Results tagged “church planting” from Reformation21 Blog

In our first installment, I highlighted six things I have learned while church planting. Here are four additional items for your consideration. They are in no particular order.

1. Music: At Crown and Joy, we classify our musical selections into several categories (e.g., contemporary, traditional black gospel, psalms, and hymns). While it is my desire to continue using a variety of music, which is a part of the ethos of our congregation, it is also my dream to utilize a variety of instrumentation. We recently added a bass guitar. Prior to that, our musicians included a pianist and drummer. We also sometimes have a cellist and guitarist.

Where do you find talented musicians if they do not reside within your congregation? I presently know of a church who is simply looking for a pianist. It does not matter, therefore, if your vision for music is to utilize multiple musicians or just one, multiple genres of music or just traditional hymns, church planters should have both a direction for the music and the people to help accomplish it prior to starting Sunday services. You may have to look outside the congregation for help. Consider asking sister churches to assist you until the Lord brings musicians into membership. You may also need to inquire into the music department at a local university. In other words, there are ways to ensure your vision for music is accomplished. It just may not be as simple as using those within your church.

2. Money: In the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), church planters most often are required to raise a portion or all of their financial support for a 3-5 year budget. Whatever the total amount for fundraising, consider raising a bit more. You should take into account those who will leave either before the first service or those who may leave shortly thereafter. With the absence of people comes the absence of money. If you have raised just enough to cover your costs, and that included congregational giving, when people leave, internal giving decreases. As a result, you may end up in a financial predicament. Church planters have a lot occurring in their lives. You do not want to be concerned about money, too.

3. Movement: Church plants attract a variety of people. Some are bitter about their previous church experience. Therefore, in an attempt to make the church into their own image, they join you. Others are simply attracted to your vision and desire to join you. They are in good standing at their present church. In fact, they might even be sent by their church to join your efforts.

Knowing that church plants attract all kinds of people, church planters need to be studious about those whom are allowed into the work of a new church. One way to do this is to call the elders or pastors from the previous 2-3 churches of your potential members. Ask those church officers to share their thoughts about those who are seeking to join you. Sometimes, past performance indicates future acts. For example, if a person or family has been a part of one church for 8 or 9 years, that may indicate they will be with you for some time. On the other hand, if you discover that a family or person, who wants to join you, has moved around from church to church, that may indicate they have little commitment to the local church. And they may just as easily move on from your efforts just as they have at previous churches. To establish a strong base as your core group, you want those who are not bitter, as well as those who have a good reputation of longevity at past churches.

4. Management: Pastors in established churches have many duties. Church planters sometimes have more because we do not have the resources that established churches sometimes have (e.g., music directors, ministry leaders, associate pastors, etc.). One area that church planters should consider having managed is administration. Administrative duties, regardless of the size of one's church plant, can take between 8-15 hours per week. That time could be spent elsewhere (e.g., evangelism, community involvement, prayer and study, etc.). Consider, virtually from the beginning, hiring an administrative assistant. Train that individual to relieve you of certain duties so that you can place your efforts elsewhere.

In parts 1-4, I briefly highlighted some of my thoughts regarding liturgy, music, and the inclusion of more minorities (or more specifically, African-Americans) in our churches. I am going to take a slight detour in this fifth segment, a detour that has nothing to do with liturgy or music. While living in southern California this was my experience. As I plant a church in Richmond, Virginia, this is also my experience.

One of the many reasons more African-Americans are not Presbyterian and Reformed (e.g., PCA, ARP, URC, etc.) is because of the lack of familiarity with its brand, or denomination/federation. On both coasts, when I invite African-Americans to church, probably 8 out of 10 cannot define what it means to be Presbyterian and Reformed, have never visited a Presbyterian or Reformed church, and do not know any Presbyterian or Reformed Christians. This has many implications. Here are two.

