Daniel Akin has called the book of Titus “an apostolic church planting manual.” There is no shortage of church planting resources available today. From articles and books, to conferences and trainings, to entire ministries—all devoted to multiplying churches around the globe. In preparing to plant our church, I had gorged myself on every kind of resource I could find, and soon became overwhelmed. No two books seemed to agree on methodology, and every church planting expert had their own trademarked strategy. Before we even had our first regular service, my head was so jam-packed full of formulas, values, processes, guidelines and mandates, all coated with confusing church-planting jargon, that I could barely keep them straight.
I knew that church planting would be difficult, but did it really have to be so confusing?
In God’s providence, I had done a fair amount of study in the book of Titus, and had grown personally attached to it. Every time I put down a church planting book exhausted, I took up Titus and found refreshment. Akin says, it is “a blueprint for planting and building churches that will survive and thrive for the glory of God.” More than any other resource, Titus has proven most helpful at every step of our church planting process.
Listed below are several key focus areas that helped us as we pressed on in the life of our church. While each of these can be expanded indefinitely, here’s a basic cross-section of our approach to planting our church.
Know the Mission (Titus 1:1-2)
One of the first things you’re taught to do in the church planting process is develop a mission statement. This helps focus your efforts, and set the tone for what you will be doing moving forward. The true purpose of a mission statement, however, is to answer the question: What are we called to do?
In Paul’s opening greeting, he sets the tone of the letter by calling attention to his own apostolic ministry. With all the things that could busy a first-century apostle, what did Paul consider to be the most important things? He notes that he is ministering “for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, in the hope of eternal life” (vv. 1b-2a). Commentators have noted Paul’s three-pronged approach to ministry: faith, knowledge and hope.
In essence, Paul’s focus was on leading God’s elect to saving faith by preaching the gospel, building them up in knowledge that will lead to them to live godly lives, and encouraging the body to hope in the Lord. From conversion to enduring faithfulness, Paul knew his mission.
When the time came to draft our own church mission statement, we modeled ourselves after the apostle Paul: Our mission is to reach the lost, strengthen the weak and encourage the faithful unto godliness through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and according to their Spirit-given gifts to the glory of God.
Focus on Expository Preaching (Titus 1:3, 9, 2:1, 15)
For many years prior to planting, I had been convinced that expository preaching was the most faithful way to communicate God’s word to His people. Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert have noted, “Expositional preaching is preaching in which the main point of the biblical text being considered becomes the main point of the sermon being preached.” Even more concisely, J.I. Packer says that it is simply “letting texts talk.”
Paul makes note of this mandate several times in his letter. As part of his commission, he says that he is “entrusted with the proclamation according to the commandment of God our Savior” (v. 3). The Greek word translated “proclamation” is kerugma, which is often rendered “preaching” in the New Testament. Further, he charges Titus with the task of publicly proclaiming the Scriptures; “speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine” (2:1), “speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (2:15).
From the very first Sunday, our church has devoted themselves to a steady diet of biblical exposition. This includes the Sunday morning sermons, our small groups, discipleship, even our children’s ministries—all focused on understanding the inspired text of Scripture.
Call Qualified Elders (Titus 1:5-9)
In our case, we planted with a core team of eight adults. While I was the only true elder ordained through the ministry of our sending church, we began working through the faithful efforts of a select group of eager believers. But very soon after our launch, it became apparent that we needed a team of qualified elders to lead the church.
After establishing the mission and the mandate for proclamation, Paul quickly shifts his attention toward the calling and appointing of elders. On the island of Crete, where Titus was ministering, there might have been slim pickings for spiritually-mature men, but Paul was not prepared to relax the standards. In conjunction with 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9 outlines the required character for leaders in Christ’s church.
After spending three months preaching through Titus, our church was blessed to call its first elders one year after planting. By God’s grace, we have had faithful men leading the charge ever since.
Engage in Whole-Body Discipleship (Titus 2:2-8)
One of the first and most urgent issues we needed to address was discipleship. After all, we understood Jesus’ mandate to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The question was, how were we going to do that? I had seen several discipleship models fail at other churches. I didn’t want us to become another casualty.
When we turn to Titus 2, however, we see Paul’s all-inclusive plan for church-wide discipleship. In verses 2 through 8, he lists four basic categories of people within the church: older men, older women, younger women and younger men. The model is very clear: Older men are to spend their time instructing young men, while older women are to spend their time instructing younger women. There are no qualifiers; Paul is pointing to the reality that all members within the body are valuable and have the responsibility to bring up the next generation.
