So...You Want to Start a Church?

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If so, there are some things that you should think and pray about before you get serious about all of this.

Why are you thinking about starting a church? It is becoming more common for churches to start in our association because the congregation to which people once belonged took a vote to leave, but didn’t meet the required 2/3’s vote to do so as a congregation.  Those who voted to leave tend to leave the church to form another.

You are to be commended for engaging the battle for the authority of God’s Word.  Many of us in LCMC have been a part of that same process and have been hurt.  Some of us have become disillusioned with the “church” and frustrated by a leadership that seemed unresponsive to such clearly commanded directives.  Some of us are exhausted from the ordeal.

It is good for us to take some time to heal from a time of struggle, to spend time in prayer, in worship and in reflection.  It is very important that we come to terms with our loss, and begin working toward forgiveness and healing.

But at this point you have to ask, if the Lord has called us out of a situation, then to what have we been called?

Jesus’ call is always for a purpose.

What follows is a very simple outline of some of the steps that would be necessary to follow...

First of all, consider the Great Commission.

The rapid expansion of the church in the first three hundred years of its existence was due to the multiplication of churches.  The Pauline process--the Apostle Paul is the premiere evangelist of the New Testament--was very simple: Preach the Gospel of God in Jesus Christ, gather them together for fellowship, Bible study, worship and prayer, appoint leaders and then establish them into the Body of Christ.  All of this is simply to find a way to fulfill the Great Commission in each local community.

Forming a church today can take the same steps, but for us in our generation, things are a bit different.Paul came into areas that had heard only a little, if anything, of Jesus. He was able to preach with clarity and conviction of the work that God was doing in Christ.  Today, many in our communities know enough of the Gospel and the Bible to have become inoculated to its transformative power.  We have television evangelists of all kinds preaching sometimes quite different gospels--one of the most seductive is the prosperity gospel (God wants you to be rich, successful and powerful).  These kinds of messages, along with a multitude of books, CDs, mp3s and websites can be confusing, contradictory and diluting.  Paul wrote to Timothy regarding this: people are having a form a godliness but are denying its power.  How many people in our nation are Christians in name only, going through the motions, sitting through mindless sermons, and showing no sign, in any regard, that Jesus is Lord?

So, gather together around God’s Word first.  There are many great Bible studies that cover the basics of our faith--and this is the place to start.  As you study God’s word, the Lord will show you why He has called you out, and why you are the ones to start a new church.  If you don’t know where to turn, try the internet, or our website at testing.lcmc.net and ask for help.

Second ask, “What will be our mission, our purpose?”

Congregations are established for a singular purpose:to make disciples.  Disciples are those who go out into the world to share the Gospel and invite others to know Jesus as Lord.  This is the mission of the church. 

We do not make believers, that is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Our job is to be ambassadors of Christ and bring the message of Christ to the nations, the message of reconciliation, with which we have been entrusted (II Corinthians 5: 17).

Disciples can be defined in any number of ways. I think that disciples evidence at least these six characteristics:

  1. A disciple of Jesus knows what he/she believes and and is able to share that with others in a way that is normal and natural for him/her.  This “witness” is not canned, stilted, or rehearsed, just a genuine sharing of a personal faith.
  2. A disciple has a working knowledge of the Word of God, the Bible. This doesn’t mean that a person has memorized a hundred Bible verses, or will the first one to always find the book of the Bible mentioned, but does know how and where to find answers to life’s questions.
  3. A disciple is aware of how God has designed him/her for ministry. We know that God has given every believer a spiritual gift to be used to empower the Body of Christ to do whatever God has called the church to do; these spiritual gifts are essential to the effective and efficient functioning of the local church. (I Corinthians 12: 4-7)
  4. A disciple needs to be connected to the Body of Christ. We were never designed to live this life alone. Many churches are re-discovering the principles of small group-based Bible studies. This is not a new program, but rather one of the fundamental principles of the New Testament communities. It is here in genuine relationships that faith is formed, love for one another grows and develops, service to each other and the people around us is offered, and prayer and worship take place. In other words, this is how community is formed. And this is not an option, it is a way of life for the disciple.
  5. A disciple is active in serving. We serve Jesus by serving others.  Jesus is quite clear in Matthew 25 that it is essential that we find ways to help others by using our gifts.  James teaches that faith without works is dead and God put us here for a reason: to make a difference.  In this practice of our faith, we also find that faith grows.
  6. A disciple desires to make more disciples. Disciples are not consumers, they are producers.   Disciples don’t need someone to continue to tell them to go out, they are self-starting, self-initiating, self-reproducing.   We all understand that there is nothing of the Christian life that is about “self”; ministry is lead and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Disciples follow Jesus and do so willingly. 

