Church Planting Theology (Dale)

Making Salvation Accessible by Clothing the Gospel with Community

“Thinking Theologically About Church Planting” series by Dale Little

Some contemporary evangelical theologians in the English speaking world (e.g., Newbigin, Pinnock, Yong, Tiessen) have proposed the idea that salvation’s parameters are broader than traditionally portrayed by evangelicals. However salvation is better understood as accessible through the proclamation of the gospel, with the resultant birth of churches. Read More…

Church Planting as God’s Missional Re-Creation

“Thinking Theologically About Church Planting” series by Dale Little

It is possible there are fundamental incompatibilities between current Japanese culture and the Church of Jesus Christ birthed in Japan through the gospel. For example, vertically structured Japanese culture seems to exhibit a tendency toward leadership by control. So Japanese pastors naturally tend to lead through control, which makes the pastor central to ministry, rather than leading by empowerment, which emphasizes the significance of lay ministry sourced in spiritual gifting.

This culturally rooted controlling leadership style raises theological questions, not only about personal leadership style, but also about decision making in the local church. Congregationalism is leadership of the many. It might be emerging as the predominant decision making structure among evangelical churches in our postmodern world. It has strong Biblical support. By contrast, Japanese culture tends to push pastors toward leadership of the few or even leadership of the one. Read More…

Toward a Theology of Ecclesial Mission

Summary of paper Dale presented at the Church Planting Theology Conference in March 2023 at St. John’s College, Durham University Centre for Church Planting Theology and Research (UK).

Books and articles that deal with church planting are common, but seem short on theological considerations about church planting. In general, church planting literature seems to predominantly emphasize the pragmatics of church planting such as strategies, case studies, goal setting, demographic surveys, leadership styles, cultural insights, etc. Now, this is helpful and appreciated by church planters like myself. But it would also be beneficial to see more of a focus on theological aspects of church planting. Even publications on theology of mission seem to give little attention to church planting.

Despite this apparent lack of theological reflection about church planting in the literature, implementation of church planting seems to remain a priority for cross-cultural evangelical missionaries and mission agencies as well as for in-country evangelical denominations. Given this situation, an attempt to place church planting in theological context might be a timely reminder that church planting is ultimately rooted in a theological framework.

The purpose of this paper is to suggest a hypothetical book that attempts to present church planting from a theological perspective, drawing from the fields of biblical theology, systematic theology, and missiology. Read More…

Academic Paper - God’s Ecclesial Mission

2023_03_24 UK
On Mar 21 Dale read a paper in England at Cranmer Hall’s Church Planting Theology Conference (Durham Univ.) titled “Thinking Theologically about Church Planting—God’s Ecclesial Mission and Ours.” Perhaps his paper will appear in a follow-up publication from the conference.

After the conference we enjoyed a week in Scotland, chasing down family roots and friends/relatives.

Motivational Energy for Church Planting

“Thinking Theologically About Church Planting” series by Dale Little
(Originally written in 2004)

During one four year stretch of church planting in Japan I intentionally modeled a certain style of leadership. I thought the people in my church plant had settled nicely into the way my wife and I were “doing church.” So when our church plant called its first Japanese pastor, it was with no little surprise that we watched him easily and quickly implement a style of leadership which was diametrically opposed to ours. The people of the church seemed to take to the new leadership style like fish to water.

Even after picking ourselves up from the floor, shedding a few tears, placing some time and distance between us and the newly planted church, and gaining some perspective, we still felt like we had lost confidence in our ability to church plant in Japan. Read More…

Where is the Church?

“Thinking Theologically About Church Planting” series by Dale Little

This ostensibly simple question seems to be answered in three basic ways in writings on ecclesiology.[1] Contemporary publications about the Church, by the way, appear to be on the increase.[2] Roman Catholic and Orthodox folks would hold that a church exists where the sacraments are correctly administered by qualified personnel. The broad flow of Protestants could be said to believe that a church exists where there is correct Biblically based teaching. And perhaps, to select one group of Protestants, charismatically oriented believers might hold that a church exists where the Holy Spirit is active.
[1] For an example see Lesslie Newbigin, Household of God: Lectures on the Nature of the Church (London: SCM, 1952, 1964).
[2] For a helpful but irenic introduction to various contemporary ecclessiologies see Veli-Matti Karkkainen,
An Introduction to Ecclesiology: Ecumenical, Historical and Global Perspectives (Downers Grove, IVP, 2002).

