The Church Planter’s Library (3): International Church Planting

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[Editor's Note: This summer we are posting some old but good pieces from BtT. This post originally appeared on July 10, 2009.]

The apostle Paul was at once the early church’s best theologian, most perceptive observer of culture, and most active evangelist. As an embodiment of these traits, he provides for us an example of the qualities demanded of an international church planter. He must be both theologically and culturally savvy. He must be a theoretician and a practitioner. He sometimes is asked to be both a church planter and a one-man seminary.

Precisely because of these expectations, the international church planter must think deeply and widely about a host of issues. The little booklist that I am presenting is woefully inadequate, but hopefully it will provide the prospective church planter with a good start.


After having put in the hard (and fruitful) work of studying Old Testament, New Testament, theology, church history, etc., which provide the matrix within which we can think about church planting, the first order of business is to study ecclesiology and the classic texts on church planting. As I did in the previous post, I recommend John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches and Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church as basic texts on the doctrine of the church.

Classic Church Planting Texts

Also as I mentioned in the previous post, I recommend John L. Nevius, The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches and Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of The Church. In addition, however, I would add Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?, a classic text in theology of church planting.

Theology of Mission

John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad is the single best place for an aspiring church planter to start reading theology of mission. It is a theological, missiological, and motivational masterpiece. For a more in-depth treatment, see J. H. Bavinck, An Introduction to the Science of Missions and George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions. These two books are classics of 20th century theology of missions and ought to be read side by side. Finally, David Hesselgrave’s Paradigms in Conflict: 10 Key Questions in Christian Missions Today is an exemplary theological and missiological treatment of major issues in missions today.

Contemporary Texts on Church Planting

After having beefed up on ecclesiology and church planting classics, you are ready to move to make a more sound theological and missiological assessment of contemporary trends in international church planting. Because of the scope of this installment, I will limit myself to a few of the most influential contemporary texts. I want to go ahead and put my cards on the table here. There are very few good books on international church planting (maybe only 2 or 3). You will notice, when reading even some of the books below, that much of what is written in this discipline is severely lacking in theological depth and breadth and for that reason is deficient missiologically also.

1. Stuart Murray, Church Planting: Laying Foundations. Murray’s book provides a theological foundation and historical framework for understanding the task of church planting.

2. David Hesselgrave, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally. Hesselgrave builds a biblical-theological case for church planting and delineates what he calls the “Pauline Cycle” of church planting.

3. Tom Steffen, Passing the Baton, rev. ed. Steffen divides the task of church planting into five stages and focuses on the “phase-out” stage, arguing that the church planter must make clear plans to “pass the baton” to national leaders or else he will endanger the health of the church.

4. David Garrison, Church Planting Movements. This book offers a definition of “church planting movement,” examples of global CPMs, and instruction on how to prepare for a church planting movement. Garrison’s book is a descriptive text about what he has observed in various global CPMs; it is not a biblical-theological treatment of church planting.

5. George Patterson and Richard Scoggins, The Church Multiplication Guide. Patterson and Scoggins teach the necessity of discipleship for healthy church reproduction. They center their discipleship methods on seven commands of Christ, and instruct church planters to teach and embody obedience to those commands. (Note: This book has one of the tackiest covers and most unhelpful page layouts of any book that I have ever encountered. But don’t let this deter you. Patterson planted churches for over twenty years and has plenty to offer.)

6. Daniel Sinclair, A Vision of the Possible. Sinclair’s is a treatise on pioneer church planting in teams. He treats many of the same issues as Garrison (such as leadership, discipleship, CPMs, theological education, etc.), but from a different perspective.

7. Wolfgang Simson, Houses that Change the World. Simson’s book is one of the most widely-read books in the field. He has a fiery pen and wields that pen in order to promote house church planting. Although his argument is an exercise in overstatement that paints the worst possible picture of non-house churches and the best possible picture of house churches, it is helpful for stimulating one’s thought and demonstrating that house churches are not “second-rate.”

A Final Comment

As with the previous installment, I have only mentioned a few of the books that will be helpful for aspiring church planters. (I have not mentioned books in cross-cultural communication, world religions, contextualization, etc.) Further, I have provided little or no critique of each. 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 the list? 

Preparing SEBTS Students for the SBC Annual Meeting

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As many readers will know, the SBC Annual Meeting will gather in Houston on June 11–12, 2013. In conjunction with the Convention, I teach an elective travel course at Southeastern Seminary titled The Southern Baptist Convention. The course is divided into three components. First, we meet on campus for one full day to discuss Southern Baptist history, theology, and polity, as well as specific information related to the upcoming annual meeting. Second, the students read several books and articles and listen to numerous audio resources related to these themes. Finally, the students attend the SBC Annual Meeting itself. While at the Convention, the students attend most of the proceedings, meet a couple of times with key SBC leaders, hobnob at the SEBTS booth, and attend the SEBTS Friends and Alumni Luncheon. Most also attend auxiliary events such as the Pastor’s Conference, Baptist 21 Luncheon, and 9 Marks at 9 events, among others.

