5 Ps of Mission Partnerships

Each local church has the same mission from God regardless of the location or culture of that congregation.  In essence, all churches are called to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19-20).  While we have the creativity and wisdom to nuance how each church carries out this God-given mandate, multiplying disciples is the mission of the church.  No church can be everywhere, but every church is called to make disciples of all nations.  How is this possible?  One practical way for every church to make disciples of all nations is by partnering well with missionaries who serve among the nations. 

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One of our IMB missionary partners helped develop what we call the 5 Ps of partnership.  In other words, how can your church partner practically with missionaries who live among the nations in order for your church to be part of discipling all nations?  While Southern Baptists are part of impacting all nations through our Cooperative Program giving, we also want to make personal connections with missionaries in order to put a “face” to Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, and, in our state, Eliza Broadus. 

Here are 5 ways to partner with missionaries for global disciple-making:

  • Prayer– This is where it all begins. No partnership should pursue any of the other four “Ps” without starting here. This is God’s work. The book of Acts describes the early church as being empowered through prayer (Acts 1:14).  Developing a prayer strategy is essential for global impact.
  • Pastoral– Often overlooked, pastoral (soul) care provides missionary longevity. The book of Acts describes how the early church provided encouragement for mission partners. (Acts 14:21-22).  Paul intentionally encouraged his partners, knowing that ministry is a road filled with adversity.
  • Project– Mission trips are what most people think of in terms of partnership.  Project partners (local churches) should listen to their mission partners (missionaries), assisting in their existing platforms and identities to help and not hinder long-term work.  As needed, churches can help missionaries accomplish much in disciple-making through mission trips, particularly as they assist them along the missionary task.
  • People group/Place– The focus here is on the people group/place itself; that is, there is an understanding workers may come and go, but a long-term commitment to supporting a planting effort among a particular people group/place can take different forms and involve different people over time.  The local church commits to that people group/place regardless of whether missionaries come or go.
  • Pioneer– Perhaps the least common among these five, Pioneer Partners take the work on for themselves, mobilizing their own teams to directly engage in the long-term planting effort.  Realizing that the need is greater than there is manpower, Pioneer Partners commit to enter a location themselves with the help of nearby missionaries. 

If the Missions Mobilization Team of the KBC can help your church intentionally develop mission partnerships by thinking through the 5 Ps, please let us know ([email protected]).  We are here to help. 

Great Commission Difference

Gospel work is hard work.  The apostle Paul knew this reality well.  Not long after setting out on his first missionary journey he and Barnabas experienced much opposition (Acts 13:45).  In fact, Paul’s normal pattern of gospel engagement included going where the people (Jews first) were gathered, sharing Jesus, and then seeing a variety of responses (Acts 13-14).  Some believed and embraced the message with great joy.  Others baulked at this message of a Messiah crucified and raised from the dead.  In many places where Paul and Barnabas preached Jesus, they were forced to leave. Yet, in their leaving they often saw a fledgling church birthed from their gospel proclamation. 

To be sure, these new church plants, as we would describe them today, were stationed in locations where the gospel soil was hard.  For various reasons, not least of which Jewish traditions, these new churches faced an uphill climb to reach their cities with the good news of a Jewish Messiah who was crucified and raised to life on the third day.  Let’s face it, Jesus warned his first followers that if the world hated him, they would no less hate them and anyone after them too (John 15:18).

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Nearing the end of Paul’s first missionary journey, he recognizes the importance of encouraging those fledgling churches.  He makes his way back to them “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith…” (Acts 14:22).  Why is this necessary so soon after these churches were birthed?  Because gospel work is hard work and if churches (and missionaries) are not careful and intentional, they can find themselves overwhelmed by the daily needs of the flock and the opposition of the unbelieving world around them.

Paul knows this from personal experience, so he models for these new churches an important Great Commission component. Other churches can help provide longevity in the gospel work of others through their encouragement.  Perhaps often overlooked, encouragement of other pastors, churches, and missionaries is a critical piece in an overall understanding of Great Commission faithfulness. 

