Crossing the Line

By Mike Ruhl   |  June 1, 2016

If you are a Church Planter, Pastor, Commissioned Ministry Staffer or Mission Leader of any kind, you will acknowledge the historical privilege of the church being granted status as a non-profit organization.  Because of the church’s promotion of faith and trust in God, morality, human care ministries, work ethic, family health, honesty, non-violence and law and order etc., state and federal governments continue to grant tax-free status to our churches, classifying them as non-profit organizations. 

Since financial resources are often limited in churches and volunteer organizations, status as a non-profit organization enables the church to bless and sanctify our culture and communities with the Ministry of the Word – free from the pressures of “making mountains of money” (profit) in order to do what churches are called by God to do.

But some churches can easily ‘cross a line’ by degenerating into a non-prophet organization.  This happens when the role and message of prophetic ministry is marginalized, ignored or denied altogether.

In both the Old and New Testament eras, the role and message of the prophet was / is central to the multiplication and health of the church.  In the Old Testament, the prophets (Godly servants like Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah) focused their ministry by calling the People of God to (1) Repent of drifting away from the covenant stipulations of grace which the Lord had made with them and (2) Encouraging the People of God to remain faithful to the Word of God and (3) Value and mobilize their calling to a light to enlighten the nations with delivery of the Messianic Faith.  While it is true that some of the prophets were perceived by the churched culture as ‘rogues’, ‘political outsiders’, and ‘counter corruption critics of the established religious organization’, their message was pivotal to the fulfillment of their God-given destiny.

In the New Testament age, we see people like John the Baptizer, preaching to Church People (members of the religious establishment) and urging them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ – even to the point of calling these a brood of vipers because of their addiction to tradition and mindless ritual and blindness to God’s covenant of grace in Jesus Christ. 

Peter’s famous Pentecost Sermon cut people to the heart and called them to repentance, faith in Jesus Christ and water baptism – resulting in the planting of the great Jerusalem Church.

It is significant that the Apostle Paul lists prophetic ministry as one of the five ‘function-gifts’ that would define and drive the New Testament Church:  It was he (Jesus Christ) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up … (Ephesians 4:11-12a).   Even our own Lutheran confessional writings describe the Lord Jesus as PROPHET, Priest and King.

In a recent blog post, Missiologist Stephen Gray wrote a prophetic message, firmly but lovingly calling Christian congregations and denominations to repent (get a new mind – metanoia) of not heeding God’s call to the priority of new church reproduction (church planting).  If we Christians and congregations are to heed Jesus’ gospel-imperative of Acts 1:8 to be witnesses in Jerusalem (locally), Judea (regionally), Samaria (cross-culturally) and to the Ends of the Earth (globally), how can that ever happen without the planting of new and culture-contextualized Christian churches? 

What we all need to realize is that church planting is a call from God to all churches, everywhere, even new congregations.

Gray lists five common reasons why so few Christians and congregations become engaged in new church reproduction (church planting):

1. MUD - We are obsessed with the idea that church is about ‘brick and mortar’ (buildings) rather than extending the Kingdom of God.

2. MEMBERS - We are afraid to give up our people for fear that God will not replace them.

3. MOMENTUM - We fear that giving away some of our people will slow our own growth.

4. MONEY - We barely have enough finances to run our own programs.

5. ME-ISM - It’s all about US and our local congregation ministry.

New church reproduction (church planting) is a spiritual decision of a local church to put the needs of a desperate (and Christ-less) world ahead of self-preservation.

As Jesus would say after serving up a ‘challenging teaching’ to ‘church people’ – and especially a teaching that suggested a need for repentance:  Whoever who has ears to hear, let them hear (Matthew 11:15, Mark 4:9 and Revelation 2:7).


Moment Extras

Questions for Discussion

1. To whom has Jesus given the ultimate responsibility for planting new churches?

2. Which of the ‘M-Words’ best describe your congregation’s challenge/reluctance to engage in sponsoring a new church plant?

3. How do our District and Synod empower and equip congregations to plant new churches?

4. Where in your region do you see an obvious need and opportunity for planting a new church?

5. How could the Center for United States Missions-LCMS support you in the planting of a new church or ministry?

Resources You Can Use

Book: Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches that Multiply (Second Edition) by Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im.

Blog: Five Reasons Churches Don’t Get Involved in Church Planting, by Stephen Gray

Report: Church Startups and Money – The Myths and Realities of Church Planters and Finances. A Barna Report Produced in Partnership with Thrivent Financial/Barna Group, 2016. Note: This research helps planters, planting networks and planting congregations talk honestly about the resources startup leaders need to thrive and to plant thriving churches. The digital version of this report is free until June 17, 2016, thanks to Thrivent. Use this link:  Barna-resources, and enter the promo code FLCY66FG5C1W.  Be sure to select the digital rather than print, copy.  You may also order a print copy for $29.00.


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