If an African-American family, for example, were to move to a new area and look for a church, they would not visit a Presbyterian or Reformed congregation. Even if they did not have a commitment to one particular denomination, it is more likely they would attend a Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, or non-denominational church. The same can be said for newly converted African-Americans. If, for instance, an African-American gets saved through means other than the preaching of the word on the Lord's Day (e.g., street preaching, gospel tract, etc.), it is unlikely, once he looks for a church, he will visit a Presbyterian or Reformed congregation. He, along with the minority family mentioned in the previous example, is unfamiliar with its beliefs, practices, and its brand. This newly converted man would also, more than likely, end up attending a Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, or non-denominational church. 

This is quite interesting in light of a report that was submitted to the 205th general assembly of the PCUSA, which suggests that African-Americans had a much greater affinity for Presbyterianism at one time. After reading this, provided it is true, I wonder how we can make our denomination, or more broadly those within NAPARC, more familiar to all minorities. What can we do to have better name recognition? I have ideas. You may as well.

I hope you will take the time to read this. In a section of the report, titled, "Toward a Nonsegregated Church in a Nonsegregated Society," the authors wrote,

"The end of World War II brought a rising tide of expectations and an irrepressible demand for equity before the law. African Americans, who had once again shed their blood in defense of their country and the cause of democracy, returned home to find their own lot essentially unchanged.

While it might be expected that the churches would have provided ethical leadership for the nation in responding to African Americans' yearning and struggling for justice and equality, such was not the case. The Presbyterian church bodies as a whole did little beyond issuing platitudinous statements. Black clergy, laity, and churches, however, continued their historical role of providing to their communities educated and sophisticated leadership, often through close cooperation with secular organizations like the NAACP. Black Presbyterians were keenly aware that it was government, through the courts, and secular organizations that took the lead in calling the nation to social reform in race matters. In the South, the subject of race relations and racial justice was seldom raised from the pulpit. And as long as the problem was so much identified with southern mores, northern church people could pretend that it was a southern problem, not one with which they must grapple.

In the years between the two world wars, none of the three Presbyterian bodies that now are melded into the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) achieved vigorous growth among their African American constituencies. The southern Presbyterian church (the Presbyterian Church in the United States) hardly grew at all until Lawrence Bottoms was brought into the picture as the assistant secretary of the Board of Negro Work, which came into being in 1946.

The Committee on Colored Evangelization of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) was established in 1892 and went out of existence in 1910. At the time of its establishment, there were fifty-six Black congregations with a total of about sixteen hundred members. When the committee was discontinued, congregations numbered fifty-nine and the membership totaled 2,355. (150)

Evangelizing and teaching Black people was not a popular preoccupation. "Someone remarked facetiously and yet with much truth that when one went to Africa as a missionary to evangelize the Negro he was canonized; when he stayed home to teach the Negro he was ostracized." (151)

When the Committee on Colored Evangelization was discontinued in 1910, its work was transferred to the Executive Committee on Home Missions as a Department of Colored Work. Snedecor continued as superintendent of this work until he resigned due to failing health. This coincided with the failure of the independent Afro-American Presbyterian Synod. In that same year, the independent synod was restructured as a synod of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS). It was renamed the Snedecor Memorial Synod in honor of Snedecor, who had given so much of his life to work among African Americans.

After Snedecor's death, several persons were chosen to give leadership to the work among Blacks. Although this succession of men worked hard to move the church to shoulder its evangelistic responsibility, they could not overcome the apathy now grown to aversion. As the Snedecor Synod, and thus an integral part of the General Assembly, the Black constituency still experienced anemic growth. In 1918, there were 1,492 members; by 1933 that number had only increased to 1,847.

The place at which Black church growth did occur was the cities. In the period following World War II, successful PCUS mission centers were established in Louisville, Richmond, Atlanta, and New Orleans. A feature common to these locations was the development of strong Sunday schools and attention to the social, economic, and educational needs as a part of the evangelistic thrust.

