Making Disciples as a Strategic Focus

Don’t Plant Churches

Brandon Price posted on his blog (link) that he was “growing kind of uncomfortable with the term ‘church planting.’” He said that term, “seems to put all the focus on creating a church (an often location-based institution), and nowhere in scripture are we told to go and make churches. Instead, the church is a natural outflow of what our actual call is: making disciples.” He is reframing their work of planting churches as “making disciples.” It got me thinking. A google search turned up Scott Thomas (link no longer exists), who wrote the following in Sept 2009 at Acts 29, “Jesus did not say go make churches. He said go make disciples. Where disciples are gathered, churches are formed. But if we fail to focus on making disciples we will use them to build our church.”

When you look at church planting through the lens of Making Disciples, the transformation of people comes more clearly into focus. For me, it is freeing—I don’t have to think so much in terms of what a church will look like as on what the people must look like. Then, as Brandon puts it, “the church is a natural outflow” that results from making disciples, and as Scott says, “the church will form.” And, especially important, the church that results will be adapted to the culture and people group from which it springs. I tried to keep this perspective in mind as I outlined the points to follow. It was Brandon’s post that prompted me to set down some things I’ve been thinking over about Paul’s church planting methodology.

We also have a biblical definition and model of what it means to be a disciple. Jesus defined this with finality in Matt 16:24: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” In Phil 2:2-9, Paul exhorts us to follow our Lord’s example:

“Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.”

Finally, Brian Russell sums the focus on discipleship and disciplemaking nicely on his blog (link no longer exists):

“Discipleship at its heart is missional. Jesus calls disciples in order to multiply his own work of making disciples. This is clear in the climactic passage of Matthew (28:16-20). This text, better known as the Great Commission, centers on Jesus’ exhortation to ‘Make disciples.’ Thus, we need to read Matt 16:24 and its call to discipleship within this overarching framework of mission…”

Paul used people terms and not institutional terms referring to his work in Galatia, “And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the LORD, and see how *THEY* do.” Not, “…how the churches we planted are holding up!” –Acts 15:36