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.
“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.
- Biblical evangelism—people come into the church because they have heard and responded to the full gospel message.
- Biblical discipleship—members of the church intentionally invest in one another’s lives to grow to maturity in Jesus.
- Biblical membership—members are only those who give credible evidence of repentance and faith in Jesus, and who have been baptized as believers.
- Biblical leadership—God gives two offices of the church: pastors/elders/overseers and deacons.
- Biblical preaching and teaching—weekly teaching of the Word is essential for the church and consists of the exposition and application of Scripture.
- 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.
- 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.
- Biblical fellowship—members of the church love each other, encourage one another, and build each other up.
- Biblical prayer—the church prays both privately and corporately.
- 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.
- Biblical giving—members give freely of their resources for the support of the church in the making of disciples.
- 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.