Foundations: No.72 Spring 2017

The Nature and Necessity of Church-Planting Movements

This paper introduces church-planting movements and considers how they differ from both networks and institutions. It next addresses the nature of gospel partnership within such movements and the place theological vision plays in enabling and establishing a partnership. Further, the paper reflects on some of the challenges movements face, and how they may be overcome, including defining a biblical basis for such partnerships. Finally, it seeks to establish the claim that the development of church-planting movements is necessary to reach our cities and our nations for Christ.

Church planting has consistently featured in the church’s attempt to reach the UK with the gospel. Yet a strong case can be made that for the first time in generations the evangelical church has become convinced of the strategic priority of church planting if it is to reach a post-Christian nation with the gospel of Christ. Reflecting this change, a growing body of literature has paid attention to the need for new forms of church and, in particular, missional community models of the church if we are to be effective in this task.[1] Considerably less attention has been given to the need for church multiplication movements if we are to see healthy and effective church planting happen at a pace, and to the extent that is necessary to reach our cities and our nation for Christ. Through the ministry of Redeemer Presbyterian Church and its sister church-planting organisation Redeemer City to City, Tim Keller has led the way in advocating the establishment not just of church-planting networks but movements. Center Church offers a paradigm for how this might be achieved.[2]

I. What do we mean by church-planting movements?

In considering the place of movements for church multiplication, it is essential to distinguish a movement from both a denomination and a network. A degree of confusion arises from the fact that movements share some common characteristics with networks. They, in turn, share some of the dynamics observable in a movement. However, it is critical to our understanding that we grasp the fact that movements are not networks and they are quite unlike denominations.

A church-planting movement may be defined as a self-sustaining movement of church-planting churches, committed to working together through a shared vision for the planting of gospel-churches within a city, region or nation.[3]

1. Attributes of church-planting movements

Movements, by their very nature, are difficult to define.

Movements are felt as much as they are understood. They have a certain atmosphere. They exude a culture, and people sense the resulting “vibe”. These vibes cannot be objectively passed along and studied; they must be caught and experienced.[4]

Despite this difficulty, seven characteristics commonly recognised as belonging to church-planting movements will help highlight some essential differences between movements, networks and denominations.

(i) Open, rather than closed, membership

In his seminal essay “Sets and Structures: A Study in Church Patterns[5] Paul Hiebert contrasts two approaches to issues of inclusion and belonging in a group; namely, centered-set thinking and bounded-set thinking.

Hiebert outlines four distinctives of a centred set. First, belonging is not defined in terms of the boundary but of the centre. Church-planting movements function as centred sets, in which churches are invited to gather around a centre of common ideas, values and goals – shared theological vision.[6] What matters in bounded-set thinking is defining and maintaining the boundary – that which is needed, as a minimum, for a church to be included within the set. Denominations would, therefore, be an obvious example of bounded sets. In some sense, it is appropriate to say in centred-set dynamics, “all are welcome” (within the bounds of orthodox Christian faith) as long as they are moving towards the vision and values at the centre of the set.

Secondly, Hiebert observes that in a centred set “a number of stages or levels of participation might be recognized”.[7] In other words, churches can journey towards the centre over time as they increasingly warm to the vision and values at the centre. Centred sets, such as movements, also allow for different levels of commitment and recognise that plants often have a primary affiliation with a network. For many planters, the movement may not be their primary network. For example, they are also part of a bounded set, such as A29, FIEC, New Frontiers or a denomination, but the vision and values of the movement serve to complement the training and resourcing they receive from their network. It could be said that the movement, therefore, serves the networks.

The third quality of a centred set is that leadership is defined not by position or authority; leaders lead by way of influence in a movement. It is those whose thinking most closely aligns with the centre who emerge as leaders. The idea is everything.

Finally, Hiebert argues that the church, or in our analysis the movement, is concerned to strengthen the centre “so that it might attract a following”.[8]

In this difference of philosophy, we readily identify a key distinction between movements and networks. Movements are centred sets; networks are more typically bounded sets. This difference is reflected in how membership functions. Typically, as a bounded set, you either belong or you do not. For movements, categories of inclusion and exclusion are less helpful. Such an open-handed approach ensures movements are very dynamic and have a fluid structure.

Frost and Hirsch, leaders within the missional church movement, affirm the centred-set approach in their work.

Everyone is in, and no one is out. Though some people are close to the center and others far from it, everyone is potentially part of the community in its broadest sense.[9]

They notice that bounded sets are often hard at the edges but then soft at the centre, centred sets are soft at the edges but hard at the centre.[10] Bounded sets operate like a farmer who erects a fence to keep cattle from roaming too far. However, in an environment like the outback of Australia, where ranches are so large that fencing it impracticable, and where conditions are hot and dry, boring a water-well at the centre of the ranch is a far more effective way of ensuring that cattle will never stray far away. Just so, it is the vision at the heart of a movement that keeps churches in the movement.[11]

In a later work,[12] Hiebert develops his thinking on how set theory may inform our understanding of questions of inclusion and belonging. To the categories of centred sets and bounded sets, Hiebert introduces a second variable: well-formed or fuzzy boundaries. It should be recognised that centred sets may have sharp or fuzzy boundaries. A well-formed centred set, while having a focus on the centre, will, nevertheless, seek to separate out things inside the set from outside. By contrast, a fuzzy set has no boundary and could be described as “a loose collection of people with varying degrees of commitment”.[13] Such a model in the context of church partnership would inevitably lead to theological relativism.

This second variable brings a necessary clarity on what form centred sets should take within gospel movements. Such movements would, while concerned to focus on the centre, also recognise the need to protect the integrity of the movement through a clear boundary of theological orthodoxy. A true gospel movement must, however, be a centred set with a clear boundary.

Scripture affirms clear boundaries at several key points: Christ is declared to be the only way to God. In the end people will either be saved or lost, and sinners are called to turn radically away from their evil ways to righteousness and love. There is no both-and approach to these and other essential matters in the Bible.[14]

(ii) Spontaneous rather than planned

Church-planting movements are also distinctive in their lack of any “prescribed formula or strategy for how or where these churches will exist or function”.[15] What generates the planting of new churches is a shared culture and not a process.

Movements do not normally occur through large frameworks such as big budgets, big plans, big teams, or big organizations. Movemental Christianity does not seem to emerge from big-box programming… Movements occur through small units that are readily reproducible… Being nimble and flexible is all important.[16]

Keller also notes: “Movements spontaneously produce new ideas and leaders and grow from within.”[17]

(iii) Organic rather than structured

Movements, like all living things, have the capacity to grow from inside. In that sense, it does not depend on an outside organisation. Rather it is self-propagating and self-sustaining, “the result of a set of forces that interact, support, sustain, and stimulate one another”.[18]

A church (or group of churches) with movement dynamics generates its own converts, ideas, leaders, and resources from within in order to realize its vision of being the church for its city and culture… In the language of missiologists, such a church is “self-propagating, self-governing, and self-supporting”.[19]

2020birmingham is a church-planting movement for the city of Birmingham, UK. Begun in 2010, it has helped to establish sixteen churches from across a variety of networks and denominations. From the outset, the movement has had no strategy for planting, nor any particular ideas as to how the movement would generate further planting. Churches and networks within the movement have raised up planters and opportunities for planting, but the movement itself has not been a co-ordinated programme for planting.

(iv) Flat rather than hierarchical

Movements are also marked by the absence of hierarchical structures or chains of command. Leadership comes through influence rather than a voice of authority. Catalytic leaders provide vision, inspiration and influence to the movement. They also serve to strengthen the vision and serve as gate-keepers who protect the “DNA” or values of the movement.

The general rule in movements is that we structure just as much as is necessary to adequately empower and train every agent/agency in the movement so it can do its job.[20]

Movements are therefore nervous about the negative effect of institutionalisation. Hirsh concludes, “we must resist the tendency, innate to every organisation, to slow down and lose momentum”.[21]

In fact, going further, movements are by their nature bottom-up rather than top-down; a movement, by definition, comes from the grassroots. “Movements that spread rapidly usually proliferate within and across networks of relationships.”[22]

(v) Kingdom advancing rather than institution building

A further important distinctive of movements is that while there is strong ownership of a shared vision or goal, the movement itself makes no claim to own the churches within the movement. In movements, the principle of invisibility is at work as the movement exists simply to serve individual planters and networks through prayer, training, resourcing and so on.

