Book Review: “Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond” by David K. Hesselgrave (1980)

Bibliographical Entry

Hesselgrave, David J. Planting Churches Cross Culturally: North America and Beyond (2nd edition). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000.

Author Information

When David J. Hesselgrave authored Planting Churches Cross-Culturally in 1980, he had already been a professor of mission a Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) of Deerfield, Illinois for fifteen years. Before joining TEDS, Hesselgrave served five years as a pastor in the United States and twelve years as a missionary in Japan. With his Doctor of Philosophy in rhetoric and public address with an emphasis in cross-cultural communication, Hesselgrave has proved to be a prolific lecturer and author on topics of cross-cultural communication, cross-cultural counseling, theology of mission, world religions and, of course, church planting. Retired since 1991 and living with his wife in Rockford, Illinois, Hesselgrave continues even today his speaking and writing on cross-cultural issues.[1]

Content Summary

In writing this book, Hesselgrave purposes to demonstrate the wisdom of using the Apostle Paul’s exemplary church-planting cycle (Hesselgrave, 47)—that ten-step process which, for all practical purposes, begins and ends with the commissioning of missionaries (50, 107, 321)—in accordance with both the power of the Holy Spirit (44) and lessons learned from two-thousand years of  experience (44) in planting churches in any of three common areas: within the common cultures of North American (ME-1 [28]), within cross-cultural areas in North America (ME-2 [28]) and within cross-cultural areas throughout the world (ME-3 [29]).

Hesselgrave breaks his text down into four main groups—the Christian (Part 1), the Christian leader (Part 2), the sending church (Parts 3 and 5) and the emerging Church (Part 4)— and how each specific group relate to the Christian mission. The foundation of Hesselgrave’s work is the Pauline Cycle (39), or the ten major steps of Paul’s church-planting ministries as deciphered by Hesselgrave from both the book of Acts and the Pauline Epistles in the New Testament. These ten steps are as follows: missionaries commissioned, audience contacted, Gospel communicated, hearers converted, believers congregated, faith confirmed, leadership consecrated, believers commended, relationships continued and sending churches convened (47-48).

In the context of these ten steps, Hesselgrave also points out that in this cycle, there is a definite beginning point (missionaries commissioned [93]) and ending point (sending churches convened [311]), though he does offer some contingencies upon that claim. First, having a beginning and ending point assumes that there is only one target church (50). Second, while this one target church may, on the whole, be currently working through step nine of the Pauline Cycle, this church ought always to continue working at and maintaining each of the other previous steps for the sake of continual growth (50). As this process is continuously in the works, sending churches must be convened so that missionaries can be commissioned and the whole process can start over once more. Hesselgrave also points out the important fact that, because it should be implemented continuously as seen above, this Pauline Cycle is not meant to be only for the newly-planted churches. The Cycle can and should be implemented into existing churches, even the most steadfast, in order to understand in which steps that particular church currently succeeds, and in which steps she fails (50).

Throughout the core chapters of his book (chapters 8-17), Hesselgrave remains faithful to a prescribed method of sharing his information. He begins by first sharing the objectives of each chapter based off each of the ten steps of the Pauline cycle. Then he generally follows these objectives with practical applications (anywhere from three to six) for the church as it progresses through each step in the cycle.  Within each application section, he breaks the text down into three minor sections: Biblical principles and precedents (36), relevant research (39) and practical reflection (40). He concludes the eight central chapters with a section in which he discusses how these specific applications can be formed into a master plan for the ongoing church plant. Another method Hesselgrave expertly employs throughout his book is the persistent use of examples from real-life ME-1, ME-2 and ME-3 ministries. He fits these examples into his segments of practical reflection, thus tying in through illustration the truths brought to light through both the Biblical precedents and the post-biblical research.


In desiring to relate Paul’s mission strategy and its efficacy for church planters, specifically in cross-cultural environments today, Hesselgrave successfully achieves his goal. That Paul had been specifically selected by Christ Himself to reach the Gentile nations (284) and that Paul’s chief goal in ministry was to preach the Gospel and establish churches (24) makes him the prime biblical example for church planters to follow today. Thus, Hesselgrave’s selection and dissection of the Pauline Cycle in church planting is noble and convincing. He successfully maintains this theme of the Pauline Cycle throughout his book by writing seven full chapters of foundation-laying material and subsequently building upon that foundation with detailed analyses of each of the ten stages in the Cycle.

Hesselgrave’s solid method of argumentation is clear as he faithfully maintains a common outline throughout the core chapters of his book, as mentioned above. His faithfulness to this method allows his readers to preserve a clear and organized thought-process as they work through the material and plan for their own church plants.

