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Ministry Monday: Planting as Gospelling

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Posted by Robin Ham, 27 Feb 2017

Robin Ham considers the most important truth about church planting.

OK, so maybe I’m showing my naiveté straight up here, but eighteen-months into our pioneer curacy adventure and I’m wondering if you can over-complicate church-planting.

I don’t mean to say that church-planting is easy or straight-forward. But the past few months have reminded me that there’s to be an irreducible core running through all that we’re trying to do: planting is about gospelling. And that’s a great encouragement in the midst of the messiness of ministry.
Hear me out: I totally get that church-planting is different to what we might call church revitalisation. And both are different again to, say, growing a church of 100 people to 200, or working out how to stop a church stagnating at 250 people. There are inevitably differing skill-sets required, differing challenges and differing strategies. And, I reckon—yes—some people may be ‘cut-out’ for one and not another.

But ultimately planting must be about gospelling. Because ministry should be all about the gospel, and the Christian life should be all about the gospel, and churches should be all about the gospel.

The word ‘gospel’ can easily be jargon of course. It appears to be a term used significantly more in the reformed/conservative evangelical constituency than elsewhere, and so, like any language, we can’t just assume its meaning. In my experience, many hear the word ‘gospel’ and think we’re referring to a genre of music, or just one of the four gospels. But good old William Tyndale is a helping hand here. He wrote this back in 1525:

“Evangelion (what we call ‘the gospel’) is a Greek word, signifying good, merry, glad and joyful news, that makes a man’s heart glad and makes him sing, dance and leap for joy.”

I find that’s a breath of fresh air to many. Seeing that, at its heart, Christianity is about really good news is not what many people expect. But amazingly, God has entered into our world in Jesus Christ to bring us back into relationship with him and bring about a restored world. That’s why the gospel shapes everything. I love reading Tim Keller push the implications of this:

“We never ‘get beyond the gospel’ in our Christian life to something more ‘advanced.’ The gospel is not the first ‘step’ in a ‘stairway’ of truths, rather, it is more like the ‘hub’ in a ‘wheel’ of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s of Christianity, but it is the A to Z of Christianity. ”

So, here’s where we come to the idea of gospelling. If the good news of Jesus is so precious, so essential, then it’s not just a belief for me to affirm and treasure, it must also become the verb that defines my ministry. The apostle Paul seemed to make that connection when he reminded the Corinthian church of ‘the gospel that he gospelled’ (1 Cor. 15 v1). So I ask myself: am I sticking to—and savouring—the biblical gospel? Am I placing it front and central in my conversations? Are our baby-steps towards starting a new church full of the gospel? Is it the gospel that I’m expecting to encourage, unite, and equip Christians?

In fact, although it’s become almost trendy to talk about planting churches, in reality it’s the imagery of planting the gospel that makes most sense of our day-to- day relationships and interactions on the ground. You can’t be a church-planter without being a gospeller.

That’s not to say that it’s not worth pouring through church-planting manuals, or buying anyone with significant church-planting experience a large latté, sitting them down and demanding they pass on all their wisdom. I’m trying to do that as and when I can. Because although church-planting isn’t uniquely challenging, it does have its unique challenges. There seems so much that’s genuinely confusing and not black-and-white: venues and time-scales and finances and core-teams. I often feel like: “Aaargh, I’ve no idea what I’m doing!” But that’s OK, because even when I don’t know how to handle lots of decisions, I do know that planting is about gospelling.

This core purpose gives me clear focus in the midst of the haziness of all the other decisions and uncertainties and challenges. The good news of Jesus is what unbelievers need, and it’s also what believers need. But, most importantly, lest I forget it, it’s what my family and I need.


Robin Ham is a Pioneer Curate in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, where he is involved in planting Grace Church Barrow. He blogs on gospel, culture and planting at That Happy Certainty.

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