Posted by: Moses | May 16, 2010

From Mother to Daughter to Sister Churches

        The metaphor of mother church and daughter church is difficult to avoid when considering church planting. The parallels are strong as an established, hopefully mature church, births a new church with similar characteristics, the same mission, and the same Lord. Like a human parent producing a child after its kind, this church-parent produces a church-child after its kind. Leaving the actual philosophy and methodology for planting a church aside, assume that a church has been planted. In what way should the mother church relate to the daughter church? This metaphor of mother and child seems profoundly appropriate for the initial stages of a church plant’s development. I will endeavor to show that initially, a mother church should exercise a degree parental care over her daughter churches.

        By necessity, much of this example comes from the relationship between the apostles and the churches they planted. The apostles were the first church planters and thus left behind an example of church planting for future generations as the primary means for fulfilling the Great Commission. The Apostles need no successors; God speaks through them to this day through their written works in an inspired fashion. As a result, some might argue that both the mother and the daughter church submit on equal standing to the Word. In some senses this is true. God has provided a foundation in Christ and His good news through His servants the apostles, a foundation that can never be laid again (1 Cor 3:10-11). Therefore their writing is binding on both the mother and the daughter alike.

        However, we would demonstrate a lack of humility before the Word if churches merely abrogated a parental responsibility that the Word put forward by its example. A plethora of Scriptural examples demonstrate the apostles’ care for their daughter churches. To paraphrase Paul, I would urge that we become imitators of the apostles even as they are of Christ (1 Cor 11:1 ESV). Elders must be humble in their exercise of authority; however, the Bible demonstrates a degree of care and authority that a mother church should exercise over her daughter churches, a parental relationship governed by the Word of God analogous to the work of the apostles.

        Modern churches tend to birth churches and leave them to fend for themselves, immediately treating them as sisters rather than assuming any sort of parental role over the newborn church. This seems akin to spiritual child neglect. In contrast, the apostolic example demonstrates a clear parental relationship in writing to the churches, in helping to select leadership, support established leadership, correct problems within the church, pray for the new leadership, settle disputes, shepherd the new pastors, and even send visitors tasked specifically to check up on the spiritual welfare of the new body of believers as a whole. None of these activities, done humbly, would in any way impugn the authority of the Word for either the parent or the child. Analogously, a human father’s authority over his son does not in any way absolve either of them from God’s specific commands to them. The father exercises oversight as a man under authority himself. So should the church.

Writing and Patience
        The epistles themselves teach us much by their very existence. The gospels and Acts take up the vast bulk of the New Testament, but the rest of the New Testament consists of specific exhortation to churches facing various trials or success. Though not always considered epistles, even Hebrews and Revelation fit this mold. These letters show a deep care from several of the apostles for the churches that they had planted. Imagine the depth of care illustrated by the 16 chapters of 1 Corinthians for that church, not to mention the other three letters that Paul wrote to that church, which he visited on multiple occasions. What an investment Paul made in a church that most would have given up for lost! Consider John’s pastoral labor in his epistles including all 22 chapters of Revelation. Granted, all of this was inspired by God to serve as a foundation for His church, but on the human side of things what a monumental testament to the kind of post-plant pastoral care that the earliest church enjoyed!

Establishing Leadership
        Secondly, the epistles also provide very concrete illustrations of what their existence implicitly preaches. For instance, Paul in several places plays a role in helping to establish the leadership in the churches he planted. Paul sends Titus to Crete with the express purpose of putting “what remained into order,” and to “appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5 ESV). Paul did not just instruct the Cretan churches, he invested personally in them by sending Titus specifically to make sure that their leadership was appropriately established. Some might portray this as uniquely apostolic authority. I see no reason to view this as a uniquely apostolic ministry since all churches of new believers would lack initial eldership. The appointment of qualified elders by the churches responsible for the birth seems much more biblically sound than entrusting such an important decision to new babes in Christ or even to only the founding team. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul exhorts Timothy to similarly establish a plurality of elders in Ephesus (cf. Acts 14:23). If the church is to follow the example of the apostles, the mother-church should play a fatherly role in the appointment of leadership.

Supporting Established Leadership
        Third, in Hebrews 13, the writer instructs the members of the church to respect their established leadership, teaching that young church to submit humbly to the leadership God had given them. Thus, by modern analogy, churches could serve new plants by supporting that leadership as the church becomes established. This support could manifest in terms of lending credibility to the leaders for the sake of the flock, or like Paul in Acts 20:17ff encouraging the elders themselves in their faith and ministry.
Correcting Problems        
        Fourth, most of the epistles demonstrate a parental desire to correct problems within the new churches, both doctrinal and practical. Romans as a whole is offered as an introduction of Paul to the Roman church, designed to spur a “mutual encouragement” at His coming. Interestingly, Paul relates to a church that he had not planted by helping to straighten out some theological questions and building a resounding case for the unity of the Gentiles and Jews in that assembly (Romans 1:12; ch. 2, 9-15). In his letters to the Corinthians (and all his letters save Philippians) he rebukes specific sins within the church; in his pastoral epistles he helps to instruct the pastors how to deal with those issues as a father would his sons (2 Timothy 2:16-26 et al.).

