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Summary: Obstacles to Church Planting Movements

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Obstacles to Church Planting Movements by David Garrison

Church Planting Movements are acts of God, but it’s amazing how much mankind is capable of interfering with them. As with most of God’s works among us, He allows us to actively cooperate with Him or become obstacles—consciously or unconsciously—to His desired purposes. Missionaries involved in Church Planting Movements have identified several very human courses of action that tend to obstruct, slow or otherwise hinder CPMs. Even though we cannot create a Church Planting Movement, we can certainly work to avoid blocking their emergence. Here are some of the most prominent obstacles to Church Planting Movements facing missionaries today.

1. Imposing extra-biblical requirements for being a church

When a mission, union or convention attempts to require a congregation to have extra-biblical things such as land, a building, seminary-trained leadership or paid clergy before granting them full status as a church, a Church Planting Movement is obstructed. Christians may have the best of intentions when they impose preconditions before officially constituting a church—preconditions usually aimed at ensuring viability of the church before leaving it to its own devices. However, requirements such as building, property and salaried clergy quickly can become millstones around the neck of the church and make reproducing itself all the more unlikely.

2. Loss of a valued cultural identity

When a people have to abandon their valued ethnic identity and adopt an alien culture in order to become believers, the cause of church planting won’t go far. Around the world, many churches that look culturally out of place in their setting serve as testimonies to this obstacle.

In too many instances, church planting has become cultural warfare, as missionaries and local Christians attempt to conquer and change the culture rather than the hearts of the people. Whenever one must become like a Russian, American, European, etc., to become a Christian, there is little chance that the movement will spread rapidly among a non-Russian, non-American or non-European people.

3. Overcoming bad examples of Christianity

Unfortunately, the spread of the gospel around the world has sometimes produced churches that are poor examples of the faith. If older churches in an area have non-regenerate members who engage in worldly and immoral behavior, it will be difficult for new believers to convince the lost that the Christian faith is holy and capable of redeeming their world.

Some patterns of church behavior may not be immoral, but still compromise and undermine the spirit of a Church Planting Movement. Whenever older churches in the area feel no compulsion to spread their faith, new believers may question why they should be passionate or urgent in evangelism.

4. Non-reproducible church models

Whenever missionaries begin planting churches with components that cannot be reproduced by the people themselves, they have undermined a Church Planting Movement. The temptation is always there: it seems quicker and easier to import a solution for a local challenge rather than search for an indigenous solution. Extraneous items may be as innocuous as cinderblocks for construction, electronic sound systems or imported folding chairs.

Authentic Church Planting Movements always take on the appearance of their context. If villages are made of bamboo, then church buildings are made of bamboo. In urban areas, cell or house churches emulate family structures instead of a congregational structure that requires expensive buildings used exclusively for worship meetings. CPM practitioners evaluate every aspect of each church start with the question: “Can this be reproduced by these believers?” If the answer is “no,” then the foreign element is discarded.

5. Subsidies creating dependency

Money is not inherently evil. It has a vital role to play in the support of missionaries and promotion of things lost people or new believers cannot do for themselves. Any time the gospel is introduced to a new people group, external support is required. The problem is when outside funding creates dependency among new Christians, stifling their initiative and quenching a Church Planting Movement.

Proper use of external funds might include financing outreach to an unreached people, development of gospel literature, radio programming and broadcasts, production of the JESUS film, Scripture translation, gospel television, cassettes, CDs, etc. When well-intentioned outsiders prop up growth by purchasing buildings or subsidizing pastors’ salaries, they limit the capacity of the movement to reproduce itself spontaneously and indigenously.

6. Extra-biblical leadership requirements

Whenever well-intentioned missionaries, churches or denominational leaders impose requirements for church leaders that exceed those stipulated by the New Testament, a Church Planting Movement is impeded.

New Testament models are found in Christ’s selection of the twelve disciples (Matt. 4:18-22) and Paul’s criteria for bishops and deacons (1 Timothy 3). It is striking that moral character and willingness to follow Christ are given much greater weight than theological training or academic degrees.

7. Linear, sequential thought and practice

It is natural for missionaries to think in terms of sequential steps in church planting. For example, first you learn the language, then you develop relationships, then you share a witness, then you disciple believers, then you congregationalize, then you raise up leaders, then you begin another church start, etc. However, missionaries who have successfully navigated Church Planting Movements describe a different, nonlinear unfolding of the movement.

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