There doesn’t seem to be a lot of discussion on models of follow-up with churches once the church planter moves on. Church planters with denominational missions usually connect their new churches to some kind of organizational structure (a national version of the denomination to which they belong). But non-denominational missions may not form any type of structure to allow their church plants to relate to the founding organization or other churches. I have observed churches that have been planted by one mission organization seeking help from another church planting organization because there was no structure established by the original organization. Some form of church-to-church relationship ought to be in place so churches do not feel abandoned when the missionary moves on.
In reading through 2 Corinthians recently, I was struck by Paul’s statement:
And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? (2 Cor. 11:28-29 ESV)
This intense ongoing “pressure of anxiety” for all the churches is part of Paul’s description of his sufferings as an apostle as seen by the context of this passage. This shows that Paul’s ministry was not focused only on new areas to preach the gospel. He experienced “daily pressure of anxiety for all the churches.” He was deeply concerned about the churches he left behind. Eckhard Schnabel comments:
Paul’s missionary work was characterized by pastoral work in one location just as much as by “missionary travels.” Paul’s repeated visits to churches which he had established demonstrates the significance of his “anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:28) in his understanding of the missionary task.
Paul the Missionary, 196.
In addition to Paul’s repeated visits to these churches, he left co-workers behind to strengthen them, he sent co-workers to troubled churches, and he wrote letters to churches expressing his concerns and giving instruction. Eckhard Schnabel points out:
. . . that Paul was not content to preach the gospel to unbelievers and to establish new communities of followers of Jesus. He continued to be concerned about the churches that had come into existence and about the believers who were meeting in those churches every week – concerned for their doctrinal authenticity and for their moral consistency, for their faith and their life, for their leadership and for the new converts. Paul is concerned that the teachers of the churches teach correctly and that believers in the churches believe correctly – this is why he writes his letters and why he discusses one-sided or misleading beliefs that some Christians propagate. He is not simply concerned about an authentic Christian “experience” but also about the truth of the gospel and about behaving in a manner consistent with the gospel (Gal 2:5,14).
(Paul the Missionary, p. 207).
Follow-up is an important aspect of the missionary task — not just follow-up with individual new believers, but follow-up with churches that have been planted. A need for a continuing relationship with churches that have been planted gives structure to our ongoing partnership in the gospel with these churches.
Today’s missionary does not have the apostolic authority that Paul had to correct false beliefs and practice. But we do have Paul’s authority in the biblical text. Both the missionary and the planted churches are subject to the authority of Scripture. Together we must submit to the Bible as the final and first authority for belief and practice. ‘
Paul’s NT letters express his “anxiety for all the churches.” In the coming months, we will be looking at those concerns as we walk through Paul’s letters chronologically as they were written.