Community Development, Church Planting, and the Kingdom of God
Central to the whole conversation of church planting is this notion or question as to the purpose or mission of the church. Ask 10 church planters what the mission of the church is or their purpose and more than likely there will be a few divergent responses. However, more than likely all of the answers will be interrelated while referring to many of the same passages of Scripture (and rightly so).
With that said, when the rubber meets the road is where we find the purpose or mission of the church lived and fleshed out. It is similar to a church plant's mission statement, vision, or values. I've long since stopped paying attention to those on a church's website. I'm not as much interested in what is said compared with what is done. Meaning, most church planters in their training are compelled to craft all of these statements and values, put them up on the website, point potential donors to them, and often times disregard them once the church gets going (not on purpose ... it just happens). It's not that mission, vision, or values are bad or wrong nor anything like that. Quite the opposite. But who we are is reflected in what we do more than what we say.
Churches, whether established ones or new church plants, will communicate what their values and mission are by what is done. That brings us to the central conversation (for the sake of this article) of community development. However, in reality that then is simply a secondary conversation. What is most pivotal then is not simply wrestling with the mission of the church, but more succinctly what the good news (gospel) of the in-breaking Kingdom of God means in the context of church planting. THAT is the question worth wrestling with. Then the follow-up questions look a lot like this ... what does the Kingdom of God look like in my neighborhood, community, town, or city? If the Kingdom of God was to be evident in my community then what does that look like?
If your answer is simply bigger worship services and more confessions of faith then maybe your theology of the Kingdom is underdeveloped. It's not that those are unimportant. Quite the opposite. It's just that there's more. No, this is not a statement of adding anything to the gospel message. Instead, as bearers and heralds of the gospel, what then does it look like when the Kingdom is proclaimed and lived out in our communities? When people turn their lives over to King Jesus what effect does it have? What does it mean for families? For neighborhoods? For communities? Does this then impact social dynamics? Economics? Urban form? Crime?
I'd then in turn contend than what happens next is some level of involvement of community development. But it all starts with the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.