I thought I would pass on to you some of the resources I use to prepare students for the SBC Annual Meeting. Obviously, we spend quite a bit of time walking through the Convention program, which, along with numerous other helpful resources, is available online. In addition to my lectures and guided class discussions, the students also watch or listen to several lectures, sermons, and panel discussions. This year, I’ve required them to watch the various Baptist 21 panel discussions from previous years (available at the B21 website), which are a helpful gauge of the “hot topics” in the SBC in recent years. I also required the students to watch one of the panels from last year’s 9 Marks at 9. The panel, which included Mark Dever, Al Mohler, and Danny Akin, discussed Fred Luter’s presidential election, the nature of SBC cooperation, and Calvinism, all of which remain important topics a year later.

I also point the students to four lectures or sermons. They watch David Dockery’s fine sermon “Participants and Partners in the Gospel,” which was preached in SEBTS chapel back in February. The sermon is vintage Dockery, calling for denominational unity around the gospel and basic Baptist orthodoxy for the sake of the Great Commission. Students also listen to Dockery’s lecture “The Southern Baptist Convention since 1979,” which helps to orient them to recent Baptist history. The final two lectures are Timothy George’s “The Future of Baptist Identity in a post-Denominational World,” which remains a timely topic, and Al Mohler’s “The Future of the Southern Baptist Convention,” an address that every Southern Baptist needs to listen to at least once.
The students read two books and over a dozen journal articles or book chapters. The first book is Roger Richards’ History of Southern Baptists (Crossbooks, 2012), which is the most recent history of the SBC. The second book is a helpful collection of essays titled The Great Commission Resurgence: Fulfilling God’s Mandate in Our Time (B&H Academic, 2010), edited by Chuck Lawless and Adam Greenway. The latter volume touches upon most of the current tension points in the SBC from a perspective that advocates unity for the sake of gospel advance.

Unfortunately, for reasons of copyright I can’t make most of the additional essays I require available outside of the class. The students read chapters, articles, and booklets written by SBC leaders and thinkers such as Danny Akin (on the Great Commission Resurgence), David Dockery (on Baptist theology), Nathan Finn (on Baptist identity, Calvinism, and the future of the SBC), Timothy George (on Baptist theology), John Hammett (on regenerate church membership and the ordinances), Chuck Lawless (on Calvinism), Al Mohler (on Baptist identity), Paige Patterson (on the Conservative Resurgence), Ed Stetzer (on missional churches), and Malcolm Yarnell (on the priesthood of all believers).

One resource that I can make available to you is Dr. Patterson’s e-booklet “The Southern Baptist Conservative Resurgence: The History, the Plan, the Assessment ” (Seminary Hill, 2012). In this booklet, was which was originally published as three separate articles in The Southwestern Journal of Theology, Dr. Patterson offers a first-hand account of the Conservative Resurgence. It is a helpful look at recent Baptist history from one of the most important shapers of that history. It is also a reminder that Dr. Patterson needs to publish a volume that brings together his collected articles and essays, a topic I have pestered him about in the past. (And again, now, on a public blog . . .)

Anyway, I hope you find these resources helpful. And I hope that many of you will consider attending the 2013 SBC Annual Meeting in Houston. Perhaps I will see many of you there.

(Note: This post was cross-published at Christian Thought & Tradition)

Five Reasons Why Christian Ministry Majors Still Need Seminary

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The following post was written by John Hammett. Dr. Hammett serves as Associate Dean of Theological Studies and Professor of Systematic Theology at Southeastern Seminary. This post is adapted from a recent talk that he gave to undergraduates in the Religion Department at Charleston Southern University. While at Charleston Southern, Dr. Hammett also delivered the annual lecture for the Staley Distinguished Scholar Series on the topic “Three Views of Knowing God’s Will.” You can read a press release about his lecture at the university’s website.

Five Reasons Why Christian Ministry Majors Still Need Seminary

By John Hammett

There are many fine Christian colleges out there who offer majors to students who feel called to some form of pastoral ministry. After four years of college in which they have taken courses in Bible, theology, church history and other ministry related topics, they may naturally wonder if they need three more years of seminary. Many want to go immediately into ministry.

Others  may be open to taking some additional courses from a seminary along the way (online), but do not see the need to relocate to a seminary campus, put their ministry plans on hold for a while, and study full time. I can understand such thinking, but want to offer some reasons for their consideration why seminary training may be very well worth the additional time, effort, and money it will cost.

