Planting a Church That Outlives Itself

A Sending Church

By all accounts, the church at Antioch described in the Bible was a “good” church, in a hard but rich mission field. The capital of Syria and a major Roman military and trade city by the mid-30s, Antioch was a melting pot of “native Syrians, Jews, Greeks and Romans.” These inhabitants worshipped a mix of deities, and Antioch had seen its share of hostility between religious factions.

The “first wave” of Jewish Christians (Acts 11:19) arrived at Antioch and, as Christianity was initially a Jewish faction, logically “confined their preaching of the Christ to Jews in the synagogues, probably with quite limited response.” Then a second wave came (11:20), and “took the bold step of preaching Christ to the ‘Greeks’, that is, to Gentiles.” This was the multi-cultural context in which the first Christian church was planted. (Indeed, Luke’s carefully-crafted list of leaders in Acts 13:1 shows a church led by a team of both Jews and Gentiles, and multiple races.)

According to Acts 11 and 13, the church at Antioch was a sending church, who prayerfully, generously and sacrificially gave rise to a history-long lineage of global disciple making.

Over the early decades of Christianity’s existence, Antioch’s “apostolic team”—led by the same man whose persecution that had led Christians to flee Jerusalem and start the church at Antioch in the first place—planted several churches. Many of those planted more churches, as increasing numbers of Christians and churches followed Antioch’s example of sending. Indeed, the always-authoritative Wikipedia goes as far as to list The church at Antioch as the root of the entire Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Asian Orthodox movements. Not too shabby for one local church.

But the church at Antioch itself doesn’t exist today.

The city itself was sacked by Mongols in the 1200’s, and “the majority of the Roman city lies buried beneath deep sediments from the Orontes River, or has been obscured by recent construction. Centuries before that, the planting team who risked their lives to flee persecution, eventually lost those lives, even if by natural causes. Similarly, the multi-cultural group of leaders who prayed over and sent Barnabas and

Paul, have now been dead for 2000 years. Paul and Barnabas themselves are long gone.

Outlast Our Name

Similarly, in just a few decades, The City Church—the church I planted in 2009—may not exist. Even if it does, its current leaders will be dead (or at least senile). Even the “best” churches of our generation won’t likely be around—or at least, they won’t be exactly like their leaders currently envision them—in a few short generations.

But if current churches keep raising up and sending out planters and missionaries, and if the churches that we plant, plant churches and send missionaries, then generation by generation we get to participate in something that outlasts our names, our churches and our brief moments on earth.

Just like the church at Antioch did.

In working with people who desire to plant churches, and with churches who want to send out planters, a common refrain I hear is “I’m not enough”: maybe a planter doesn’t feel “experienced enough” or “trained enough” or “holy enough.” Maybe the sending church doesn’t feel “large enough,” “settled enough,” or “rich enough.”

A promise of the Bible is that none of us are “everything enough”—because no human but Jesus was ever intended to be enough.

No church is “everything enough” to accomplish the beautiful, weighty, spiritual task of sending—because no church without God’s Spirit can accomplish what only God can accomplish. Another promise of the Bible is that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Cor. 1:27–29)

By God’s Grace

The reality is that many churches can plant churches; and that more people may be fruitful planters than expect. They may need some training; they may need some help; they may not be able to do it alone. But by God’s grace, and with the broader community of God’s universal church alongside you, your church can follow the example of Antioch, and—whether it’s one year old or 100; whether it’s 20 people strong or 20,000—be involved in the multi-generational, globally-scoped, kingdom-expanding work of planting churches and sending missionaries.

And that’s an enduring legacy worth prayerfully fighting for.

This article originally appeared on NewChurches.com.