You’ve decided you want to plant a church. You have a target area picked out. You have a name. You have a website. You have a budget. You have an enthusiastic group of people who are interested in a church plant. What more do you need right?
Well, a lot more.
Planting a church certainly involves methods and strategies, websites and budgets, and a certain number of interested people to get started. But there ought to be a bit more to the equation. Church planters should look for indications of God’s blessing and affirmation on their work. Church plants should seek evidence that Christ himself is forming them into a church. It’s possible to gather an enthusiastic group of entrepreneurial people and slap the name “church” onto it. But church plants should desire more than this. Church plants should look eagerly for the conspicuous leading of Christ in the forming of a new church.
That all sounds great, but what exactly does this look like? Here we have a group of people who all like each other. We listen to the same kinds of preachers and read the same kinds of books. We all like what the lead guy is saying. But how do we know that Christ Himself is making us into a church?
There are many ways in which that question could be answered. Today I’ll just share six things that we as a group at Emmanuel Church are looking for as evidence that Christ is forming us into a true church.
1. Unity of vision and purpose
The longer we talk as a church planting team, the more I appreciate the importance of unity in the church. As we talk, study, and pray together as a group, we are looking to see God work real unity of vision and purpose among our group. We want to see God working in us common ideals, common goals, common burdens, and common love. As a group, we want to be united in our vision for what the church is and ought to be. We want to be united in our purpose together – to glorify God by loving men and women through the gospel of Jesus Christ. If Christ is indeed forming us into a church, this kind of unity must be present.
In addition to unity of vision and purpose, we want to see a certain measure of like-mindedness among our group. We want enthusiastic agreement in “the things most surely believed among us” (Lk. 1:1). We want to see a mutual love for and commitment to “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). One of the ways we’ve gone about promoting like-mindedness is by affirming a confession of faith together, in our case the Abstract of Principles. But we recognize like-mindedness in doctrine is not sufficient. We want to be like-minded philosophically. This is one of the reasons why we’re spending several months having small group discussions together before we launch as a church. We want to spend as much time as is necessary nurturing like-mindedness together. We want to see in our church plant what Paul wanted to see in the Philippians, “that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27).
3. The Holy Spirit’s presence
It could be said that the sine qua non of a church is the presence of Christ Himself by the Holy Spirit. I’ve thought often of the warning that Christ gives to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:5, that He would remove their lampstand if they did not repent and return to the love that they had at first. I personally believe that the lampstand refers to the presence of the Holy Spirit. I also believe that if Christ is the one who removes lampstands He is also the one who supplies them. If Christ is with us, we are looking for Him to supply the influences of His Holy Spirit on our gatherings together as a church plant. We are hoping that this will be seen most clearly in our corporate meetings. If we as the church are called to be the temple or house of God (1 Cor. 3:16-17; Eph. 2:22; 1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Pet. 2:5), God has to dwell there!
4. The emergence of leadership
We know from Ephesians 4 that Christ gives gifts to His church. He is the one who supplies the church with pastors and teachers. He is the one who supplies the church with deacons. If Christ is to make us a church, we expect leadership to emerge and that, in time, the church would formally recognize such leadership. We would not expect that Christ would call together a group of disciples as a church if He was not willing to provide them with leaders.
5. Behaving like a church
There is no reason for a church plant to wait until the launch date to begin behaving like a church. One of the things you would expect to see as evidence of God’s blessing on a church plant is that the dynamics of inner-church life begin to emerge, even before the church has constituted. I was once talking to a pastor about how to identify qualified deacon candidates in your church. One of the most valuable things he said to me is that you should expect those who are called to serve as deacons to behave and serve like deacons before they are actually formally recognized as deacons in any official capacity. The same holds true with a church plant. If we aspire to be a church, and if God is indeed calling us to be a church, we would expect that we would begin behaving like a church. This will being to show itself in a multitude of ways including our relationships with one another, our mutual love for the truth and for the body of Christ, our commitment to serve one another, and our enthusiastic participation in the worship services and meetings of the church.
Finally, if God is calling together a group of disciples to form a new church, we would expect that He is calling the individuals to join in covenant together. After all, what is participation in the church if not a mutual and voluntary commitment to be the church together. This would include committing to perform the “one anothers” of the New Testament toward each other. It would include a commitment to submit to the church’s leadership. It would include a commitment to participate in church services and to worship God corporately with one another. In many ways, a mutual covenant among disciples of Christ is at the heart of what it means to be a local church.
There are other evidences we can look to that God is forming a church plant into a church. These six are just some of the ones that we at Emmanuel Church are looking for as we meet together over the next few months.