Pertaining to the content of Planting Churches, Hesselgrave presupposes that the Church’s primary mission is to spread the Gospel in order to build up the Body of believers as a group and in faith (17). This does not diverge from the idea that man’s chief end is to worship God and glorify Him forever,[2]for the presupposition references the role of the Body of believers, not of the believers as individuals. In  his chapter on confirmation of faith (Chapter 13), Hesselgrave mentions the importance of instructing believers in the new church in biblical teachings, doctrine and righteous living (219), but he also references the danger involved when a church planter mixes his own ideas and presuppositions into the teachings for a new church body (230). Such a warning is valid. Perhaps this discernment in teaching is why Hesselgrave writes that it would be wise if church planters work in teams (75, 93) in order to complement each others’ gifts in discernment, evangelization and teaching (76, 95).

Hesselgrave’s conclusions concerning the implementation of the Pauline Cycle in church plants worldwide can be seen in his evaluation of the commendation of believers (Chapter 16). Hesselgrave discusses the anxiety involved when a church planter leaves a new plant behind so that, first of all, the newly-planted church can sustain its own leadership, and secondly, so the church planter can move on to another region and start his work again. In response to this potentially anxious situation, Hesselgrave writes that, in the end, the planter needs to confidently depart while trusting both in God’s grace and in the Holy Spirit’s power (292).

Throughout Planting Churches, Hesselgrave certainly offers a formal, standardized plan for planting churches cross-culturally, backing up his methodology with valid, real-life illustrations from a multitude of cultures and situations. While this step-by-step approach is not necessarily an outline straight from the Bible, the principles and strategies drawn from the ministry of Paul are valid and worth emulating. As an outline, the Pauline Cycle works as a basic map to be implemented, though not necessarily rigorously followed. Changes can be made,  but only so long as the changes do not go against either Biblical principles or common sense. Hesselgrave’s book is about as close to a “How-To” manual for church-planters as possible, and is therefore more a book of practicality than of theology or literature.

Understanding David Hesselgrave’s background as a missionary for the Evangelical Free Church of America in Japan, as a professor emeritus at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and as a former president of the Evangelical Missiological Society (from Planting Churches, back cover) sets the proper stage for understanding his biases toward Protestantism and evangelicalism. His educational background, as well as his practical ministerial experience, makes him an exemplary author of cross-cultural church-planting coursework. He teaches well a proper plan for extending the Body of Christ through local churches across the invisible yet very real lines of culture and community.

One minor point of disagreement which this paper would like to bring to the fore can be found on page 149 and Hesselgrave’s discussion on contextualization in the New Testament. He suggests that Jesus and the disciples often left out the main points of the Gospel in their dealings with people, contextualized their message to each particular individual, and waited until after the resurrection to share the Gospel in the light of the larger picture of how God has dealt with mankind up to the time of Christ. In doing so, Hesselgrave implies that this was by Jesus’ and the disciples’ choice and design. From one biblical chapter alone, Luke 18, one can argue against this faulty reasoning, this apparent dodging of the issue, from both angles. First, in Luke 18:18-23, Jesus answers the Rich Young Ruler with how he can inherit eternal life—by following the commandments and by giving up everything to follow Christ. Because this is not the Gospel we preach today, this is  clearly  not a matter of simple contextualization, but of recognizing that Jesus had, as of then, neither died nor resurrected, and the Gospel message therefore differed from what it is today. Secondly, in Luke 18:31-34, when Christ told the disciples of that death and resurrection, they did not understand a word of it—not until after Jesus had ascended and they had received the Holy Ghost did they understand it as believers know it today. Rather than making this a simple matter of contextualization, it would have been fitting for Hesselgrave to have mentioned the dispensational aspect as well.

Planting Churches would prove a useful text in the library or handbag of any missionary, apostle (74) or layperson seeking to employ themselves in the work of a church plant. This book offers wise counsel in the practical aspects of church-planting as is also a vital source of useful surveys, graphs and other statistical materials to be used in the church-planting process. It has given this particular author a better understanding of the ground-laying effort that church-planting entails even before the first contacts, following the example of Paul, are strategically made (65-67).

[1] Information retrieved on July 16, 2010 from

[2] Moreau, A. Scott, Charles Edward van Engen, and David Burnett. Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions. (Baker reference library. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2000), 155

© 2010 E.T.

This entry was posted in Book Review, Church Planting, Missions, Non-Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Book Review: “Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond” by David K. Hesselgrave (1980)

  1. Pingback: Book Review: “Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century” by Aubrey Malphurs (1998) | Elliot's Blog

  2. Pingback: Book Review: “11 Innovations in the Local Church” by Elmer Towns, Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird (2007) | Elliot's Blog

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