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Church Planting Field Story

Why Church Planting?

“Church planting is extremely difficult. Continuing to press forward when the church seems to be moving backward takes Christ-centered commitment and endurance.”

“Jesus didn’t tell us to plant churches but to make disciples.” New to the field, I was struggling through language learning and venting to a fellow worker about the daunting task of planting a church. He gave the above response, referring to Matthew 28:19. Although he meant it to be comforting, his comment provoked a rekindling of zeal and commitment to plant churches no matter the difficulty.

Jesus made this statement in Matthew 16:18: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” To isolate the last verses of Matthew and and pretend they say nothing about church is to ignore the greater context of Matthew’s gospel, which includes explicit church statements from Jesus. We could also look at other places in Scripture (such as Acts and the epistles, where we see the disciples carrying out Jesus’ commission by planting churches), but here we will stay in Matthew to make the case for church planting.

A complete reading of Matthew reveals that the “kingdom of heaven” (3:2, 4:17) is a major theme and that the “church” (16:18, 18:17) is a manifestation of the kingdom in this age. Jesus states his intent to build the church and gives the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” to the church for “binding and loosing” (16:19). This means the church preaches the gospel, recognizes true adherence to it, and exercises discipline in guarding the doors of the kingdom. The keys denote kingdom authority, and we see this authority further spotlighted in 18:17-20, where Jesus says his very presence is with the church when it agrees on disciplinary cases (No, verse 20 is not about any random gathering of “two or three” Christians. It’s about God’s authority in the church when it makes disciplinary decisions.). The “keys of the kingdom” are not given to missions agencies or discipleship strategies, as wonderful as these may be. Jesus’ authority and presence reside in the church.

Returning to the Great Commission, Jesus says to “teach [the nations] to observe all that I have commanded you” (28:20). As we make disciples, we cannot neglect what Jesus taught, and he taught about church! His charge to disciple all the nations includes discipling them in this kingdom initiative. Jesus’ authority and presence reside in the church, and his commission is to join him as he builds his church among all peoples.

Amidst the temptation to take shortcuts and pursue numbers and quicker results, this is a call to remain faithful to Jesus’ mission as he defines it and to plant and support healthy biblical churches. As one who has been laboring for nearly a decade to plant even one church among the least-reached, I can sympathize with someone who might prefer a different method. Church planting is extremely difficult. It constantly feels like ten steps forward, nine steps back. There isn’t always something attractive to write home about (should I explain why we removed the divisive member from our church last month?). Learning language is laborious. Seeing individual converts is hard enough; convincing them to trust one another and live life together is nearly impossible. Continuing to press forward when the church seems to be moving backward takes Christ-centered commitment and endurance.

Yet when we step back and realize that God has moved us least one step forward, we remember that Jesus’ authority undergirds us, and we are comforted not by a comment contrary to church planting but by the fact that as we are obedient to Jesus, he himself is “with [us] always, to the end of the age” (28:20).

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