A Primer for Church Planting – based on Luther’s Marks of the Church with a mission framework of Witness, Mercy, and Life Together


Why should the LCMS consider “Witness, Mercy and Life Together” as the framework for doing missions?  Certainly from a purely administrative perspective, having these new emphases can aid in budgeting, planning, and implementing the work of the Church.  Indeed, it makes for a manageable spreadsheet and a clean looking pie chart in presenting metrics, or for strategic planning.  And not only would it be a great tool for simplicity sake, but also would help in fine tuning the focus in the midst of a plethora of models and programs and governance structures – and even missiological constructs.

But surely the mission of God is not simply a task oriented endeavor; it is both incarnational and cruciform.  At the Trinitarian center of mission is the Father sending the Son.  And upon the Son ascending, once completing His salvific work, the Spirit descends upon the Church along with the formation of the Body of Christ.  This is the natural embodiment of mission in the Church.  And there is no more natural embodiment than witness, mercy and life together in regards to the life of the Church and her identity.  At the core of any mission work then, is clearly answering the question of, “what is Church in relation to God?”  A right understanding of church (ecclesia) will flow naturally into witness, mercy and life together.  While at the same time, this can have intentionality in how it is accomplished in practice.

Two key aspects of this mission are church planting and revitalization.  While the mission work of planting and revitalization may seem quite distinct, it can be shown that the patterns of witness, mercy, and life together are present, regardless of the setting.  But again, the presupposition is that mission cannot be separated from the Church, as God’s Word and Sacraments are central to all mission work.

Here you will find practical resources for those who will endeavor to do mission work in a distinctly Lutheran way. The start of a new church can be a daunting task when one considers that they are laying the foundation for a Lutheran church for years to come.  However, as this is not simply a program, but an identity, we can naturally answer the questions: how do we know that a church been planted, and is it clearly recognizable as the body of Christ in this place?  The basis of this mission then will be the marks of the church and not simply business metrics.

So too, with revitalization, this is no transformation of the church into something that is foreign to its DNA, but rather bringing back to life what once was.  But again, just as with starting a new life, the thought of raising the dead should seem a daunting task for mere mortals.  And yet it is the living and active Word of God that can change chaos, death and decay of church and community, into peace, resurrection, and life.  And this rebirth will again be patterned by witness, mercy and life together.  But rather than over complication, this can be accomplished when we simplify, unify, and testify.

Of course when we deal with categorizations like witness, mercy and life together, there will be challenges. For example these categories have intersections that make it more difficult to fit the mission work of the church neatly into individual file folders.  As a matter of fact, in his “Mission from the Cross,” Detlev Schulz had previously described the identity of the church in mission by using Martryria/Diakonia/Koinonia, and a fourth category, Leitourgia. Indeed one could argue that worship is in and of itself incorporated into all three of the other elements.  But to be sure, worship could also be its own category, and could easily be included in the mission framework as such.  However, as the three intersecting categories are now widely accepted, they will be used for the framework for mission.

A Theology of Witness, Mercy and Life Together in Missions

The basic theological question to be asked is, “do we ever see a time in Scripture when the church is NOT patterned by Witness, Mercy, and Life Together?”  Indeed throughout the Old Testament, the people of God have a life together: called by, and set apart by God to dwell in unity.  Everything that an individual did affected the whole community, and in return God purifies His people of all those things that would divide or cause harm.  And their life together was centered on worshipping God and receiving His gift of forgiveness.  Mercy too is a non-optional, as God commands His people to love others and to care for them – including those outside the community of believers.  Likewise, His people are to be a blessing to the nations, a light to the world.  We often think of mission in the Old Testament as being centripetal and drawing inward, with a few references to sent ones such as Jonah.  But there can be no doubt that God’s people were to be a witness to His name, and the resulting witness was both good and bad, lifting up or defiling the Name of God.

But from the moment that the likes of Abraham, Noah, or Israel arrived at their destinations, they established an altar and they called on the Name of the Lord, for the whole world to see.  Even the location of the Promised Land bears witness to the fact that the nations were to be greatly influenced by the Church.  God’s people were meant to be at the center of commerce, travel, and religion… a witness to the world.

