Should Missionaries Plant Churches?

Most American missionaries should not be church planters in other countries. Most missionaries should be church planting facilitators. There are fewer and fewer places in the world today where churches have not been planted and where missionaries need to do pioneer church planting. Of course some mission agencies and denominations think that if their group is not represented on a field then they need to start a new church.


Recently I spoke with a missionary on deputation who was planning to go a European country where most missionaries become pastors for years on end. I suggested that he connect with what God is doing with national believers and work to facilitate church planting. However the gorilla in the room is that many prospective church planters have little if any church planting experience and training. And when you consider how long it takes most missionaries to learn a language well enough that people actually want to listen to them it is little wonder that so few churches are planted in some countries or that churches see a succession of missionary pastors supported by American churches.


In short, here’s my advice to prospective cross-cultural church planters. Don’t even think about going into another culture without some church planting experience and training stateside first. Don’t assume that God has been absent in other places awaiting the arrival of Americans. Look for those with whom you are doctrinally compatible without expecting them to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s. In my opinion I would not make eschatology and polity issues, among other things. Find national believers who are committed to the gospel and see if you can come alongside them in partnership. Be willing to come under national believers rather than controlling them.


If churches continue the practice of sending men to plant churches who have evidenced no giftedness, have little or no experience, and who fall into old patterns of becoming American pastors of national churches then the spread of the gospel will continue to advance at a snail’s pace. Remember that God has been at work long before you arrive and genuine partnership with national believers as a church planting facilitator might prevent you from getting stuck for years in a small church plant that will be viewed as foreign church and which will remain dependent for decades on American support to survive.


3 Responses to “Should Missionaries Plant Churches?”

  1. Steve,
    When getting church planting experience, would you also suggest getting cross-cultural church planting experience here in the U.S. as well?

  2. Good point and I hope to develop it more later. I find it astounding that missionaries going to Spanish-speaking countries or China, Vietnam, wherever, spend their time in college or seminary in white, suburban, middle-class churches rather than in cities where you can find most people groups.

  3. It only makes sense if a missionary's goal is not simply to plant a church but to start a church planting movement, that he must eventually be a church planting facilitator. But, it would be odd to try to train others in local church ministry if you have not been involved in it yourself.
    Cities provide great opportunities for local church ministry and cross-cultural/multi-ethnic ministry. Campus ministries are another great avenue for that. And, since I think most missionaries should be working in cities oversees, it also makes sense to be involved in urban ministry stateside.
    Looking forward to you developing this more later.

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