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Friday, April 22, 2005

What the Church is All About

As Ryan and I think about planting a church in Missoula, one of the questions we get a lot is "Why do we need more churches anyway?" Even those who like the idea often haven't given much thought to what a church should look like; "What is the church really supposed to be about, anyway?"

When you plant a church from scratch you get to step up to the plate and try to answer that question - it's a tremendous opportunity, but it's also terrifying because there is so much riding on your conclusions. That's part of the reason why God warns us not to take the role of leadership lightly (James 3:1). That's also why we want Scripture to guide and shape our practice.

As we approach church planting, it is critical to identify our core presuppositions up front – how we think about the God, the church, and mission. This is important because our starting points will inevitably shape how we look at everything else – opportunities, dangers, goals, directions, and especially our methodologies.

So why DO we want to plant a church? What DO we think church is all about? How do we delineate our core convictions?

We start by concurring with the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” In short, we recognize that man exists to worship God (1 Cor 10:31; Rom 11:36). Unfortunately, all us have fallen short of God’s glory – both in Adam, and in our own actions – no one is righteous; there is no one who seeks God, not even one (Rom 3:23, 5:12-14, 3:9-12.).

Given this, we also agree with John Piper, who says that, “Mission is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Mission exists because worship doesn’t.” Think about that for a minute. God desires people to worship him in spirit and in truth, and because of our own inability, he himself is seeking true worshipers – not merely to find them, but to actually form them (John 4:23, 6:44). God is creating a people for himself, and this redemptive effort summarizes his work through all of history.

At the heart of our confession, then, lies a central truth: God is a missional God – his work culminates in Christ, Christ’s work culminates in the church, and the church’s work culminates in worship and mission. From this basic recognition, we can make several key observations:
  • God, not man, builds his church – Church planting is not simply a matter of human effort or intention – this is something God is doing. It is his work (cf. Acts 13-14, where we repeatedly see God actively intervening to build his church: 13:2, 4, 9, 48, 52; 14:1, 3, 27).
  • God has been building it from the beginning – everything God was doing in the OT finds its fulfillment in Jesus. Christ is the crux of the entire biblical story (cf. Gen 3:15, 12:2-3; 2 Sam 7:13; Acts 13:32-33). The heart of the gospel is that Jesus fulfills all of God’s promises.
  • God has a passion for the lost – Jesus views his own work in terms of saving the lost and building his church. Thus Christ is a missional Messiah (cf. Luke 19:10; John 4:1-43; Mt 16:18; 1 Pe 2:6-7).
  • The church is at the center of God’s redemptive plan – In Eph 3:6-11, Paul tells us that the church is the climax of God’s eternal purpose, created to manifest the mystery of the gospel to the Gentiles. In other words, the church is God’s means for mission. The church exists to model the gospel – in word, deed, worship, and mission – to unbelievers, and so invite them to participate in the kingdom as well.
In light of these principles, we offer two core convictions for church planting:
  1. First, we want to plant churches that reach the unchurched – We desire this because God has a heart for the lost, he commands us to go, and this is where the harvest is ripe. Our aim is not simply to establish a “reformed church,” or to gather people who are already Christians - neither of these are bad; but they aren't at the heart of what the church is all about, either. We must never lose sight of the fact that our calling is to bring the gospel to people who have rejected God so that the gospel may redeem both us and our culture.

  2. Second, we want to plant churches that plant more churches – We believe that mission must be part of the fabric of the church; the goal of our church plants is not to become self-sufficient and acquire a building – it is to call people (both unbelievers and believers) to continual faith in Christ, to lead them in true worship of God, to equip them for service in the church and for life in the culture, and to send them missionally back to the unchurched. While every member of the body has different gifts and abilities, we assert that all Christians are called to serve and witness and participate in mission, just as all are called to believe and worship.
So mission exists because worship doesn’t. Conversely, true worship must include mission.

These convictions carry dual implications. As God’s church, we are obligated to think missionally (redemptively) about our unbelieving friends, our neighborhoods, our cities, and the larger region in which we live. Ecclesiologically, we are not permitted merely to focus on our own personal or corporate needs and desires. We exist for mission.

As God’s missional agent to the world, however, we must also think missionally (pastorally) about our churches. We must give careful consideration to how we call, train, and equip our flocks, and how we embody the gospel in all aspects of our faith and practice. We are not permitted to view mission simply as propositional proclamation; belief is much more than mere intellectual assent to historical facts. We exist for worship.

Consequently, neither mission nor worship must ever become a subcategory or parenthesis within our ecclesiology – mission and worship are THE primary tasks of the church. Christians within our churches must come to love the things God loves and to redefine their own practices in light of his, and this will only happen as they realize the relevance of the gospel for themselves, as well as for unbelievers. As Martin Luther says, it is not enough for us to know that Jesus is Christ, he must “be Christ for you and me.”