Work for and among African Americans in the southern Presbyterian church continued under the Board of Home Missions until 1946 when the Board of Negro Work was formed. The creation of this board represented not only a change in structure, but a change in attitude. Lawrence Bottoms, who played a key role in this development, describes the changes this way:

"[The Home Mission Board] governed and functioned like a plantation system. The executive secretary of the Board of Home Missions worked through certain key ministers who carried out the instructions given by the Board and endeavored to develop the work within the synod and presbytery without the body knowing exactly what they were doing and where they were trying to go; and the body was governed by these key ministers who operated and functioned under the instruction of the Board of Home Missions. The members of the Synod (Snedecor) and the presbytery did not learn to use the tool of government, social organization, economic process and social process, or political process. ... Neither did they learn about Presbyterian belief. ... The work was carried on in a paternalistic fashion in the hope that the people being led by these ministers would become good people who would adjust to the systems of segregation and be comfortable in those systems without causing any difficulty." (152)

Substantial growth of Black membership in the PCUS began under the leadership of Alex R. Batchelor, who was appointed secretary of the Division of Negro Work in 1947. Lawrence W. Bottoms, serving first as part-time regional director of Christian Education, succeeded in getting Blacks and Whites to plan together for new urban churches, such as All Souls Church in Richmond, Virginia, rather than have Whites plan for Blacks as had been the practice before.

Bottoms later became full-time regional director of Christian Education, then associate in the Division of Negro Work and, at the death of Alex Batchelor, director of the Division of Negro Work. Bottoms' unusual background had prepared him well for an unenviable task. A deeply spiritual man, he had grown up in the Church of the Covenanters, earned his A.B. degree from Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and completed his theological course at the Reformed Theological Seminary of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Before coming to the national staff, Bottoms had served PCUS pastorates in Selma, Alabama; Louisville, Kentucky; and Miami, Florida. In 1974, he was elected the first and only African American moderator of the PCUS General Assembly.

In 1949, this work among African Americans was placed under the Board of Church Extension as the Division of Negro Work, along with the Divisions of Home Missions, Christian Relations, Radio and Television, and Evangelism. This placement of the work in the church's structure overcame some of the sense of isolation that the Division of Negro Work had experienced and was strategic in achieving a more integrated relationship with other aspects of the church's work.

Batchelor writes of that period: "In 1946 something happened in our church. It seemed that God spoke and commanded us to go forward in Negro Work. This was a voice to the whole church." (153) It happened to coincide with the post-World War II period when many new nations in Asia and Africa were gaining independence. Change was in the air and African Americans were pressing the case for democracy in the United States with unprecedented vigor. Batchelor, appealing to the best instincts in the White constituency of his church, observed that the usual procedure in a Christian fellowship is not for the minority to have to make demands, but for the majority to take the initiative. In other words, the majority ought to care so much about the minority that it anticipates the latter's needs and addresses them. "If it fails to do so, it opens to question the extent to which it has appropriated the Spirit of Christ." (154)

A piece of hard evidence that a new day was on the horizon in the PCUS was the appointment of Black staff persons at the national level to guide and administer the work among African American churches. Batchelor seemed of a different spirit than most of his predecessors, and an important clue to his effectiveness was his employment of capable Black men and women to share responsibility for the work. In addition to the appointment of Lawrence Bottoms, Leon Anderson succeeded to the position of regional director of Christian Education and Mrs. A. L. DeVariest, staff member of the Board of Women's Work, conducted training workshops for church leaders and youth.

During the post-World War II era, the Black constituency of the PCUS experienced substantial growth under Bottoms' and Batchelor's leadership. Some forty new churches were started and, during a five-year period, the Black membership increased from three thou- sand to about seven thousand (155)" (pages 113-17).
Needless to say, I have learned far more than six things. I hope to elaborate on those later (e.g., issues concerning commitment, expectations, etc.). In the meantime, here are six observations.

1. Do not compare yourself to other churches. It is extremely easy to think you have the best of everything in your church. Once that mentality is imbibed, you begin to wonder how Christians could attend other churches in the community. You further wonder how other churches in the community have a larger attendance. Those Christians should be coming to you. After all, you are preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments rightly.  After dwelling on these things, you begin to write-off other churches. It is an unhealthy place to be. Despite differing views on various items (e.g., RPW), God uses crooked sticks, which we all are, to glorify himself. He has people in other churches for his own purposes. 

