Responding to Peter’s declaration that Christ was “the Son of the living God,” Jesus proclaimed, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:16 –18 ESV). In that moment, the big fisherman’s personal confession of faith, the rock of evangelism, became the foundation of the church. Let us always be clear, Christ alone builds the church; it is his own trophy of grace displaying the glory of his own holiness and power.
Introducing people to Jesus brings the church into existence and, apart from evangelism, the church would soon become extinct. That is why witnessing to the gospel is the first duty of every Christian. Yet turning to our Savior in repentance and faith is only the beginning of our response to the gospel. Certainly, we must be converted to enter “the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3 ESV). But the commission is to “make disciples,” not converts (Matt. 28:19 ESV).
A disciple is a learner or follower, as in the sense of an apprentice. Coming to Christ commits us to an ongoing process of learning, whereby we are progressively conformed to the image of our Lord. The objective is to disciple all nations, fulfilling God’s command to our forebearers in the garden of Eden to be “fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28 ESV). We live in one big world that God loves and for whom Jesus died and wants to reach through his disciples.
This quickly becomes evident at Pentecost when the Spirit-filled believers go out on the streets and begin to witness to the people from different nations gathered in Jerusalem (Acts 2). Then, prompted by persecution, Christians began to scatter to other cities, “preaching the word” wherever they went (Acts 8:4). Later, with the transformation of Paul, his missionary journeys spread the name of Jesus across the Roman Empire, establishing churches as he went. From these clusters of Christ followers, “the Lord’s message rang out” to neighboring areas until their “faith in God [became] known everywhere” (1 Thess. 1:8 NIV)!
What a beautiful explanation of how the church multiplies, ever expanding “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8)! Evangelism, discipleship, and church planting support each other, and when empowered by the Holy Spirit, nothing can keep the church from storming the gates of hell.
Bringing the message of redemption to every habitat of mankind underscores the urgency of world missions, but we must not limit the call to overseas workers. The missionary mandate flows out of God’s love for the world. It is inherent in his very being, and every person born of the Spirit and incorporated into the body of Christ partakes in this nature.
The most immediate and personal application of this truth comes out in our local churches and communities. Unreached people surround us, regardless of where we live. Many of them are lost, and likely have little regard for the church. Differences in culture, ethnicity, language, religion, and countless other disparities make communication difficult. Still Jesus loves all, and those in the household of God must keep seeking to build relationships and find ways to minister to the needs of all.
As we face the task presented before us by our Savior, we see that for our contemporary context, church planting offers one of the most effective ways of disciple making. While fresh to many, the concept of planting new churches is not a new idea. Actually, this practice goes back to the book of Acts, but in our present day, the church is rediscovering both the freedom and variety this discipline permits.
Join the church planting revolution that is happening all around us. Women and men from all around the country and world are mobilizing to reach the lost with the gospel by engaging in a unique surge of church planting. Winfield Bevins’ new book Church Planting Revolution offers an accessible introduction and handbook that leaders, explorers, and team members can use together as they discern what it looks like to be faithful to the church’s missional imperative. Get your copy from our store now.