The Church Planter’s Library (2): North American Church Planting & Renewal

[Editor’s Note: This summer we are posting some old but good pieces from BtT. This post originally appeared on July 7, 2009.]

North American church planting and renewal is not for wimps, dummies, or dorks. In order to plant and revitalize churches in 21st century America, we need men who are strong in their walk with the Lord, strong as husbands and fathers, and strong in perseverance. Further, the church needs men whose mind is buttressed by sound theology and missiology. Third, we need men who are culturally savvy, having a ready gasp of their socio-cultural context and an ability to communicate the gospel and plant the church appropriately in that context.

Finally, North American missiology is for those who are seeking to minister in diverse and multicultural country. Why? Because we no longer need to cross the ocean in order to cross cultural and linguistic boundaries. In our own country, and even in the South, we find a dizzying array of cultures and sub-cultures, each with their own distinctive beliefs and ways of life. Many of these cultures and sub-cultures are non-Christian or post-Christian, in that they do not have even a basic understanding of a Christian worldview or Christian vocabulary. And because the SBC is a mostly middle class, mostly white network of mostly declining churches that are not yet reaching those cultures and subcultures.

For this reason, evangelicals in general (and Southern Baptists in particular) must begin to take their own cultural contexts as seriously as IMB missionaries take theirs. We must labor consciously and carefully to learn the cultures and sub-cultures around us so that we can communicate the gospel faithfully and meaningfully in those contexts.

Along the way, it is helpful to read widely on issues related to church planting. Toward that end, here is a list of books for prospective North American church planters and renewers. (Note: Also beneficial is Ed Stetzer’s annotated N. A. Church Planting Bibliography from April 2009.)


After having immersed ourselves in biblical and theological studies, which provide the matrix within which we think about church planting, the first order of business is to deepen our understanding of the church. Pick a couple of ecclesiologies and study them with a pen in hand, reflecting, critiquing, making application. I recommend John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches and Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. The former is probably the best one-stop doctrine of the church available, while the latter focuses on nine crucial aspects for building a healthy church. If you would like to go retro, J. L. Dagg‘s Manual of Church Order is an older ecclesiology text written by a pastorally-minded theologian.

Classic Church Planting Texts

The next order of business is to read at least one of the classic texts on church planting. I will mention several. First, John L. Nevius, The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches is a slim little volume written by a 19th century Presbyterian missionary to China. In juxtaposition to most missionaries of his day, Nevius encouraged workers to plant churches that were contextual and self-supporting. Second, Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of The Church is another slender little book written by a turn-of-the-20th-century Anglican missionary to China. He urges church planters to start churches that will spontaneously grow, multiply, and overcome various difficulties that hinder the church from growing in this manner. Finally, David Hesselgrave, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond, 2d ed., is written by the doyen of 20th century evangelical missiology. In this contemporary classic, the author provides a biblically and theologically driven model for church planting that is also informed by historical, sociological, anthropological insights.

Warning: The first two volumes were written in another era and are a little more difficult to read than books being published in the 21st century. (In bygone eras, theologians were audacious enough to assume literacy in the Western world.) But they are worth the read. In fact, I think I can say without too much exaggeration that all contemporary church planting theory is “footnotes to Roland Allen.” Even today, his work is salient and timely.

Five Streams of North American Missiology

After having beefed up on ecclesiology and church planting classics, you are ready to begin making theological and missiological assessment of contemporary trends in North American church planting and renewal. I have divided current literature into five categories.

1. Reformed & Contextual:

By far the most well-thought-out and influential book in this category is Tim Keller & Allen Thompson, Church Planting Manual, published and distributed by Redeemer Presbyterian’s Church Planting Center (New York). Keller and Allen’s book manages to be at once deeply theological and eminently practical. Also in this vein are Mark Driscoll‘s The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out and Confessions of a Reformission Rev: Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church. In the first book, Driscoll argues that the American church must center itself on a proper understanding of gospel, church, and culture. In the second, he tells the story of Mars Hill Church, from the time he planted it until the present. Both books are full of funny stories, so much so that I almost fractured my diaphragm on several occasions reading them.

2. Purpose Driven:

Rick Warren‘s influence on the contemporary scene is mammoth. Ron Sylvia, Starting New Churches on Purpose, is a church planting text in the vein of Warren’s Purpose Driven Church. This text is, for the most part, a-theological.

