Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998), while being best known for his work in missiology and ecclesiology, actually has a lot of advice for church planters. In fact, each of them is an extension of his quote in the picture above, or of my paraphrase below:
The church – a healthy church – is the hermeneutic of the gospel. It’s the way that the gospel comes to life. It’s the way that people can taste and smell the gospel.
When planting a church, it’s easy to go the way of the herd and get so caught up with the details, that you forget the values or the underlying ecclesiology that you’re trying to develop in the life of your church. After all, without those details getting done, you wouldn’t be able to plant a church. But what if, for a moment, you put those details aside and re-examined the type of ecclesiology that you’re developing in light of these four church planting tips that were inspired by Lesslie Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society?
1. Cultivate gratitude, not entitlement.
Newbigin suggests that churches need to be communities of praise and thanksgiving and that this, perhaps, is the church’s most distinctive character. So how are you cultivating a culture of praise and thanksgiving in your church? Are you being intentional with your preaching/teaching and the rest of your ministries? If you cultivate that culture of praise and thanksgiving in your church, you’ll actually see that translate into a heart of gratitude – and with gratitude, you’ll be slaying the idol of entitlement. If that happens, you’ll see your church’s “me” culture translate into a “we” culture, where the focus will be less on personal comfort and wellbeing, and more towards the wellbeing of your city and the salvation of those who are far from God.
2. Share truth, not gossip.
The fuel that drives pop culture seems to be gossip and scandals. This isn’t just true for entertainment shows, late night shows and sitcoms, but this pervades the news as well. If this is the MO (mode of operation) of our culture, this will naturally seep into the life of your church. So instead of calling your church to reject pop culture outrightly and burn all their “secular” CDs and DVDs, what if you cultivated a sense of skepticism towards it? After all, this skepticism would enable your congregation to, in the words of Newbigin, “take part in the life of society without being bemused and deluded by its own beliefs about itself.” This sense of skepticism would allow your church to be aware of pop culture, so that they could speak truth into it by being an alternate community of truth apart from it.
3. Be for your community, not just in your community.
On this point, Newbigin shares that the church is “God’s embassy in a specific place.” So what does that mean? What’s the purpose of an embassy anyway?
- It’s the official representation of one country in another
- It’s a place of gathering for the people of that country
- Outsiders can visit and learn more about that country, or apply to be a part of that country
- It serves to promote good relations in that country
In the same way, your church needs to serve as an embassy to your community:
- The way you gather, serve, celebrate and worship are on display to your community
- Make your gatherings exciting and meaningful
- Make it easy for visitors to join your church and discover Jesus
- Be involved in the concerns of your community – be a part of the change.
4. Develop players, not participants.
Jesus didn’t say, “Go and make participants,” he said, “Go and make players.” That means the end of your discipleship pathway must be “missionary.” So what would it look like to normalize “mission” and call your people, not just to a deeper spiritual life, but to a life where they’re fully on mission with God? What would it look like if everyone in your church saw themselves first and foremost as missionaries, then secondarily as everything else?
Since Jesus described the Church as a royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:5,9), it’s your responsibility to develop your people into priests. Think about this for a moment, the way that you would train a player is vastly different than the way that you would train a participant. For example, in sports, the best participants are the best consumers – they’re the ones who are buying the jerseys, the season tickets and all the overpriced junk food that accompanies it. However, the best players are the most diligent ones, the ones who know that they need to be training both in season and off season. For the best players, that sport is their life and there is no off-switch. What would it look like if this was the way you developed disciples in your church?
The details are important. Raising up volunteers and finances, while finding a meeting location are all mission critical. But so is the underlying ecclesiology and missiology that affects the way you do ministry and make decisions. By implementing these four tips, you will definitely be on your way to creating a living, breathing representation of the gospel in your community.