Planting Churches or Making Disciples? by Steve Crosby

Planting ChurchesHave you ever made a passing comment that you thought was benign, but it ended up causing a hostile reaction? I had that joy recently. I made what I thought was a mild and self-evident comment on a social media site (my first mistake!). It met with that special spiritual gift of the Christian social media world: vitriol and venom!

Planting Churches is it really scriptural?

My crime? I suggested that “church planting” is not inherently the same as making disciples. The irrational nature of some of the responses indicates to me that some strong vested interests were kicking in. Normally this level of hostility only occurs when an individual’s identity is wrapped up in “ministry,” one’s belief systems, or the individual’s access to money is threatened by the comment. Perhaps the nerve I hit . . . needed to be hit.

The phrase “church planting” is never used in the New Testament. Jesus never said: “Build/plant a church for Me.” He said to make disciples, seek the kingdom, and He will build the church. The scriptures exhort us to build up one another individually through agape and charis exchange, but never tell us to build an entity, “a local church.” Paul planted the gospel seed in souls. Others watered that seed. That seed birthed disciples. Those disciples in a given geography gathered together in that locality, and a local church was born.

There are those who think this is just semantic fussing over synonymous terms: the exercise of theologians with too much time on their hands, right up there with the number of angels that can be accommodated on a head of a pin. I disagree.

Advocating for the use of biblical terminology should not be so controversial, unless in so doing, one’s efforts for Christ are perceived as disvalued. Dead men can’t be offended.  Perhaps our efforts for Him are not as free of a personal agenda and the need for self-validation as we might wish. Those who ask potentially embarrassing and self-reflective questions requiring personal change among the consensus orthodoxy[1] of establishment religion, are normally not welcome. I understand the human dynamics of it all.

However, for the moment, let’s concede the point. Let’s say the terms are synonymous. The values andmethods embodied in one’s understanding of “church planting=disciple making” make all the difference.

My premise is that there are tens, if not hundreds of thousands of “planted churches” that neither make disciples, nor seek the kingdom. Whatever may be “planted” often bears little resemblance to what Paul believed or did. What follows are some of the reasons why I believe apostolic disciple making[2] and modern church planting are not synonymous in their value systems. This is not necessarily a comprehensive list, and not listed in any priority.

Apostolic Disciple Making

  • Jesus’ kingdom goes forth in and through us by sharing and experiencing life together in a community.

Modern Church Planting

  • Is built around inviting people to our church and meetings. It isn’t the same as inviting them into our hearts and lives. The former costs us nothing, the latter will cost us everything.

 Apostolic Disciple Making

  • The churches were not Paul’s. He did not have absolute authority over them. You do not end up rejected, alone, unsupported, and in jail, if you have absolute authority over the churches you “plant.”

Modern Church Planting

  • Leaders often require inordinate, and absolute submission to themselves.

 Apostolic Disciple Making

  • Paul was content to establish local elders after only three years of “training,” and to leave them without his future involvement, knowing that so doing would result in negative dynamics in the congregation.[3]

Modern Church Planting

  • Modern church planters micromanage church affairs. They would never think of leaving a local church in the charge of converts from paganism, with only three years of training, and no other oversight from “senior leaders.” Many “church planters” require years and years of “loyalty” to themselves from  individuals, and that they be mandatory tithers, before consideration as a local elder.

Apostolic Disciple Making

  • Birth disciples relationally.

Modern Church Planting

  • Establish churches organizationally and administratively.

Apostolic Disciple Making

  • Loving well and living well together in Christ, in community, and loving and serving others is the practical expression of existence.

Modern Church Planting

  • The sermon and the music/praise service in the “meetings” are the practical expression of identity and existence. How well we live together matters little. The only things that matter are: “Is the sermon revelatory/inspiring and is the worship anointed?”

Apostolic Disciple Making

  • Includes the normative expression of supernatural gifts and manifestations.

Modern Church Planting

  • In some climates the supernatural element is often dispensationally deleted, or viewed as a vestigial nonessential. Our “church plants” are little more than eternal classrooms keeping people in dependent infancy upon information acquisition, or endless counseling/therapy sessions.
  • In other climates the manifestation of the supernatural is worshipped, faked, or counterfeited.

Apostolic Disciple Making

  • Emphasizes the increase of the name and kingdom of Jesus in a geographic community.

Modern Church Planting

  • Much modern church planting is not about Jesus’ kingdom interests in a community, but perpetuation of a private brand identity (denomination, group, association); franchising a spiritual brand, rather than increasing His kingdom.

Apostolic Disciple Making

  • Personal financial support is not mandated. Paul did not mandate personal financial support from churches he was in relation with. Economics flows from love, not obligation.

Modern Church Planting

  • It is frequently all about the money. Teachings about a mandatory tithe and other mandatory financial schemes abound. Money dictates decisions.

Apostolic Disciple Making

  • Allows the Holy Spirit to cross-pollinate His own. Paul allowed unhindered access of all the Eph. 4 ministry gifts in congregations, cross-pollination in diversity, without his express permission in advance.