Mission and worship are intimately interconnected; both are funded by the gospel. The churches we plant must manifest this reality. If we are serious about these convictions, it will impact how we plant churches.


At 1:48 PM, April 23, 2005, Blogger Kevin said...

great stuff guys

At 2:50 PM, April 23, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Dude! Now THAT is a coffee cup!!! I want one of those... :-)

At 5:10 AM, April 24, 2005, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

This is a keeper...I'm still not sure if I'm called to plant a church...or even to pastor one....but if I do, you've given me much to think about.

At 6:10 PM, September 17, 2005, Blogger criticMT said...

My favoriate feature of blogger is "next blog"!

I enjoyed looking through yoursite... and was particularly interested in seeing you were wanting to move to Missoula, MT... I grew up in MT and spent many years in Missoula...

However, I have to say, your post "what the church is all about" got a rise out of me! Overall, I agree with everything you had to say...

Mission exists because worship doesn't...
Yahweh is a missional god...
True worship must include mission...

And I liked the two convictions you drew from the above... planting churches to the unchurched (I read unreached) and you plant churches that do the same...

But you stated that you were going to answer what turns out to be an important question to me: why plant a church in Missoula, MT?

I was a part of a bible believing, spirit lead, missions minded church in Missoula (Oh.... right, wrong denomination probably...) A church that actually had planted another church in the "poorest" part of town because there was no church there (but again, probably the wrong denomination...)

I know, I'm just some fake christian who probably smokes and drinks to much and just doesn't "get it"...

But let me just say this, for those who can hear... there are places in the world where there is currently NO CHURCH... why don't you grow some and actually have the where with all to plant a church there?

You'll even have the market on the right denomination...

I know this comes off badly, I don't mean to be a jerk... but why don't you just cut the bull and say it as it is... you want to move to MT and there isn't any denomination you currently attend there...

At 7:24 PM, September 17, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Hi criticmt. First, I want to thank you for taking the time to share your comments. They are thoughtful, polite, and they probably represent a fairly common sentiment. You have done an excellent job of stating your case. So thank you again (and I really do mean that).

I doubt there's any way I'm going to argue into our camp, so I won't try. Instead, I'll just try and offer a few thoughts on how we look at things.

1. We're from Montana, relate well to the people in Montana, and would like to go back and spend our lives there. You might say we have a vested interest in seeing the gospel go forth there - we care about the people there, because many of them are our friends, its our home. From our perspective, God has given us a connection.

2. We're intentionally going to Missoula partly because its the second largest city in Montana w/out a church from our denomination, but mostly because it's home to the largest group of unchurched folks. Statistics I've seen say that nearly 70% of Missoulians fall into the "unchurched" category; on a given Sunday, only about 10% of any Missoulians are in any church anywhere. So from our perspective, we see a need.

3. We're also firm believers that the Church is bigger than any one denomination. Yes, we ourselves fall into one particular niche, but we also realize that no one size fits all - we're more than happy to see people in other churches where the gospel is preached; we're so committed to not "stealing sheep" that our policy will be "if you already go to another church, we won't take you in ours without the blessing of your church leadership." And if you come to us saying, "hey, I want to plant a church in Missoula too" (even if it's not our denomination), we'd be more than happy to have you there, and will help you however we can. From our perspective, anything less wouldn't be fair.

I don't know if that helps or not, but hopefully it will help show where are commitments lie.

Thanks again for posting,

(ps - the seminary where I study once had a professor who was accused of smoking too many cigars. "Bah," he replied, "too many cigars is more than one at a time!" All that to say, maybe you'll think WE smoke and drink too much...) :-)

At 4:57 AM, September 18, 2005, Blogger rs said...

Dear Criticmt:

I figured since you blasted both of us, I probably should respond as well...

I would respond much along the same lines as Christian except that I don't really agree with some of what you said. I happen to work for a missions agency that sends missionaries all over the world and plants churches etc. And it isn't wise to just send someone some place for the sake of putting a church there.

There needs to be a sense of calling and love for the people where one is going. Christian and I have been called to Missoula and many wise men have also affirmed our calling. As Christian said, we also love Montanans and want to see a fresh wave of the Gospel blow through our great state.

We realize that there are already churches in Missoula--some of them good ones that are growing. But these are few and they do not represent what Christianity is doing overall in the area. It is shrinking while Mormonism and eastern religions are on the rise.