2. Do not ride the roller coaster of attendance. One week, your numbers are exciting. Two weeks later, it looks like the building is empty. At times like these, you may begin to question your ministry effectiveness. Rather than walking along the shaky path of attendance, it seems easier to focus on the faithful saints who are present. If they have been taught accurately and they believe what has been taught, despite small numbers, you have a faithful lot who are there to receive the word and sacraments, as well as praise God in prayer and song and have fellowship one with another. Thank God for the ones who are present; thank God for the ones who are absent. 

3. Do not expect others in your community to join you. The PCA is a connectional church. In short, that should mean we do things together. My experience demonstrates that those in my presbytery are fully supportive of our church plant, both in terms of prayer and finances. We are planting this church together. However, just because church officers are supportive, that does not mean laypersons are willing to take the church planting journey with you. You may have members of various PCA congregations in your church planting area, but you cannot expect them to join your efforts. For many reasons (e.g., comfort, familiarity, relationships, children, etc.), they will maintain their membership at their present church, all the while continuing to drive by your congregation each Sunday.

4. Numbers boost morale. While we ought not to ride the waves of attendance, when visitors attend, it boosts the morale of the congregation. They have prayed for visitors, invited others to join the work, and evangelized in the community. When they see people visit the church as a result of any of the aforementioned, it gladdens their hearts. 

5. Delegate. The pastor should not maintain responsibility for everything. He needs to learn that, while everything under the sun may not be done exactly like he would do it, the saints need the opportunity to exercise their gifts and take ownership, so-to-speak, of the church. Many churches, it seems, struggle with the 80/20 rule. 80% of the work is completed by 20% of the people. Therefore, let all those who are desirous to serve in the church, serve.

6. God's church can be unified. Despite the recent events in the USA (e.g., Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, etc.), God's church can be unified across ethnic, cultural, political, and socio-economic lines. Crown and Joy is a perfect example of that.
Some people are hesitant to participate in a church plant because of the amount of work it takes. Sometimes you have to arrive earlier to church than you normally would, in an established church, to ensure things are in order. At other times, you have to stay after the bell of the benediction rings to breakdown all the equipment you set up. 

Knowing this, I wanted to help alleviate as many potential stresses as I could by volunteering in most, if not all areas. That way, I could preserve the life and strength of the congregation by doing my best to help them avoid burnout. Furthermore, I do not mind helping.  It is actually a joy serving in ways that are behind-the-scenes, so to speak.

The desire to serve, however, and the need to delegate can sometimes collide. At our first service, our setup team, which includes me, did not finish until 14 minutes before the service started. That gave me just enough time to change, take my seat, and prepare my heart for worship. It was a close call. I did not feel as if I had adequate time to prepare my own heart to participate in such a marvelous event as the Lord's Day service. Nevertheless, I continued. Of course I had to. I felt a bit affected, having transitioned immediately from setup to service, but it was nothing that I could not overcome.

Yesterday, our setup team did not finish until about 9 minutes before the service started. That provided less time to change and prepare my heart to encounter the risen Lord. Unfortunately, that affected me much more than the first week. From the beginning of the service, I felt like my heart was not in it. If you will allow me to be so liberal with my language, it was as if I was having an out of body experience. I knew I was there, but my head was somewhere else.

Thankfully, I was able to share these details with several men in the congregation. I expressed that, while I do not mind setting up in the afternoon, I need about 30-minutes of downtime before service starts. That will help me align my thoughts and heart to prepare to lead the service, preach, pray, sing, and administer the sacraments. Since sharing my thoughts, many of the men are willing to arrange afternoon setup differently, which will provide me with the 30-minute buffer that I requested.

Despite such hearts of service from these men, I am still concerned about creating a venue for burnout for my people. I desire that they attend our Sunday Divine Service expectantly awaiting to hear the voice of their Lord. If they are tired, it may present a barrier to them patiently listening and eagerly expecting the work of the Holy Spirit in their midst. Yes, I know the Spirit's work is not dependent upon the attentiveness of the listener, yet I believe my concerns are still valid. I want to ensure my people are prepared, both in mind and heart, to enter the presence of their God.

It seems to me the mistake I made was taking on too much in attempt to relieve any burden on the church. That means I did not delegate appropriately in the initial stages of our church plant's development. If I am ever given the opportunity to plant another church or coach someone through planting, at least in this case, I will instruct the church planting pastor to, "Do as I say, not as I did." 

