Recently, I read an article titled Church Planting Is Not the Ultimate Goal. The title alone set me off before I read what the author had to say. For those of you not acquainted with the lingo, a church plant is not of the variety sitting in a pot on our platform. A church plant means a new church started in a place where there is none or where there is no true church of Jesus Christ.
According to the article, it is not starting churches that is most important but the making of new disciples. The author wrote, “The Great Commission was not ‘go into the world and plant churches.’ Jesus said go and make disciples.” This is one of the most shortsighted misinterpretations of the Great Commission I have heard. Can you imagine the apostle Paul would have returned from his mission trips to report to the church at Antioch, “I made a lot of disciples, but sorry, no churches?” This would be total failure for the man who wrote, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.”
Much of the gobbledygook of misunderstanding derives from the wrong definition of the church. When it is taught that any disciple, anyone saved, anyone who believes is a member of the big church in the sky, it is easy to see why someone would write we are to make disciples not plant churches. In the Great Commission, the Lord did not give the commission to the apostles as mere disciples themselves, but to a group of men who were chosen as His first church. The Great Commission is a church commission. To make disciples presupposes the new disciples will be grouped together in the fellowship of a new church committed to perpetuating the same gospel. This is the Lord’s method of preserving the church until He returns. This means the ultimate goal of missionaries is exactly this—plant churches! If one of our missionaries said, “We’re not going to start churches but make disciples,” I would say, “Well, you won’t do it with our money.” The Lord’s money is too precious to waste on a fool’s errand. Good disciples are church disciples.
The scriptures say the church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). It does not say any one disciple or even a missionary is the pillar and ground. This is the fertile field of the cults and of pastors that become lords of their little fiefdoms. The gospel, the truth of the gospel, cannot be preserved for future generations without the undergirding of the church. We start churches to preserve truth.
Disciples are not biblical disciples until they are organized into a church that will do what churches before them have done. They are not true disciples and grounded disciples until they follow the Lord to become a part of the body of Christ. I am incensed when I hear anyone say the church is not important, or never becoming a member of one is inconsequential. Kevin DeYoung wrote, “The man who attempts Christianity without the church shoots himself in the foot, shoots his children in the leg, and shoots his grandchildren in the heart.”
Those who refuse membership in the church are not grounded disciples. To follow Christ, one must love what He loved, go where He goes, and be what He wants him to be. The church is the bride of Christ, and His bride is not a universal entity that never meets, never observes His ordinances, has no power, and has never baptized a single convert.
The goal—always the goal of missions—is to plant churches. Do not believe a person is a disciple or can be fully discipled until he is committed to a church. Let’s not try to sound profoundly intelligent by saying the commission is not to go into the world and plant churches, but to make disciples. Splitting discipleship from its foundation in the church is doctrinal suicide.
Pastor V. Mark Smith