Missionaries find themselves discouraged at the prospect of reaching a people hostile to the good news of Jesus, as well as all the challenges that come with living in a new culture. Pastors find themselves down over the lack of commitment of members in the church. Those in the church feel deflated at times when the ministry they help lead has few involved in it.  The point is clear: we all need people in our lives to encourage us to keep running, to not grow weary.

So, what is a person to do to bring encouragement?  Think of two approaches to encouragement.  First, pray weekly.  Second, encourage (tangibly) at least monthly.  Identify a missionary, pastor, and/or church (members) that you can pray for weekly and encourage monthly.  Let them know you are praying for them (ask for specific needs from them to intercede for them). Then monthly, find various ways to lift them up: send a text message, write a card, mail them a gift package, remember their birthday(s), make a visit.  In other words, be creative about the ways you can pour into them while they are pouring into others for the gospel.  In doing so, I am convinced that God will use your encouragement as a means for their perseverance.  Never underestimate how your encouragement will make a Great Commission difference. 

Tumbled Walls

Moses had gathered 12 of his finest, most loyal men to spy out the land.  God had brought them out of Egypt by his mighty hand.  He had parted the Red Sea, led them by a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night. God fed them manna from the dew and quail from the sky. He even gave them water out of rocks.  God told Moses the land He was leading the people to was their land.  They would receive what they had never worked for—God would provide them a home, a land for themselves.

So, as they gathered themselves on the edge of this promised land, God told Moses to send these 12 spies to check it out.  In stealth mode, they go through the land spying it out—they check out the land, the people of the land and the numbers of people throughout the land. They return from their 40-day scouting expedition with their report for Moses.  He and the people are gathered to hear the news…10 say nay and 2 say yay!

In summary, the 10 nays win the day and convince the people not to take the land—a land already promised to them.  The result of the people’s disobedience is they must wonder in the desert for 40 years, to see the land from a distance yet not be able to enter it. 

Forty years has passed by the time we come to Joshua 6.  A new leader is on the scene because Moses has died.  Joshua is the new commander and was part of the original 12 who had spied out the land over 40 years prior. Joshua is one of the original 2 who said Israel can take the land. 

God has prepared Joshua for this role of leadership and after his Moses-like parting of the Jordan River experience (Joshua 3), he faces his first obstacle in the Promised Land—the impenetrable stone-walled city of Jericho.  But here is what we find in the book of Joshua that is a theme woven throughout the Bible.  God often does the unimaginable, so that He gets the glory and not ourselves.

You know the story (Joshua 6).  God tells Joshua to gather his military, seven priests, and the ark.  They are to march around the city one time for six days and go back to camp not saying a word.  The priests will blow seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark each time.  Then on day seven, they will march around the city seven times, blow the trumpets, and all the people will shout and the walls will come tumblin’ down!  Sounds pretty crazy! But that’s just it.  God loves to do the unimaginable, so that He gets the glory and not ourselves. 

The book of Joshua is about conquest.  By the time we get to the New Testament, the theme of conquest continues to reverberate through the pages of Scripture.  However, the conquest at this point is not with military might, trumpets, or an ark.  Rather, the greater reality of conquest in the Bible is accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of One who is greater than Moses and Joshua as well as even the kings and prophets.  Jesus came not to tear down stone walls, but to crush stone hearts.  Interestingly, He does this stone-crushing by using ordinary soldiers to take the good news of His life, death, and resurrection to their neighbors and the nations. 

How could this be possible?  The world is so large and the opposition to the gospel of Jesus is so hardening.  But that’s just it.  God loves to do the unimaginable, so that He gets the glory and not ourselves.  Will you spend your life for this unimaginable, but God glorifying cause and watch the walls come tumblin’ down?    

