Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, is recalled as one of history’s most devoted followers of Jesus, and an exceptionally prolific church planter. He was kidnapped at age 16, and was forced into slave labor as a shepherd. Stripped of everything but his faith, he turned to God.
Patrick wrote, “I used to pasture the flock each day and I used to pray many times a day. More and more did the love of God, and my fear of him and faith, increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day [I said] from one up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number.”
Years later, Patrick escaped miraculously, but after he returned home, the Spirit of God compelled him to return to the land of his captivity and offer God’s love to a people he could have easily hated. He said that he “found it a privilege … that the Lord should grant his humble servant this, that after hardships and such great trials, after captivity, after many years, he should give me so much favour with these people” (1).
Patrick subsequently evangelized over 100,000 pagans and started 200 churches. He was a church planter who wholeheartedly loved God and the people to whom he was sent.
God is looking for wholehearted disciples to represent His Kingdom in this age. They are the choicest DNA carriers for the kinds of churches that He wants to multiply. It begins with the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).
This first and greatest commandment, plus Jesus’ complementary call to “love others as one’s self,” are the core criteria for walking with God, helping others to be disciples and starting churches.
This has everything to do with God working through the church planter’s character. Nothing else can substitute—not beautifully crafted vision statements, great business plans, well-defined core values, talented team members or even a seminary degree. The premise of this book, then, is that almost anyone who is truly faithful to the Great Commandment as given by Christ can plant some kind of church.
It does not mean that everyone should plant a church—God calls some as apostles. Others, and again not all, are pastors, teachers and so forth. It simply means that all kinds of individuals who wholeheartedly know and love God, know and love people, and appropriately know and love self, make the best church planters.
The phrase “can plant some kind of church” requires some definition. An example from the San Francisco Bay Area helps explain. A few years ago, some missionaries and strategists living there shifted their church planting priorities. After years of research and observation, they called out four primary ways they saw God working to seed the area with new churches.
1. The Antioch Priority—developing strong, sending base-churches;
2. The Acts 2 Priority—multiplying indigenous missional communities;
3. The Athens Priority—starting churches among least-reached peoples; and
4. The Amos Priority—planting churches by engaging the gospel in ministries of justice.
Naturally, any of these approaches can be combined with any other. Each of the four is celebrated, resourced and evaluated within its own genre, and church planters’ leadership capacities are assessed according to whichever strategy they are called to. This means that a wide range of equally passionate, but differently called and gifted, individuals can engage in church planting.
Few people can start every kind of church, but given the Great Commandment, most people can start some kind of church.