Planting churches: a missional imperative
The church growth specialist and missiologist, C. Peter Wagner makes the bold statement “The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches”.
In the 1990’s, whilst studying for my Master’s degree at Trinity College, Glasgow University, I was researching the missiological impact of three urban Church of Scotland congregations. I considered that one of the churches was particularly effective in this regard, and remarked in an essay that it was ‘newly planted by the Church of Scotland’. My supervisor wrote in the margin, “The Church of Scotland does not plant churches; it is the spiritual guardian of the nation”.
The model of church as “spiritual guardian of the nation” lies deep within the DNA of the Scotland’s people but as Christendom influence wanes and postmodernism impacts our culture, the most effective means of fulfilling the great commission is to plant worshiping missional communities, in a spirit of cooperation with and/or ‘out from’ more established communities of faith.
The Hermeneutics of Peoplehood
I am indebted to the late Mennonite scholar John Howard Yoder for the succinct descriptive phrase ‘the hermeneutics of peoplehood’.  Yoder’s argument, which holds true for Christian mission as much as for ethics (Yoder was an ethicist), is that the most effective interpretative medium for the Christian message is people: people, in all their complexities, their brokenness, failures and relationships.
This methodology stands in contrast to strategies which depend on performance evangelism and attractive programmes. This methodology is God’s methodology: Philippians 2:6-11 reminds us that God took on human skin, lived among us, and died an ignominious death on a criminal gibbet. This was not an aberration of the eternal plan, but a methodology in relational communication which lies at the very heart of God’s hermeneutic: “for God so loved the world that He sent His only SON”.
And so it continues. As God communicates through His Son, so he communicates His overwhelming love through the holistic relational lives and behaviour of His people (John 13: 35). Such incarnational and relational missiology is costly and sacrificial (as it was for Jesus) which is why, I suggest, we have often preferred performance evangelism which costs us little.
Loving one another means preferring one another
The command from Jesus to “love one another” (Jn. 13:34) is the most difficult of all commandments. As I said in my last blog, this is not an aspiration or an optional extra. This is the way God communicates. ‘Loving one another’ means that we stick to loving whatever the consequences for ourselves, our own identity and our own security. It flies in the face of so many church splits through personality differences and trivial issues: all of which mars the Christian witness.
‘Loving one another’ also means reaching out in genuine love and mutual respect to other streams of the Christian church: they often embody centuries of profound Christian truth. Let the founders and members of ‘new churches’ foster cooperative relationships with more established churches. Let leaders in more established denominations allow fresh expressions in missional community to flourish in their neighbourhood and let both find good ways to work together. In my travels to promote the SSCM course in Pioneer Ministry, I am heartened to discover this is happening in exciting ways – from Edinburgh to Ayr and throughout Scotland.
The CertHe in Theology (Pioneer Ministry) is now under way at SSCM in partnership with Nazarene Theological College and is a very practical, in–the-field course, overseen by seasoned church-planters and church leaders.
Tutor in Pioneer Ministry
C. Peter Wagner (2010) Church Planting for A Greater Harvest: Wipf& Stock Publishers, Eugene OR.
John Howard Yoder(1984)The Priestly Kingdom: Notre Dame Press, Indiana. (pgs. 15-45)