Holding the Ropes in New York City

William Carey is known as the “father of modern missions.”  He was a missionary to India in the late 1700s.  He and his good friend, Andrew Fuller, partnered together for the advancement of the gospel.  While Carey went to India, Fuller stayed back home becoming president of the Baptist Mission Society.  Carey famously said to Fuller before his departure overseas, “I will go down into the pit, if you will hold the ropes.”  Carey went and Fuller held the ropes. 

New York City is known for many iconic markers—the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Times Square, One World Trade Center, just to name a few.  People flock to this great city for food, entertainment, fame, and fortune.  I recently led a group of church leaders there for a vision trip to meet church planters living in the city for gospel impact.  The city is coming back to life after a year of uncertainty known as 2020.  Manhattan, for example, known as a worldwide center for all things commercial, financial, and cultural, was busy with activity. 

As we met with various church planters to hear their stories and their vision for reaching the city, one theme became clear: we need your help!  Great Commission work is not meant to be done alone.  In a metro area of 22 million people, only 2% follow Jesus.  The massive need of lostness alone can be crippling to any gospel minister without the right support, not counting the challenges of living in a concrete jungle. 

Kentucky Baptist Churches, while very different in context from New York City, can play a vital role in providing a lifeline of gospel advancement in a human sea of lostness.  Every church leader we met expressed the need for meaningful partnerships.  These partnerships are not dependent upon having the same ministry context, but simply a willingness to link arms or as Carey told Fuller once, hold the ropes.

Kentucky Baptists can hold the ropes with gospel partners in New York City through the following examples:

Partner long-term (at least 3-5 years).  Relationships take time and gospel work in New York City is often slow.  Relationships built around encouragement, prayer, teams, and finances provide much needed support. 

Send multiple teams (per year if needed and possible).  Nothing like seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, and touching the city to understand the great needs of the city.  Short-term teams done rightly can be a huge boost to the planter and the advancement of the gospel.

Be gospel centered.  Partnerships built around the gospel are critical.  While there are many good and helpful ways we can serve others, the gospel must be at the center of all we do.

Follow the vision/strategy of the church planter/church.  Let those who live in the city and know the needs of the city determine how to best reach the city. 

Be a servant.  While New York City is a great place to experience so much, partnering there requires that Kentucky Baptist Churches place priority on serving their partner.

As William Carey set sail for India, he needed the assurance that others like Fuller would be back home holding the ropes for him.  New York City church planters need the assurance of Kentucky Baptists that we will join in the work there by holding the ropes for gospel advancement.  If you want to learn more about your church partnering in NYC, please contact me at [email protected]        

First Responders with Gospel Urgency

A tsunami of debris engulfed the city blocks surrounding the World Trade Center.  Just prior to this wave of debris, smoke rose in the New York City skyline as both towers were struck by hijacked commercial airliners on September 11, 2001.  Thousands attempted to escape the chaos of the enflamed buildings and surrounding area.  While hordes of people were panicking as they ran away from the direction of the twin towers, heroically others ran to the site as the towers eventually collapsed in a massive ruble.

People were right to run away from the danger, but who would run to it and why?  First responders, that’s who.  Thank God for first responders who train and prepare for times such as September 11.  Instead of running away from danger and distress, first responders run to it. 

The Great Commission is about followers of Jesus running to the needs of the world.  We lay down our lives (both figuratively and sometimes literally) for the hordes of people running to escape the chaos of life.  I was recently reminded of this gospel call when a pastor in a large Midwest city told our vision trip team of a shooting in his neighborhood.  Instead of avoiding the location where the incident occurred, his church went and set up on the corner of the street to engage with family members and neighbors.  They were there to proclaim that hope is found in Jesus alone.  This church functioned like first responders.

This same church, on a weekly basis, has “night church” in a section of town that is known as a hot spot for trouble late at night.  They gather near the street and play Christian music, share testimonies of God’s transforming power, and talk with neighbors about the good news of Jesus.   The church is running to the needs in their community.  They are, in fact, first responders bringing hope in the name of Jesus.

