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Do We Have to Have a Church Planter?

Tracy Amino

This is one of the most controversial topics within the house church community. Several of the "Church Planter" proponents are my friends, but I don't agree with them on this subject. I don't agree that you MUST have a Church Planter in order for your church to: (a) be valid; (b) have any chance of survival or longevity; and (c) come to maturity.

I believe that some of the written offerings on this topic were probably written based on what their experience had been and what they had seen -- however, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's so for everyone. God is not bound by mere human statistics (which I'm not altogether sure would be accurate anyway, as I've never been interviewed for any house church longevity study). God can do the impossible -- which is what occurs when a group of people join to become a gathering of His body.

As far as church planters or church workers go --- I, personally, have known of groups that have been meeting for 10+ years that didn't have any such person visit or found their group. I can't agree with the "church planter" supporters' fatalistic assessment that a group is bound to fail without a church planter or outside worker. I've seen too much evidence to the contrary.

In addition, I've heard the argument that every New Testament church was raised up by an itinerant church planter or worker. This is true. However, these itinerant workers were first preaching Christ to non-believers, then raising up churches composed of these new converts. They were appointing elders too. In my opinion, that just means that they probably left some of the people who were traveling with them behind for a while to disciple the new converts until the organic leadership could emerge from within the group. Then they would leave.

What is occuring here in the States (primarily) is that men are claiming to be "Church Planters" and they are coming into groups of people who are already Christians and are bringing a strong element of control to those believers. There is no New Testament pattern for such action. I am not opposed to groups reaching out for help. Heavens no. But, when a group starts saying that you have to do it their way or you aren't a valid expression of the Lord's body ---- I start hearing "Danger, Will Robinson!" That is an elitist and prideful attitude and it should be confronted at every turn. We should never say of any part of the Lord's Body ... "I have no need of you."

The reasons that groups fail are varied, but are not necessarily the result of a lack of outside intervention. Personally, I think there are patterns of problems that are apparent in those groups that don't make it. Perhaps when someone who is experienced and mature (literally, an elder) meets with a group, they can help them to stay on track when it comes to problem areas. I'm not opposed to that at all. However, it should be born from a mutual relationship -- not a hierarchal "Church Planter" person who tries to come in and take over and "fix" all of your group's problems.

From my own experience, these are some important questions that you should ask yourselves in terms of whether or not your house church will endure?

1. How committed is this group to living this way?

If the commitment level is low then, most likely, when people get discouraged because of slow growth (in terns of numbers) or when disagreements arise, they will bail. Things can get pretty volatile at times. If the group doesn't make a decision to work through things that come up, then one of the plethora of disagreements that come up will be bound to rip it apart. I'm not talking about being committed to the HC, I'm talking about being committed to each other -- to putting flesh on the "one anothers" of the New Testament.

2. Has the Lord given this group revelation about the way He wants His church to meet?

No matter how committed the group is, if they are meeting without revelation about the purpose of it, they will be like a ship with no anchor -- tossing around in the open seas. Unfortunately, our culture is such that people are literally starving for fellowship and relationships. Some may come to the HC as a social outlet. They felt lonely in the IC and they see this as an opportunity to make more friends. This is not the best reason. It can start out that way, but if it doesn't get any deeper than that -- the HC can just end up being more of a club than a true expression of the Lord's body.

3. Is forming this HC just a reactionary response to hurts and wounds from the IC?

Many of us came to Christ because we were at the lowest place of our lives. Our circumstances were bad, and that bad circumstance drove us to Christ. However, that wasn't why we stayed. The same can be true of HC. Our bad circumstances in the IC can drive us to seek out HC, but that can't be the only reason or the foundation of why we stay. It has to evolve into more than that. It has to evolve into an understanding of the Lord's Body.

4. Can we honestly look at the rest of those who bow their knee to Jesus Christ as our brothers and sisters -- even if we have differing views on non-essential doctrines?

We have to be able to look at every Christian as somehow connected to us and realize that we are part of something that is very big. If we get too focused on just our little group and we're "it" -- deception can quickly overtake us. Breaking down the walls of division within the body of Christ is, in my opinion, one of the biggest things the Lord is doing through the HCs. If we think we are somehow "special" and above other Christians -- pride and deception have knocked on our door.

If we can honestly look at our HCs and overcome these hurdles, I think we can make it --- with or WITHOUT any special church planter or church worker.

Let me re-iterate, I'm not completely opposed to the concept of outside workers. However, from what I've heard from so many of you over the years, the experience has been a tragic and terrible one when I've heard stories of house church planters. The level of total obedience that is demanded by these guys is quite disturbing. In some ways, the church planter hierarchy is even more frightening than the hierarchy of the institutionalized churches.

I would be irresponsible not to give a warning about Gene Edwards' ministry. I have had personal experience with some of the "Church Planters" who have come out of his ministry. The control and manipulation I witnessed was terrible. I've personally seen a group split apart by "Church Planters" from his ministry. I would warn any group to prayerfully consider any personal contact with his ministry. Read his books, by all means. He is a brother who the Lord has used to bring a lot of revelation to the body about many things. However, his group has also caused a tremendous amount of offense and division within the house church community, as well. Take in the meat and spit out the bones.

If your group is really and truly seeking outside help, I would highly recommend Wayne Jacobsen. He's a brother who doesn't call himself anything special nor see himself as anyone special. He has a lot of humility, wisdom and understanding about issues regarding the ekklesia (the church). Click his name (above) to go to his website.