Also, we don't believe that denominational diversity is a bad thing. God has made the universal church very diverse and different denominations are better at catering to different people. We should seek to celebrate this diversity and work together, realizing that we can't reach everyone by ourselves.

I want to finish with a question...why does our vision get you so fired up? As Christian said, there are plenty of unreached people in Missoula. Wouldn't more churches be good for the city? I just don't get it. Why does another church plant threaten rather than encourage?

Can I just say THANK YOU for having a pair and the where with all to post comments that represent how you really feel. We appreciate, though hard to hear, that there are people who aren't seeing things the way we are necessarily. We appreciate the challenge and hope we can continue dialogue with you.

At 5:06 AM, September 19, 2005, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

Brothers, may I just say that you were models of grace, charity, and Christian conversation in your response to mtcritic. I doubt, to my shame, that I would've had the self-restraint you've shown after he wrote off you calling. Thanks for being such a good example.

At 1:18 PM, September 19, 2005, Blogger criticMT said...

Well, I almost didn't; but I did... I book marked your site to see if you were going to respond... and you did! To my utter horror you did and I showed up on your front page! Oh man...

I'm with the Foolish Sage, I wouldn't have been so kind Christian... and I'm sorry for blasting you too, RS!

Thanks for being honest though; I really appreciate that and think most in Missoula will too...

I got worked up is because the time I spent in Missoula saw a number of churches coming in and making a splash just to be gone in five short years...

Compound that with the fact I have spent some significant time since leaving MT in a part of the world where the local body could really use some committed Christian leaders to come in and encourage the church (the real church, the body)...

And the glue that made me hit post comment was the whole denominational madness that I loathe as I do...

I didn't mean to take out on you guys my frustration with the church as a whole (man, who knew "next blog" was going to do this!). I understand you want to feel "called" some place RS, and that you both feel called to MT... that's not a small thing... but I just wish we had more people willing to serve in places that wasn't "home"; I wish we had more Pauls' today...

I gather you go to westminster.... there's a little seminary north of you guys called gordon-conwell that maintains the "world christian database" (which is now partly online)... anyway, I just feel there is something fundamentally wrong with the american church when we send more missionaries to Mexico than we do to the WHOLE Muslim world...

Anyway... sorry for being a real arce...

And I'm sorry I may have discouraged you from what I am sure you feel is a strong call from god!

Again, I'm sorry. Blessings as you go!

At 1:38 PM, September 19, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Hey, don't sweat it. The reason you made the front page wasn't to call you out or anything - you asked a really good question that we all need to think about.

Regarding the denominational thing, I'm sympathetic with much of what you bothers you - I was actually very anti-denominational myself at one point. I felt like we should all have "no creed but Christ".

What I discovered through a lot of bad experiences in various churches, however, it that everyone has a creed - the real issue is whether they're going to be honest and tell you upfront, or wait until you cross them or disagree to show their cards (at which point it's usually "their way or the highway")

For better or worse (and I realize there's still a lot of worse in them) denominations help people make their creeds explicit up front. And for that I appreciate them.

Our goal is to be upfront and honest about what we believe so that people know what they're getting right from the get-go. And we realize full well that not everyone's going to agree with our understanding of things. That's fine. It's not our job to change their minds. It is our job to be honest about where we are, to maybe help them understand why we we think the way we do.

Ultimately, though, we want to point people towards Christ, and if their conclusions differ from ours, then we want to point them in the direction of a church that thinks more like they do.

I'm probably repeating myself by now, so I'll just stop.

Thanks for responding, and rest assured you haven't offended anyone here (we're pretty thick skinned, and it shouldn't really be about us anyway).

Hopefully you'll go away having discovered a few more brothers and sisters in Christ (in the Presbyterian church of all places!) And of course, you're welcome back any time...


At 6:36 PM, September 19, 2005, Blogger Molly said...

I've enjoyed following the discussion here -- even if I haven't had time to comment.

I wanted to add a little reply to something that criticmt said about sending more missionaries to Mexico than to the entire Muslim world. I don't have much to say except that missionaries in both countries are absolutely critical. In the Muslim world, the Gospel has not been a part of the culture since the early middle ages; the fact that Islam is such a grace-less religion just screams for the Gospel to come in and free people from their bondage to fear and hatred. In Mexico, Catholicism is such a part of the culture, it's sometimes hard to tell where the world ends and the church begins ... the church as it has come to be very much like the world, that is. Mexico has also been strongly influenced by America, so that materialism and discontentment are major problems faced by the church. Both countries desperately need to know more of Christ's grace.