1. The challenge of contextualization. Anyone seeking to minister in today’s post-modern, post-Christian culture must do so as a missionary. We can no longer assume a familiarity with the Bible’s grand story line of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. Basic Christian terms and themes are akin to a foreign language for many of those to whom we minister. Learning to communicate the gospel and practice ministry in a way that speaks intelligible language and engages the culture effectively without becoming captive to culture and compromising the gospel is one of the most difficult challenges imaginable. Attempting to do so without acquiring the tools and skills that allow one to theologically analyze culture is a recipe for disaster at worst, or ineffective, irrelevant ministry at best. Those tools and skills are honed by study in how Christians in the past have encountered their cultures and contextualized the gospel. Such topics are the stuff of classes in church history, theology, ethics, and philosophy. Such skills presuppose an accurate understanding of the gospel, drawn from Scripture itself and not only from seeing how it is communicated in this culture. This is the goal of classes in Old Testament, New Testament, Hebrew, Greek, and Hermeneutics. Some Christian college majors may give students some exposure to the tools they will need, but few will enable them to develop the depth they will need to minister effectively in the context of 21st century North America.

2. The nature of pastoral ministry. Pastors are called to be generalists, because the church is called to offer all the ministries Christians of all types need to grow to maturity. Aside from the small minority of multi-staff churches, most churches look to one man as their primary leader. He needs expertise in teaching and preaching the Bible, competence in counseling and other areas of practical ministry, skill in evangelism and discipleship, ability in educational administration and worship leadership, and more. Certainly the members of the body are called to minister; he cannot do it all. But he is called to lead it all. Few colleges have the breadth of faculty that seminaries do—experts in homiletics and preaching, counselors and administrators, educators and worship leaders, evangelists and missionaries. Pastoral ministry is comprehensive ministry; training for pastoral ministry should be similarly comprehensive.

3. The value of informal learning. This reason especially applies to those who think online learning delivers essentially the same educational experience as residential study. But imagine the difference between listening to an insightful lecture online, one which sparks all kinds of thinking of how the ideas discussed could affect the shape of one’s ministry, compared to hearing the same kind of lecture in person. In the first scenario, you complete listening to the lecture and in most case have no one around you who heard the same lecture, has the same interests, with whom you can debrief and discuss the implications of what you have just heard. In the second context, you can go up to the professor after class and ask if your implications are valid, you can grab a couple of guys in class and stop for a cup of coffee or lunch and discuss what you have just heard and what it means for ministry. This is the reason why Google and Facebook and all the big technology companies see the value of having a physical headquarters. They know how to Skype and videoconference  with the best of them, but they have found that the type of informal learning that occurs when people talk together over lunch, or chat around the water cooler, or work on projects together to be irreplaceable. To be sure, such conversations can begin among Christian ministry majors during their college years, but the conversations become deeper and more profoundly formative as students mature.

4. Mentorship in ministry. In the area surrounding Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, we are fortunate to have numerous churches who offer various types of ministry opportunities to students—mentorships, internships, supervised ministry experiences, involvement in counseling, mission trips, worship leadership. These churches feel a special calling to involvement in the training of those called to ministry, and the seminary actively partners with them to allow students to get seminary credit for ministry involvement. Such mentoring opportunities seem to me the perfect complement to seminary education, as they allow students to test the value, validity, and viability of what they hear in the classroom in the crucible of church life. Again, some Christian colleges may have some similarly helpful churches around them, but there is a significant difference between what a church can and should allow an 18 year old teenager to do compared to what a 25 year old young adult can and should do. Churches can rightly expect more of and offer more to seminary students.

5. An environment in which to mature. Young adults in their early twenties are in the midst of some of the most important decisions of their lives. This is the time when many young people find a mate and often begin a family. This is the time when a career trajectory begins to take shape, when partnerships in ministry are formed, where iron sharpens iron as students work, study, live and play together. In my years as a professor, I have seen many students meet a future spouse in my classrooms. In more recent years, I have heard of many finding kindred souls and forming church planting teams to go together into the cities of this country. Others develop friendships with professors or other students that will be sources of advice and encouragement for decades to come. Perhaps this can happen in the contexts of a Christian college, but many of these types of decisions are not finalized until well past the college years. I can think of no healthier environment to spend these maturing years in which you are making these life-shaping decisions than one in which you are surrounded by those who share your passion for serving Christ, who are involved in loving God with all their minds and discovering how they can be used by God to serve kingdom purposes in this world. They will provide the examples, friends, and community in which healthy growth happens.

The Preacher wisely observes, “If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success” (Eccles. 10:10). Yes, seminary takes time and effort and money; you will not be able to devote your full attention to ministry for a few more years. But it is time well spent in sharpening the edge of your ax so that you minister with the skill needed for success.