Monday, December 1, 2008

The Aquila and Pricilla Factor

Click on picture for a study of Barnabas

What do you think of first when I say "church planting?" The word association you probably made was "pastor," right? We often assume you need a pastor to plant a church. But in countries where a seminary-trained pastor is a luxury for established churches, let alone church plants. Sometimes our expectations can be our worst enemies.

Historically this extra-biblical Western expectation of having ordained clergy at the helm kept national churches from becoming indigenous, reproducing, and sending missionaries. How will we reach the 2 billion who haven't heard about Jesus and more than 3,000 unreached people groups who don't have a church to tell them about Him if we rely primarily on professionally trained workers?

The apostle Paul was a credentialed rabbi but the rest of the apostles – both the 12 and Paul's companions – were lay leaders, as far as we know. I could have called this the Barnabas, Apollos or Epaphras Factor. Paul's credentials as a rabbi got him into Diaspora synagogues but that is not where they saw the greatest fruit. Historian Michael Green points out that the outward expansion of the church was primarily through the witness of lay believers and evangelists as they moved to other regions. Since then movements of church extension have primarily been lay-driven evangelistic movements. One of Garrison's Ten Commandments for CPMs is to train all believers to evangelize, disciple and start churches. "There are no passengers in Church Planting Movements; everyone is crew and expected to work."

What if God's plan A all along was that churches should not only be led by lay teams with diverse gifts, but also planted by lay teams with diverse gifts? Isn't that the model Paul left and describes in 1 Cor. 3:5-6, 9? "What, after all is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow… For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building". Do you not see TEAM all over this passage?

A common conception is that these lay workers were mere assistants. But a closer look suggests they were church planters in their own right. Barnabas (called an apostle in Acts 14:4, 14 and 1 Cor. 9:6) led the mission to Cyprus and returned with John Mark. Aquila and Pricilla preceded Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:1-3) and Rome (Rom. 16:3-5). In Ephesus they did most of the ground work making disciples and training Apollos while Paul was away (Acts 18:19-21, 24-26). Epaphras seems to have started churches in the Lycia valley (Col. 4:12-13). This diagram by the North American Baptists gives us a visual picture of the potential of multiplication when lay people are the ground troops in church planting and the theologically-trained are the equippers of the saints for the work of the ministry.

Is Lay Church Planting God's plan A for this generation? Dr. Henry T. Blackaby believes that it is our best strategy to reach North America for Christ: "It is time to release God's people as the Holy Spirit directs them and to encourage them to do what they did in the New Testament: proclaim God's Good News to all whom He will send them and in all places He will lead them; to believe and to look for God to draw those being saved and add them together, forming them into new churches. The spiritual culture of our day does not lead God's people to expect this process to be happening to them or among them. We must let God return us to His perfect plan to touch the entire nation and world with His Good News. If the "laypeople" ever catch God's pattern for using them in church planting, the nation and world could come to hear God's Good News in our generation!"

I experienced the motivating power of lay church planting first hand. When preparing to go to Quebec for our first church planting assignment, still wet behind the ears with my Missions degree from TEDS, we were invited to a Bible study by dear family friends. Before we shared our vision they mentioned, in passing, that they knew how hard it would be because they had planted a church in the area. He was an engineer at Bethlehem Steel and she was a librarian but they had started a church! What an encouragement that was!

While I don't suggest Lay Church Planting is THE answer, here are some questions I have. Can we make the shift to church multiplication if we don't make the shift to Lay Church Planting as plan A? What must we sacrifice to recover Lay Church Planting? Lay Church Planting sounds like a great idea you may say, but what will it take? Here are some seed thoughts:

  • A paradigm shift: return to priesthood, gifting and ministry of all believers – what one historian calls "the Cinderella of all Protestant doctrines" – for church planting as well as church growth. Expect resistance. There are entrenched expectations of ministerial professionalism and member consumerism.

  • Strategic Partnerships: How can lay church planters work in strategic partnerships with theologically trained pastor-equippers?

  • Catalytic churches like the Ephesus in Acts 19: We need some brave missional leaders and churches to showcase this.

  • Different Training Efforts: Consider ministry internships in the mother church, mentoring by a retired church planter or missionary, on-the job training and coaching of several CPing teams by a church planting coach.

  • Different Assessment: Assessment will be just as important but it will look both at the leadership strengths of the leading couple and the gift and competency-mix of the team rather than just focusing on one person.

  • Coaching: This must be part of the training and deployment of the team. We need to recruit coaches BEFORE we put together CPing teams.

  • Recruitment: If they are convinced they will receive adequate training, support and coaching there will be volunteers. People love to be on a team with a clear Mission.

  • Resourcing: Launch funds should be gathered ahead of time. Stewardship commitments must be strong on the initial team and passed on to all.

Please add you comment and tell us what you think. Have you seen any positive models of lay church planting? What is the biggest obstacle to a lay church planting movement in your area? What other obstacles should be anticipated? What would help?
Please reply with a comment if you like.

For more information on Lay Church Planting check out these websites:

Saturation Church Planting @ United Word Mission -

North American Baptist Convention

Coach Gene

Church Planting Ideas

Church Planting Ideas
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Gene is serving as Church Planting Director for ReachGlobal and has been a church planter in Quebec and a church planting coach in Latin America.