How Slowing Down Speeds Up the Church

How Slowing Down Speeds Up the Church

The Speed of Church Planting

The kingdom of heaven is like a marathon runner. He gets better at running fast by running slower. Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, a two-time gold medalist and record holder, has a training regimen that may be described as “boring” or “monotonous.” He runs hours upon hours of low-intensity exercises which include running slower.1

In this is a parable for church planting that demands we pay attention.

Concerning Conversations

What concerns me about the church planting conversation is how it seems to center on multiplication. Sometimes that has led to an advocacy of rapid multiplication due to the burden of wanting to reach lost people who are daily dying and going to hell.

I share the desire for multiplication; we’ve planted and assisted in planting. I’d also welcome opportunities for that multiplication to come quickly. But I don’t welcome centering multiplication or rapidity. Imagine a family that wanted to center multiplying their family and doing so rapidly. Wouldn’t we have some serious questions? Most especially, how are the marriage and family that these many children would quickly enter into? What if it’s unhealthy? They’d only be welcoming children into an unhealthy environment, which would serve long-term pain.

Likewise, if we center multiplication and/or rapid multiplication, we don’t center Christ and the health of his people. The whole of the Christian life is first loving God and second loving your neighbor (Matt. 22:34–40). Reverse the emphasis of this and you get what we have so much of in America: dead or dying churches.

We don’t just need more churches to keep up with population growth; we need the right churches centered on the excellencies of Christ and a desire to obey all that he teaches for his glory and our neighbor’s good.

Jesus’s Burden

I went to a wonderful seminary that regularly reminded me of the Great Commission of our Lord in Matthew 28:18–20. The one thing that often puzzled me, though, was how preachers would emphasize the call to make disciples but not the need to “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Surely this was not incidental to Jesus’s concerns for the spread of the gospel.

Jesus had firsthand experience of his church planting residents not picking up what he was laying down (i.e. Matt. 17:17, Matt. 28:17, Mark 9:33–36, etc.). He had words of rebuke for the seven churches (Rev. 2–3). He saw the need to instruct on restorative church discipline to people taking his name (Matt. 18:15–20). He saw Judas flee, and he famously taught of two soils that included people taking the name of Christ and yet loving other things and disregarding him. Jesus had a category of people that claimed to know him that he never knew (Matt. 7:23). So did Paul.

Paul’s Burden

Consider the occasion of most of Paul’s epistles that were written to established churches:

  • Corinthians: Rampant disobedience to Christ
  • Galatians: Distorting the gospel
  • Philippians: Concern for progress in the faith in part due to conflict in the church
  • Colossians: People insisting on extra-biblical practices
  • Thessalonians: Misunderstanding about the second coming

Finally, consider the admonitions in the pastoral epistles. Brimming with concern over (a) having the right men in place for leadership as (b) others have strayed from the Truth while others (c) will desire false teaching to suit their passions.

Peter, John, and Jude write to Christians out of concern for the welfare of what seem to be concerning trends in the church.

In short, the Biblical record leans heavily in the direction of concern for the glory of Christ and the clarity of the gospel in the church.

Our Experience

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes struggle to fight off concern for the welfare of the person that has just trusted Christ and been baptized—the convert—because I know how costly it is to follow Christ. Again, see the parable of the soils where three of the four don’t wind up bearing fruit and two of them include their taking the name of Christ for a period of time.

The aim of church planting is not only reaching our neighbors, it’s also reaching our members.

My experience as a pastor of fourteen years is that most of my membership has a hard time “observe(ing) all that (Jesus) commanded.” They have a hard time not letting sin “reign in their mortal body” (Rom. 6:12). They struggle to not “conform to the patterns of the world” (Rom. 12:2). Christian husbands too frequently don’t love their wives as Christ loves the church, wives have to labor to submit to their husbands, and fathers easily exasperate their children (Eph. 5:22–6:4). Members regularly are engaging porn and committing adultery or make it a habit to forsake the gathering. I could go on.

The point is, when we say we’ve “reached” a certain amount of people and are devoted to multiplying churches so as to “reach” more people for Christ, we need a better understanding of what it means to “reach” them.

Multi-Directional Church Planting

Trevin Wax has helpfully called for church leaders to be multi-directional in responding to challenges in our culture.2 I’d agree with this sentiment and add to it the need to be multi-directional in how we approach church planting. We must not only be burdened by “reaching” those outside the church but by continuing to “reach” those inside the church.

My experience in the conversation with church planting is to emphasize the multiplication directive to the neglect (absence?) of the investment of those within our churches. I find very little emphasis or burden in church planting to raise up a people whose “love abound(s) more and more with knowledge and all discernment, so that (they) may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9–11).

Reaching people for Christ doesn’t end with baptism and church membership. It only begins there. The devil schemes, the flesh beckons, and the world tempts. The Lord will keep them, but he intends to use the church as a means of manifesting his glory to our neighbors as we give ourselves to our citizenship in Heaven while still here on the earth. Justification is a moment, sanctification is a lifetime, and glory is eternal. The aim of church planting is not only reaching our neighbors, it’s also reaching our members.

Slowing Down to Speed Up

It’d be easy to accuse someone like myself that emphasizes a church’s holiness and gladness in Christ as being less interested in evangelism or multiplication. “He’s a discipleship guy, not a multiplying guy!” In reality, I’m emphasizing these things because I want to see more evangelism and multiplication.

If we would only add to the emphasis of multiplication by centering the necessity of holiness, healthy pastors, and pastoral care for the aim of treasuring Christ together, I think we’d have the kind of allure that the early church experienced. I recognize this demands we slow down, but like that elite marathon runner, I believe it will increase our speed in the long run.

More affection for Christ combined with more attention to the church resulted in more disciples being made and more of the right kinds of churches being planted.



Nathan Knight is the author of Planting by Pastoring: A Vision for Starting a Healthy Church.

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Author: Nathan Knight

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