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I Understand
Volume 6.1 / Global Church Planting: Biblical Principles and Best Practices for Multiplication

Book Review

Ott  Wilson

Global Church Planting: Biblical Principles and Best Practices for Multiplication

Book Authors: Craig Ott and Gene Wilson
Publisher: Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011, xiv + 449 pp., $32.00 paper.
Reviewed by Clay Harris; Minnesota, USA

On a flat surface you need two perpendicular lines to determine your position. In a three-dimensional space you need an additional line—elevation—to fix your position. This becomes essential, for example, when someone is lost on a mountain. It is not enough for the search and rescue team to know the longitude and latitude, they also need to know the elevation. In Global Church Planting, Ott and Wilson have added dimensions to the traditional discussion on church planting. Some books primarily focus on the biblical basis for their model while others emphasize the practical steps, but Ott and Wilson have added a middle layer of developmental phases which helps potential church planters know how various biblical models can be so different. This allows planters and trainers to better evaluate their methodology before planting. This book will appeal to a wide audience of church planters and trainers from various church traditions and also para-church organizations. 

A foreword by Rick Warren betrays a desire to appeal to a broad audience. In the foreword, Warren does two things: as one of the most influential and popular evangelical mega-church pastors he lends his credibility to the authors, and he posits a compelling need for church planting. The authors then give an overview of the book. Their “primary goal is to combine sound biblical principles with the best practices from around the world to provide a practical guide for church planters working in a wide variety of cultural contexts” (x). While this book provides an excellent overview of some divergent strategies, they make no apologies for emphasizing their preferred form of “apostolic church planting.”

The rest of the book is divided into four parts. In Part I the authors walk through their definitions of the church and church planting, arguing for what the church does and providing biblical support for their definitions. In Part II they overview and argue for their multidimensional model of church planting dynamics. In Part III they dive deep into each stage of church planting with incredible detail. Part III is the longest and most in-depth portion of the book. In Part IV the authors move from the role of teacher to that of a shepherd. After years of shared experience, Ott and Wilson seek to help church planters think through their own lives, their teams, and their future churches.  

As mentioned above, Part I is the biblical support and philosophical model for Ott and Wilson’s understanding of church planting. Their advice is sound: “church planters must clarify their ecclesiology in their own minds prior to launching a plant” (4); however, as someone who works in the parachurch world, I have witnessed the fact that this is often merely assumed without such clarity. I assume that most so-called rapidly multiplying church planting movements include a concern for ecclesiology, but as observed, it doesn’t always seem that ecclesiology impacts the church planting strategy. These three chapters define the task of church planting, give biblical and practical reasons for church planting (versus merely growing existing churches), and provide some NT principles to aid in the development of a church planting strategy. No survey is going to give every reader what they want, especially in exegesis, but Ott and Wilson do a good job casting a compelling argument for local congregations and church planting from the entire biblical canon. It is in these first chapters that readers get a taste for one significant part of this book that will enamor some and repel others: tables, figures, sidebars, and case studies. These features help to summarize a lot of complex data and conclusions, but there are so many that they can overwhelm the reader. However, these make it easier for people to skim and to reference the book, which is of significant value for the elder, church planter, and missions team member. 

In Part II Ott and Wilson begin to persuade the reader that the best church plants are those that multiply leaders and raise up indigenous churches. Setting them apart from the Church Planting Movements of David Garrison and those who follow his model, this book’s primary concern is on healthy churches over “rapid multiplication” (78). It is in chapter 4 that Ott and Wilson introduce the term “apostolic” as a type of church planting strategy. For them an apostle is someone who “lays the foundation for reproducing kingdom communities” (79). This method will carry through the book as the exemplar type of church planter. Though they go out of their way to validate other methods (the “pastoral” and “catalytic”), they are unashamed in exalting the apostolic planter. This sets up their 6-M Roles of Apostolic Church Planters, which details the various roles that a planter will pass through during three stages (launching, developing, departing) as he plants a church: motor, model, mobilizer, mentor, multiplier, memory.

