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To plant or not to plant?

This paper is from the Church Planting Resource - Fall 2022 - A resource written by Norm Dyck, Mission Minister, Michel Monette, Catalyzer Minister and Fanosie Legesse, Intercultural Mission Minister.  You can download the complete resource or read individual articles online.

Michel Monette outsideMichel Monette, MCEC Catalyzer Minister - I started doing church planting in 1998. It took a core group for Bible studies, which would eventually turn into a Sunday meeting, and then into a community of believers gathering as much as possible on Sunday mornings. Then came the testing of planters. We were looking for entrepreneurs with a keen sense of God’s call on their lives and who felt ready to answer that call.

The Church is the assembly of those whom God calls by Christ.

Boot Camps
When a planter was found, he or she was invited to a church planting training. Candidates were gathered and taught ways to plant a church, worship, create programs, conduct Sunday school, train the core and administer. They were also trained in marriage and family life and evangelism methods.

All these pieces of training stemmed from one place: the United States. I have planted churches in Quebec and France and the models are the same, patterned after minority but vocal churches, the American mega-churches.

The U.S., which worldview and philosophy are “Think Big,” believes that everything, even the church, must be big. They have pushed their model on us. The mega-churches represent less than 5% of the churches worldwide. Yet they are the ones that speak the loudest and dictate the terms of success.

A pastor, a building, a worship team, Sunday schools for children, tithes... these are ingredients in the recipe to make Christians experts in worship planning, or followers of a “TED talk” preceded by a worship concert that is too often put together as a mantra.

This Australian mega-church model is based on entertainment. It mostly attracts young people from the Y-Z generation. With this brand, we have moved from learning to experience. The mode of invitation has shifted from “you need to hear this” to “you need to experience this.” Preaching sounds more like “TED talks” than teaching. Then came COVID.

We transitioned into home church mode. With the confinement and the closure of places of worship came the home church. Even though it is over, Christians are still staying home.

Why do they? The model. We taught Christians that church was a two to four hour meeting per week, and whether the show was good or not, they still had to pay for it (tithing). With COVID, they were given it for free on YouTube. As a result, Christians are spoiled for choice. YouTube has become their church. The model is wrong! This has become even more obvious today.

A good model?
What is the church? What is its mission?
Jesus said to Peter: Matthew 16:18
“And I say to you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church, ...”

The main mission of the assembly of believers is to make disciples.

The word Church “ekklēsia” is used only twice in the New Testament. Its meaning refers to an assembly. We could say that a rock concert is an ekklēsia as much as the assembly of believers in a building. Jesus calls and convenes the ekklēsia. Today, the word church has a broader and mostly religious meaning. It is mostly a building or a synagogue more than an ekklēsia.

Its mission? Overall, its mission is to make more followers, commonly known as disciples.

Therefore, the main mission of the assembly of believers is to make disciples. The church (Sunday morning gathering) is not a place to make disciples. Let me explain.

Jesus’ church included the twelve and sometimes the seventy and the 5,000, but the only ones he called disciples were the 12. Why did he call them disciples? Because he lived with them. They were together 24/7/365. For three years, he shared with the 12. Jesus did not make disciples with the 5,000. He healed, taught, and fed them. And he used the miracle at the 5,000 to further his disciples’ faith by practicing a miracle of faith.

The current church model is FAKE. It is broken. Jesus did not seek out the crowds. He even often ran from them. In Mark we see Jesus leave a place where the crowd is waiting for him to be healed, and he says to them, “This is not my call.’’ In today’s church, we would have tied Jesus to a chair until he had seen and touched every person in the village who came to be healed, and we would have praised the pastor for doing so.

To plant or not to plant?
When Christian Direction’s Executive Director, Timothy Keener, visited Montreal, we talked about the church and its challenges and we immediately agreed that we are currently operating on a poor, inherited model imported from the U.S. that has not been updated in decades.

Neighborhood chaplains, guardians of peace, angels of faith, disciples of Christ, reverends, and peace workers: these are names that resonate with me.

The Church is the assembly of those whom God calls by Christ. How do we evaluate its success? Should we? Is it possible for it to fail?

Pastors and planters come to me and they all need money. The mega-churches are vortexes that suck in all around them and cultivate a false system of success, based on capitalist categories. The Kingdom of God is not measured in these terms, but in terms of transformed lives. I am not saying that mega-churches do not transform lives. It is just that it is not the right model. Jesus said the stones would sing his praises, but today, the stones that speak are the unchurched, the supposedly non-Christians who have morals and values of caring, non-judgment and grace. They form the cities where we live. Men and women filled with love without even knowing it, peace seekers (Matthew 10:11).

Our role is to love. Humanity has an unquenchable thirst for love.

Success or failure? In terms of impact on the city and the neighborhoods where they live, I would sadly say “Failure.” But beware! Yes, it is failing because the church leaders have been poorly trained. They have become followers of pompous speeches and praise concerts. For them, numbers are the measure of success and God’s favor. Do you not wonder why churches are being emptied in favour of restaurants? The church has become a cultural product. Instead of making disciples committed to making a difference in the city, church leaders have created marketing systems that compete with the largest theaters. Today, movie theaters are empty in favor of Netflix. Churches are empty for YouTube.

Let Christians rise today and see that the harvest is ready.

It is the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin and righteousness. Our role is to love. Humanity has an unquenchable thirst for love. People want to be loved, as they are, for who they are, without anyone asking them to change. The Church stands at the crossroads of their lives and throws all their sins and stupidity in their faces. Even Jesus didn’t do that. Instead, he forgave, without the individual even asking for forgiveness. Are we not his disciples? Should we not forgive as he did? He said we would do as he did and even greater things. Instead, we took Peter’s sword and cut off as many ears as there were listeners.

How do we find them?
We should stop planting churches and start deploying workers in the harvest, in our cities’ neighborhoods.

Making disciples takes time and self-denial. Expect to see lives transformed, and yours as well.

If someone can organize a BBQ or a corn roast, they can lead. Stop worrying about scheduling rentals, baptisms, worship teams and Sunday school teachers. Just love and let God call the people together. Then you will see the church. And God will have gathered it, not you and your marketing efforts. I do not plant churches anymore. He does it and he tells me where, when and with whom. I am not a church planter. I am a follower of Christ who wants to work with him. I do not ask him to work and bless my project. I am asking him to show me where he is at work and if he is willing, to use me in that work.

Pastors, do you see the attendance decreasing? Give glory to God. It is he who gathers the Church. It is the ekklēsia that he has gathered for you to care for.

Making disciples takes time and self-denial. God will be sending you his children: dedicate your existence to them in Christ’s name. Expect to see lives transformed, and yours as well.

Go to your BBQs on your knees - in prayer. Be quick to deploy love through concrete acts of grace and you will see the ekklēsia, the Glory of God.