Planting Healthy Congregations
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Prepared by Dr. Frank A. Nuckolls.
Associational Mission Strategist, Flint River Baptist Association, Griffin, Georgia.
Adjunct Professor, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana.
The Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament provides a detailed description of the ministry of the early church. This description demonstrates the impact of the priesthood of all believers in the mission and ministry of the early church. In the book, Christian Education and the Search for Meaning, James Wilhoit writes: “The early Christian community developed a lifestyle of sharing, compassion, and mission, which was believed was a practical manifestation of the confession ‘Jesus is Lord.’” (Pager 26)
Acts 2:41-47 recounts for us distinct characteristics of the early church. “Then those who gladly received His word were baptized and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added daily those who were being saved.” (New International Version).
Planting healthy congregations should then be based on the following functions of the church. These functions include the following:
- Evangelism (a compelling witness).
- Discipleship (a comprehensive discipleship).
- Service (a compassionate ministry of service).
- Worship and prayer (a dynamic time of worship and prayer).
The first function is evangelism, a compelling witness. This function is one of the foundational qualities of an “on mission” church. The church must be about evangelism. Evangelism is simply the telling of the good news of the Gospel of Christ. The purpose for planting healthy congregations should be to reach people for Christ. The church cannot settle for merely a testimony of presence, rather when and wherever possible the leaders of a new, healthy church plant must be out in the community verbally communicating the gospel. In order to effectively share the gospel, a healthy church that is planted must know the people who are in the community to be reached. The leadership of a church plant should complete a study in order to understand where the spiritual composition of the people who live in the community. In order to gain this understanding, there are some specific questions that should be considered when completing this study. These questions include: How many people in our community do we consider as non-believers (non-Christian)? Are there other faith groups in the community such as Islam, Hindu, Jehovah’s Witness, or Mormon?.
As the new church plant begins to assess the community in which it is being planted, it should identify any stumbling blocks that may hinder its work and identify ways to get the people who are reached involved in discipleship and evangelism.
A second function of a healthy congregation is that of discipleship. This function should include the development of a comprehensive discipleship strategy. This process should be designed to guide believers to become disciples and followers of Jesus. The disciples in the New Testament were men who responded to the call of Jesus to “follow Me and I will make you to become fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19) Disciples were individuals who spent time learning from Jesus. In the original language, the term, disciples, meant one who learns. This term is similar to that of an apprentice who learns from the on-the-job training. Discipleship has to do with the total surrender of a person’s life to the lordship of Jesus Christ. The result of a comprehensive discipleship process should be the change in a believer’s worldview as well as a transformed life.
“Followers of Christ need to have a grasp of Scripture, particularly the story of Christ Himself, His birth, His character, His teaching, His miracles, His love, His death and resurrection.” (Sanchez, Planting Healthy Congregations).
There should be two outcomes of discipleship. First, there should be the result of transformation where a person’s life becomes transformed or shaped by a relationship with Christ. Ephesians 4:23-24 reminds us to “be made new in the attitude of your minds; and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” The measure of discipleship is seen not in whether a person knows or does the right things but in the way he reflects the character of Christ.
Second, there should be the commitment of the believer, disciple, to equip or mentor another person to become more like Jesus. This leads to multiplication. Discipleship is a multiplication process in which a believer invests his life in the life of another person and the other person then invests his life in that of another.
A third function of a healthy congregation is that of compassionate service. Acts 2:45 reminds us that the early church “sold their possessions and goods and gave to anyone as he had need.” A spiritually transformed, healthy congregation will understand the need to meet the physical and spiritual needs of people. Compassionate ministry or service is often used of the Lord to connect and engage congregations in meeting the physical and spiritual needs of people and become the first step in planting a new, healthy congregation.
A fourth function of a healthy congregation is that of worship and prayer. A healthy congregation meets as the family of God, the body of Christ, with the Father in worship, confession, and gratitude, as well as dedicating itself to service and prayer. Acts 2:42 and 2:47 states that “They persevered. . . in the breaking of bread and in prayer. . . praising God.”
Healthy congregations must remember the following principles:
- God indeed calls His people to worship. Therefore, believers should respond with joy and be jubilant!.
- God calls people to repentance. Therefore, believers should respond to this call by confessing sin to God in prayer.
- God does speak through His Word, the Bible. Therefore, the church should respond to His voice through songs of praise and worshipful giving.
- God provides blessings. Therefore, the church should respond by reaching out and serving others in the name of Jesus.
How can a healthy congregation develop an effective prayer ministry? First, the church should equip and encourage believers in the discipline of personal private prayer. Second, the church should seek prayer intercessors to pray for the Pastor, church planter, and the congregation. Third, the church should meet regularly for times to pray together. Fourth, the church should be led to develop a church-wide prayer ministry.
The next step in planting healthy congregations is to identify the location, context, and people group that needs to be reached with the Gospel of Christ. This step should include a statement of purpose to explain the reason for planting a new congregation. The main reason for planting a new congregation is to reach people who have yet to respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A new congregation that is planting often will reach people for Christ that have not been reached by an existing congregation.
Once the decision is made to plant a new congregation, a church planter or Pastor must be identified. This identification should be made after much prayer. The important thing to remember is that everything accomplished in a new church plant or a new congregation should be saturated in prayer.
The following questions should be answered when seeking to identify a new church planter:
- Does the church planter or Pastor have the capacity of vision for a new congregation?.
- Does the church planter or Pastor demonstrate personal motivation for planting a new congregation?.
- Is the church planter or Pastor capable of being inclusive in his ministry?.
- Is the church planter or Pastor willing to reach out to unbelievers?.
- Does the church planter or Pastor have the support of his wife in his ministry?
- Does the church planter or Pastor have the capacity to establish relationships with other individuals?.
- Is the church planter or Pastor committed to the physical and spiritual growth of the congregation?.
- Is the church planter or Pastor willing to utilize his spiritual gifts and the spiritual gifts of other believers to develop a new congregation?.
- Is the church planter or Pastor willing to be flexible?.
- Is the church planter or Pastor willing to maintain unity within the church?.
- Is the church planter or Pastor a person who lives out his Christian faith?.
There is a tremendous need to plant new congregations. The planting of new congregations is scripturally based. The Acts of the Apostles provides the account of numerous churches that were planted after Pentecost. These churches were planted by believers in order to take the Gospel to the world. Acts 8:4 reminds us: “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the Word.” As the Word was preached, new congregations were planted. As a result, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was advanced throughout the world. The need to advance the Gospel message still exists in the twenty-first century. In order to advance the Gospel, believers must take seriously the planting of new congregations that result in evangelism, discipleship, ministry, worship, and prayer.
Image|Dr. Frank A. Nuckolls