P.L.A.N.T.S.: Equipping Seminary and College Students for Church Planting

Over the past nine years, I have had the privilege of serving as a professor, equipping students in the area of missions and evangelism. When it comes to teaching church multiplication, I have found that effective training programs should be designed around P.L.A.N.T.S.

P—Provide the Biblical and Theological Foundations
One of the dangers of teaching practical subject matter is that we focus on the “how-tos” and fail to establish the “whys.” We must not be so quick to teach students the methods of church planting that we fail to begin with the biblical and theological foundations. I have found it to be of the utmost importance to establish a healthy understanding of the relationships of Christology, Ecclesiology and Pneumatology (Christian doctrine of the Holy Spirit) to church planting.

1. Christology. Beginning with Christology, it is extremely important to assist students in looking to the scriptures to answer questions such as: “What is the relation of the incarnation and atonement to mission?” “What is a disciple of Christ?” and “What does it mean to be a kingdom citizen?”

2. Ecclesiology. Ecclesiology is the most critical issue in church planting today. Because of the natural tendency to define the local church in terms that are more reflective of cultural preferences than the biblical prescriptions, I strongly encourage spending a significant amount of time establishing a healthy doctrine of the Church. How students answer the question, “What is the Church?” will affect everything they do in church planting. Their answers will significantly shape their strategies, methods, understandings of leadership development and understandings of themselves as missionaries.

Assist students in finding biblical answers to questions such as: “What is the Church, both universal and local?” “What are the necessary New Testament components for a church to exist at any time, in any place, among any people?” In other words, “According to the Bible, what is the basic essence for the Church to be the Church?”

3. Pneumatology. The role of the Holy Spirit in church planting is neglected in many circles today. As educators, it is important to assist students in understanding the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as related to missionary work. Questions such as: “What is the role of the Holy Spirit in church planting?” “What is his role in making disciples?” “What is his role in sanctifying the new churches?” and “What is his role in appointing elders over new churches?” are important questions to address in the classroom before students begin their work.

L—Layout Missiological Principles
Embrace and teach missiological principles that support the multiplication of disciples, leaders and churches. These principles include those related to indigenous church planting, contextualization, receptivity, locating persons of peace, evangelizing oikos networks and leadership development.

Biblical principles of mission require us to develop and to teach a multiplication-oriented philosophy of church planting. Keep it simple, and instruct students to do likewise. It is easier to multiply the simple expressions of contextualized churches, than complex cultural preferences of the church. Remember that all institutions, including churches, evolve in their structures and organization from the simple to the complex. Lay out missiological principles advocating the planting of the basic essence of the Church among the peoples.

A—Allow for Hands-on Training
Church planting cannot be taught in a sterile classroom alone. By its very nature, it is a hands-on activity. Provide opportunities for hands-on training. Wed the classroom to field-based experience. As much as institutional policies allow, provide credit to students for field-based ministry experiences. For example, give opportunities to students to conduct survey work, prayer walk communities, engage in personal evangelism, work to begin Bible studies and participate in church planting internships. Allowing for hands-on training allows educators to blend the theoretical and the practical.

N—Involve Practitioners
By allowing missionaries to speak in classes and to share their recent experiences, students have the opportunity to hear a diverse range of perspectives and how the theory and principles are presently impacting various peoples. Involving practitioners puts “flesh” on the theory.

A second way to involve practitioners in equipping church planters is by providing mentors for students. Connect students with those practitioners who can coach them as they move out into the field to begin their ministries.

T—Teach Various Models and Methods
In light of the biblical and theological foundations and missiological principles which have been advocated, teach students how to think critically about various church planting models and methods. For example, expose students to methodologies that address house churches, cell churches, purpose-driven and traditional paradigms. Teach students how to sift through the sediment of various church planting methodologies to locate the golden nuggets of truth to apply to their contexts, rather than how to clone different expressions of the Body of Christ that are not necessarily biblical, culturally translatable or easy to reproduce.

S—Support Strategy Development
Do not embrace strategies that are designed to plant a single church; rather, support strategy development that is focused on churching a region, people group or population segment. Teach students how to think strategically about the multiplication of disciples, leaders and churches. Allow this component of church planting training to be the most practical, assisting students in developing strategic plans.

A word of caution: Help students to understand that although strategies are important, they must be held loosely because strategies must be flexible and subject to the Holy Spirit. Even the Apostle Paul made adjustments in his strategy (Acts 16:6-13). Having taught the students a healthy doctrine of the Holy Spirit, they will be better prepared to apply their strategies in light of what God is doing throughout the world.

Whether we are just beginning to equip others in the area of church multiplication, or are looking for ways to improve our well-established programs, it is my hope that all of us will use P.L.A.N.T.S. as a guide in equipping students to make disciples of all nations.

Dr. J. D. Payne serves with both the North American Mission Board and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is author of The Barnabas Factors: Eight Essential Practices of Church Planting Team Members.