Empire - or kingdom - building?
The approach of Ecuadorian Baptists to church planting sets Michael Shaw thinking about how we go about it in the UK
Like many in the Baptist family I read and pray through BMS's excellent prayer guide: it keeps me in touch with the wider family across the world, as well as informing not just my prayers, but also informing my spiritual growth.
At the Cross/baseline/imagebank.org.uk
Last month was no exception. In fact it was deeply challenging to read the prayers for Ecuador and Paraguay on the week beginning 21 December, and their deep desire to church plant. The motto for Ecuador was “every person to win another and every church to plant a church”, which is quite a big idea and one that was even more challenging by the stats that followed the statement: "In 2013, 60 Ecuadorian churches sent 172 members for training in church planting, resulting in 81 fledgling house churches."
My first thought was wow, my second thought was how pathetic it made us in the UK look!
I have recently been involved in discussions about what happens when your building reaches capacity (not mine - we don't even have a church building). There are really just four options, firstly to build, secondly to move to a multi-service or campus church, thirdly to plant and finally, to live with it.
The costly option seems on paper to build, but it is often the one many churches go for, while multiple services/campus are also a tempting to option. But I wonder if these are more about Empire building than Kingdom building. I wonder whether the first option in a Kingdom-focused mind should instead be to plant, to give away. And not just give away the dregs, but select leaders who are gifted and talented, provide them with the right training and send them.
It is interesting to see how our church planting often differs from other denominations. I have noticed that we tend to pick trained ministers and send them out as individuals or families to attempt often new and innovative ways of being church. Some of these succeed and become models that we hear about (often over and over again), many more fail, but we don't hear about them so much do we!
What I have noted is how well it is being done by Vineyard churches and HTB churches, where rather than one of two ministerially trained individuals, they tend to send groups. Instead of a few scant resources, they supply all that the church may need.
Now often these churches are very much clones of the original, and lack creativity, but this strategy does work: while in Bristol I met with the leadership of a very new Vineyard church - at that time of just a handful of people - just five years later it has 250. They planted with a number of key couples and individuals who all moved very strategically to the same part of Bristol; the leader was not a trained pastor, but somoene who had been engrained into a mind set of planting a church.
But all too often we, as Baptists, don't see church planting as part of the future of the church, and all too often, these days, church planting initiatives come not from churches, but from associations.
I wonder what would happen if we grasped that vision of every church planting another church and took it seriously? I wonder what would happen if when we did plant, we did not do it in areas with the same demographics as our existing congregation, but went to the margins or the forgotten places? I wonder what would happen if we placed the Kingdom of God over the Empire of our Church?
The Revd Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church, Plymouth