Churches across our nation and state can learn much from this Midwest large city new church.  Here are some takeaways that will help us all in our Great Commission work:

  1. Be a church that runs to the needs in your community with gospel hope.
  2. To run to the needs, we need to know our communities. 
  3. To know our communities, we must immerse our lives in the community.
  4. Immersing our lives in our communities requires a continual presence in the community.

The chaos of sin is sweeping across the communities of our state and nation like a tsunami.  It would be easy for the church to simply quarantine itself from the debris and mess.  However, this is not the Jesus way.  He calls us to run to the need, not away from the need.  How will your church respond to the chaos of sin in your community?  Will you be a first responder with gospel urgency?   

Should We Plant or Revitalize Churches?

As I have the privilege to meet with Kentucky Baptist Churches and their leaders about the Great Commission, we regularly discuss matters of church planting and church revitalization.  When it comes to the Great Commission, a primary part of the church’s faithfulness to that call involves healthy church formation.  As Jesus instructs His disciples before He ascends back to heaven, He commands them to make disciples (Matt 28:16-20). 

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IMB Photo- A church meets in a small building in South Asia.

While we love to tell people that we are all about making disciples, what does that actually mean?  The best way to know what that means is to examine what Jesus’ early disciples did to make disciples.  In short, the book of Acts demonstrates their understanding of Jesus’ command as that of birthing or planting churches and strengthening existing churches (Acts 14:19-23).  Great Commission obedience is done in the context of forming healthy churches.    

So, as I meet with churches across the Commonwealth of Kentucky to discuss the Great Commission and a strategy for obeying Jesus’ command, we inevitably discuss church planting and church revitalization. Here is the question I most often ask: Are we called in the Great Commission to plant new churches or help existing churches become healthier?  The answer is clear—Yes!

Great Commission work involves the planting of new churches and the revitalization of existing churches.  The Great Commission expands as churches are planted and strengthened.  Why?  Because more churches are needed to reach an ever-increasing population.  Yet, churches that are not healthy will never focus outward, but only inward.  For example, one NAMB stat reveals that there is only 1 SBC church for every 6,505 people.

Intertwined in Paul’s missionary journeys in Acts is the planting of new churches and the strengthening of existing churches.  Scripture never puts church planting and church strengthening at odds. We could say that they are two sides of the same coin.  Paul’s concern in Acts is for the spread of the gospel through planting new churches and the strengthening of existing churches.  Thus, in Acts 14 Paul plants new churches and then circles back around to these same churches to ensure that these churches are in fact healthy. 

While healthy churches seek to build disciples within their own congregation, they also look outward to reach other peoples and places through the planting of new churches.  This Great Commission focus requires a Kingdom mindset that says it’s not simply about our own local congregation, but about the spread of the gospel through many congregations. 

So should churches be about planting new churches or strengthening existing churches.  Yes!  Great Commission work is the making of disciples through the context of local churches planting new churches and strengthening existing churches.

Partners in the Mission

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Every church and follower of Jesus has one and the same mission in life—makes disciples of Jesus locally and globally.  That is, every believer through his or her local church is called to both grow as a disciple of Jesus and help make disciples for Jesus.  Each church must think carefully about how best to make disciples of their own members as well as how to make disciples elsewhere. 

Discipling believers in each local church is no easy task.  However, even more difficult is being part of disciple-making beyond one’s own location and church.  After all, how can you make disciples where you have no on-going presence?  Yet, let’s not forget that the call of the Great Commission is one of disciple-making “of all nations” and throughout “Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Matt 28:19 and Acts 1:8).

For local churches to make disciples beyond their own locale, there must be intentional effort.  Disciple-making requires time and relationship.  Churches seeking to follow Jesus’s call to make disciples “of all nations” will do well to partner with trusted missionaries and churches to accomplish that end. 

But what should such a partnership entail?   As Southern Baptists and Kentucky Baptists, we call ourselves a Great Commission people, a people who cooperate in the mission.  While our partnership in the mission certainly involves our dollars as we give through Cooperative Program, it must be more than that as well. 

