Recently, I was privileged to spend the better portion of a day speaking at Plant Ozarks, a church planting network affiliated with the larger Plant Midwest. Though I was only with the group a few hours, I have had difficulty getting the Plant Ozarks conference off my mind. From start to finish, the people, spirit, and substance of the event made a deep impression on me.
The entire day felt suspiciously like New Testament Christianity, with times of prayer, confession, worship, and fellowship punctuated by the Scriptures being preached. I showed up seeking to encourage a room full of church planters. I left deeply encouraged myself. Let me share with you why.
Great Commission Advance
First, I was reminded of church planting’s Great Commission potential. A generation ago, door-to-door witnessing, church visitation, personal evangelism, revival meetings, area-wide crusades, and servant evangelism were the most common forms of outreach. When people referenced church planting, it often was a more polite referent to a church split. Thankfully, so much has changed very quickly in this regard.
In this generation, church planting seems especially used of God for the spreading of the Gospel. What crusade evangelism was in decades past, church planting now seems to be—one of God’s primary means to reach the lost.
In fact, the entire day was explicitly Great Commission focused. Throughout the event, the Gospel, evangelism, reaching the lost, changing the city, and impacting the culture marked the conversation. This is what we are to be about, and these men exuded such gospel hopefulness, especially through their church planting efforts.
Realism, Not Romanticism
Occasionally, when talking to potential church planters, I have detected an element of naïve romanticism. Admittedly, a congregational tabula rasa, or blank slate, with which to design a church can be alluring. Having no draconian church bylaws with which to contend and no sclerotic committee structures to navigate can be appealing. Moreover, latitude in selecting musical style and preaching patterns without any inherited expectations can be especially attractive. However, the appropriate excitement a new work generates can drift into romanticism, especially when compared with the challenges an established church may bring.
Yet every church, including ones newly planted, has its own challenges. The appeal of a church plant can quickly wear off, especially when one encounters the many difficulties associated with the new work. Logistical nightmares, like coordinating set-up crews, limited financial resources, and cobbling together a viable mass of people, all present significant obstacles.
At the Plant Ozarks conference, I encountered a sober optimism and an informed joy about church planting. Naïve romanticism was displaced by a winsome realism, knowing the work would not be easy, but if God is at work, it shall not fail.
Given the daunting challenges associated with planting a church in any generation, most especially ours, the evident joy in the room seemed almost out of place. In fact, at first read one might think these men were in denial about the cultural milieu in which they will plant.
As I preached on the cultural challenges that accompany modern ministry, it was like throwing red meat to hungry lions. They were not glib, and certainly not Pollyannaish. Instead, they exuded a happy, buoyed confidence knowing that Christ will build his church.
What is more, I did not get the feeling they were fleeing the established church. In fact, they spoke with great respect about the traditional church, the denomination, and the elder statesmen in the SBC. Condescension was distant from their lips; their words were seasoned with charity and appreciation for their mother denomination. It was clear they had not so much rejected the traditional but were following God’s call to build the new.
Passion with Purpose
Finally, I left encouraged by the balance I sensed in the room. Jesus calls us to worship in spirit and truth, but most err in one direction or the other. The worship I experienced with these church planters was impassioned and heart-felt, but also Christ-centered and richly biblical. If the worship I experienced is indicative of these men, their hearts for Christ, and the churches they plant, may their like multiply by the thousands.
In hindsight, my experience at Plant Ozarks reminded me anew of one reason why I am thrilled to be at Midwestern Seminary. Situated in Kansas City, a North American Mission Board-designated Send City, we are strategically located to impact the region and the world for Christ. This is precisely why we recently announced a partnership with NAMB and the Missouri and Kansas-Nebraska state conventions in launching a church-planting center.
After all, that is why the SBC founded Midwestern Seminary in 1957—to reach the region for Christ and to furnish pastors and ministers for the underserved churches of the region. May God raise up a generation of church planters—like I fellowshipped with at Plant Ozarks—who will join with the pastors, teachers, and missionaries we are training in order to multiply and strengthen Christ’s church. That is what the Plant Ozarks men were about; that is what Midwestern Seminary is about; and, I pray, that is what all of us will increasingly be about.
topicsChurch & Ministry, Leadership, Other