All of which means that churches within a movement begin to spend considerable, time, energy and resources supporting and facilitating the church-planting of those outside of their tribe or network. “Movements make the what – the accomplishment of the vision – a higher value than how it gets done or who gets it done.”[23]

(vi) Highly innovative and risk taking

A culture of innovation also marks movements. When the goal is the rapid multiplication of churches across a city or a region, flexibility is critical, and churches that are highly-contextualised to their communities are most likely to achieve their goals. Planting is high-risk, dynamic and innovative; and new ideas and initiatives come from any direction and in ways that quickly impact the whole movement. Within 2020birmingham, innovation is evident in the sheer variety of church-planting models represented within the movement. All types of planting are encouraged and supported whether that be pioneer planting, multi-site, mother-daughter, or replant/revitalisation. And within these models of planting can be found various approaches to church life and practice, from more traditional examples through to expressions of the missional community model.

Kewley and Östring observe this same phenomenon at work in their study of three church-planting movements, that they show both a strong commitment to mission and adaptive, flexible approaches to planting.[24]

(vii) Collaboration rather than isolation

The key to fast-growing city movements is a commitment to work across denominations, working together for a single, greater goal. The sum is very much greater than the parts. A compelling vision that is bigger than any one church or network can achieve trans-denominational partnership. Quite simply, “changing a city with the gospel takes a movement”.[25]

Such thinking requires planters and networks within a city to be deliberate and intentional in seeking out partnership. The vision compels planters to look for opportunity; to give time to building new relationships, driven by a conviction that so much more can be, and needs to be, done than can ever be done in isolation.

If you will begin to view cooperation as a joyful opportunity to cause someone else to succeed, then giving away all you have for the sake of a new or established network is worth the effort. Church multiplication movements will occur only so far as leaders are ready to cooperate for a cause that is far greater than themselves.[26]

The following table highlights similarities and differences between movements, networks and denominations according to the seven criteria considered above.

Church-planting movements and the dynamics here briefly considered should not be thought of as merely an alternative way for churches to work together, driven only by pragmatic considerations; such movements exhibit the same dynamics evident in the birth and global expansion of the church. Movements find their earliest expression in the Spirit-led, explosive growth of the church in the book of Acts.

Th[e] biblical language suggests there is an organic, self-propagating, dynamic power operating within the church. In Acts, we see it working essentially on its own, with little institutional support or embodiment – without strategic plans or the command and control of managers and other leaders.[27]

Church-planting movements are, therefore, in an important sense, a desire to see God work in our day and age in ways seen in the birth of the church.

II. How do church-planting movements work?

1. A rich understanding of gospel partnership

How are movements different from other forms of trans-denominational gospel fellowship that might exist across a city? Bruno & Dirks[28] draw our attention to the significant contrasts between gatherings of churches for fellowship and mutual encouragement on the one hand and the kind of kingdom partnership we recognise in movements on the other.

Gospel partnership is so much more than gospel fellowship. Fellowship gatherings tend to exist simply for encouragement or perhaps to share information or expertise – for example, to inspire and send leaders back to churches with new ideas and a refreshed vision. In movements, however, it is not ideas alone that are shared but more importantly goals – joint ownership of some tangible greater goal that far exceeds the expectations and plans of any individual church.

Ownership of these goals is truly a shared responsibility. Churches agree to pray, work and perhaps give finances or time to something bigger. All of this means that when the leaders of churches gather, there is not so much a focus on those individual churches but on the kingdom.

In a network, I help you accomplish your own goals, expecting you’ll do the same for me. In a partnership, we work together to accomplish Kingdom goals that we couldn’t achieve by ourselves.[29]

2020birmingham, from the outset, identified a shared goal: facilitating the planting of twenty new congregations over a ten-year period. That goal required a sustained commitment, mutual accountability and shared responsibility.

2. Four conditions necessary for the development of a movement

Four conditions are foundational to the development of a healthy movement.

(i) A culture of planting amongst gospel churches

As has been already noted, the evangelical church across all denominations in the UK has increasingly recognised the urgent need to plant new churches. The missional agenda of the New Testament is shaping attitudes to outreach and evangelism.

The life of Paul and the action of the early church demonstrate that church planting was a primary activity. Any church wishing to rediscover the dynamic nature of the early church should consider planting new churches.[30]

Movements cannot occur unless this mind-set is active across a number of churches in a city or region. If the gospel is to reach our nation what is needed is a greater commitment to planting – additionally, that every gospel church would be intentional about planting. It requires that every church might affirm the statement “if we could, we would plant churches” and then embrace a second statement: “therefore when we can, we will plant churches”.

A natural church planting mind-set means church leaders will think of church planting as just one of the things the church does along with everything else… So church planting should be an ongoing, natural part of your ministry as worship, evangelism, fellowship, education, and service.[31]

Unless and until a critical number of churches in any one place share the conviction that new churches are necessary to reach our communities with the gospel, the dynamics necessary to birth a movement will be absent.

(ii) A culture of disciple-making

If at the heart of a church-planting movement are churches that in turn plant more churches, then of necessity these must be disciple-making churches. In short, the goal is to produce disciples who will go and make disciples, out of which new congregations are born. As such, these churches will have high expectations for members, along with a commitment to train and envision every one of them for ministry. This will include a high missional agenda where a concern is shared not just to prepare people for the gathered meetings of the church but to go “out there” with the gospel – sharing life with work colleagues and neighbours and to be present in the community.

When dealing with discipleship, and the related capacity to generate authentic followers of Jesus, we are dealing with the single most crucial factor that will in the end determine the quality of the whole – if we fail at this point we must fail in all the others.[32]

Neil Cole comments: “We want to lower the bar of how church is done and raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple.”[33]

(iii) A culture of multiplication

While the vision is merely to plant churches on an occasional or ad-hoc basis, little will be achieved.

The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else – not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes – will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting.[34]

When the vision is to reach a city the goal, of necessity, must be far, far bigger than any one church or network can achieve on its own. Kingdom co-operation between church-planting churches and networks is founded on a recognition that collaboration is necessary to achieve the aim. For a city the size of Birmingham, the need is significant. It is not just twenty new congregations that will be needed; the number is probably closer to a hundred. By beginning with the aim of working together, for twenty church-planting churches who, in turn, will plant more churches, this greater goal is perhaps achievable.

(iv) Kingdom leader(s) and catalysts to pioneer the work

Movements of the gospel require movement leaders who will catalyse the planting of church-planting churches. These leaders establish the vision and seek to find and also envision potential partners. Crucial to this task is an ability to build the necessary trust and understanding to draw churches into partnership.

The first thing a multiplication movement has to do is to find (or rally around) a multiplication leader. Such a person will need to be a leader with spiritual, ecclesiological, and missional credibility.[35]

III. Theological vision as the uniting principle for church-planting movements

Two things are essential for the long-term viability of healthy church-planting movements: a shared theological commitment and, alongside that, a shared theological vision. Clarity on the gospel can alone provide a solid basis for unity in mission. Shared theological vision provides the values that shape the vision for mission. Unless this is explicitly celebrated, then there is no common goal and, therefore, no obvious reason to work together.

1. The priority of theological commitment

Bruno and Dirks draw attention to these twin needs as they distinguish between foundation and focus.

Kingdom partnerships are usually focused on one specific gospel implication: assisting the poor locally or overseas; influencing one area of culture, such as the arts; or teaching biblical interpretation to rising church leaders. Gospel implications may be the focus of a partnership, but they cannot be the foundation. When a single implication of the gospel is all that’s holding us together, rather than the gospel itself, the ministry will fall apart as soon as the money runs out or differences arise, as they always do. Kingdom partnerships must be built on the gospel alone. This means that there should be a direct line between the aims of the partnership and Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.[36]

For any movement to be self-sustaining in the long run, it cannot afford to assume the gospel. The movement itself must be rooted in and empowered by the gospel. The engine for a movement cannot be anything other than the gospel: “The gospel unites leaders and churches in a way that no philosophy, tradition, task, or mission ever could.”[37] Without that commitment to a vision of the gospel, the gospel will quickly be lost. “If we’re not driven by the gospel, none of our efforts will have any reason to continue.”[38]

2. Shared theological vision

However central our grasp of the gospel is to both inspire and enable a movement of the gospel more, is necessary if churches are to come together in meaningful collaboration. Tim Keller has highlighted the place of theological vision as the focus of partnership.