As a denomination with thousands of missionaries in our states, nation, and world, linking arm and arm with them is vital for Great Commission impact.  Let me suggest five practical ways for churches to partner with our missionaries in the mission of making disciples locally and globally:

1. Develop long-term partnerships (3-5 years minimum).  Relationships take time to build.  We want to invest in peoples and places for ongoing gospel work. The greatest impact comes over time.  These partnerships involve such things as: prayer, encouragement, finances, short-term teams, resources, etc.

2. Let the missionary determine the strategy.  Those who live in certain locations among certain peoples know best the needs and how to engage them with the gospel.  Working alongside of our missionaries to help with their strategy rather than against their strategy is crucial for long-term impact.   

3. Multiple teams per year (if needed). As partnership is about relationship, relationships occur over time and through interaction.  Rather than sending a team of 10, perhaps a church can send two teams of 5 at different times in the year.  Smaller teams allow for easier logistics.  More teams allow for deepening of relationships more than once a year.  However, as with suggestion #2, let the missionary ultimately determine the size and frequency of teams.

4. Be gospel-centered.  This may seem like a no-brainer.  However, we have all heard of short-term teams that paint, clean, build, play, and the like.  While all these elements and more can be valuable to short-term missions, we do all that we do for gospel advancement.  At the end of the day, the number one issue is whether we clearly explained the gospel and called people to follow Jesus.  Even our gospel-centeredness must be sensitive to the strategy of our host missionaries.  We know that the gospel is offensive to some (2 Cor 2:14-17), but we ourselves in our mannerisms and tactics don’t want to be.  Be gospel-centered as we rely on the guidance of our host missionaries and their strategy.   

5. Be a servant. Just as Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), short-term mission teams partner well by going to serve and not be served.  Seeing new places and experiencing new cultures is thrilling but doing so to the detriment of the mission is costly.  This is not to say we should never see new sights or experience new cultures. Rather, set aside time to do just that, but give priority to serving both the missionaries you partner with and those who need the gospel. 

We all have the same mission—make disciples of Jesus locally and globally.  To do so well requires intentionality both here and there. As we partner for the sake of the gospel “over there,” let these five guiding principles direct you to partner well in the mission.

Churches and the Missionary Task–Exit (and Partner)

The work of the gospel does not end until Jesus comes again.  As churches partner with missionaries across the globe to advance the Kingdom of God, the goal is to complete the missionary task among each people group and place. 

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Why Exit?

Missionaries sent out by local churches enter unreached and underserved places for gospel impact.  These missionaries evangelize unbelievers and then disciple those who come to faith in Jesus.  From these new believers, healthy church formation occurs along with leadership development.  Lastly, in the missionary task, the missionary exists that people group and place as partners with the new healthy church to repeat this process elsewhere.   

In fact, “an IMB missionary team’s goal is to carry out the missionary task among each people group or place and then hand off the job of leading the churches to those national leaders they have trained. . . . Following the example of the apostles, we continue to watch and advise after we have physically moved on to another work.  Yet, from the very beginning of our work, our aim is to work ourselves out of a job.  We begin the missionary task with exit in mind” (D. Ray Davis, “The Missionary Task: Working Yourself out of a Job”).

When to Exit

The decision to exit is no small matter.  The criteria for exiting the work among a people group and place corresponds with the missionary task (IMB Foundations):

  1. Evangelism—Are indigenous believers and churches carrying out faithfully and effectively the work of sharing the gospel within this people group or place?
  2. Discipleship—Are the churches within this place or people group faithfully and effectively discipling the believers whom God has entrusted to them?
  3. Church Planting—Are the churches within this people group or place displaying the twelve characteristics of a healthy church? Are these churches faithfully planting other healthy churches?  Are they able to sustain church planting on their own?
  4. Leadership training—Do these churches have trained leaders, and do they have systems in place to continue to train leaders in an effective and biblically faithful way?
  5. Missionary involvement—Is the church effectively training and sending cross-cultural missionaries to other people groups and places?

