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Four Biblical Models of Church Planting

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We need more grace churches. We need more assemblies that preach a clear saving message of believing in Jesus for eternal salvation without mixing legalism into it. Readers of this blog know how rare those churches are. That involves convincing churches that already exist to be clear, but it will also include planting new grace churches.

In his book, Church Affairs (Volume 2 of The Church and the Work), Watchman Nee identified two models of church planting: the Jerusalem model and the Antioch model (pp. 6-7). Frank Viola identifies two other church planting models in his book, Finding Organic Church. Together I hope they spark your imagination.

First, the Jerusalem model is based on Acts 8:3-4. Thousands of believers in Jerusalem were forced to flee when Paul (then known as Saul) began persecuting them. That had the happy consequence of forcing believers to move to new cities. Once there, they shared their faith in Jesus, and new churches sprang up. As Nee explains, “the fact is that by the scattering of the saints, the gospel itself is scattered abroad” (Nee, Church Affairs, pp. 6-7). In the Jerusalem model, believers are transplanted from one local church to many places where they plant new churches.

Second, the Antioch model is based on Acts 13–20, where Paul and his co-workers were sent out to preach the gospel, plant churches, and then return from where they were sent (cf. Acts 14:26) (Nee, Church Affairs, p. 6). In the Antioch model, workers are sent out from a local church to plant new churches.

Third, the Ephesian model is based on Paul’s extended stay in Ephesus. After preaching in the local synagogue for three months and meeting strong resistance, Paul rented a hall (“the Hall of Tyrannus”) and taught there every day (Acts 19:8-9). One family of Greek manuscripts (the Western text) adds that Paul taught from the fifth hour to the tenth (or from 11 am to 4 pm). Paul evidently trained church planters. As Donald Guthrie commented,

“It must have been during this period, for instance, that the churches at Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis, all in the Lycus valley, were established, although Paul himself did not visit them. Men like Epaphras and Philemon, who were known to the apostle, possibly came under his influence in the hall of Tyrannus” (Quoted in Viola, Finding Organic Church, p. 36).

In the Ephesian model, an experienced worker trains apprentices and sends them nearby to plant new churches.

Fourth and finally, Viola identifies what he calls the Roman model. According to that model, Christians in other lands immigrate to one city and begin a new church. This happened soon after Pentecost. We know from Acts 2:10 that visitors from Rome were present at Pentecost. They must have returned to Rome and begun meeting together. Since Rome was the capital, other believers might have moved there and joined the churches. Though no apostles had planted a church in Rome, by the time Paul wrote his letter, there was already a vibrant network of house churches. In Romans 16, Paul greets twenty-six individuals and five households. In the Roman model, believers from all over move to the same city to plant a new church.

Given these four Biblical models for planting new churches, does it seem too difficult to do?

Many Free Grace churches are small, struggling, and may feel like they can’t send people out without losing numbers. But what if that’s the mentality keeping us small? Should we be afraid that planting new churches will diminish existing ones?

Nee pointed out that even though many believers left the Jerusalem church, years later, there were still thousands of believing Jews there (Acts 21:20). In other words, the Jerusalem church hadn’t shrunk but continued to multiply. Watchman Nee thought that contained a powerful lesson:

“Here is an important secret of God’s working: that after this year’s harvest, wheat will grow again just as richly next year. You must not remain stationary, but must move on and make room for other believers; for it is the measure of the outgoing that determines the increase. As many more will be added as moved out, and if there is no moving out there is no adding” (Nee, Church Affairs, p. 7).

Thought for the day: If you keep planting, the harvest will keep growing.

Send your comments or questions to Shawn.


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