So too, the early Christian Church abounds in witness, mercy and life together.  A simple survey of the words martyria, diaconia, and koinonia will show the evidence of this.  The early church is formed in its fellowship as the one body of Christ.  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  Again, worship and reception of the divine gifts of the sacraments was the focal point of their life together.  And likewise to locatedness of the nation of Israel, witness and mercy of the early Christian Church were the innate result of this life together.

The Church was to be a steward of the mysteries and stewards of first article gifts to be used in mercy both within the house of God and for those outside the kingdom.  And of course witness was given, even in the midst of persecution.  Not in spite of, but often spurned on by their life under the cross.  Life together was strengthened, people were cared for according to their needs, and the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.  Indeed, when Christ ascended, He handed down the mantle of proclaiming repentance and forgiveness, executing the office of the keys, and being merciful as God was merciful.  The Church was to love one another as Christ had loved them and to take this love into the world, to the very ends of the earth, starting from heart of the city.

The Lutheran Distinction – Giving a Trajectory for the Core Group as they Gather

Why plant a church?

Church planting in history:

  • 1st 100 years, LCMS averaged one new church start every week.
  • In late 1800s for several decades, planted one new church every day.
  • WWI – laws against speaking German, growth screeched to a halt. Until then – LCMS growth was surpassing US growth.
  • Took off again in 40s with radio – 40s-60s: new church every 3½ days.
  • 1958 Time Magazine covered the Lutherans in the US – late 50s: every 54 hours a new Lutheran Church.
  • Church planting is not a fad – it is LCMS DNA.

Distinctive starts with a definition of what is church?

  • In his writing, Church and Ministry III, Luther begins the discussion of what constitutes the church in the following way:
  • Well then, setting aside various writings and analyses of the word “church,” we shall this time confine ourselves simply to the Children’s Creed, which says, “I believe in one holy Christian church, the communion of saints.” Here the creed clearly indicates what the church is, namely, a communion of saints, that is, a crowd assembly of people who are Christians and holy, which is called a Christian holy assembly, or church. Yet this word “church” is not German and does not convey the sense or meaning that should be taken from this article.
  • In Acts 19 [:39] the town clerk uses the word ecclesia for the congregation or the people who had gathered at the market place, saying, “It shall be settled in the regular assembly.” Further, “When he said this, he dismissed the assembly” [vs. 41]. In these and other passages the ecclesia or church is nothing but an assembly of people, though they probably were heathens and not Christians. It is the same term used by town councilmen for their assembly which they summon to the city hall. Now there are many peoples in the world; the Christians, however, are a people with a special call and are therefore called not just ecclesia, “church,” or “people,” but sancta catholica Christiana, that is, “a Christian holy people” who believe in Christ.
  • That is why they are called a Christian people and have the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies them daily, not only through the forgiveness of sin acquired for them by Christ (as the Antinomians foolishly believe), but also through the abolition, the purging, and the mortification of sins, on the basis of which they are called a holy people. Thus the “holy Christian church” is synonymous with a Christian and holy people or, as one is also wont to express it, with “holy Christendom,” or “whole Christendom.” The Old Testament uses the term “God’s people.”
    • Luther, Martin. Vol. 41, Luther’s Works, Vol. 41 : Church and Ministry III. Edited by Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Luther’s Works. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1966. pp. 143-144
  • In his writing, Church and Ministry III, Luther gives seven marks and outward signs that can be categorized under witness mercy and life together.   These will be key to developing a core group that form into a Lutheran congregation:

Witness: Possession of the Holy Word of God

Life Together: The Holy Sacrament of Baptism

Life Together: The Holy Sacrament of the Altar

LifeTogether: The Office of the Keys Exercised Publicly

Life Together: Consecration or Calling Ministers

Witness & Life Together: Prayer, Public Praise, and Thanksgiving to God

Witness & Life Together: The Holy Possession of the Sacred Cross

Mercy & Witness: The Christian Life of Loving Our Neighbor