After surveying the church planter roles, they survey the three main types of church structures: House Church, Voluntary Gathered Congregation, and Cell-Celebration Church. They do a great job emphasizing that before a planting team can choose its intended structure, they must understand the cultural nuances of the host culture. It is here that Ott and Wilson’s evangelical ecumenism is on full display. They offer very little biblical guidance to make this decision, instead leaving it in the realm of anthropology: one must determine the purpose of the church for oneself and then translate it into the culture. But one must wonder, are there no biblical rails for church form? This freedom makes the book more transferable, but at what cost? 

The final chapter details various ways an apostolic church can be planted. The authors highlight a variety of means—validating less common ones. And as always, they share the strengths and weakness of each approach to allow the planter to make an informed decision. However, after the six approaches to church planting, they list another six approaches to church reproduction. Thankfully, they provide a table for reference. Ott and Wilson take a seemingly simple task of church planting and add helpful dimensions to their model. These dimensions will be overwhelming to some readers, but will bless a church planter eager for guidance. 

The payoff of such a detailed model is realized in Part III. Here Ott and Wilson lay out each of their five phases of development for the pioneer church plant and the corresponding roles for an apostolic church planter. This section reads well but the details at times give the sense that one is reading an instruction manual. For a prospective church planter or church planting agency, excruciating detail is exactly what they need—even if they may not want it. These chapters walk through financial planning, church growth and maturity, mobilization of laborers, and the eventual departure of the planters. Their unapologetic favoring of pioneer apostolic church plants is most evident in these chapters. While the content is helpful for any church planting project, the writing is geared toward this specific audience. Others may struggle to sift out the helpful from the unnecessary. 

The opening of Part IV displays the wisdom of seasoned teachers. Church planting is hard. It will take a toll on the spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational lives of planters and their families. In this section, the authors do a great job helping planters or trainers to see some of the potentially assumed aspects of planting: spiritual health, spiritual gifts, and spiritual warfare. They explore the struggles of women on the field. They discuss in chapter 16 some principles and practices for church planting teams. These principles will benefit most missionary teams, whether they are church planting or not. This chapter was an unexpected blessing of the book.

As I was reading this book for the first time, I was looking forward to chapter 19 on “Kingdom Communities” the most. I was delighted to see how the authors hold in tension three dimensions of kingdom communities: The Great Commission, The Great Commandment, and The Great Calling (i.e., worshiping God). While I would tend to see it as two dimensions and one ultimate aim, I love that they included all three of these. The emphasis of the chapter is predominantly on how to live out The Great Commandment. Ott and Wilson provide some good cautions (such as “begin with the community”) and practical steps (such as “start small”), but sadly leave an obvious gap. In discussing the needs, they focused on physical needs without thinking about the social and relational problems that may exist, such as racism, slavery, oppression, and other abuses. How does the kingdom-minded church planter engage these issues? How does this team evaluate and engage in these challenging ethical issues? While I wouldn’t expect a full chapter devoted to these very complex situations, I was hoping for more than a head nod towards justice. In a book as thorough as this one, I was hoping for more.  

This book is a fantastic addition to the current textbooks available for potential church planters, seminary professors, and trainers. Ott and Wilson provide an excellent overview of the history of church planting. They give a thorough description of their preferred model and an introduction to several others. Throughout the book, their heart for the gospel to be preached, the lost to be saved, and churches to be planted shines forth like a beacon. They do all of this while truly caring for future planters. As I read this book, I sensed their burden to call potential planters to a lofty vision all the while caring for their spiritual health, their teams, and their families. While no one book should dominate a training curriculum, this one is well suited to be the main text for future planters and trainers. It is, after all and for the most part, the training material of the Evangelical Free Church of America’s missionary arm, Reach Global.

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