A setup team is essential, and if at all possible, that team should not include the pastor. As one of my congregants reminded me, "It is not right that [you] should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty" (Acts 6:2-3). He was not suggesting that I should not help, rather he was emphasizing that he wants to ensure that I have the time needed to prepare for our service.

I am thankful for men who are willing to step up and help where required. Although I believe I made a mistake in taking on too much, the Lord provided a congregation to help me where I fail. To the church planting pastor I say, please learn from me and do not take on more than you are able. To the church plant congregation I say to you, help your pastor and do what you can to ensure he has the appropriate time needed to align his heart on Sunday in order to prepare for the service. 

Our Church Plant Welcome Video

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After 8 months of attempting to plant a church in Richmond, Virginia, by God's grace, we had our first service on October 26, 2014. Crown and Joy Presbyterian Church meets each Sunday at 2pm.

Here is our welcome video.
Although there are some denominations that fully or partially fund their church planters, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is not one of them. Therefore, if the local church, or presbytery, calls you to plant a congregation, you must raise the financial support you need to fulfill your monetary requirements.

Initially, this was one of my greatest fears. Since I did not have many connections in the PCA, I was not sure if I could raise the financial support necessary to complete my 3-year budget, and if I could not raise the support, I would likely not be able to plant a PCA congregation. Those concerns are still present, especially considering I am still in the process of fundraising; nevertheless, in time, things became much easier because of what I have learned along the way.

If you are considering planting a PCA congregation, here are some things that may help you.

1. Create your network now. In other words, if you are going to plant a church in the PCA even if it is in 3-4 years, begin creating your network list now. A network list is a group of churches and individuals who may support you financially. Begin with your sending church and the churches in your presbytery. (Your presbytery may financially support you as well). After you have exhausted that list, consider other churches, both those in your denomination and those outside the denomination. Write the names of family members and close friends who may support you, too. Be mindful that your sending church may not want you to petition the people of that congregation, especially if that church is supporting you. 

2. Expand your network. After writing down the various churches and individuals who may support you, at some point, ask them if they know anyone who may be interested in helping financially. Also consider asking those in your core group for help. Find out if they know others, whether churches or individuals, who may support this effort.

3. Prepare a proposal. Some churches and individuals want a proposal. They desire to see a more in-depth approach to what you are doing. The proposal should include a brief 1-page testimony, perhaps a resume, a brief 1-page summary regarding why this work is important, your budget and current percentage raised, and demographics of the church planting area. More information may be required, but this should get you started. Remember, hundreds of other church planters may be petitioning the same churches you are. When considering the importance of your work, what makes you different? Is it the location of your church plant? Is it your vision? Do you have a strong desire to be an evangelistic church? What is it?

4. Send a hardcopy first. When sending financial support letters, consider first sending a hardcopy letter with your signature. A mass email may seem too impersonal. Also consider personalizing one or two introductory paragraphs in each letter to tailor it to those to whom you are writing. Will this take more time? Yes, but it may be worth it. Will sending an initial hardcopy letter cost more? Yes, but if you are able to generate the funds, it may be worth it. You can always follow-up the initial letter with an email and/or phone call.

5. Don't be disappointed. Do not get disappointed if a church or individual cannot financially support you. During the fundraising process, we create lists based on churches and persons who will necessarily support us. When those individuals or churches cannot, disappointment may set in. Do not let it. There may be valid reasons why people cannot financially offer any help presently.

6. Be prayerfully aware of God's sovereignty. Pray that God's will be accomplished. Although fundraising can be hectic at times, the God of all creation is in control. He will bring you financial support in accordance with his will. That may mean you accomplish your goal in one year; that may mean you are fundraising for five years; that may even mean you do not accomplish your goal and you have to consider another way to plant a church (e.g., bi-vocational). Whatever the circumstances, God is sovereign, and he is directing your efforts in a manner in accordance with his will. 
As I was leaving Wal-mart earlier today, I noticed a woman, in a red and white checkered dress, holding a sign that said, "Success is only mentioned in the KJV once. Check Joshua 1:8." Is that the only time the word 'success' is used in the KJV? Is it even in Joshua 1:8? I have yet to check the King James Version of the Bible to verify her thoughts, but that is not what concerns me. The notion of success is what concerns me, especially in light of how consumed I have been with it lately. In my moments of confusion, the idea of success, particularly as it relates to the church plant, overcomes me and I begin to fear failure and yearn for success even more.