3. Missional/Incarnational:

The missiologists in this third category overlap at points with those in the first category, but are by no means synonymous. One foundational text to read is Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church. A second significant book is Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, which is one of the most handy and helpful church planting texts on the market. Finally, Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways and Michael Frost, Exile are helpful treatments of a missional-incarnational model for church planting.

4. Organic/House Church:

Proponents of organic/house church overlap at points with the missional-incarnationals. The books to read here are Neil Cole, Organic Church: Growing Faith where Life Happens and Jonathan Campbell, The Way of Jesus. Another helpful but relatively obscure little book is Rad Zdero, The Global House Church Movement.

5. Miscellaneous Contemporary:

The fifth category is a catch-all. A few of the more significant texts are Steve Sjogren, Community of Kindness: A Refreshing New Approach to Planting and Growing a Church, Ralph Moore, Starting a New Church: The Church Planter’s Guide to Success, and Bob Roberts‘ trilogy of books, Glocalization, Transformation, and The Multiplying Church.

A Few More

In addition to the books listed above, here are a handful of other books beneficial for the aspiring church planter. Thom Rainer‘s books are well-worth the time spent reading them. I will limit myself to two. The Book of Church Growth: History, Theology, and Principles is the single best introduction to the church growth movement, including an almost-100 page section on theologically-driven missiology. Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples, co-authored by Rainer and Eric Geiger, is a lucid and persuasive argument that churches need to return to the simple disciple-making process exemplified by Jesus.

In Comeback Churches, Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson report on more than 300 formerly declining congregations across multiple denominations, reporting on what it took to revitalize and renew those churches. Planting Churches in the Real World is the story of Joel Rainey’s first church plant and the numerous challenges and times of discouragement he faced. As Stetzer puts it in the blurb on the back of the book, “If you are a planter drunk with vision, this will sober you up.” Finally, Tim Chester and Steve TimmisTotal Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community is a helpful little book arguing that we must center all of the church’s life around gospel and community.

A Final Comment

In this installment, I have only mentioned a few of the books that will be helpful for aspiring church planters. Further, I have provided little or no critique of them. For that reason, I would like to invite our readership to comment on books that I have not included that you think are particularly helpful, or even to comment on or critique the books that I have included.

What new books (since 2009) can you add to this list? 

Fifteen Factors That Have Changed the SBC since 1979, Part 4

This past summer, I began a four-part series of articles titled “Fifteen Factors That Have Changed the SBC since 1979.” Because of a variety of distractions, I only wrote the first three installments. A number of BtT readers have asked me what happened to the final article, including two brothers in the last three weeks. Well, after a five-month interlude between articles, this installment concludes the series. By way of reminder, these factors are not meant to be exhaustive and there is often overlap between them. If you are unfamiliar with the earlier articles, it would be helpful for you to read them before continuing:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

13. The Influence of American Evangelicalism

To be clear, by evangelicalism, I mean the loose-knit coalition of (mostly) conservative parachurch ministries that blossomed in the aftermath of the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the 1920s and 1930s. Think Campus Crusade, World Vision, Fuller Seminary, Christianity Today, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. When this movement came to national attention around the mid-twentieth century, Southern Baptists on the whole paid little attention. While individual Southern Baptists (most notably Graham) were involved in parachurch evangelicalism, most Southern Baptists who thought beyond their own local church focused on the Convention’s seminaries, mission boards, and commissions.

This insular focus had begun to wane by the 1970s and 1980s, at least among some theologically conservative Southern Baptists. This was in part because of the progressive theology being advocated in SBC seminaries and other denominational ministries. Some Southern Baptists studied at schools like Wheaton, Dallas, Gordon-Conwell, and Trinity. Some opted to serve with nondenominational mission organizations instead of the Foreign Mission Board. Many churches adopted conservative, nondenominational Sunday School curricula in place of the material published by the Sunday School Board. The emerging generation of conservative thinkers was more influenced by Carl Henry, Francis Schaeffer, Harold Lindsell, and John Walvoord than Southern Baptist professors writing for Broadman Press. Initiatives like Lausanne and the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy and programs like Evangelism Explosion were embraced, to varying degrees, by many Southern Baptists. Baptist collegians opted for Campus Crusade and InterVarsity at the state university over Baptist Student Union at the denominational college.