For further consideration on exiting, missionaries must ask the dependency question: “Would our continued presence foster dependency on the part of local churches who are capable of fulfilling all of the tasks of a healthy church movement but who are reluctant to do so out of habit or out of deference to us” (IMB Foundations)? 

Leaving one location in order to repeat the missionary task in another location boils down to healthy local churches being self-led and self-financed in order to evangelize the lost, disciple new believers, plant new churches, develop their own leaders and send out missionaries cross-culturally. 

Until He Comes Again

Just as the Apostle Paul exited certain peoples and places to carry the gospel to new peoples and places, missionaries do the same today.  Like Paul, they do so not to abandon those prior peoples and places but to continue a new phase of partnership with them in order for the Great Commission to be completed.  After all, the work is not done until Jesus comes again. 

Churches and the Missionary Task–Leadership Development

Importance of Leadership

Influential speaker John Maxwell says that everything rises and falls on leadership. Whether one agrees with Maxwell or not, no leader would deny the importance of leadership.  The Bible speaks about the importance of leadership through many examples.  However, what is most striking about biblical leadership is not competence, but character.  Much of what is discussed concerning leadership these days seems to revolve around one’s competence or ability.  While ability is not unimportant, it is certainly not most important.  The character of a leader, especially one leading the Lord’s church, is of first importance. 

As I have discussed the missionary task over the last four months, I come to the fifth task of a missionary—leadership development.  As missionaries enter a new location in need of the gospel, they evangelize unbelievers.  When unbelievers become believers, the missionary is tasked with discipling those believers and then forming new believers into healthy churches.  From those healthy churches, leadership development becomes necessary for that local church to thrive. 

“Biblical leadership is essential to the well-being of every local church, and God calls different people to lead in different ways” (IMB Foundations).  As missiologist D. Ray Davis explains, “In the experience of IMB missionaries, leadership development has proven to be a pivotal element in the survival of new churches.  Churches simply need faithful, well-trained pastors in order to thrive and advance Great Commission work” (Davis, “The Missionary Task: Training Faithful Leaders”).

The qualifications of biblical leadership for pastors/elders/overseers (as these words are used interchangeably in the New Testament) are most clearly seen in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.  Of these verses only one qualification speaks of ability—able to teach (1 Tim 3:2) and able to exhort and refute with sound doctrine (Titus 1:9).  The rest of these qualities highlight the character of the pastor.  Thus, character matters. 

IMB Foundations helpfully breaks down pastoral qualifications into three categories: what the leader must be, what the leader must know, and what the leader must do.

Be

Aptly summarized from both passages, Paul says that the pastor must be “above reproach” as God’s leader in the church (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6).  Education makes not a pastor.  Position in the community makes not a pastor.  Popularity makes not a pastor.  First and foremost, the requirement for pastoral leadership is character.  Pastors must be men of God who walk daily with Jesus.  His life must exemplify an unwavering commitment to God and His Word.  Before he can serve as a pastor, he must be a pastor in his character. 

Know

Paul tells Titus that a pastor must hold “fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).  In order for pastors to fulfill Paul’s words here, knowing the Word is essential.  Pastors are to have a “high level of biblical and theological knowledge.  Theological training of church leaders should be geared to the educational levels of those being trained” (IMB Foundations).  Whether formal or informal, theological training of church leaders helps ensure right doctrine is being taught and wrong doctrine is being refuted. 

Do

The task of the pastor can be summarized as feed, lead, and protect.  The term “pastor” simply means shepherd.  Interestingly, Peter exhorts the elders to “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2).  Shepherds have many tasks, not least of which is to feed the flock.  Pastors do this through the solid exposition of God’s Word week in and week out. 

Pastors are also to lead.  As Paul explains to young pastor Timothy, just as a pastor must manage his own house well, he must also manage (lead) the church entrusted to his care (1 Tim 3:4-5).  Leadership in the home and in the church is one of example through humility.  As the ultimate example of humble leadership, Jesus demonstrated this by serving his disciples (washing their dirty feet) rather than by domineering over them (John 13:1-20).  Pastors were never meant to be superstars, but super servants.