For our church, we have worked to create as many opportunities to get our people together. In addition to my own weekly men’s studies, we have members leading small group Bible studies, as well as one-on-one personal discipleship. In every corner of our church, we’re working to encourage every member to plug in and help one another grow.
Be Committed to Sound Doctrine (Titus 2:1, 11-14, 3:4-7)
Inherent in Paul’s letter to Titus is the mandate for the young minister to “speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine” (2:1). What is sound doctrine? In short, it is the collective formulation and teaching of a topic derived from the Scriptures. Or, as Wayne Grudem says, “what the whole Bible teaches us today about some particular topic.”
Early on, I was impacted by Eric Bancroft’s helpful article “The Joy of Theology Reading Groups” and worked to implement one for our men, which quickly found its way to our women as well. While my sermons tend to contain elements of theology in them, I’m convinced that we ought not to shy away from exploring and explaining theology. I have found thus far that a commitment to learning theology has not hurt our church, rather, it has helped grow it exponentially. A word of caution: If you’re going to use theological words, be sure to explain them!
Devote Yourselves to Serving (Titus 2:7, 14, 3:8, 14)
When a church spends their energy focused on Scripture and theology, there will always be the charge of over-intellectualism. The Bible, however, never makes such a case. In fact, elsewhere Paul had prayed specifically that the church “would be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col 1:9). Further, Jesus prayed for the church to be sanctified, which happens by an immersion in the Word of God (John 17:17).
But for the church members on the island of Crete, they were naturally and culturally prone to laziness. In fact, Paul quotes the famous Cretan poet Epimenides, who said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (1:12). Paul affirms the sentiment in the next verse. It’s hard not to draw parallels to our own over-indulgent modern culture; we ought to heed the warnings of the past.
In view of the problem of laziness, Paul exhorts the church more than four times (2:7, 14, 3:8, 14; also 1:16) to be devoted to good deeds. In fact, Jesus Himself “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us…and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (2:14). Now, we know that our good deeds don’t justify us before God (Eph. 2:8–9), but they do bear witness to validity of our faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, Paul tells the church to “be careful to engage in good deeds” (3:8), so that we “may not be unfruitful” (3:14).
Maintain a Vibrant Witness (Titus 2:7-8, 3:1-2)
We planted our church in a small town. Like most small towns, word travels fast and it travels far. If we were to gain a reputation for being a gossipy church, an unloving church or a contentious church, the stigma would haunt us for the next 20 years. So, we feel the pressing need to maintain a vibrant witness for Jesus Christ.
Paul is also concerned about this. In fact, he warns Titus himself to model godliness, “in order that the opponent may be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us” (2:8). Further, Paul likewise exhorts bondslaves who are part of Cretan households to model faithfulness, so that “they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (2:10). In short, we are to do all we can to make the gospel attractive to others.
Taking the point even further, Paul exhorts the church to “be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (3:1-2; cf. Rom 13:1-10). It’s important to remember that no one plants a church in a vacuum; there are always eyes watching. How are we portraying ourselves and the gospel of Christ before outsiders?
Guard Against Division (Titus 3:9-11)
One thing that has become very apparent is that church unity is a precious, valuable and gentle thing. This is why Paul tells the church to “[be] diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). Recognizing this truth, Paul warns Titus to “shun foolish controversies…strife…disputes…for they are unprofitable and worthless” (3:9). This does not mean that healthy debate between brothers is not useful. But bickering and infighting are toxic for church unity.
One of the luxuries we have experienced as a small church plant is the blessing of not starting with very much. While we had the necessary support from our sending church and denomination, we didn’t start off with high expectations for a dynamic worship experience, multitudinous committees, full-service childcare or a rockin’ youth group. Things were simple because we were small. Because of this, there wasn’t much for us to fight about. But as we’ve grown, things have become more complex and there are more opportunities to rub each other the wrong way.
Knowing the God’s desire is for us to love one another (John 13:34-35), be kind to one another (Eph 4:32), bear with one another (Col 3:13) and serve one another (Gal 5:13), we have made it a priority to work hard to keep our eyes on Christ, engage in rich fellowship and guard ourselves against division.
By plowing through a large amount of Scripture in a small space, I don’t mean to suggest that church planting was simple, formulaic or mindless. It has taken, and continues to take, a lot of work, prayer, mistakes, repentance, forgiveness and faith. One thing I’ve learned along the way is that church planting is a lot more about “church” than it is about “planting.” The task becomes easier to grasp with a robust ecclesiology and a devotion to Scripture. Our church planting story may not be your church planting story. But God is faithful. And in the end, what we needed most was not a stack of church planting books, but rather, a well-worn Bible.
This article originally appeared here.