There are elements of truth in all three of these answers. Read More…

Priority of the Word of God in Church Planting

“Thinking Theologically About Church Planting” series by Dale Little

The book of Acts has always been a rich resource for thinking biblically about mission. In 2002, Baker published David Pao’s Harvard Ph.D. dissertation, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus. Pao argues that the priority Isaiah placed on the notion of the word of God is a hermeneutical key for understanding Acts. He tells us that the word of God, the logos, is the central theme of Acts. Read More…

When Little is Big

“Thinking Theologically About Church Planting” series by Dale Little

Have you often found yourself wishing that the size of the Church of Jesus Christ in Japan might be bigger than it is? I have. Church planters in Japan and in other cultures resistant to the gospel can be encouraged to persevere in their ministry by understanding that small can be significant within God’s mission. [i]

[i] These thoughts were given in sermon format at Takayama Chapel (Shichigahama Machi, Miyagi-ken, Japan) on Aug. 10, 2003. I am indebted to the following article: George Vandervelde, “The Challenge of Evangelical Ecclesiology,” Evangelical Review of Theology (2003) 27:1, 4-26. Read More…

Nurturing Communities of Faith

“Thinking Theologically About Church Planting” series by Dale Little

“Sensei (teacher), please bring a short biblical message at the beginning of our business meeting next week.” “Sensei, I feel as if God has abandoned me.” “Sensei, we’d like you to perform our engagement ceremony.” “Sensei, my mother was hospitalized yesterday. Please pray for her.” “Sensei, can you teach that twelve-week class on our doctrinal statement again?”

These kinds of requests and comments do not sound like the kinds that might be found on the forefront of evangelism. Nevertheless, the issues above typify discussions with people in my church plant. The issues often deal more with establishing the church plant than with evangelizing the lost. From a practical point of view, it seems that a major and necessary role of the church planting missionary is to provide care and nurture for the community of faith that the church planter is trying to coax into existence. Read More…

Creating Communities of Faith

“Thinking Theologically About Church Planting” series by Dale Little

According to New Testament records of mission in the early church, conversion to Christ was an event which culminated in new believers becoming members of the earthly community of Christ. The early church assumed that individual salvific transfer from the kingdom of darkness to that of the Son of God meant a numerical addition to the local church. Read More…

The Church as God’s Missional Instrument

“Thinking Theologically About Church Planting” series by Dale Little

According to the Apostle Paul, it is through the church that God proclaims his glory. “His [God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 3:10 [NIV]) Read More…

Barth as a Possible Source for Church Planting Theology

“Thinking Theologically About Church Planting” series by Dale Little

The performance was about to begin. Negotiations concerning place, length of performance, starting and finishing times, participants, primary and secondary actors, and investments of resources had all successfully concluded. The opening curtain was about to rise. As one of the primary actors, I was a little nervous. This was only my second performance. But the Director’s promise of ultimate success was an encouragement. This was no mere ninety minute performance. Like the previous drama I had performed in, this one was also to last about four years. I was about to participate in planting another church in a cross-cultural setting. During the long performance I would need some helpful resources. Read More…

When Church Planters “Fail”

“Thinking Theologically About Church Planting” series by Dale Little

Church planting can be a risky undertaking because success is not guaranteed, especially in a Buddhist culture resistant to the gospel of Jesus Christ. But hope comes from understanding church planting to be essentially a theological activity rooted in the faithfulness of God. Read More…

Why Bother Thinking Theologically About Church Planting?

“Thinking Theologically About Church Planting” series by Dale Little

Answer: Because the ultimate biblically informed goal of church planting transcends and permeates the daily business of church planting, thus empowering church planters who embrace this theological goal to carry out the myriad of details necessary for sticking with the job and getting it done. Read More…

Qualitative Missionary Success

According to a colleague’s recent newsletter, after S-san finished elementary school she stopped attending worship services and Sunday school led by missionaries at their nearby home. Reading between the lines, she fell prey to the busyness of life in Japan and the pressure to conform to the materialistic values of animistic Buddhist Japanese society. As an adult she neglected and repressed the work God had done in her heart during her formative years as a child.

But… Read More…

Evangelism Results Please!?

2019_06 Christ Comm Ch 1

How many people did you lead to Christ in your missionary ministry last year?

A recent conversation with a young Japanese pastor might place this Western “visible, immediate results required” and perhaps critical question in appropriate religio-cultural context. Read More…

Church Planting and the Heavenly City

The opening pages of the Bible depict a rural context and the closing pages a city. This means we are on a journey toward a heavenly city.

Now, when we think of cities, we imagine masses of people—and that might not thrill us. But this future city will be very different than our cities. For example, one central feature of the heavenly city is its river, which flows down the main street. On both of its banks is planted the single tree of life (Rev. 22:1-2). So this city built by God seems much like a garden. It is qualitatively different from any city we have seen. Read More…