Theological vision is neither our doctrinal foundations which express “what we believe” nor is it an alternative to ministry expressions, i.e. “what we do”. Theological vision sits in the middle. It is “how we see”. It is doctrine filtered and applied, or the gospel implications addressed in “what you are going to do with your doctrine in a particular time and place”.[39] As can be seen from such a definition, theological vision is not an attempt to re-write the gospel for a different age. Theological vision is rooted in unchanging truth, but it simply seeks to ask how we meaningfully live out the gospel in all its fullness in our situation.

It is critical, therefore, in every new generation and setting to find ways to communicate the gospel clearly and strikingly, distinguishing it from its opposites and counterfeits.[40]

While the language may be somewhat unfamiliar, the necessity of highly-contextualised churches can be found throughout Scripture. In the book of Acts, a sophisticated theological vision is at work in the preaching and life of the Apostle Paul, something summarised in his statement, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”[41]

As Hirsch observes, “movements are essentially DNA-based organizations”.[42] Movements are centre-set organisations founded on the gospel, focused around a shared theological vision.

(i) Theological vision sets the priorities for ministry

Theological vision enables us to choose between the many potential priorities in ministry.

A Theological Vision helps you determine what you are going to do with what you believe within your cultural setting. With a Theological Vision in place, leaders and churches can make better choices about ministry expression that are faithful to the Gospel while at the same time are meaningful to their ministry context. That means a greater impact in Worship, Discipleship, Evangelism, Service and Cultural Engagement.[43]

To use a sporting analogy, a theological statement provides the “rules of the game”; theological vision suggests the tactics we employ by which we play the game.

Movements form when churches recognise the urgent need and priority of planting highly-contextualised churches for every community across a city – a vision so big that no one denomination, network or association of churches can possibly achieve.

(ii) Theological vision enables and encourages partnerships

Leaders from different denominations, with different temperaments, different theologies, if they share a vision, are able to work together in creative collaboration. It is a theological vision that creates what Keller calls a “bias for co-operation” without which movements rarely function.[44]

3. Theological vision enables level 3 partnership

The following model may prove useful in considering how an awareness of theological vision enables partnerships between gospel churches that might not have considered working together because of either different doctrinal distinctives or ministry expressions.

 

Level 1 partnerships refer to those that exist between churches of the same denomination or affiliation; partnership focuses on celebrating identical (or near-identical) shared doctrinal beliefs and convictions. That might, for example, include expressions of theological commitment to a certain ecclesiology, etc. However, it is evident that churches in the same denomination that share equally strong theological convictions, nevertheless, can look very different when it comes to ministry practice. How is such difference accounted for? At heart, although Level 1 churches share the same doctrinal beliefs, an implicit and unavoidable theological vision is also at work in addressing questions of ministry practice. So, one could and should expect two churches, which confess the same statement of faith but who exist in very different cultural settings, to arrive at quite different views as to what ministry should look like in their time and place.

Level 2 partnerships are broader and encompass churches outside of a single tradition. These partnerships are still rooted in doctrine, but level 2 partnerships tend to focus on a combination of shared theology and either theological vision or ministry expression. So, for example, churches with a commitment to Scripture expressed in a high view of expository preaching may choose to come together for training in Word-based ministry. A good example of such in a UK context would be Gospel Partnerships that bring together churches with similar convictions on expository preaching and Bible-handling. These churches could not come together to celebrate denominational distinctives but come together to train around shared ministry practices. Church-planting networks such as Acts 29 would also be an example of a level 2 partnership. Here it is the combination of shared theology and theological vision that brings churches from across denominations to partner together. However, it is clearly a level 2 partnership because membership is limited to those who can affirm five doctrinal distinctives of Acts 29.[45] These include a commitment to Reformed theology and a complementarian model of church leadership.

Level 3 partnerships focus neither on doctrinal belief nor ministry expression but a theological vision. A shared commitment to some core theological convictions are essential but what compels the partnership is a shared vision – a recognition and commitment to certain key ideas surrounding ministry.

So, church planters in a city may come from a variety of different tribes; Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Baptist, etc., because they share a very similar theological vision – the same vision and values, emphases and philosophy of ministry – that draw them into fruitful partnership. In the case of a church-planting movement, this is clearly a theological vision for highly-contextualised planting across a region or city.

Without a conscious awareness of how theological vision is at work in our thinking, it can be difficult to understand how level 3 partnerships are possible. How can churches, so different from one another on some doctrinal issues, and so different in ministry expressions work together fruitfully? Celebrating a shared theological vision is the answer. The following diagram represents something of how that works.