But this is still not a mission statement.

As you begin the work of planting a church, the particular purpose for your ministry may become clear.  As it does, it would be good to write it down and ultimately to evaluate your ministry out of a clear sense of mission.  No one church can do everything, but each congregation can do what God has set before it to accomplish.

Here is the truth: if we make disciples, we will always have the church, but if we set out to make a church, we may only make members.  Members join an organization with rules and constitutions detailing member’s rights.  Disciples are followers of Jesus who have surrendered their lives…two quite different categories.

Third, you will need to get organized.

Whenever two or three are gathered...a fight will break out.

If progress is going to be made, sooner or later someone will have to make a decision about what to do next.  Good leadership develops consensus, rallies people around the idea and the vision and keeps the project moving forward.  It is not just about the leader, but it is about everyone working together towards a common goal.  Therefore, it is important to identify the gifts of those who gather, and then find a way to channel those gifts into action.

The church is meant to be organic, not organized and institutionalized, but without some identifiable process or structure, chaos will win the day and nothing will be accomplished for the sake of the kingdom.  This structure doesn’t have to be carved in stone, and it is certain that as the church grows, the processes and/or structure will have to adapt accordingly.

Even so, leadership in the church is essential.  The Bible lists about 20 or so qualities of leaders that are useful in helping to identify those who have the spiritual maturity and the call to lead.  You will find those qualities at the end of this paper, and you might be surprised at those that God has called to lead.  Go into this with an open mind and seek the Lord in prayer about those that might be called.

Leadership requires followers.  Sometimes, especially in our culture, we have the opinion that only leaders have value and all the rest of us simply go along for the ride.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Followers of Jesus turned the world upside down, but first they had to learn the spiritual discipline of following.  This too is a calling from God.  Those who follow are just as valuable to the Body of Christ as those who lead, and we each follow Jesus.

Fourth, gather together around the Lord’s Supper.

In LCMC we practice lay-presidency, which simply means that every believer is authorized by Jesus to say the words of institution and to baptize.  In the Lutheran community (and really every Christian church), we (meaning the leadership team, and affirmed by the whole Body) usually appoint a few to lead in these areas for the sake of good order, and for a sense of ease, knowing that these people know what they are doing and can do so with a sense of worship.

In the first century, believers gathered weekly around the apostle’s teaching (Bible Study), the breaking of the bread (Communion), fellowship (which often included a meal) and to prayer (prayers not out of a book, but offered freely by the people).  This was the model for the church for the first three centuries!

Fifth, plan to grow.

As you gather and find a sense of purpose and joy in the gatherings, others will want to come along; the church of Christ always grows by attraction.  Jesus said that by our love for one another, the world will know that we are his disciples.  People will want what you have, and have to offer.

In the beginning a house may be the perfect place for you to gather, but in time that may be too small.  Be open to what other properties in your area may be available.  The more public, the better.  Look for school buildings to rent, or public libraries often provide community meeting rooms, as do banks, convention centers, senior centers, and more.  There may be store fronts that are vacant and could be rented cheaply.  Don’t rush into a place, but don’t close your eyes to opportunities that surround you.

Plan to grow in knowledge and faith.  In time, you may want to look for leadership that has been trained--or provide training to the leadership that you have!  There are many people who have the gifts for the vocation of ministry but never had a chance to get the needed training.  Today there are many ways to train people for ministry without ever leaving their homes, their jobs or their communities.  Online instruction is expanding every day and LCMC can recommend some training centers.

Offering the vocation of ministry to someone in your “church” who has not been trained, but has both the desire and the gifts is called a “contract call”.They become your pastor and they receive training on the job.  These people are by nature bi-vocational.  When the work becomes more than part-time, the church may call them full-time while they continue and eventually finish their training.  An integral part of this kind of a call is one to one supervision by a seasoned Lutheran pastor somewhere relatively close by.

There are fully trained pastors with a Master’s of Divinity degree from an accredited Lutheran seminary who may be willing to serve part time in your situation.Sometimes these people will choose to be bi-vocational.  But, if the congregation continues to grow, you may be able to call someone full-time from the beginning.

No matter how you secure this kind of leadership, the church must never give up its call to ministry.  Someone receiving compensation for the vocation of ministry does not remove the call to ministry from the people.  In other words, you can’t just expect the pastor to do it all.  This is neither right, nor good for the church.