By the last decade of the 20th century, at least some Southern Baptists had become very involved within segments of evangelicalism, especially those committed to priorities like missions, dispensationalism, Calvinism, and a complementarian view of gender roles. “Northern” evangelicals of the baptistic variety became freshly minted Southern Baptists teaching in denominational seminaries. Several SBC scholars served as president of the Evangelical Theological Society (including current ETS president and Southern Seminary theologian Bruce Ware). Southern Baptist megachurch pastors have spoken at Promise Keepers. Al Mohler and Richard Land have arguably become as recognizable as spokesmen for conservative evangelicals as they are Southern Baptist agency heads. Several periodicals have dubbed Rick Warren “America’s Pastor.” The list could go on. Southern Baptists have become in many ways the quintessential evangelicals, which has caused concern both among some evangelicals and some Southern Baptists. The “evangelicalization” of Southern Baptists (and the “Southern Baptistification” of evangelicalism) will continue to be a point of conversation and debate within our Convention.

14. The Influence of the Religious Right

Closely related to the influence of evangelicalism has been the influence of the Religious Right. And as with evangelicalism, this influence flows both ways.

To make a long story short, a new generation of conservative evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, Jews, and other moral conservatives coalesced into a grassroots movement in the late 1970s. Noted for their advocacy of school prayer and Bible reading and their opposition to abortion, the homosexual agenda, pornography, and gambling (among other things), the Religious Right quickly became a major caucus within the Republican Party. Since the 1980s, the movement has led to several minor political parties, has birthed numerous think-tanks and public advocacy groups, and has influenced hundreds of elections at every level of government. And Southern Baptists have been right in the thick of it.

Some of the theological conservatives who helped lead the Conservative Resurgence were also political conservatives who were active in Religious Right organizations. So it comes as no surprise that the SBC simultaneously publicly embraced both a more theologically and politically conservative outlook. (Please keep in mind I am speaking to our corporate identity as expressed during annual meetings of the SBC and embodied in our denominational ministries. I would argue grassroots Baptists were already theologically and politically conservative, which is why our corporate identity became more conservative.) A “resolutions search” at the Convention’s website will yield numerous statements about school prayer, abortion, homosexuality, marriage, gambling, pornography, and euthanasia adopted since the early 1980s. A perusal of past Convention programs will evidence a number of conservative political figures, including US presidents, who have appeared or been officially represented at annual meetings.

The Religious Right and the SBC continue to be mutually intertwined. In recent years, at least two SBC megachurches have hosted rallies advocating conservative judicial appointments. B&H Books published the first edition of Judge Roy Moore’s So Help Me God: The Ten Commandments, Judicial Tyranny, and the Battle for Religious Freedom. A Christianity Today editor has dubbed Richard Land the new leader of the Religious Right and Time magazine named Land one of its 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America based upon his work as “God’s Lobbyist.” Former SBC pastor and GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was arguably the most popular platform personality of the entire week of the 2009 SBC Pastor’s Conference and annual meeting (judged unscientifically by audience decibel level). These examples are just scratching the surface.

While party platforms and political alliances shift over time, in the near future at least it seems likely that the SBC will continue to be closely identified (at least in perception) with the Republican Party in general and the Religious Right in particular.

15. The Influence of the Miraculous Gifts Movement(s)

Now this one is interesting. Again, the short version will have to suffice. In the early 20th century Pentecostalism began and was noted by its emphasis on miraculous gifts and advocacy of a second baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is evidenced by speaking in tongues. It spawned several new denominations. In the 1960s, the Charismatic movement began as a “Pentecostalish” impulse within the mainline denominations. It was also noted by its advocacy of miraculous gifts, but was a little more diverse concerning Spirit baptism and role of tongues-speaking in said baptism. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Third Wave Movement emerged as a similar movement that was mostly interdenominational and led to the creation of new networks such as Vineyard and Sovereign Grace. It was a bit more tempered in its advocacy of miraculous gifts and in some cases completely dispensed with second baptism theology in favor of periodic “fillings” of the Holy Spirit (not unlike some versions of Keswick Theology). All of these sub-movements are part of a larger phenomenon I call the Miraculous Gifts Movement. Of course there are also many people do not fit neatly in any branch of the Miraculous Gifts Movement, but believe in the continuation of some of those gifts (especially different forms of speaking in tongues).

