Obstacles to CPMs
Church Planting Movements are acts of God, but it’s
amazing how much mankind is capable of interfering with them. As with most
of God's works among us, He allows us to actively cooperate with Him or
become obstacles—consciously or unconsciously—to His desired purposes.
Missionaries involved in Church Planting Movements have identified several
very human courses of action that tend to obstruct, slow or otherwise
hinder CPMs. Even though we cannot create a Church Planting Movement, we
can certainly work to avoid blocking their emergence. Here are some of the
most prominent obstacles to Church Planting Movements facing missionaries
1. Imposing extra-biblical requirements for being a
When a mission, union or convention attempts to
require a congregation to have extra-biblical things such as land, a
building, seminary-trained leadership or paid clergy before granting them
full status as a church, a Church Planting Movement is obstructed.
Christians may have the best of intentions when they impose preconditions
before officially constituting a church—preconditions usually aimed at
ensuring viability of the church before leaving it to its own devices.
However, requirements such as building, property and salaried clergy
quickly can become millstones around the neck of the church and make
reproducing itself all the more unlikely.
2. Loss of a valued cultural identity
When a people have to abandon their valued ethnic
identity and adopt an alien culture in order to become believers, the
cause of church planting won’t go far. Around the world, many churches
that look culturally out of place in their setting serve as testimonies to
In too many instances, church planting has become
cultural warfare, as missionaries and local Christians attempt to conquer
and change the culture rather than the hearts of the people. Whenever one
must become like a Russian, American, European, etc., to become a
Christian, there is little chance that the movement will spread rapidly
among a non-Russian, non-American or non-European people.
3. Overcoming bad examples of Christianity
Unfortunately, the spread of the gospel around the
world has sometimes produced churches that are poor examples of the faith.
If older churches in an area have non-regenerate members who engage in
worldly and immoral behavior, it will be difficult for new believers to
convince the lost that the Christian faith is holy and capable of
redeeming their world.
Some patterns of church behavior may not be immoral,
but still compromise and undermine the spirit of a Church Planting
Movement. Whenever older churches in the area feel no compulsion to spread
their faith, new believers may question why they should be passionate or
urgent in evangelism.
4. Non-reproducible church models
Whenever missionaries begin planting churches with
components that cannot be reproduced by the people themselves, they have
undermined a Church Planting Movement. The temptation is always there: it
seems quicker and easier to import a solution for a local challenge rather
than search for an indigenous solution. Extraneous items may be as
innocuous as cinderblocks for construction, electronic sound systems or
imported folding chairs.
Authentic Church Planting Movements always take on
the appearance of their context. If villages are made of bamboo, then
church buildings are made of bamboo. In urban areas, cell or house
churches emulate family structures instead of a congregational structure
that requires expensive buildings used exclusively for worship meetings.
CPM practitioners evaluate every aspect of each church start with the
question: “Can this be reproduced by these believers?” If the answer
is “no,” then the foreign element is discarded.
5. Subsidies creating dependency
Money is not inherently evil. It has a vital role to
play in the support of missionaries and promotion of things lost people or
new believers cannot do for themselves. Any time the gospel is introduced
to a new people group, external support is required. The problem is when
outside funding creates dependency among new Christians, stifling their
initiative and quenching a Church Planting Movement.
Proper use of external funds might include financing
outreach to an unreached people, development of gospel literature, radio
programming and broadcasts, production of the JESUS film, Scripture
translation, gospel television, cassettes, CDs, etc. When well-intentioned
outsiders prop up growth by purchasing buildings or subsidizing pastors’
salaries, they limit the capacity of the movement to reproduce itself
spontaneously and indigenously.
6. Extra-biblical leadership requirements
Whenever well-intentioned missionaries, churches or
denominational leaders impose requirements for church leaders that exceed
those stipulated by the New Testament, a Church Planting Movement is
New Testament models are found in Christ’s
selection of the twelve disciples (Matt. 4:18-22) and Paul’s criteria
for bishops and deacons (1 Timothy 3). It is striking that moral character
and willingness to follow Christ are given much greater weight than
theological training or academic degrees.
7. Linear, sequential thought and practice
It is natural for missionaries to think in terms of
sequential steps in church planting. For example, first you learn the
language, then you develop relationships, then you share a witness, then
you disciple believers, then you congregationalize, then you raise up
leaders, then you begin another church start, etc. However, missionaries
who have successfully navigated Church Planting Movements describe a
different, nonlinear unfolding of the movement.
They insist on the importance of witnessing from day
one, even before the language is mastered. Rather than waiting for
conversion, missionaries disciple the lost into conversion. By the time
they’ve become believers, the new converts already have been
participating in cell churches for some time and already have acquired a
vision for starting churches! Church Planting Movements occur when all of
the various elements of a Church Planting Movement are under way
8. Planting “frog” rather than “lizard”
Yes, this is a metaphor. Frog churches perceive
themselves as ends in themselves, sitting fat and complacent on a hill or
lily pad (or main street), expecting the lost to come to them in search of
salvation. Frog churches hold meetings in places where they feel
comfortable and require the lost to adapt to their froggy world. Lizard
churches are always pursuing the lost. Adaptable and ready for action,
they move quickly into the world through cracks and crevices seeking the
lost. Lizard churches penetrate the homes of the lost with evangelistic
Bible studies rather than requiring the lost to come to their churches.
They are willing to change their colors, expend enormous energy, even lose
their tails if necessary in order to bring the lost into the family of
9. Prescriptive strategies
After all the instruction that has gone into this
book, it may seem strange to warn missionaries against prefabricated
methodologies. However, Church Planting Movement practitioners are
intensely inquisitive and committed to learning where and how God is at
work. Whenever missionaries enter a field with a pocket full of answers
rather than a heart that is hungry to watch and learn where God is at work
and what He is doing, they are limiting His ability to use them. This is
not to encourage a “know-nothing” approach to missions, but it does
speak to the necessity of humility and dependence upon God to reveal where
and how He chooses to bring about a Church Planting Movement.