Modern Church Planting

  • Local church planters have a death-grip control on congregational access, based on “protecting the flock,” when it is often about assuring an income stream for themselves.

Apostolic Disciple Making

  • Requires loyalty to Jesus.

Modern Church Planting

  • Leaders require loyalty to themselves personally, and to the organizational identity corporately.

Apostolic Disciple Making

  • Paul led by relationship, influence, and spiritual authority.

Modern Church Planting

  • Many modern leaders lead by position, rank, and carnal authoritarianism.

Apostolic Disciple Making

  • Births relational disciples within an apostolic framework of understanding

Modern Church Planting

  • Modern “church plants” are done with only a pastor-teacher framework of understanding.  The apostolic and prophetic graces are not understood, nor expressed, and often denied.

Apostolic Disciple Making

  • Paul’s ministry centered around the Person of Jesus Christ, not “his ministry.”

Modern Church Planting

  • Often centered around the senior leader, his/her personality and gift; celebrityism.

Apostolic Disciple Making

  • Is based on the operational reality of death and resurrection, His increase and our decrease. Paul was willing to lose his association to the local churches. They could readily disassociate from him.

Modern Church Planting

  • Pastors/leaders treat churches as if they belonged to them like a commodity: “my church,” “my congregation,” etc. Ministry is done by “gift exercise, administration, and control” rather than death and resurrection. Leaders are unwilling to lose it all, until the Holy Spirit loses it for them, often through much personal pain, and pain in those who have associated with the “leader” rather than Jesus.

 Apostolic Disciple Making

  • Paul gave his life and resources for the churches, though he was loved the less for it.

Modern Church Planting

  • Members of the congregation are expected to give their lives (time, talent, and finances) to fulfill the leader’s “vision;” honor is an entitlement of spiritual position rather than merited through service.

 Apostolic Disciple Making

  • Apostolic churches have a diverse expression of spiritual gift manifestation.

Modern Church Planting

  • Modern churches are overwhelmingly dominated by a singular individual, with a singular gift: the pastor-teacher. All other gifts are sublimated to that gift, if functioning at all beyond a sporadic and token level.

 Apostolic Disciple Making

  • The goal is the increase of the life of Christ in the earth, through discipleship, regardless if it results in local congregation increase; increase through scattering, release, and liberty.

Modern Church Planting

  • The goal is in the numeric and financial increase of the local congregation; increase through gathering, corral, and control.

Apostolic Disciple Making

  • Emphasizes transformation into the image of Jesus through discipleship

Modern Church Planting

  • Emphasizes “salvations.”[4]

So, what should we make of this? The good news is, the depth and breadth of God’s great redemptive plan is enough to sanctify and  bless any effort done in faith, for Him. He can, and will, bless any mess offered to Him in relational faith. If methodological perfections were required, we would all have no hope.

On the other hand, we should not presume upon His great grace and redemption to normalize error and continue practices which misrepresent His purposes in the earth, and which harm the people of God.


[1] The accepted norms of belief in practice in any group or association; present reality is “fine,” and sanctioned by God.
[2] Apostolic Disciple Making: my term for the process of making disciples with the same values and methods used by the apostles, primarily, Paul. It is not meant as a limiting term as something only apostles are qualified to do. Every believer should be “apostolic” in the disciple-making mandate.
[3] Paul was in Ephesus for about three years. He raised up elders, left them, never saw them again, knowing that “wolves” would enter the congregation and some of the very elders he was talking to would regress into self-aggrandizing ambition. See Acts 20. I once heard a well-known apostolic level “father” teach that unless someone is a “tither” who has proved his loyalty for at least twenty years, he should not be considered a candidate to be an elder.
[4] George Barna has documented that fewer than one in ten pastors believe transformation into the image of Christ has any bearing on the spiritual health of a congregation, believing instead that how many people attend, and how many programs are offered indicate spiritual health. More than four out of five pastors never mention issues of transformation in their congregations, preferring to emphasize “salvation.” __________________________________________ Copyright 2012 Dr. Stephen R. Crosby http://www.drstevecrosby.wordpress.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact stephcros9@aol.com.
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A family of authors dealing with a Christian Leaders transition from institutional church systems to the New Testament model based on the Father’s Love, Authentic Relationships and the Kingdom of our Lord.This website exists to advance the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ using the existing technology available to us in the 21st Century. Online articles don’t really lend themselves to teaching since there are few substantive relationships; readers don’t really know your heart and haven’t watched your example. Real Christian leaders don’t get into bible verse bantering with immaturity. We are not the Holy Spirit and the Church is not ours. We offer the truth in love so those who have a teachable spirit will take it before the Lord. We are not the last word. We aim to lead not drive His Body. Love reigns over all, our unity is in the Lord not in doctrine. Christ wins and the Lord builds His Church. Selah…

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2 Comments

  1. Finally! I have said this for a few years, but not as well as you just did.

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