For example, if I do not raise enough financial support, whose fault is it? Will the church be able to continue? If people in the church plant are dissatisfied, who is blamed? If I do not find an appropriate Sunday meeting facility, upon whose shoulders does it fall? If the people are not motivated evangelistically, why not? Is it my failure to lead appropriately? If church attendance does not increase in a 12-month period, what did I do wrong? Is it my preaching? Is it my leadership style? Is it my hospitality or perhaps lack thereof? If the church population does not adequately represent the demographics in the community, have I been talking a big game all this time only to fail? If the doors close, how will I feed my family?

To this, some of you will reply, "Leave the results up to God." Many more of you might empathize with my fear of failure and remark, "Rest in Christ, for apart from him you can do nothing" (John 15:5). I know these things; nevertheless, that does not always make the fear of failure cease. It does always not make my hunger for success subside. 

Is this a normal, however we define that, part of church planting? I know I should be concerned about many of the things mentioned previously, but I wonder if I should be this concerned. I admit my faith is weak. Despite the letters behind my name and the hands that were laid upon me in ordination long ago, I am weak, and I need help.

What should I do? One thing that has helped me, though I still struggle a great deal with fear of failure, is to remain on my knees in prayer. It seems that when I spend less time in prayer, my fear of failure, and correspondingly desire to succeed, increases. Secondly, I need to continually immerse myself in the gospel. More particularly, I need to ensure I sit under the preached word. As a church planter, that can be difficult. How can one remain under the preached word, a word under which we insist God's people must sit, if he is preaching most Sundays? Thankfully, I found an 8AM church service in the area I can attend. That ensures I am being saturated in the gospel. Thirdly, I must remain accountable to other pastors. It is necessary to share one's thoughts and receive prayerful feedback or simply a listening ear. Having brothers in your corner helps a great deal.

What can the congregation do to help pastors who wrestle with unhealthy ideas of church planting success? One thing laypersons can do is express their commitment to the church plant. In other words, assure the pastor you are committed to the work of the ministry with your time and financial resources. Secondly, memorize Hebrews 13:17 and consider that passage as you interact with your pastor. Are you submitting to his leadership? Are you submitting to the other elders? Are you enabling the elder's duties to be a joy? Do you realize that if you burden the pastor and/or elders, it is of no benefit to you? Thirdly, pray for your pastor and your elders. God acts in ways that you cannot.

I only shared a few words with the woman standing on the corner with her sign. She was extremely cordial. I wonder why she was standing there. Was her point to help those driving by cease striving for success? I do not know, but her sign definitely helped me work through some things temporarily. This is just one of many church planting burdens--success.
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, by teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." - Matthew 28:18-20

Please take 2 minutes to see what the Lord has done since our first church plant Bible study last February (2014). We started with one family--mine. It is remarkable to see and participate in what the Lord is doing. Click here to watch this 2-minute video.
Several weeks ago a dear friend sent a lecture to me, titled, "Theology of Presence in Missions." While I do not recall all of the details of the lecture, I was especially struck by the way in which the lecturer is going about planting a church. He is using all of the standard tactics (e.g., prayer, evangelism, Bible studies, advertising, etc.). Along with these things he enlists what he calls a theology of presence. He said that one thing that has helped him in his church planting endeavors is being there for those in his community.

In an age of Facebook, Twitter, and text messages, we may define differently what being there actually means. For some it is sending a text message amid tragedy. For others, it is liking a post on Facebook. These things are not bad in and of themselves, but these versions of being there should never replace a flesh and blood presence. Soft words spoken, gentle hugs provided, tears shed together, laughter, and meals eaten with families will never be as valuable as emoticons and personal emails.

