Why Move to Seattle?
When people learn my family is moving to Seattle, they are curious why we are going and want to know more about what we will be doing out there. I normally reply something like, “we are going to be involved with starting a church.” This simple answer includes many activities it will take to be effective at our goal of reaching people. I would like to use this article to unpack the concept of church planting a little bit more.
Foremost, it will be very helpful to understand what a church is. A modern understanding of religious organizations puts one in danger of missing the true essence of the church. At CityLight, we are committed to the authority of Scripture, so I will appeal primarily to the New Testament to define a Biblical church. A church is a group of people who voluntarily gather together in the name of Jesus Christ to exalt Him, worship God, and advance His kingdom. (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:41-42, 46-47; Romans 12:4-5; Ephesians 1:22-23, 3:21, 4:11-12; 1 Peter 2:5, 9.)
(This is not an exposition of the entire purpose of the New Testament church. This definition emphasizes the core truth of the church as a body made up of individuals.)
The Church is a People
The main point is that a church is the people, not a schedule of services, a calendar of events, and most of all not a building. Buildings, schedules, and events, though useful tools for gathering, are not the essence of a church. Thinking of a church as a building is one of the easiest errors to make. Our culture uses phrases like “going to church” and terms such as Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and Baptist Church. Other sacred buildings such as synagogues, cathedrals, temples, and mosques condition us to think of the place more than the people. Together these point toward the concept of a church as a place or thing. But a New Testament church is a body made up of believers (1 Corinthians 12:27-28).
More than a Club
A church body provides an environment for the discipleship of believers and is an instrument of their sanctification. Though sanctification is personal, and in many ways private, it is not exclusively a self-led task. In discipleship, fellow believers and church leaders assist in guiding the Christian toward spiritual maturity. God has provided the body as an instrument whereby the whole group serves and builds up one another. This concept is clear in the following passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
Ephesians 4:11-13 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,
13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;
Furthermore, churches are God’s intended vehicle for carrying out His mission in our age. This is clear in Acts 13:1-4 where the body of believers in Antioch sends out Barnabas and Saul on their first mission. These elements of Mission, Discipleship, and People are at the heart of a what a church, and thus church planting, is. I could order it like this: An assembly of believers (a church) teaches people until they are ready to go serve. As the gospel reaches and changes people, they will gather together under their new identity in Jesus Christ. Within this new gathering the teaching and sending continues.
A Called Out People for His Glory
The definition of a church as a group of people informs what our goals are as we head to the Northwest. Starting a church won’t mean that I go preach in an empty auditorium three times a week and consider that a church. Since it’s not the schedule or building, what we are really going after is the people. Once we have a group of people who believe in Jesus Christ, it will be important for us to gather together in His name. In so doing we are the church. The focus is people; maybe that’s why we use the term planting rather than building. We often refer to the church in organic terms, and that’s fitting because it helps us see it as an organism and not an object.
God is calling out a people for His glory in Seattle. We are excited and expectant in our participation with His mission to bring them into fellowship with Him through His exalted Son.