The Charismatic and Third Wave sub-movements have especially influenced the SBC (and almost everybody else!). Almost all the praise choruses and many of the modern hymns we sing have their genesis in one or more branches of the miraculous gifts movement. Raising one’s hands while singing-once taboo among many Southern Baptists-has become commonplace. Some Southern Baptists practice a “private prayer language” (PPL), a form of speaking in tongues. Anecdotally, it seems a growing number of Southern Baptists are at least open to the continuation of some miraculous gifts, preferring to call themselves “open-but-cautious” (or vice versa).

The Miraculous Gifts Movement has also led to controversy in the SBC. Some churches have been removed from their associations for embracing Charismatic tendencies. Other churches have split because of tensions over miraculous gifts. Both mission boards have formal policies that forbid any form of tongues-speaking, including the recent controversial policy at the IMB regarding PPLs. I think most of the seminaries have similar policies (or at least long-standing practices about such matters). Denominational studies about PPLs have been produced and disputed. At least two trustee boards have experienced tensions over PPL.

It will be interesting to see what further tensions we experience in the SBC over the miraculous gifts. For my part, I can see Southern Baptists either continuing to tend toward an unofficial cessasionist view of the miraculous gifts or maybe gravitating toward an unofficial “open-but-cautious” position (truce?). What I cannot see is Southern Baptists uncritically embracing practices like speaking in tongues, prophecy, being “slain in the Spirit,” etc.

Integrity in Ministry

For 30 plus years I have been burdened for the personal integrity of those in the ministry. The reasons are simple. Integrity is a biblical requirement (1 Tim 3:1). And, the respect for those in ministry is at a low ebb, especially in our nation. Of course one major area of importance is how ministers conduct themselves with the opposite sex. I have always challenged fellow pastors to make a rock solid, non-negotiable commitment: “I will never be alone with a woman who is not my wife.” This commitment and conviction has not always been applauded. I have been accused of being a Pharisee, legalist, sexist and Neanderthal. I was once accused of having “psycho-sexual hang-ups in need of therapy!” But praise God and by His grace, I have never been accused of adultery because in almost 30 years of marriage, I have never been alone with a woman other than Charlotte. I have no plans to change this.

Sexual temptation is a powerful reality, and a wise person will never forget that no matter how much you love Jesus, “the wrong person plus the wrong place plus the wrong time will equal the wrong thing happening.” Look no further than to the tragic story of King David, a man the Bible says was after God’s own heart.

Sexual immorality exacts a heavy price tag. It will cause you to dishonor Christ, wound the church, break the heart of your mate and lose forever the respect of your children. That is a price only a fool would pay.

This issue was brought to my mind again in a recent blog by my friend Ed Stetzer. By the way, I am excited to tell you that Dr. Stetzer is going to join the Southeastern faculty as a visiting research professor. Personally I am thrilled we will get to share him with our friends at LifeWay. In Ed’s blog he referenced the “The Commandments for Saddleback Staff” by Rick Warren. Here is Rick’s list.

  1. Thou shalt not go to lunch alone with the opposite sex.*
  2. Thou shalt not have the opposite sex pick you up or drive you places when it is just the two of you.*
  3. Thou shalt not kiss any attender of the opposite sex or show affection that could be questioned.*
  4. Thou shalt not visit the opposite sex alone at home.*
  5. Thou shalt not counsel the opposite sex alone at the office, and thou shalt not counsel the opposite sex more than once without that person’s mate. Refer them.
  6. Thou shalt not discuss detailed sexual problems with the opposite sex in counseling. Refer them.
  7. Thou shalt not discuss your marriage problems with an attender of the opposite sex.
  8. Thou shalt be careful in answering emails, instant messages, chatrooms, cards or letters from the opposite sex.
  9. Thou shalt make your co-worker your protective ally.
  10. Thou shalt pray for the integrity of other staff members.

[*The first four do not apply to unmarried staff.]

These are wise words for any minister of any sex or age. These are principles that will help us in finishing the race well for King Jesus. Integrity as it relates to your sex life is not optional for the minister of the gospel. It is essential. Take the high road in this area. Be cautious and be careful. Stay close to Jesus and stay close to your mate. End your race with no regrets. It will glorify God, and you will be glad you online