In my short time in church planting, I have realized more and more that, as a pastor, being there (what Scott Moore calls, "a theology of presence") is of great consequence, but it is equally significant when the saints involved in the church plant are there for each other. In other words, there is a need among church plants (and churches in general) to truly embrace the magnitude of community life. Meeting on Sundays alone, as well as sending the occasional text message and post on Facebook, will restrict the community life of the local body. Unfortunately, it is easy to get to this place. It is necessary, therefore, that we strive, in the midst of our busyness and technological advances, to meet with others and spend time with them face-to-face.

I do not want to spend too much time boasting on those from our church plant, but those committed to Crown and Joy Presbyterian Church (that is our name) are clearly demonstrating that spending time together truly matters. They have embraced a theology of presence, and while they still send text messages and correspond via Facebook, they admit that those modes of communication cannot replace a warm embrace and face-to-face interaction. They are embodying the exhortation provided in Hebrews. 

"...let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near" (Heb. 10:24-25).

This makes church planting so much easier. When the people love each other and are further embracing the promises of Christ in the gospel, my work, as a pastor, is less difficult. Perhaps this is why my first Bible study series in our church plant was on community. Community life in the church is invaluable.

How are you doing in this area? Are you physically there for those in your congregation? Are you embracing a theology of presence? If not, and I am sure there are multiple reasons for your absence, consider, as soon as you are able, reaching out to those in your congregation. Spending time with the saints is precious!
What do you think about our church plant initiative in Richmond, Virginia? From the outside looking in, you can only say so much. The video we created to spread the word and the website we have, which is dedicated to share information about our current Bible study series, meeting time, and location, is about all you know. That is okay. I do not expect you to know much more. Now, however, you can (if you are interested).

I asked some people in our church plant Bible study to share their thoughts and experiences about our time together thus far. It was an open-ended question, which allowed them to express whatever they desired. As an outsider looking in, I hope you are encouraged. I am! I praise God for the themes that flow throughout their comments (e.g., gospel-centered, cross-cultural/multi-ethnic, multi-generational).

I have removed their names and some other information for the sake of anonymity. Again, I hope you are encouraged. This Wednesday (4.23.14) will mark our 9th week of gathering to the study the scriptures. I am finishing a series on community from Philippians. Once completed, I am teaching a short series on hospitality, followed by a series on sanctification, then covenant theology. After our series on covenant theology, two gentlemen from our study will teach a series on the doctrines of grace. I will eventually teach a series on Christian liberty, corporate worship, the Westminster Standards, and Presbyterianism. 

Please continue to pray for us. We need more families and young adult singles. I am also fundraising. We require much more support in that arena. Lastly, pray that God continues to knit our hearts together as a church plant.

Enjoy their comments!

Statement 1:

We're glad to share with you our experience in being involved with the church plant bible study thus far. As soon as we learned about the study we were excited about this new work of the Lord. After a couple months of gathering, studying, eating and laughing we can't wait to start having services. We love the PCA, the solid doctrine, rich Reformed history, confessional standards and more but have been concerned that our biracial children would grow up assuming that Bible believing, God fearing Christians were of one ethnicity. We need not be concerned at our study, as there are several races represented and a number of other interracial couples. We've also loved how the children have been incorporated and encouraged to be part of the study and not an afterthought. The faith is their faith. God's people are their people and this has been evident from the beginning of our study. We've also been stretched already in the areas of hospitality and evangelism. Leon's example and enthusiasm for sharing the gospel with the lost has been infectious and we are eager to see converts, not only church transfer, as a regular part of the plant. There are so many things that we could count as blessings already in the short time of our study but these are among the greatest.

Statement 2:

We just wanted to share our hearts concerning the church plant initiative here in Richmond, Va. My name is ______, and I was was born and raised here in Richmond. My husband's name is _______ and he will be giving his testimony next. We have been married ___ years, and we have ___ children, who are truly blessings from God. I recently found myself asking God if at all possible, could he please lead us to a church that was more diverse. For the last ___ years, we have been one of only a couple of African-American families in predominately white churches. I would find myself trying to fit in by talking and acting differently, and trying to hide certain characteristics of my ethnicity. Right before we joined this last church, I asked my husband to pray about it some more, and the Lord led us to Pastor Leon Brown. The very first night at the bible study, the lesson on being Gospel-Centered when dealing with conflict, was just what we needed. That very night we were able to utilize that teaching when we got home and found out that our boys had been making prank calls! Every since then, each bible study has helped me to grow in my walk with God. On top of that, the fellowship with such a diverse group has even my children excited about Wednesday night bible studies! I love that the kids are also included during each bible study. They are learning and growing so much! I am truly thankful that God led us [here]! 

