Planting Churches that Plant Churches
Steve Timmis is on a mission. For all that church planting has become part of the vocabulary and practice of contemporary evangelicalism, for all that it has become ‘on trend’, he’s not yet convinced we see it as an absolute necessity. Hence, the arrival of Multiplying Churches: Exploring God’s Mission Strategy, a collection of ten short chapters from different authors, including Matt Chandler, Tim Chester, Henri Blocher, edited together by Timmis.
For evidence of this arguable reluctance, Timmis suggests “you only have to look at the number of churches that don’t plant,” or the fact that often it’s not the experienced church leaders who go with the plant. Now, given Timmis is Executive Director of the Acts 29 Network, which exists to “encourage, resource, facilitate, support and equip churches to plant churches that will plant church-planting churches,” it should be no surprise that this book is an unashamed advocate for that vision. And yet for all that you’re unlikely to be caught unawares by this insistence, you can’t help but be gripped by the authors’ passion for the task and challenge of church planting.
More Than Plaid Shirts and Fresh Fonts
As a couple of the writers express, there is a concern that the recent resurgence of planting has sometimes been theologically-light, and I think being aware of that helps one understand the vision behind Multiplying Churches. Because the book is much more about trying to address that perceived lack of substance, than it is about being the ‘How to’ guide to church planting that perhaps some readers might expect. For example, Tim Chester charts a rich biblical theology of light and darkness, before coming into land by showing how this Scriptural narrative provides a vision for planting as creating communities of light at “street level,” in itself a brilliantly inspiring phrase. Similarly, I was surprised to find theological heavyweight Henri Blocher had authored one of the chapters, but actually his reflection on how the opening chapters of Genesis give us a fruitful backdrop for considering planting that will stretch and stimulate.
Acts 29 President Matt Chandler contributes a couple of chapters, including a realistic and honest consideration of ‘Motive’, which I found personally really helpful. One Mokgatle, who is the lead planter of Rooted Fellowship in Pretoria, SA, presents a stirring and rooted argument for culture-transcending church planting. Ruth Woodrow shares her experience of women’s ministry within her church plant, including their efforts to love and reach Muslim women with the gospel. Reuben Hunter gives a wise exposition of 1 Thessalonians chapter 2. Steve Timmis also throws in a chapter explaining why Acts 29 has a complementarianism theology of gender as a “foundational” conviction. Some may feel this is a bit of a gear shift in a book on church planting, but Timmis sketches out why he believes that actually it “displays something vital, true and pertinent about God.”
We Can’t Do Mission Without Planting Churches
In 2000 Timmis edited a similar collection of essays, also called Multiplying Churches, which was really a call for the UK church to take planting seriously at a time when it had a lot less presence in the Christian ether than it does now. Now in 2017, this is a whole new book, but that aim still remains: to encourage church planting as a mission strategy. The difference is perhaps the emphasis, born out of the experience of the last seventeen years: planting needs to be the on-going life-cycle for churches (‘planting churches that plant churches’) and it needs to be shaped by theological rigour rather than pragmatism. That said, although I can understand the reasoning behind this accent to the book, I still felt that a few more stories or examples wouldn’t go amiss to ground things and inspire. For me, it has often been hearing a church’s story that helps me imagine what might be possible in my own situation.
Ultimately this book flows out of a high view of the local church. As Timmis says, we shouldn’t talk about gospel growth, or mission, or evangelism, without talking about planting churches, for “churches are the result and the means of mission”. To use another image from the book, the way to defeat the darkness is to light more candles. To quote Tim Chester, to plant churches is to “litter the world with little communities of light so that neighbourhoods, regions, and countries burst into light.”
The short essay format of Multiplying Churches means it will offer those involved or considering planting a rich platter of inspiration that manages to be substantial without being overly dense, whilst its range of authors mean it is broad in its focus, brimming with wisdom, without lacking coherence.
You can pick up Multiplying Churches: Exploring God’s Mission Strategy from the publisher here, and why not watch Steve explaining the vision behind the book:
Disclaimer: The publisher sent me a free copy of this book, but I hope it is still a fair review.