The best car I ever owned was a ’72 Chrysler Valiant. My wife, Kimm, called it the “Wonder V,” as in, “I wonder why you think I want to ride in that.” But it was a tank on tires—so solidly built, I used it as a backstop for pitching practice. A baseball into the side of my present car would total it. It was a sad day when the “Wonder V” gave up the ghost. When something is solid, well-built, and passes the test of time, we need to value it.
That’s the way we need to understand church planting strategies. In a world where “new” gets the buzz, we need to value that which has proven itself over time. I’m part of a family of churches that has been planting churches for over three decades, but we’re just little pups in the historical perspective. We have the well-earned reputation for being as slow as my Valiant. Much of that is because we want to build solid and build well. But we’re also learning something: in order for us to move forward, we need the past.
It starts, of course, with Scripture. We look back on the priority and patterns of church planting found in the New Testament. The Great Commission, how it was understood and applied in Acts, the models that emerged, how they perpetuated themselves—this is timeless stuff! The art of church planting is to take that which the Scriptures call valuable and build it into makes and models that fit the contexts we are trying to penetrate with the gospel. Context matters, but that’s not where we start. We start with the Scriptures.
After the Scriptures, we need to study church planting as it’s been done in history. You won’t find the Apostolic Fathers talking about church planting, but churches have been planted for two millennia. We need to look at how Calvin and Luther and the early reformers recreated the church in local contexts at the dawn of the Protestant era. We need to see how the experiments in church planting that occurred among Puritans and Pilgrims worked, and didn’t work. We may be in the first generation that has begun to carve out a specific practical theology for church planting. However, like everything else we do well, somebody has worked the field before us.
Here’s an example. Did you know Spurgeon had a church planting movement? The Metropolitan Tabernacle didn’t just gather great numbers. It was also a church planting church.
Perhaps the most significant auxiliary work of the Pastors’ College, and that which made the greatest long-lasting contribution, was the work done in church planting. Scores of churches were planted in London and throughout the country because of the College students’ efforts.1
The work wasn’t simply confined to Great Britain either. This thing was global.
Spurgeon was responsible for sending men to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Haiti, the Falkland Islands, North and South America, South Africa, Amsterdam; the ministry of the Pastors’ College began to extend itself worldwide.2
Church planting is only trendy for non-readers. And you can’t be a non-reading church planter. That’s like being a hammerless roofer. You might stand in high places but no work really gets done.
Church planters: study and value the past. It’s the path to the future.
Dave Harvey is responsible for church care, church planting, and international expansion for Sovereign Grace Ministries. He is the author of the forthcoming book Am I Called? The Summons to Pastoral Ministry (Crossway), as well as previous releases Rescuing Ambition and When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage.
1 Drummond, Prince of Preachers, 419.
2 Ibid., 413.