Interdepence and Church Planting

I’ve been reading through some key missiological works as part of the mentorship portion of my PhD. I’m starting to trace some themes that have kept recurring. Especially since the 1960s and increasingly today, missiologists have at least given lip service to the concept of interdependence between churches. What is interesting, I find, is the connection between scholars arguing for both interdependence and church planting, particularly among evangelicals:

Peters, George. A Biblical Theology of Missions. Moody, 1984. Pp. 368.

No one can study the symbolic presentation of the church without being deeply impressed by the truth of interdependence. While the Bible upholds the autonomy of a local assembly, it knows nothing of independence in the absolute sense of the word. Biblical independence is always balanced by absolute dependence upon the Lord and interdependence among the churches (202).

First is a quote from George W. Peters, former missions professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. Peters doesn’t give a detailed theology of church planting, though church planting is implied throughout his book.

Hesselgrave, David J. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond. 2d edition. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000. Pp. 348.

  1. Interchurch Fellowship (297–8):
    1. The churches founded by the apostles recognized that in Christ they had a common bond with one another
    2. The churches regularly sent Christian greetings to each other.
    3. They collaborated on a project to provide money for the poor saints in the Jerusalem church.
    4. They sent representatives to one another.
    5. They supported the apostles’ labor in other fields.
    6. The shared letters from the apostles.
    7. They encouraged one another by modeling the faith.
    8. They cooperated in the common cause of evangelism.

The primary mission of the church and, therefore, of the churches is to proclaim the gospel or Christ and gather believers into local churches where they can be built up in the faith and made effective in service; thus new congregations are to be planted throughout the world (17).

The above quotes from Hesselgrave demonstrate the tie between interdependence and church planting. Churches recognize their common mission in Christ to reach the world. As they evangelize, they create new churches, new centers of mission and service.

McGavran, Donald A. Understanding Church Growth. 3d edition. Revised and Edited by C. Peter Wagner. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990. Pp. 314.

Some earnest Christians reject multiplication of churches as today’s chief task because they pin their hopes on quality rather than quantity…Throughout much of the world they affirm that education of believers is more important than evangelism. In America they assert that church unity is more important than church extension…We must inspect closely this attractive plea for quality. As soon as we separate quality from the deepest passion of our Lord—to seek and save the lost—it ceases to be Christian quality (33).

The bombshell to which I refer was the address given by Ralph D. Winter to the plenary session of the International Congress on World Evangelization held in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1974. The title of his paper was carefully chosen: “The Highest Priority: Cross-Cultural Evangelism.”…Through a careful analysis of the world population of 1974 he showed that of the world’s approximately 2.7 billion non-Christians, a full 87 percent (or 2.4 billion) would not be evangelized other than through cross-cultural missionaries. The agents for cross-cultural evangelism would not necessarily have to be from the traditional Western sending churches, of course. South Indians could send missionaries to tribes in North India. Kenyans could send missionaries across tribal boundaries within their own country. Brazilian churches could undertake the evangelization of Portugal. But having said this, the urgent missiological priority of someone moving from their culture to another, learning a new language, eating strange food, and loving those who formerly appeared unlovable was convincingly established by Ralph Winter in that prestigious international forum (47).

Another concept, helpful in understanding church growth, sees it occurring in four ways. (1) Internal growth: increase in subgroups within existing churches and the continually perfecting Christians, men and women who know the Bible and practice the Christian faith. E-0 evangelism, or bringing nominal Christians to active commitment to Christ, is included here. Some refer to internal growth as “quality growth.” (2) Expansion growth: each congregation expands as it converts non-Christians and takes more of them, as well as transfer members, into itself. (3) Extension growth: each congregation plants daughter churches among its own kind of people in its neighborhood or region. (4) Bridging growth: congregations and denominations find bridges to other segments of the population and, crossing the bridges of God, multiply companies of the committed on the other side (72).

These three lengthy passages from McGavran appear to contradict the point I’m making. However, without retyping his entire work, he is arguing that the primary role of churches is to grow, that is, to plant other churches. He is also arguing that this is not the role of white missionaries, but the role of the whole church. The whole church is unified in action. Furthermore, he defines growth holistically. Its not just numerical growth (though it ultimately leads that direction!). Its growth on every level culminating in the whole church reaching across cultural bridges with the gospel.

Compare to:

Bosch, David J. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. ASM Series No. 16. Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991. Pp. 587.

For the sake of unity and of mission, we need new relationships, mutual responsibility, accountability, and interdependence (not independence!)–not just because the Western church is now operating in the context of the world in which the West’s dominance, numerically and otherwise, appears to have ended definitely, but rather because there can be no “higher” or “lower” in the Body of Christ (466).

Not quoted here, Bosch is quick to critique McGavran and the Church Growth Movement. On the same page cited above, he goes far to call for the cease of the proliferation of new churches (I think he means denominations). He also briefly discusses church planting. So with Bosch, we have one who argues rather convincingly for interdependence, but who also, though being very ecclesio-centric, doesn’t seem to favor the narrowing of mission to church planting.

What do you think?

Should there be a relationship between interdependence and church planting?

As Alan Knox asked on his blog, should the church be focused on gathering or going? In other words, interdependence implies relationship and partnership. Partnership implies mutuality, ultimately discipleship. Is the primary purpose of the church discipleship, or church planting?

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