 

Two churches can have different doctrinal frameworks and ministry expressions but the same theological vision – and they will feel like sister ministries. On the other hand, two churches can have similar doctrinal frameworks and ministry expressions but different theological visions – and they will feel distinct.[46]

Theological vision is the glue that holds a movement of quite diverse churches together: “Focusing on theological vision allows us truly to serve a movement rather than to just create or inspire churches in our own image.”[47]

The 2020birmingham movement is an example of a level 3 partnership. Church-planters from a wide variety of networks and denominations express their partnership by their shared concern to encourage and learn from one another as we share the questions of how to do effective pioneer ministry in the city of Birmingham. Our doctrinal beliefs, while essentially evangelical, are nevertheless somewhat different. Our expressions of ministry within our churches differ, and to such an extent that we could not honestly say that we would feel at home in each other’s churches. A shared theological vision provides both relational glue and drives the partnership forward – working together for the planting of twenty new churches or congregations between the years 2010 and 2020.

Level 3 partnerships are only possible where the churches are gathering together to focus their time and energy on questions of theological vision. That can, and in the case of the 2020birmingham partnership did, happen intuitively. In one sense, we discovered how a shared theological vision had enabled and empowered partnership retrospectively. But with a clear concept of theological vision, they become easier to understand and appreciate: “The quality of the theological vision often determines the vitality of the ministry, particularly in urban settings.”[48]

An explicit theological vision is the centre for the set and enables movement leaders to seek out like-minded partners in ministry.

While we must continue to align ourselves in denominations that share our theological distinctives, at the local level our bias should be in the direction of cooperation with other congregations.[49]

When theological vision is grasped and how it functions is understood, churches are more willing to work together, putting to one side suspicions over working with those who do not share our same doctrinal distinctives and who look very different in ministry practice.

IV. Challenges to developing church-planting movements

1. Co-operation without compromise?

Arguably, the biggest obstacle to the development of church-planting movements within a city is not a lack of resources or finances but a reluctance on the part of gospel churches to partner at the third level. This could be for a variety of reasons. However, could it be that a sub-conscious culture within a church stands in the way of meaningful partnership? Often, and perhaps wrongly, attributed to Peter Drucker is the following truism: “organizational culture eats strategy for breakfast and dinner”. To overcome cultural inertia takes nothing less than a deep reflection on the gospel in all its implications. Where can we find in the Scriptures a biblical motivation for pursuing such partnership?

(i) The gospel generosity in the ministry of the Apostle Paul

Church-planting movements depend upon a radical generosity of spirit towards other believers. This is everywhere evident in the heart, life and ministry of the apostle Paul. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in the striking example set out in Philippians 1:15-18. Imprisoned for the gospel, Paul contrasts two groups of genuine preachers who preach Christ but from different motives:

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.[50]

What can be learned from these verses? At least two principles stand out from this text that inform thinking on church partnership and compel us towards more generous collaboration.

First, Paul models an attitude of the heart in which he maintains that where the true gospel is preached, there is reason to rejoice, even if at a personal loss. What is so very striking about Paul’s words here is that he can be so generous towards those whom he considers opponents. Only if they were preaching a true gospel would this be the case. There are plenty of examples in the writings of Paul in which he speaks out in the strongest terms against those whose preaching demonstrate that they are enemies of the gospel itself.[51]

However, despite the “envy” and “rivalry” demonstrated by those who oppose him in Rome, it does not seem that those Paul is addressing here preach another gospel. Rather, “these rivals to Paul instead seem to oppose the apostle for personal reasons and to have used Paul’s imprisonment as an opportunity to advance their personal agendas.”[52] It is not clear quite how they were seeking to “stir up trouble” for Paul, but it seems unlikely that they are causing him physical harm or suffering, perhaps at the hand of his jailers for example. Bockmuehl offers the most persuasive explanation, suggesting they “stir up trouble” in the inner turmoil and pain Paul experiences as they pursue “naked self-advancement” and “their party’s ‘success’ in numbers, prestige and influence within the Roman church”.[53] In essence, while Paul is in prison they are free to promote their position in the Christian community.

