All the churches that were planted by Paul were planted because Paul was … explicit in preaching the gospel … a number of contemporary churches think it’s insightful to quote ‘preach the gospel and use words if necessary’ but this has no connection with what we find in the life of Paul.
In 2009, Steve Timmis, Executive Director of Acts 29, taught two sessions at the London Boot Camp on “How to Plant a Church.” In How to Plant a Church – Part 1, Timmis taught that the book of Acts is a church planting narrative. In Part 2, he laid out five specific principles needed in order to plant a church – which we are sharing here.
1. Preach the Gospel.
The apostle Paul gathered believers by preaching the Gospel, “Almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:44). Today, our culture tells us that we don’t need to preach and talk about the Gospel, but it truly is the most important thing that all people need to hear and believe.
Here’s an audio clip from this section of Timmis’ talk:
2. Understand the context.
Paul never treated one group of people the same way as another; he always preached the Gospel, but he knew his context. In every situation, there needs to be a point of contact with the people (understand their values, history, communication style) and a point of conflict that reveals how their own narrative conflicts with that of the Gospel. It is impossible to be ‘context-neutral’ so we need to be context savvy. While we can’t be indifferent to culture, we also can’t be enslaved by it because that will cause us to be blind to the point of conflict.
3. Connect with people.
Planting church is not a sociological experiment. You are working with people who are made in the image of God, who are broken and in bondage to sin, who have nothing but death ahead of them. Church planting is about loving the people you’re planting among and being moved by the compassion of God.
4. Connect with the right people.
When arriving at a new city, Paul would go to the synagogues first because there were people there with which he shared a connection (Jews) as well as people called God-fearers, who were non-Jewish people that were both attracted to the ideas taught in the synagogue and culturally connected (see Acts 14). In the early days of planting, you will face temptation to handle everything yourself and attempt to reach everybody, but this will only cause you to fatigue and burn out. Instead, reach those people with whom you have some sort of connection and then disciple those people to reach out.
5. Train and appoint leaders.
Godly leadership is vital for the well-being of the church. In Acts 14:21-23, Paul and Barnabas appoint leaders and elders in the churches so that they can leave them to God. Church planters should be looking to appoint leaders as soon as it’s feasible and wise. The church is not ours; it is God’s church and he will put leaders there.