I think "Muslim" and "Mexico" struck a chord with me because my church is involved in church-planting efforts in both regions. It's exciting to see a church that only 10 years ago had little or no interest in missions be so enthusiastic, dedicated and sacrificial in support of brothers and sisters in these areas. And it's my prayer that the church planted by God through the Cryders and the Sutherlands in Missoula will grow up with that same vision ... like mother (church), like daughter (church)!

At 3:10 PM, September 25, 2005, Anonymous Amylav said...

Christ shines through you...

Well spoken, dear friends.

At 9:39 AM, September 26, 2005, Blogger criticMT said...

I should probably leave you guys alone...

But I'm not suggesting that missions aren't critical EVERYWHERE! Even in Missoula, MT! However, the sad reality is only 1.5% of all Christian giving goes to the least unreached area of the world, the so-called 10/40 window. That is according to several sources including World Vision and the World Christian Database. So the least reached area of the world gets the smallest piece of the pie. Interesting.

3 in 5 people in the WORLD live in this area as well as three world religions; Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism and make it four if you count China as an atheist state.

Out of that, over 90% are classified as "unevangelized" meaning there is no or only a nominal indigenous church. And out of all the people in the world who have NEVER even heard the name of Jesus almost ALL live in this area.

I'm not saying Jesus shouldn't be proclaimed in Mexico or Missoula... I'm suggesting HE ALREADY IS! And more importantly, there are people through out the world who do not currently have an opportunity to hear about the saving Grace of Christ.

And for the first time in HUMAN HISTORY more people live in urban centers than in rural communities and you want to move to the sticks of MT?

Listen, I don't know you cats from Adam; but are you honestly answering yes to the following questions: God has never called you to serve in the "10/40 window"? God has specifically called you to serve in Missoula, MT?

You don't have to answer me; your heart will answer and that's all I care about. I'm sorry for posting here about this as I can see you have surrounded yourself with people who don't dare challenge your positions and this probably isn't the most comfortable conversation for you. I'll delete the bookmark...

And I don't say all of this as someone who is sitting comfortably in America but by someone who has taken the call of Christ seriously and has sacrificed my comfort and that of my family's for the sake of Christ.

At 10:36 AM, September 26, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Hi CriticMT,

Sounds like we've ticked you off again (although I'm still not sure how we did it). At any rate, please know that wasn't our intent.

It may be that we just look at things a little differently.

From our perspective, God is working all over the world, not just in one particular location. And we believe the need for church work in America is FAR from complete - we find it hard to think of any country with an unchurched population over 50% (and Missoula is even higher!) as a "Christian nation" where the work of the church is already complete.

So yes, we really do think there is a need here. And yes, we really do believe that God is calling us to Missoula (and not somewhere in the 10-40 window).

It almost sounds like you assume that couldn't possibly be the case?

As for the suggestion that we are insulating ourselves from criticism, I'd just encourage you to hang out and watch and listen and dialogue with us - see if you still think that's the case after you've followed along for a while.

Here's hoping you won't delete that bookmark, or jump to the conclusion that God couldn't possibly be doing some new in Missoula, MT...

Hope to see you around,

At 10:38 AM, September 26, 2005, Blogger rs said...


Even though you deleted the bookmark and probably won't come back to see our response, I am posting anyway!

I agree with everything you are saying, but I can honestly answer yes to both questions you are posing. Let me share a bit of my own story, briefly...

I became a xian while serving on a mission trip. That's right, as a pagan 17 year old I went on a mission trip where the Spirit quickened my heart and changed me into a follower of Christ. I was deeply moved by that and subsequent mission trips that I went on over the next ten years.

For the past 3 years I have served with a missions agency called World Harvest Mission as a recruiter for missionaries. After every trip, whether it is to Mexico, Africa, London or wherever, my heart aches for the world. I have spent most of my Christian life praying that God would send me into missions. Yet He never has. Instead He has equipped me to be a sender.

Much of our vision for Missoula is to raise up the next generation of missionaries and church planters. Your plea resonates deep within me, but God has not made it possible for us to go overseas at this time.

I hope that helps a bit for you. I guarantee that brave Christian men and women like you and your family would not be able to risk all and step out in faith if it weren't for churches back in the states to support you and send you.

We have a strong desire to see the Gospel go forth to the ends of the earth and think we are best equipped to do that from Missoula.

My thinking is who better to send to the nations but Montanans? They are tough, rugged and willing to take risks. But statistics are showing that no one is discipling and challenging them missionally.

I don't deny at all what you are saying. But our hearts are firmly set on Missoula. I am extremely surprised that the Lord has not sent us overseas (we are open to it) and Missoula was definitely not on our radar until recently. God has moved our hearts in this direction, there is no denying that. All we can do is follow.

Thanks again for challenging us. We'll pray that your lips are seasoned with the Gospel in whatever country you are ministering.


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