The Gospel Coalition posted an article that has been making the rounds among Reformed sites and social media titled “WhyI am no longer a Church Planter.” While this article is not challenging the motivations, intent or the conclusions of the author in his own particular circumstance, I am challenging some of the implied conclusions within various social media.
Over the last few years there has been a wave of Reformed Church planting coming off of the many failed attempts to reform established churches. As usual, people tend to gravitate toward one extreme or another. Unfortunately, many Christians are looking for prescription rather than discernment. This was a consequence of the last 100 years of fundamentalist influence. Too much of fundamentalism has been a combination of methodology and theological compromise. Stay tuned for our upcoming article, “Why I am a Traditionalist and not a Fundamentalist.”
There is not one method
Reformed Christians need to stop and make serious examination. We are still being heavily influenced by methodology. We rail against Finny and then look for methods to employ to achieve a certain result. The thinking is that if we follow any certain list we are assured of success.
While it is true God uses means, we cannot know what the purpose of these means are meant to accomplish in any certain place or time.
God uses means to bring about the salvation of the elect and also to provide a witness against those who reprobate themselves against the truth. While we all want to be Nehemiah leading a great reformation, our lot may be that of Jeremiah in proclaiming the damnation of the unjust.
If the latter is the case, we should not expect to see temporal success. Jeremiah suffered the loss of all things for God and our problem today is this is not an option in our church planting plans.
The means and methods of God are the same—the Word. Our commission is to preach the Word.
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” —2 Timothy 4:2
Reformed theology only recognizes the means God has given to His Church. These means include the reading of the Word, sacraments, theologically rich and Biblically sound prayer, singing, and preaching. We define these as praying the Word, singing the Word, reading the Word, preaching the Word and seeing the Word in the sacraments of baptism and communion.
The purpose in these means is always the same: to reveal His wrath and make His power known in the destruction of the wicked; and, to make known the riches of His glory in the salvation of the elect.
However, there are many different tools and it is impossible to know whether economic hardships, natural disasters or persecution are bringing about reformation or damnation. Our problem in this area is we do not understand true success.
What is Success?
Success can be a relative term depending on the context. In baseball 70% failure at the plate is possibly Hall of Fame status if you can do it over an extended career. When it comes to church planting or reforming existing churches we have no such guidelines. As a result, a few failures seem to prove the errors of any method of establishing solid Reformed churches.
But what is the baseline that we are to evaluate our efforts? The problem is we examine our work based on the errors of methodology. Christians are convinced that the right methodology will produce Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church or St. Andrews Chapel.
However, success in Biblical terms is much different than the world. The world looks at material possessions to evaluate success. Christians are called to look at success much differently.
If we are to apply the world’s definition of success then Noah, Jeremiah and even Jesus are the most unsuccessful examples for the Church to follow.
The model for the Church is very simple: faithfulness. We are called to be faithful in proclaiming and practicing the Word of God.
While I am sure the author of “Why I am no longer a Church Planter” would agree with everything written here, just as I agree with what he wrote, there is a growing contingency in Reformed circles casting shadows on small struggling ministries.
The developing anti-church planting movement is simply a reaction against the errors of church planters over the last 10 years. But trading one error for another is not the best plan to advance Christ’s Church. Therefore, it is important to give some advice to any future church planters.
This can be rather difficult because everything has context and the context can provide its own presuppositions that may vary from place to place. This is why it is important to be 100% convinced that planting a church is of God.
This means we have to first remove any selfish or carnal reasoning from the equation. Church planting is not about convenience or desire. Both of these things can change multiple times over a short period of time. Sometimes this is true daily.
The reason is because both are heavily influenced by emotions. If you speak with a pastor on Monday morning you may question his desire in any specific context. Yet this changes as the week goes on. To allow the fluctuation of desire to dominate decisions leads to convenience thinking, especially if the emotions of desire reveals itself to be temporal inspiration.
