I was recently talking to someone about church planting and I was struck by some things. Andrew Jones recently suggested that we fore-go planting churches for “kingdom activity”. The person I had been talking to proposed that in a church plant situation you may not actually have a public worship gathering for 3-5 years. Generally, I think, missional wisdom begins with inhabiting a neighbourhood incarnationally, discerning the needs of that neighbour and seeking to meet them, evangelism, discipleship, and then a public worship gathering.
My fear here is that we have separated missiology from ecclesiology. David Fitch expresses this same concern here. Mission is not something which can be lopped off from the life of the church and done “out there”. Missiology is ecclesiology. Evangelism and discipleship, good as they are, are nonsensical apart from the Christian community in which the claims of the gospel are made sense of. What good is an argument for the gospel apart from a community where that gospel is embodied and lived out, where that gospel is transforming lives.
So then, it would seem that the above church planting logic is theologically suspect for it assumes that the gospel can be rationally understood apart from a community which forms people who can understand the gospel. One cannot understand the gospel apart from Christ and Christ is present in the community of faith which is his Body, in Word and Sacrament. Thus, any sort of church planting expression must begin with a community that worships together publically. This is not the end and hopeful goal. This is the beginning from which a life of mission can be lived. For it is only in the church that folks learn what it means to be people on mission, for the good of the world. There is no mission without the church. There is no church that is not on mission. The church is, as someone somewhere has said, the hermeneutic of the gospel, that community which embodies and is embodied by the gospel, that community where people are formed who are capable of bearing in their life together the love of God for the world. Thus, any mission effort which attempts to exist apart from the life of a worshipping community is ultimately misguided.