Why start a new church?
That's a BIG question! I can't think of perhaps a better time in the year than Holy Week, except maybe Christmas when we commemorate Jesus "moving into the neighborhood" to answer it. Starting with why is important. It's more important than what and how. When you understand WHY you are doing something, it shapes WHAT you do and HOW you do it. So, WHY start a new church and what does Holy Week have to do with?
"Holy Week" remembers the days leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the culmination of Jesus' life and mission to "seek and save the lost" and to "offer his life as a ransom". Holy Week is also sometimes called "Passion Week" for this reason. The letter of Hebrews puts it like this, "For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). In the immediate days leading up to his last, we see most clearly his passion - what drove him.
In the New Testament, the Church is called "The Body of Christ" with Jesus being the "Head". This is because the community of disciples is to be on earth the visible representation of Jesus and its mission is to carry on what Jesus began in the death and resurrection. Every Church is to be a representative community of Jesus in its surrounding community, giving living evidence of the transforming power of the resurrected Jesus. The passion we discover in Jesus during Holy Week is to be the same passion which drives his body, the Church.
Building a bridge now between what we discover in Holy Week (Jesus' passion and mission) and the image of the Church being Jesus' "body" in the neighborhood, we can start to see the "Why" of church planting. We start new churches in communities because the mission of Jesus is still active. There are still people whom Jesus died and resurrected for that do not know him and his community of disciples. We still have a job to do! The Church does not exist for itself, but for the good of others and the mission of God. The Church is God's Plan A for reaching the world with the Good News of Jesus.
We start new churches because Jesus died, resurrected, and ascended to the throne and gave us the job to continue the mission of bringing good news to all. We don't exist for our own purpose. We exist for God's purpose. Until Jesus returns, new churches will continue to be God's Plan A. Every church will look a little different, but each one serves the same mission with the same passion.
Today is "Maundy Thursday" of Holy Week. I think it is particularly appropriate to explore this question today. This is the day which remembers Jesus having his last supper with his disciples. It was also at this supper where Jesus did something shocking and redefined what success and greatness looks like in the Kingdom way.
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. - John 13:3-5
Jesus is King, but he turns greatness and success upside down by taking on the role of a servant. As Richard Foster put it, "Jesus picked up a towel and redefined greatness." It is in this same way that the Church is to go about being Jesus' "body". It is in this same way that we define greatness and success. We are servants just as our Master was a servant. Starting a new church is not about becoming "great" or "successful" in the same terms that other ventures are measured.
The success of a Church is measured in its humble service to others. And our greatest service is to love with the Holy Love of Christ and to joyfully share the Good News with anyone and everyone. We pick up the towel and carry on the mission of Jesus, because the world is still hurting, broken, and in need of love.
That is why we are starting a new church.