Church-planting movements require churches to rejoice in the ministry success of others. The hard work of one church leader in facilitating the planting of new churches outside of his tradition will almost certainly have the consequence of benefitting other networks. They may even advance ahead of us.

Secondly, we learn that for Paul “the furtherance of the gospel is everything” and therefore self-interest must always give way to gospel concern. In v.18a Paul summarises his conclusion: “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.”

It would be a mistake to think that Paul is indifferent to the motives of gospel preachers. Many examples in the New Testament testify to Paul’s deep concern for the integrity of the gospel minister. But that is not his point here in the Philippians letter. What he wants to stress is that which is of paramount importance: that the gospel should advance, even if that is at personal cost to himself.

In Paul’s case it is his theological convictions that lead both to his theological narrowness, on the one hand, and to his large-heartedness within those convictions, on the other – precisely because he recognizes the gospel for what it is: God’s thing, not his own.[54]

Sadly, such gospel generosity is often lacking, even when the charges are far less significant than here. “The fellowship of the modern church lies in tatters because of rivalry over turf, competition for money and influence, and petty theological disagreements.”[55]

One wonders, therefore, if Paul is willing to find reasons to rejoice in gospel-advancement despite insincerity and false motives resulting in personal heartache, how much more should gospel churches be willing to extend generosity to those who are willing to be partners with us. Such a culture of generosity is essential if level 3 planting partnerships are to develop.

Such partnerships, by definition, require the taking of risks, investing considerable time and energy into building relationships with those who may have previously been viewed as rivals and about whom we have previously only held suspicions. Level 3 partnership requires us to work for the advancement of other churches and networks, even, at times, to prefer the interests of others to our own.

Gospel generosity, ultimately, is rooted in true gospel humility. Paul’s own example in Philippians 1 leads on to his challenge to the Philippians in chapter 2: It is Christ’s supreme example, as the one who surrendered self-interest for us that Paul uses to urge the Philippians to exemplify an extravagant gospel generosity, as God’s people are called to prefer the interests of others to their own.

As the implications of what Jesus has done are worked out in our churches, we will be compelled to partner with other churches to make the gospel and its implications clear across our cities and around the world.[56]

(ii) The gospel unity that overcomes from 1 Corinthians

A second passage of relevance to our considerations is Paul’s rebuke of a divided church in Corinth:

My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: one of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ”. Is Christ divided?[57]

It is not obvious whether there were actual factions or parties in the church. But what is evident is “a serious misunderstanding of the gospel itself, as well as of the church and its leaders; hence the energy expended, since for Paul everything else is subordinate to the gospel”.[58]

Here is a church divided and weakened by its refusal to come together in the name of Christ, expressing the unity won at the cross. Christ cannot be divided, so, therefore, the church must not be divided.

As in Philippians, Paul insists on gospel unity. Church-planting movements founded in the gospel, seek to live out, albeit in an incomplete way, this unity that is ours in Christ. They are a place where personal ambition may be seen to give way to gospel ministry, for to prefer personal interest to gospel ambition is at the very heart of sin:

This is the source of all evils, this is the most harmful of diseases, this is the deadly poison in all churches – when ministers devoted to their own interests rather than to Christ's. In short, the unity of the Church rests mainly on this one thing: that we all depend on Christ alone, and that men therefore take, and remain in, a lower place, so that nothing may detract from His position of pre-eminence.[59]

Christians across the city of Corinth were united to one another through their union with Christ; Paul calls on the church to live up to its calling.

It is a deep and rich appreciation of the gospel that enables the kind of partnership necessary for church-planting movements.

To build networks that effectively lead, mentor and support others in multiplication movements, everyone must pass what they know and what they do on to someone else. If you will begin to view cooperation as a joyful opportunity to cause someone else to succeed, then giving away all you have for the sake of a new or established network is worth the effort. Church multiplication movements will occur only so far as leaders are ready to cooperate for a cause that is far greater than themselves.[60]

Sadly, not only individual churches but some church-planting networks are unable to adopt the mindset necessary to birth a movement. As Gary Irby has noted, “We must be intentional about initiating relationships and even partnerships with tribes other than our own.”[61]

The 2020birmingham partnership was born out of a desire for highly-effective church-planting leaders to choose to collaborate with others, under a conviction that what was necessary for the city was far greater than that which could be achieved by individual churches or networks. To multiply, we must find new ways of co-operating.

