In all of the talk about the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR), part of the conversation usually drifts to what will help energize the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Many believe that the denomination is at defcon4 (though a small minority sees no issues with declining baptisms, membership, giving, and other ominous factors). What will help revitalize the churches that make up the SBC and their mission efforts at home and abroad? What will energize younger pastor’s participation in and hope for the SBC? We do not propose to have all the answers, but we, along with many others, do think one thing is vital to the future of the SBC and the continued participation of young pastors. We must have a vital North American Church Planting Network, and right now we just do not seem to have one. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) appears to be in upheaval with leadership uncertainty, frustrations with planting, and a lack of a unified approach. This is not to say that the North American Mission Board does not do some effective and good things. NAMB has been used of God to plant many healthy churches. But can we do better? Can we develop a church planting strategy that has a higher success rate and is more directly tied to the local church? We think the answer is “Yes!”
We want to propose what a vital church planting network might look like and be characterized by. Since the SBC has an existing home Mission Board this proposal will of necessity offer suggestions that call for some change in that existing board. However, we are not naïve enough to think that the vision we propose will be easily implemented when there is an existing structure in place. Much of this discussion will focus on what such a church planting network might look like built from the ground up. We also understand that much more than what we will lay out here goes into this kind of network.
The Primacy of the local church – this network must be characterized and driven by the primacy of the local church as the body created by King Jesus to plant other churches. Ultimately, local churches rather than mission boards “run point” on planting churches. Why? The church is the one commissioned to do this. Not a home mission board. Acts 13 shows us that the Church at Antioch under the power of the Holy Spirit recognized, commissioned, and sent Paul and Barnabas for the purpose of church planting. So what is the role of the church planting network? Ultimately, the network or the board is to be a servant to the churches of the SBC. Our local, state and national entities were NOT created to DO the work of the local church. National church planting networks are merely to serve the church. The New Testament gives the mandate to churches to multiply and not to mission boards. J.D. Greear, of the Summit Church and the Great Commission Task force, has written several articles about “parachurchism.” He writes, “Parachurch ministries (and, denominations and networks) exist to facilitate the ministry of the local church…denominational networks are simply functional tools that churches can use to accomplish the mission given to them… Good parachurch ministries facilitate the ministry of the church. Bad parachurch takes ministry from a local church and does it for her. Bad parachurch says, ‘Give us money and people and we’ll do ministry for you.’” We believe, unfortunately, that our North American church planting network has operated under the bad parachurch category in the past, supplanting the church as the vehicle that plants churches.
The Primacy of the Local Church in planting would mean a better selection process – In the New Testament and throughout most of Baptist life, the church has been the one that confirmed the call of the pastor. We must recover this in Baptist life; not every “Billy Baptist” that says he thinks it is time to go into vocational ministry is called out. The person’s internal calling must be confirmed by the external calling of his local church setting him apart for ministry. God calls people to ministry through the church. This, again, is the pattern we see when the Church at Antioch recognized the calling of Paul and Barnabas to mission and sent them out (Acts 13:1-3). If the churches will do this, then they can mark out the ones they think are fit to be Planters (based on elder qualifications in the NT). They will have the advantage of seeing these men on a day in day out basis and so will know them even more intimately than a board or a network can. They will know how these men love their wives and their children. The Church will know and see their ministry gifts as they are exercised in the fire of local church ministry. And the Church will then be responsible to send them out, this is great because the onus will be on that church and most churches would not waste time and resources on one that is not called and competent. This process would avoid sending isolated individuals disconnected from local church ministry. It would also weed out disgruntled planters who want to start something new because they do not see anyone else “doing it right.” Church planting pastors need to first follow the godly leadership of an older pastor before they plant. They must be able to submit to authority before they can be in authority.
Jon and Nathan Akin
In part 2, we will continue to examine the primacy of the local church and how it should impact our church planting.