        Additionally, though sometimes controversially, the Jerusalem Counsel provides a stirring example of the Jerusalem Church caring for other churches, many of whom were at least 14 years younger than she was. Calvin comments of this passage that “The Spirit of God put them in mind of this remedy . . . whereby we be also taught, that we must always seek such means as be fit for ending discord; because God doth so highly commend peace, let the faithful show that they do what they can to nourish the peace of the Church” By proactively shepherding younger churches, older churches may spare them a great deal of strife and contention, serving as a kind of impartial arbiter and secondary opinion on the meaning of Scripture as the Jerusalem church did for the churches at large.

        The Jerusalem Council may serve as more of a normative example of how to deal with problems that affect more than one local assembly. Rather than making a maverick decision abroad that could have had ramifications for the church as a whole throughout the ages, Paul humbly sought the counsel of Elders and apostles in Jerusalem. To come away from this example concluding that there should be one monarchial body to rule the church as a whole seems unwarranted. The Council was asked to convene and advise by humble younger churches for a particular occasion. The churches of God do not need constant, monarchial oversight in order to fulfill the mission of God; however, per Scriptures example, at times as issues effect multiple churches, such an assembly may be warranted. Given the state of disunity and general pervasiveness of “maverick church” mentality within Christendom, such humble assemblies may be more warranted then ever as churches seek to humbly submit to one another and seek the Kingdom of God corporately and regionally. Nothing effects all the churches of God more than the advancement of his kingdom. History has shown that such a kingdom mindset of marshaling resources to strategically advance the gospel would be difficult, but this seems the most in keeping with the spirit of the Jerusalem Counsel.

Praying for New Churches and Leadership
        Paul’s prayer for his churches is ubiquitous throughout his letters. He also makes it a point to pray specifically and passionately for the pastors of the churches he had planted (Acts 20:36; 2 Tim 2:3-4).

Settling Disputes
        From a pastoral perspective Philemon demonstrates a desire to see fellowship restored even in a distant church. He repeats this passion in Philippians 4:2 with Euodia and Syntyche. Additionally, he counsels on how to deal with false teachers sternly, yet gently in 1-2 Timothy.

Shepherding the New Pastors
        Paul and stays in Miletus and calls the Ephesian elders to himself in order to encourage them for their upcoming trials (20:17-38). The Ephesians’ emotional reactions, and Paul’s mention of a three year ministry with them indicate a depth of relationship and care far beyond a simple Apostolic injunction or a hit and run church plant. The Pastoral Epistles in their entirety demonstrate Paul’s pastoral heart for pastors whom he cared for.

Sending Visitors to Check Up On Church Welfare
        Finally, 1 Thessalonians 3:1-7 provides an example of Paul sending an emissary to check on the welfare of a church. This shoes an example of a more distant care of Paul for a church that he could not safely or easily visit at that time. From Timothy’s report he wrote 1 Thessalonians, and 2 Thessalonians may have been prompted similarly.

        In conclusion, all of these examples seem very possible and advisable for modern, established churches to assume when birthing daughters. However, just as children grow up, so churches also will become established and self-sustaining over time. Historically, churches and groups of churches grew to see themselves more as sisters in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, to the point that within a few centuries a great deal of sibling rivalry developed wherein Romanism eventually dominated in stark contrast to the plural, humble leadership evident in the NT. Though this end was obviously unfortunate, the initial sisterhood was not the problem. In this pattern, a daughter church will grow into a sisterly status over time, and her relationship with her mother-church will change even as an adult daughter’s relationship with her mother is different from the relationship they had when she was two.
        The daughter church will probably always harbor a special respect and deference for the mother-church, but eventually the need for parental guidance will lessen as the church’s leadership is established, the body is healthy, disputes are settled, and with less and less guidance the church begins to stand on its own two feet, move out, and hopefully bring grand-children to the family of God. This growth and maturity should not lead to staunch independence but to a sisterly camaraderie and familial spirit of cooperation. Unity should be sought wherever possible both within the church and between churches. If there were to be additional direction beyond the local church, it would not come in the form of one church dominating another. Perhaps a humble analogy to the Jerusalem Counsel’s example might be a regional, federal counsel meeting representing established churches. Such an assembly could humbly cast vision and direction for the body as a whole as they seek to see the mission come to fruition within their purview.

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