Pastors, lastly, protect.  Paul’s words to the elders of the church of Ephesus provide clarity on the role of pastors protecting the church (Acts 20:28-31).  In a similar way that a father is tasked with protecting his family from danger, pastors protect the flock entrusted to their care.  They protect the teaching of the church, the morale of the church, and the unity of the church. 

The Missionary Task Continues

As missionaries reach new peoples and places with the gospel and churches are planted, biblical leaders are necessary for those churches to thrive.  For the missionary task to progress, developing leaders is critical for the multiplying of churches and reaching of unreached peoples. 

Churches and the Missionary Task–Healthy Church Formation

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I remember when my first child was born over 21 years ago.  It seems like only yesterday.  She stole my heart in that sterile delivery room with her red hair and chubby cheeks.  As I write this blog, my baby is in labor to give birth to our first grandbaby.  The birth of a child is unlike any other experience.  Giving birth to a child is only the beginning.  There is so much we want of our children. So much that we want them to be.  Ultimately, the goal is to nurture and raise our kids to live for Jesus. 

Church planting in the New Testament is like giving birth.  As we look at the book of Acts, the gospel spreads as churches are birthed—that is, planted in new locations. Paul, the main church planter in Acts, enters a location without the gospel, evangelizes unbelievers, disciples those who come to faith in Jesus, gathers those believers into congregations, raises up leaders, and then exits that place to repeat the process all over again.        

The strategy for gospel advancement in the book of Acts is church planting.  In other words, God uses the formation and multiplication of the local church to spread the gospel of Jesus locally and globally.  While the aim of the Great Commission is to make disciples of all nations, how this is accomplished is through the formation of healthy churches.  Where churches do not exist, missionaries must enter those locations, share Jesus, and begin making disciples in order to form healthy churches.  The task of the missionary is summarized as entry, evangelism, discipleship, healthy church formation, leadership development, and exit. 

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“A church is a group of baptized believers in Jesus Christ who are committed to each other to be the body of Christ to one another and who meet together regularly to carry out the functions of a biblical church” (IMB Foundations). What is it that we want of our churches? What do we want them to be?  Though not exhaustive, IMB Foundations offers 12 characteristics that describe what a sustainable church should be.  Whether the church is new or established, these characteristics are guides for what every church should strive to be.

  1. Biblical evangelism—people come into the church because they have heard and responded to the full gospel message.
  2. Biblical discipleship—members of the church intentionally invest in one another’s lives to grow to maturity in Jesus.
  3. Biblical membership—members are only those who give credible evidence of repentance and faith in Jesus, and who have been baptized as believers.
  4. Biblical leadership—God gives two offices of the church: pastors/elders/overseers and deacons.
  5. Biblical preaching and teaching—weekly teaching of the Word is essential for the church and consists of the exposition and application of Scripture.
  6. Biblical ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper—believers are baptized by immersion in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Lord’s Supper is observed regularly by the church to remember and celebrate Jesus’s death, resurrection and promised return.
  7. Biblical worship—a healthy church offers to God worship as prescribed in His word so that the church sings, prays, reads, and hears the word.
  8. Biblical fellowship—members of the church love each other, encourage one another, and build each other up.
  9. Biblical prayer—the church prays both privately and corporately.
  10. Biblical accountability and discipline—members hold one another accountable to the word and leaders of the church watch over the flock entrusted to their care.
  11. Biblical giving—members give freely of their resources for the support of the church in the making of disciples.
  12. Biblical mission—the church is organized to make disciples locally, but also to do so among the nations.

The birth of a child is unlike any other experience.  New parents look forward to the beginning of their child’s life, but the goal is not to stay in the hospital after birth or even for one’s child to remain an infant.  The goal of any parent is to nurture and raise their child to maturity.  The New Testament church has the same goal.  These 12 characteristics are like a guidebook for new parents on what a church is called to be.  May the Lord send out and use your church to multiply many more churches with these characteristics.