PLNTD: An Interview with Tim Brister


There was a day that it was hard to find much help when it came to church planting. Things have changed. I’m deeply appreciative for people who are out there resourcing and encouraging church planters.

One such person is Tim Brister. Tim writes at his blog Provocations & Pantings, and is also behind PLNTD, which just concluded its 2012 conference this past weekend.

Tell us about PLNTD. How is it different from other church planting ministries?

First of all, thank you, Darryl, for giving me the opportunity to share about PLNTD. We are a newly forming decentralized network focused on establishing and multiplying church planting churches. The four areas we have focused on developed is resourcing, relational community, regional networks, and residency centers in local churches. The network is shaped by four convictions and values, each of which we have seen a surging interest in our generation. They are (1) gospel-centered, (2) missionally driven, (3) confessionally reformed, and (4) distinctively Baptist. Currently, we are midway through the launch of the network and hope to have it fully developed by the end of 2012.

The distinctiveness (or difference) about PLNTD is that we firmly believe that church planting should be done in the church (natural context), by the church (instrumental means), and for the church (gospel multiplication). The role we play as a network is to simply be an ecosystem (environment) through which churches and church planters flourish in the Great Commission. Therefore, all necessary components for a robust movement of gospel advance interdependently cooperate to provide people in our network with the encouragement, aid, and training they need to fulfill what God has called them to do.

Why is it so important for churches to own the responsibility for church planting?

Churches need to own the responsibility of church planting because no one else has been given that stewardship more than the local church. Parachurch organizations, networks, and denominations can be great helps, but they are not entrusted with the call to make, mature, and multiply disciples into new expressions of the kingdom of God. That has been given to the local church. What we see fleshed out in the early church is the expansion of the Great Commission by making disciples, gathering them in new contexts, and appointing officers. The responsibility to plant churches was not forced upon them; rather it was the natural outworking of the Great Commission as the Spirit sent and empowered them to proclaim Jesus in word and deed.

How can a church step up and begin to own the responsibility to plant churches?

The first thing I’d encourage a church to do is revisit the mission of the church to make disciples. For whatever reason, we have evaluated churches by the size of the building, budget, seating capacity, popularity, programs, etc. But when we look at Scripture, churches are commended on faithfulness to the Gospel and the stewardship of that Gospel bearing fruit in changed lives brought under the Lordship of Jesus. If churches were to evaluate their mission by how many disciple-making disciples are being developed, then the new criteria will determine what we celebrate. My encouragement would be to simplify and focus on creating a gospel-saturated culture in the church that is stubbornly committed to making disciples who are generous with expending their lives for the cause of making Jesus known through whatever means the Spirit of God has equipped them.

How does the gospel change our approach to church planting?

Unfortunately, most of the manuals on how to do church planting deal with best practices and what promises a fast, large launch. The assumption is, the more people that come, the more sustainable and thereby more successful the church will be. Now, before I am misunderstood, I am all for large numbers of people saved by Jesus and transformed by the gospel. My point is what drives the approach or philosophy of mission.

The problem with an approach that appeals to pragmatism and methods detached from a rigorous commitment to the gospel is that they tend to diminish the glory of God and undermine the ultimate goal of white-hot worshippers of Jesus. Furthermore, what grounds the church’s existence is the performance it offers. When the gospel drives the churches methods, its existence is grounded in the performance of Christ. A church with a fixed gaze on Jesus will behold the glory of God in its manifold beauty and brilliance, and what non-Christians and Christians need more than anything else is see Jesus and have a sense of His infinite worth.

A gospel-driven approach to planting can be teased out in numerous ways. For instance, a church planter passionate about the new church plant can find his identity in success rather than his Savior. A gospel-centered church planter will apply the gospel to his heart so that his affections won’t be misplaced or misguided with lesser loves, as well as his mind so that his thoughts are not consumed with what others think of him. Instead, his identity will be grounded in Christ, in what God thinks about him as an adopted child, in what God feels about him as the object of his everlasting love. He will not be battered so much by the highs and lows that inevitably will come in the journey because his emotional and spiritual health are “hidden in Christ.”

One more way is worth mentioning. People will tell you to reach those who are like you, to target those with most common affinity. The more homogeneous the people, the more likely it is to thrive, so the social engineers tell us. But they are speaking as though the gospel does not change our affinity. When the gospel drives your approach to reaching people, you are indiscriminately reaching out to all sinners, not just those you like or think are “savable.” The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and you are happy to leave the makeup of the church to the Spirit’s sovereign work of drawing sinners to Christ. And when that happens, you will have a collection of very diverse people from many different backgrounds yet united with a new identity dominating their consciousness. I’m all for affinity-driven approaches, so long as that affinity is the gospel. Only then can a church be a counter-cultural community who both attracts sinners with its distinctiveness and yet offends them with its demands.

What’s the Roots Reading Initiative all about? How can we get involved?

The Roots Reading Initiative (RRI) is a targeting reading emphasis to encourage church planters (and really all ministry leaders) to invest in their personal development and growth in five key areas: man, message, mission, marriage, and methods. We believe those five key areas are solid criteria to assess biblically qualified leadership. Whether you are a prospective planter or an experienced practitioner, you should be deepening your roots and cultivating your heart and mind with fresh insight through intentional self-feeding. RRI is the way we try to make that happen.

Each month, we have a book that we read together as a network (on a volunteer basis). Each week, we provide discussion questions for application, and at the end of the month, those questions are compiled into a downloadable PDF as a book-length study guide for future training in your context (elder reading, book study, apprenticeship, discipling others, etc.). RRI started in November of last year, and to give you an idea of the subject matter, here’s what we have done thus far:

Vol. 1 What Is the Mission of the Church [Mission]

November || What Is the Mission of the Church by Kevin DeYound and Greg Gilbert
December || Everyday Church by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester

Vol. 2 The Outworking of the Gospel [Message]

January || Gospel: Rediscover the Power that Made Christianity Revolution by J.D. Greear
February || Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson

Vol. 3 Gospel-Centered Marriage [Marriage]

March || The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller
April || What Did You Expect by Paul Tripp

To take part in RRI, all a person needs to do is join our online network and get plugged into our training community. There is no official sign up, though folks are encouraged to jump in the weekly discussions and share their thoughts on how the resources are impacting them.

Thanks, Tim!

Find out more at

PLNTD: An Interview with Tim Brister
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada