A Church Planting Movement is a Leadership Movement – Part 1
– By Stan Parks –
As we look around the world today, most dynamic Church Planting Movements (CPMs) begin in areas with poverty, crises, turmoil, persecution and few Christians. In contrast, in areas with peace, wealth, protection and many Christians, churches are often weak and in decline.
Crisis forces us to look to God. A lack of resources usually forces us to rely on God’s power rather than our programs. The presence of only a few Christians means that church tradition is not as powerful. This makes it more likely that the Bible will become the main source of our strategy and principles.
What can existing churches learn from these new movements of God? We can (and should) learn many lessons; some of the most important of them relate to leadership. In barren areas, we have to look for laborers in the harvest, as new believers rise up to lead the way in reaching their own unreached people groups.
In many ways, a CPM is actually a movement of multiplying and developing church leaders. What makes the difference between merely planting churches and seeing sustained movements of churches? Usually leadership development. No matter how many churches are planted, unless the cultural insiders become leaders, the churches will remain foreign. They will either reproduce slowly or stop growing when the initial leader(s) reach their limit.
Victor John is a leader of a massive CPM among the 100 million+ Bhojpuri speakers of North India, formerly known as the “graveyard of modern missions.” John points out that although the church has existed in India for almost 2000 years, dating to the Apostle Thomas, 91% of Indians still do not have access to the gospel! He believes this is mainly due to a lack of developing leaders.
John states that beginning in the 4th century, the early Eastern Church imported leaders from the East and used the Syriac language in worship which limited those who could lead to only Syriac speakers. The Catholics in the 16th century used the local language but would never have thought of having local leaders. Beginning in the 18th century, Protestants appointed local leaders but the training methods remained Western, and local leaders could not reproduce them. “The replacement of indigenous leaders was done with a major conflict of interest. No natives, nationals, or local-workers could ever be called leaders—this title was reserved for the whites only. These mission organizations focused on the replacement of existing leadership and not on movement or growth.”
All too often in churches today—whether on the mission field or at home—we focus on replacing existing leadership to keep the institution going, rather than focusing on midwifing God’s birth of new disciples and churches. Despite overwhelming evidence that new churches are far more effective in reaching lost people, many churches simply seek to grow larger instead of also starting new churches. Seminaries continue this pattern by reinforcing a mindset of managing existing churches instead of putting equal or greater emphasis on training students to start new churches. We choose to invest the vast majority of our time and resources in our own comfort, to the neglect of those headed for an eternity in hell. (Christians make up 33% of the world’s population, but receive 53% of the world’s annual income and spend 98% of it on themselves.)
As we look at modern CPMs, we can discern some clear principles for multiplying and developing leaders. Developing leaders starts at the beginning of ministry. The patterns used in evangelism, discipleship, and forming churches are developing leaders. These patterns set the stage for ongoing leadership development.
CPM catalysts start with believing that an entire unreached people group (UPG), city, region, and nation can and will be reached. Instead of asking: “What can I do?” they ask: “What must be done to see a movement started?” This keeps their focus and the focus of the new believers squarely on God. It forces them to rely on God to see the impossible happen. These initial outsiders play a crucial role in casting vision to possible partners who will join in the harvest work. Any foreign outsider must find a cultural near neighbor or inside believers who will rise up and lead the initial efforts to reach the group. As inside leaders emerge and multiply, they “catch” the same God-sized vision.
Prayer: Foundation for Fruit (John 14:13-14)
One survey of effective church planters in a large CPM found them to be a very diverse group. But they had one main thing in common: they all spent at least two hours a day in prayer and had special weekly and monthly times of prayer and fasting with their teams. These were not paid ministers. They each had “normal” jobs but they knew that their fruit was tied to their prayer lives. This commitment to prayer by the planters gets passed on to the new believers.
Training: Everyone is Trained
One woman at an Indian CPM leaders’ training said, “I don’t know why they asked me to speak about church planting. I can’t read and I can’t write. All I can do is heal the sick and raise the dead and teach the Bible. I’ve only been able to plant about 100 churches.” Don’t we wish we were as “lowly” as she is?
In CPMs, everyone expects to be trained and to train others as soon as possible. In one country, when asked to train leaders, security concerns only allowed us to meet with 30 leaders. But each week this group trained another 150 people using the same biblical training materials.
Teaching: Training Manual is the Bible
One of the best ways to avoid unneeded burdens is to use the Bible as the training manual. CPM leaders develop other leaders by helping them depend on the Bible and the Holy Spirit, rather than on themselves. When new believers ask questions, the church planter usually answers, “What does the Bible say?” They then guide them to look at various Scriptures and not just their favorite proof-text. A foundational truth comes from John 6:45 (NIV): “’They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.” The church planter may occasionally exhort or give information, but his or her most common approach is to help new believers find the answers themselves. Making disciples, forming churches and developing leaders are all Bible-centered. This enables effective reproduction of disciples, churches, and leaders.
In part 2 of this post, we will look at additional ministry patterns that set the stage for ongoing leadership development in movements.