True desire is determined over the long haul while discouragement is a temporary loss of motivation due to fatigue or obstacles. To keep these temporary emotions in check one must be convinced the objective is worth the pain and suffering.
To think this is not the case is to be ignorant of Jeremiah. There were times Jeremiah wanted to quit. The emotional roller coaster of the task was great. If his mind was set on the idea that success was only measured in seeing physical accomplishments he could have never endured.
We must be convinced of the cause and also our calling to do it. Most Christians are not called to be ministers and not all ministers are called to plant churches. It has nothing to do with their ability but everything to do with the rightness of the task in any specific context. This is why discernment is so important and cannot be traded for a prescribed methodology.
Discernment can only be ascertained from the Word of God and the Church. Even in this the Church can get it wrong, especially in our current culture. The Church has supported planters that had no business planting a church and visa versa. Still yet, we must rely upon the means God has given us.
Most of our errors stem from Biblical ignorance or rebellion and the influence of methodology. To be convinced we must cast out the methodology of worldly success and discern proper qualifications, reasons, and means in planting new churches and reforming existing churches.
Your commitment will be tested on the battlefield. If you are convinced then stay the course. This does not mean there will not be adjustments. However, if the general cause is right then don’t run away from temptations, trials and tribulations—overcome them through Christ.
Christ has promised to build His Church. This is one of the first reasons to follow the means God provides for His Church. If our trust is in Him then we will be committed to the means He has given us.
This will translate into commitment to Christ’s purpose, plan, and product. If we are convinced of our calling and are utilizing these things we must be willing to suffer long and endure hardships.
As a minister, whether you are in an established church or a plant you will face problems. We must be spiritually and physically tough.
Most planters, or even ministers in a small established church, quit because they want a better quality of life for their family and not because they are bankrupt. I am sure it has happened but I have yet to see a minister and his family homeless because of a failed attempt in the ministry. Many church planters have had to come up with other means to support their families but if you are convinced and committed be tough.
Most will not state the lack of physical resources as the cause. Still yet, in spite of the spiritual sounding reasons it usually grows from dissatisfaction with possessions that leads to nitpicking or being offended over small things.
It may be nitpicking the purpose, plan, or product but the real reason is being offended that God has not given us a Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. Many are becoming disillusioned because we do not have pristine Gothic cathedrals, large congregations and unlimited resources at our disposal.
But this may not be our calling. We may have to be on the front lines getting bloody to make it possible for another wave to take the objective at a later time.
We must remember that Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church was built in another time for God’s purpose and not ours.
No matter the time God places us for His purpose and glory to be made known unto the world, our calling is always the same. We are to plant and to water by faithfully preaching the Word of God. It does not matter if it is in season with multitudes hungering to hear God’s Word or out of season when the multitude seeks to silence our voices. We are to “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”
By God’s grace this we will continue to do and it is the reason why I am still working to plant a Reformed Church in Mooresville, Indiana. This work to plant a Reformed church has not been easy and God has refined us along the way. It is now four years into this work and we are still meeting in our home with a handful of families. We have undergone some changes but the task is still the same.
Some may wonder why we do not give up or seek another method. The answer is threefold:
- Because of God
- Because of His Word
- Because of His Promise
God is sovereign and our trust is to be in Him. Through His Word He has called and commissioned us and given us a promise that He will build His Church.
If it is God’s will that our purpose is to only gather in a few families, we can rejoice and be content that God is still building His Church. In rebuilding the foundations we are setting the stage for the next generation. How important then is our task?
If it is God’s providence for us to see hundreds or thousands redeemed we must realize we can never see greater things until we are faithful in the small things. God has called us to be faithful in our calling in exercising the means He has given to His Church. We are called to be faithful trusting that God is faithful to bring His purposes to pass.
“Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” —1 Thessilonians 5:24“Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” —1 Corinthians 4:2
May God give us faithful laborers who are willing to build one brick at a time.