The gospel alone has the power to unite Christians, churches and networks behind a vision to reach the lost. Sadly, whether as a result of tribalism or concerns over partnering with others at a third level, inertia is often the easier option. Once a movement is established, it is energising and exciting to see what can and does happen when God’s people find ways to work together.

2. Growing a movement

However exciting and energising a kingdom partnership might be, it still requires considerable effort not only to begin a work, but then to scale-up the work as momentum builds:

Any vision that is compelling will be a big one, and big visions require long-term effort… In other words, a movement must eventually settle into a sustainable business model… A strong dynamic movement, then, occupies this difficult space in the center – the place of tension and balance between being a freewheeling organism and a disciplined organization.[62]

As has been noted, “the most difficult areas of creating a church planting movement is achieving reproducibility in the church plants.”[63] At least the following six factors are necessary to generating the movement dynamics needed to build a church-planting movement.[64]

Prayer – Urgent prayer which brings churches together to seek God for the cause of the gospel to the city builds unity and focuses attention on the lost. The more a movement prays, the more expectant it becomes.

Recruitment – For exponential growth, thought needs to be given to the continual raising up of new leaders. Attention must, therefore, be given to creating a pipeline into ministry. In Birmingham, much fruit has been borne from working intentionally with undergraduate students to identify those who demonstrate, early on, indicators of spiritual maturity and giftedness. A Ministry Training Scheme for young graduates provides an opportunity to work for a church-planting church. Further, the development of residency programmes to train potential planters “on the job” helps generate the next generation of planters.

Training – Church planters need to share a vision, and learn the skills necessary, for growing young churches and in turn to become church multipliers. “Development of leadership is an inescapable factor for church multiplication movements.”[65] 2020birmingham seeks to provide this through monthly planters’ gatherings. This meeting enables planters to meet, share stories, pray together and offers a forum for peer-to-peer on-going planter training. The content of the training may focus on the planter (aspects of personal godliness, marriage, managing self, etc.), or the plant (everything from raising money, to casting vision and recruiting a core-group). On other occasions, training will consider the church-planting context (contexualisation, reaching the community, etc.). The viability of plants becoming established churches is significantly increased when local training continues to be provided. “The likelihood of church survivability increases by 135 per cent when the church planter meets at least monthly with a group of church-planting peers.”[66]

CoachingAlongside residency training in advance of planting and access to peer-to-peer training along the way, planters very often benefit from access to a coach who is usually a more experienced planter to guide them through the challenges of planting. As a movement develops, the more experienced planters are encouraged to tithe their time, so maybe giving ten per cent of it to offering support, advice and counsel to the next generation of planters.

Finances – When church planting in a city reaches some exponential growth then financing the ever-growing numbers of plants does create a potential blockage to progress. Typically, a “multi-stream” approach to funding best serves to overcome this issue. Planters seek to raise start-up funds from a variety of sources including donors and trust funds who have entered into a partnership for planting with the movement. Encouragingly, studies suggest that lack of finances may not prove to be as great a problem to the development of movements as anticipated. “Surprisingly, it appears that most of the aggressive, reproducing churches provide less financial support than do less aggressive churches.”[67]

NetworkAlongside support for the individual planters and their new congregations, some attention needs to be given to the development of the movement itself. With growth comes complexity and the challenges of “scaling up” the work. A movement may even need some staffing to facilitate the work.

V. Conclusion or
Why do we need church planting movements?

Ed Stetzer notes “The early church implemented the Great Commission mandate primarily by planting churches.”[68] The reality is that, given the extent of the challenge, it is a luxury the church in the West cannot afford to plant churches in isolation from other gospel churches.

It requires at least modest church planting in a city just to keep the body of Christ from steadily declining, and aggressive church planting is needed to grow the whole body – meaning ten to twenty relatively new churches in relation to every hundred existing churches.[69]

It is a sobering fact that in the West churches cannot be planted quickly enough to meet the gospel need. If churches within the same regions continue to plant in isolation from one another the challenge will remain insurmountable. Movements are not an alternative to networks or institutions, and this article is not written to discourage participation in such initiatives. The appeal is rather that, while necessary and desirable, they are not enough. Now that the church has rediscovered the place for planting it is time for churches to overcome their differences and work together in gospel movements that will multiply churches and maximise the spread of the gospel in this country.

 

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