The Cart and the Horse

imagesThe Cart and The Horse

What is the relationship of evangelism to church planting?
In a recent post titled, “Dr. Wagner’s Cart Has Been Pulling the Horse for Too Long”, Neil Cole (author, Organic Church) writes about this relationship.

He begins by quoting Peter Wagner that “the best means of evangelism under the sun today is church planting.” Cole states that Peter Wagner based his statements on the fact that new churches are “hungrier” than established churches when it comes to evangelism.

Thus, employing the horse and cart metaphor, Peter Wagner (and Cole) believed that Church Planting was the horse and Evangelism the cart.

Now Cole believes that they had it backwards. “The best means of church planting,” Cole writes, “is evangelism. Evangelism should be the horse and Church Planting the cart.

Before I get to my point, I want to build on something very important that Cole asserts. Oftentimes, fast growing churches are the result of the redistribution of already professing Christians. I’ve known church planters who claim that their plant, unlike all the other ones, really reaches unchurched people. And, of course, as Cole points out, they do reach more unchurched people when compared to established churches. That’s good! But, in the end, they are often nets catching Christians on the move.

I also want to suggest that Peter Wagner was, in fact, correct in two ways. First, depending on what one means by evangelism, church planting is a superior means of evangelism when compared, not with the effectiveness of established churches, but when compared with one of the most common forms of evangelism in that day, namely crusade evangelism. Church planting is a far better form of evangelism than crusades. A second way Peter Wagner was correct is that church planting is often a superior partner to those individuals involved in personal evangelism. People who care about reaching people for Christ want churches that prioritize the experience of the pre-believer. That’s something new churches make their specialty especially when compared to established churches.

Now, I want to get on to my point. A point I think both Neil Cole and Peter Wagner would also want to make.

I think that the issue here is, what is meant by evangelism? I encounter more and more people that don’t know what this means anymore. And, rightly so. To explain the relationship between evangelism and church planting, I would like to frame them again using the same metaphor of cart and horse. Evangelism and church planting are neither cart nor horse. They are vegetables on the cart and horse called discipleship.

We oftentimes proceed as if Jesus and Paul focused on evangelism and they did not. They didn’t focus on church planting either. They focused on discipleship. Neither evangelism nor church planting happen without disciples.

The disciples entered cities, not to plant churches, but to announce the gospel. The announcement of the Kingdom was designed to call out followers of Jesus, not professions of faith.

So I would like to say, along with Neil, “plant Jesus”. I would also add, architect communities that encourage discipleship among those either interested in or new to faith. That’s something we do with Jesus.

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9 thoughts on “The Cart and the Horse

  1. “The disciples entered cities, not to plant churches, but to announce the gospel. The announcement of the Kingdom was designed to call out followers of Jesus, not professions of faith.”

    Excellent.

  2. I had this very conversation yesterday after listening to two older men talk about how much better it would be to plant churches (organized worship gatherings) than to be on staff at a traditional church. They were making plans to organize meetings in a variety of local towns to see who would come, failing to see that they would simply split the market share of local believers and not make a big impact on the unbelieving community. When I proposed they simply find a people group to reach for Christ and see if a church “springs up,” it wasn’t well received.

  3. great thoughts here Alex, seems like we (I) often miss the power of planting Jesus, not just churches. I think too many times the people who’ve planted our church, including me, spent more time trying to get people on board with us than with Jesus.
    I will process this more. Where has Cole written about this specifically?

  4. It seems to me one of the dangers of church planting is pride.

    I once went to a church planting church whose mission it was was to plant a church in each state of the nation. That’s pride driven. When you think about it, that’s foolishness as well. Sure churches are needed in every state—and nation, but it seems to me—and of course anyone correct me if I’m wrong—that focusing efforts and resources on what you know, the people you know, the culture you know, is a far better stewardship of said resources and efforts than randomly planting churches just to say you have done so in every state.

    Of course it’s a safe assumption most church planters don’t go that far or have such “ambition.” However with most new, non-traditional churches it is all about the “numbers.” How many people come each week (and don’t neglect to include the singers, actors and technicians in those numbers, and that’s okay, include them again in the second service). I’m sure there are legitimate reasons to give a basic count, however, and you know it’s true, a big reason is brag points. “What are your numbers? 125? That’s nice… we had 1,200! And we baptized 175 people this year.”

    I was humbled when I once asked that same number question to my home church pastor after attending a “new” church for several years. His mild, questioning look struck a poke at me, and his genuine reply, “I don’t know. We don’t count. But our pews are pretty full each week,” struck me in the heart and soul as much as reading in Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis, “I just can’t put God and marketing in the same sentence.”

    So well said Alex. It is about sharing the Gospel and announcing the Kingdom is at hand. Not numbers. And not about pride.

  5. I’m reminded of what a beautiful smorgasbord of fruity disciplers God has created to make up His body. We have evangelists, we have apostles we have prophets… We can embrace each gift and fan into flame each disciple as we plant churches or reproduce campuses or spark missional activities or announce the good news to our neighbor. How do we mobilize the fullness of the body to proclaim the good news? Do we focus only on apples who plant churches and call that evangelism? I guess my prayer is that the fruit cart is indeed moving and it leaks good fruit wherever it goes.

  6. well having read neil cole, and peter wagner, and knowing you Alex personally. I would have to agree with you. Church planting without a missional discipleship component is an empty effort at best. At the same time reaching people without connecting them to community where they can grow develop mature and return with mission is ineffective.
    I have witnessed both of these efforts personally. They will work in areas where the gospel is embedded, but i have seen them to be ineffective in areas where the gospel foundation is weak.
    They come in the form of house church movements that last for a few months then dissipate or turn in on themselves. Or large church planting efforts that drop in on communities like large alien space crafts expecting the people to assimilate into the borg (get on their agenda).
    Discipleship takes time, focus and effort, but the fruit or “vegetables” remain.
    Thats my take.
    peace+love

  7. I’ve been part of a new church plant for 20+ years so I get the idea of having to create the cohesive/adhesive body – It’s important and part of God’s mast-plan to ‘assimilate’ people (negative BORG reference or not) BUT, that said – I think most people are afraid to just plant Jesus and go. Why? CONTROL! everyone wants control of what happens to the seed they’ve planted. I don’t even have it all processed what it would mean to let go of that control – but to just be about making disciples, planting JESUS in people – and that’s ALL…what would happen? what would it actually be LIKE? I’m interested and maybe even about to attempt it. Pray for me.
    CN

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