Did Jesus Plant a Church?

On the face of it this seems like a dumb question.  Of course Jesus planted a church, he planted the Church.  He is leader over all the church.  Any earthly church is ultimately planted by him.  But my question is, did Jesus plant a church in his earthly ministry?  If church planting is so important to churches, did Jesus himself do it?

Let me confess here and now, that I strongly dislike those talks/ books/ blogs that ask lots of questions and don’t answer them and even worse, ask those questions that are unanswerable like “what was going through Paul’s mind when he wrote 1 Timothy 2?”.  But yes, this is going to be one of those posts!!  As a church planter I am committed to church planting and I am praying that one day there will be as many churches as there are cafes in the city I live.  But I wanted to explore this as a thought experiment…
Did Jesus plant a church in his earthly ministry?  If so, where were the weekly Sunday meetings?  Did he appoint elders apart from himself?  Where are the small groups and youth groups?  Who ran the music ministry?  Why did he preach in the synagogues and outdoors rather than in his own church?  These are not meant to be facetious questions, but genuine, if Jesus did plant a church, why does ours look the way they do?
Let me give three possible answers, all of which I can learn something from:
1. Perhaps he didn’t
Maybe he didn’t plant a church.  That was not what his ministry was about.  This is all a false question and the assumption that Jesus didn’t do something (or did do something) is not reason enough alone to make these calls.  The description of his ministry is not prescriptive for us.  E.g. only he died for the sin of the world.  Already I can see critics of this piece gearing up to point out that one of the things wrong with this question is that I am ignoring the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament.
If this is the case, it is still worth asking “does this mean church planting is not as a priority as are currently giving it?” (I think we are on the right track, but it is worth stopping and asking the question).  If it was not a priority for Jesus’ ministry, are there meant to be higher priorities for us?
2. Perhaps he did but it isn’t the form we are used to
Maybe he did plant a church.  But it was a highly mobile church (the disciples and not just the 12).  It was a mobile community of God’s people, living and teaching the Gospel in life.
This indeed is a different form of church, that I don’t think I have seen today (except maybe the Doulos).  But it does make you stop and think about form of church.  Why is preaching done outside the church?  Why the emphasis on discipleship inside?  Was there any sense of ‘worship’ as we would recognise it?
Such a form of church, again, does not have to be prescriptive.  It may well have been unique to the context, the leader and the salvation-historical context we are looking at.
Would such a model work today?  I have no idea, but I have my doubts.  Although the reasons for it not working would have probably been just as relevant in C1st Palestine.
3. Perhaps he did but his aim was what ours should be
Perhaps it is not form of church we should be looking at.  Perhaps it is the goal of church.  If Jesus did plant a church of disciples, then what did he do with them?  He made disciple making disciples (Matt 28:19).  He taught them, corrected them, gave them practical experience (Matt 10).  If this is the case what if our churches were to be communities of disciple making disciples.  Would that change the form of church?
I think it would, but not radically.   At the moment my definition of church is “God’s people, gathered around God’s word to praise His Name”.  What if it were meant to be…actually I have tried a few definitions (and deleted them) and they don’t seem to work but lets say there was something about “disciple making disciples” in there.  I don’t think the two definitions would be mutually contradictory, in fact I think the change would be quantum in the true meaning of the word. But it were true, then it would mean there would be some change….still working out what it would be though.
Lot’s of questions, few answers….

3 thoughts on “Did Jesus Plant a Church?

  1. Hi, Pete,

    I think it’s right that we get a lot more in the New Testament about functions of church than about forms. And I think the problem with a lot of the recent publishing about church is that it’s far too focused on the forms.

    I know it’s popular in a certain tribe, but I think “God’s people, gathered around God’s word to praise His Name” doesn’t really capture most of the functions of the church as envisaged in the New Testament. Or at least, if it does, you’ve got to so stretch the meanings of the words that it’s misleading, and you might be better off with different words altogether.

    That is, I’m not sure how “God’s people, gathered around God’s word to praise His Name” maps onto passages like Romans 12:3–20 or Ephesians 4:29–6:9. One answer to this might be, “But this isn’t talking about the church; it’s talking about Christians.” That’s fine, but it just pushes the question back a step: How in our culture might we encourage Christians to live like this?

    I’ve got 15,000 words or so on this coming soon that I might send you: I’d love your feedback.

  2. Hi Stuart, Always keen to read your thoughts. I see what you mean about Romans and Ephesians. Firstly, I think they are talking about church. Secondly, I would have put them in the loaded terms of “God’s people” and “to praise his name” (life as well as words). But I am sure there is a better definition out there. Are we agreeing that there needs to be more thought about the connection between discipleship and church?

    1. Hi, Pete,

      Yep, in short, I think churches are for discipleship and mission — making disciple-making disciples. I think of churches not just as an event to attend, but as a community to belong to. It’s a network of relationships: a group of disciples who’ve committed to one another in love and committed to love outsiders together (including, but not limited to, speaking the gospel). If God calls us to love our neighbour (which actually has something to do with proximity and human limits — i.e., he loves the world; we love our neighbour), then perhaps our church is something like our ‘Christian neighbourhood’.

      And yes, I can see how you could stretch your definition to encompass this, but would you end up saying something like:
      *’gathered’ means ‘formed into a community that exists all the time, not just when gathered’;
      *’around his word’ means ‘in light of and because of the gospel, not just listening to a sermon’;
      *’praise’ means ‘live and love’?

      But given that some in our tribe really do think ‘church’ means people sitting in the same room listening to a sermon and singing, as I say, perhaps other words might communicate more clearly.

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