have, and seeking to discern how they are trying to go about impacting the lost in their particular town or city. It could be that it is already an established church that is very biblical in its orientation. Indeed, it could be that they have been praying that God would send someone with evangelistic gifts, with pioneering abilities to help forward the work there and in reality they could be an answer to your prayers and you could be an answer to theirs as well. We will need to ask questions to see if it is a church that patterns itself on the teaching of the Bible. If so you might do well to join them and help them in the work of spreading the gospel that they are already doing. You may sadly find that this is not a Biblical Church where Christ is not honoured and the gospel is not preached and the Scriptures are not loved and cherished. It might be a church that has unbelievers in its membership, and which even denies parts of the Scriptures. If that is so then you can plant a new church in that place in good conscience that you are not competing with them because their whole approach is completely different from the Scriptures and you are not doing the same work and you are not doing it in the same way. But if you come to an area and there is already an established biblical church and in consultation with them you really find no scope for additional church planting work in that area, do not despair. There are untold hundreds of places that still need the work and ministry that God has placed in your heart to perform and you have probably gained yourself an ally by approaching this existing church first. They may be a means of helping you go into an area you have not discovered yet and begin the work of church planting there.
Before leaving this issue of the soil we need to consider two questions. First, are there too many churches in some areas indicating you should not go there but look elsewhere? Second, is it possible for an area to be too small to plant a church? Answering the first question takes some discernment. It is certainly possible for there to be many Churches who are doing a God honouring and Christ centred work and are effectively reaching their area. In such a case it would be wise to seek a place where there are no or very few Churches. What is important to remember is that just because there may be buildings with signs saying the people who meet in them are Churches, sadly it does not necessarily mean they are true Churches. Someone who lived in such an area has said, ‘You will see many church signs here but very few signs of the church.’ What we need to do is sensitively look not just at the outside but a little bit beneath the surface to make sure if it is a true Biblical Church. We might see that sometimes it’s possible to have a church building without actually having a biblical church. The second question about whether an area is too small in which to plant a Church likewise needs careful thought. If you are expecting to have a large Church with its own building and busy programme each week from the start, then you are going to be disappointed. But if you begin to understand that wherever even a small group of people have covenanted together under God and under the authority of his Word they should have a biblical church. Further, the Lord has often worked in small insignificant places and over time has establish a Church with just a few believers to start with, but which has grown to have a much wider influence as time has gone by. We often do not see things in the same way that the Lord does, so we should not despise the day of small things.
Posted in: Principles of Church Planting