The last 12 months have been a hugely for formative time for Michelle and me. At this present time, it’s difficult to describe exactly how God has brought this about, but we are doing what we believe God has called us to do: prepare to plant a gospel-preaching, people-loving, intentionally multi-ethnic city church. Our dear friends, Aaron and Andrea Beane, will join us; and Aaron and I will serve as the founding pastors, if the Lord so wills. A lot could change between now and then, but our eyes are firmly fixed on the pathway laid before us.
I’m writing this blog post to paint a simple picture of what we believe the road ahead looks like for us. I write it with the hopes of encouraging someone to step outside their comfort zone and get them excited about what God is doing in cities all across the United States and world.
The Calling of Every Christian
First off, let me say that if you are a Christ follower, He calls you to follow Him wherever He goes (Luke 9:23). This may mean following Him into an office building everyday for the rest of your life. It may mean selling your possessions and following Him to a third-world country. It may mean staying up at night and showing a small child His love. Whatever your unique calling looks like, you can be sure that God is calling you to go somewhere in the world and make disciples of those people He places in your sphere of influence. Those people placed before you by God’s sovereign hand are people whom He wants to tell about His saving grace.
For us, we see ahead a city of people from all different backgrounds that are in need of His gospel. So, our hope is to plant a new church whose entire ministry is fashioned by the glorious good news about Jesus Christ. To accomplish God’s plan for us, we have formally joined hands with Sovereign Grace Churches, a growing family of churches with one primary mission: to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ by planting and strengthening churches for the glory of God. We are filled with joy as we look ahead to the next year, where Aaron and I will be trained at Sovereign Grace’s Pastors College for this ministry. We’re so excited to get started!
But what exactly lies before us? Well, only God knows the future. But so often God will place specific burdens on the hearts of His children in order to accomplish His purposes in us. As we prepare to plant a new church, we’ll be thinking about it in three ways (which I’ve already briefly stated):
1) We hope to plant a Gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered church.
The phrase “gospel-centered” has been a popular catch-phrase over the past 10-15 years, particularly in the Reformed church world. But what does it mean? The Gospel, simply, is the good news about Jesus Christ. It is the message of how his life, death, and resurrection are able to save sinners from their broken condition. We believe this message about what Jesus has done is able to not only save people from the hopelessness caused by their sin, but is able to transform a Christian into a Christlike one day by day.
A gospel-centered church is centered around this message. According to Joe Thorn, a gospel-centered church “is a church that is about Jesus above everything else.” It is a church that recognizes that what Jesus has accomplished in His life, death, and resurrection is enough to change lives. So in planting a gospel-centered church, we will bring Christ to those in need. Our hope is to show by our lives and our words that Jesus is the healing balm for every hurt, the peace for anxiety, the hope for a broken marriage, the comfort amidst loss, and ultimately, the Savior of the lost and destitute.
Gospel-centered ministry, however, is only possible through the work of the Holy Spirit. We believe that the Holy Spirit was given to the church at Pentecost so that God would be the source of power for all her exploits, not man (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Every task God calls us to do is to be accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit, not by our own might. For this reason, it will be a particular focus of ours to constantly ask for the Holy Spirit to empower us as we seek to minister to those in need (Luke 11:13). We believe that only through the Spirit’s power can the lost believe in Christ, the hurting and sick be healed, and a new church be Christ’s hands and feet to the residents of a particular city.
2) We hope to plant a church in the city.
With the above said, we believe God is calling us to the city. At the present time, we’re still seeking God on which particular one. (We thought it was going to be Chicago, but it seems like God is closing that door for now. I’ll write a future post about that story.) Michelle and I grew up in the suburbs of Providence, RI – not a large city by any means, but one that is as diverse as any. We are drawn to the city because – well, we’re “city folk,” but also because we see such a need there. In any given city there is a vast range of social strata, from the very rich to the very poor. Cities are centers of industry, crime, poverty, and hubs of constant activity.
Most importantly, cities are the home of people desperate for the Savior. We feel God is calling us to begin meeting with fellow believers in a particular area of a city (which one is presently a matter of prayer), eating, worshipping, and “doing life” together. The goal in doing so is to not merely build a large church, but rather, to meet neighbors, business owners, and families all around us. We want to build relationship with them and learn about their lives, always with the hope of displaying how the Gospel meets their specific needs.
3) We hope to plant a multi-cultural church.
Cities are proverbial melting pots, epicenters of population, culture, and ethnic diversity. While some see the city as a cesspool of crime and poverty, we see it as a mission field ripe with God’s future children from every race, color, and background.
Obviously, Michelle and I are pretty white, and so are our dear friends, the Beanes. In fact, the few couples who have expressed interest in helping us plant are all white. No one need tell me of our disadvantage. Having had conversation with a number of my non-white friends, we see our need for men and women from other ethnicities to join us on this mission. This is a regular prayer for us and we know God in His own good timing will send brothers and sisters to join us on this mission who don’t look exactly like us.
But our desire is for a diverse worshipping community. God created diversity. He painted the landscape of humanity from a colorful palette, and His kingdom is filled with people colored by His brush. Sadly, sin has turned diversity into something to be feared. This blog is not the place to plunge the depths of America’s race problem, but we believe Jesus died to break down the walls built by sinful people who are afraid of that which is different. Ephesians 2 tells us that Jesus came to kill the hostility between races.
Our desire is to come together, constantly seeking to be changed by Christ’s humility and compassion, and together celebrate one another’s cultural differences instead of fear them. We desire to be a body of people who are humble enough and loving enough to reach into the lives of our white and non-white neighbors and give them hope, just as Jesus did for us. A new church in the city will continue Christ’s mission to make disciples of all the nations, and it is our hope and prayer that God will make a way for this to happen.
So, there lies the pathway before us. Even though the launch of this new church is a few years off, God never ceases to amaze us as He leads us by His Spirit! My hope and prayer is that God will send fellow laborers to us to join us on this new, age-old mission of church planting.
As I said, Aaron and I are now getting ready to start training for our future pastoral ministry. As with any long-term ministry, we need prayer and provision from brothers and sisters who are stirred by God to come alongside us. Is that you? Maybe God is calling you to pray for us! Maybe He’s calling you to give financially to help us get through the Pastor’s College and subsequent preparation to plant. Maybe He’s calling you to move with us and launch this church!
No matter what God is calling you to do, He’s at work in these last days. So, I conclude for now with a simple encouragement: Ask God in what particular way he is calling you to go and make disciples. He has told you that disciple-making is His will, now look around you! Listen to what the Spirit is saying to you. There is a needy person. And you’ve been called to find them and give them Christ.
“Do not think me mad. It is not to make money that I believe a Christian should live. The noblest thing a man can do is, just humbly to receive, and then go amongst others and give.” – David Livingstone, 19th century missionary to Africa