What follows is not to be read as a statement as much as a question. So here it is. What if our focus as a Church in the Western context is off just slightly? And with that, what damage might we be causing?
It’s interesting that in the Gospels Jesus never commands his disciples to go and plant churches, but if we didn’t know the Scriptures and all we had to go on were the activities of the Church for the past 40 years, we would think that Jesus commanded us to plant churches.
But what did he command us to do? Make disciples. Now I realize that some churches are started with the purpose of making disciples, and I’ll address that in a moment. But I think some churches are started just so the people can say they started a church. Have we forgotten that one of our primary functions as people living in the Kingdom realm is to make disciples of the King, wherever we go and in whatever we do?
Starting a church before we make disciples has an effect on how we function as a church as well as our motivations behind our functions. With a building to finance and salaries to support, it becomes quite necessary to fill seats during the weekly offering. Money, or having enough of it, quickly becomes our primary focus and we end up spending (or overspending) our time and energy on that focus.
But we are followers of the King, and the King has commanded his followers to make more followers. Making followers is what we are to be about, and as we do that with Jesus the Church emerges in our wake. After all, Jesus told his original followers that the church was his to build.
So what’s the issue? For whatever reason, be it the inherited spirit of the Industrial Revolution in our culture or, in relation to it, our uncontrollable desire for efficiency, we have taken short cuts in the biblical process for church planting. Church planting begins with making disciples, not starting an organization. If the New Testament shows us anything, it is that the church is to be a by-product of disciple-making. It appears that in many ways we have fallen in love with the by-product and forgotten about the critically important process that comes before it.