My name is ______, and I am truly thankful for Pastor Brown and his family's sacrifice to come down to South Richmond and serve. The fellowship with him and the other families has been like fresh water in desert land. I find the multi-cultural interaction refreshing and necessary to truly thrive in building the Kingdom. Pastor Brown's emphasis on the Gospel has been centering mine and my families life slowly, yet effectively. More than ever I know the Gospel is the answer and solution to any problem and the widow through which we look at life's developments. I'm excited to see all that God has in store for this ministry. 

Statement 3:

I first heard about the church plant when a friend of mine shared the link about it on Facebook, and after seeing the video and commenting, I ended meeting up with Pastor Leon. When I heard his vision for the church, I was struck by how segregated the church really is, but excited about the vision to create a culturally, ethnically, and socially diverse church, where brothers and sisters from all walks of life can come to worship God together.  After our meeting I was pretty excited to check it out and see what it was all about.

I remember on the first week being kind of nervous thinking "who is going to come?" and "what will it be like?" but even by the end of the first night, feeling encouraged and blessed to be a part of it.  Now that we've been meeting for several weeks, our Wednesday night meetings have become a highlight of the week, and it's always so good to get together and worship, study the word and fellowship with everyone; and I look forward to starting Sunday morning services.  Even though a lot of us have different backgrounds, interests, or are just in different life stages, it really feels like family.  It's been a great place where we can open up, share experiences, laugh together, and just be there to encourage one another.  And it's so awesome to even see the kids opening up and participating in the discussions, and praying with us.

The studies every week have been really good, and have both challenged and encouraged me personally.  One of the things that Leon has really been driving home is to focus on the gospel...  It's so easy to be legalistic, to want to try to fix ourselves when we sin, judge others when we think they're wrong, and ultimately take for granted that we're all sinners who fall short, [but] we desperately need the gospel.  It's been really good going through the studies and really breaking down who we are in Christ, and how that impacts everything from our relationships with each other to how we deal with conflicts, and even evangelism.  It's been cool being able to both talk about ideas and concepts as well as playing out scenarios and going over practical ways we can really apply the gospel.

Overall, I feel like the plant has been going very well and it's so great to see what God is already doing in this group.  I'm excited for the future and the work that God will continue to do in this church, in our communities and in the city of Richmond as a whole.

Statement 4:

God is Great!  The phrase "there's much more I could write" has rarely applied to anything I've written as much as it applies to what follows. My family has been greatly blessed, encouraged, and changed by our time with the families of our Bible Study.  What started as a very casual consideration of whether to attend or not, has quickly grown into the highlight of every week for my family.  There are myriad reasons why this is so, some of which I'll enumerate below.

1. The consideration of the uniqueness and beauty of various cultures united in Christ. This has been beautiful to see as we sing different genres of music unto the Lord.  It's also served us as our comfort zones are being challenged, and in some cases redefined.  The "do you" paradigm is refreshing.  Finally a church environment that doesn't demand (intentionally or otherwise) assimilation.

2. The intentionality around being a transparent, honest and judgement free people. This, not for its own sake, but because of the truth and freedom granted us in the Gospel.

3. Our children! Their inclusion in our Bible studies has been transformative. Preconceptions related to kids' varied abilities are being destroyed. Parents and children are together-worshiping, praying to, singing to, learning about our God.  It's so amazing to see our kids as valued, active and included people within our community. As Pastor Leon says, "this is YOUR church and I am YOUR Pastor as well as your parents'."

4. Solid, orthodox teaching-Pastor Leon has shepherded us well through the Word of God and lead us to clearer understanding of the passages we consider. The exercises we've gone through have been priceless as we seek to move from Orthodoxy to Orthopraxy. That sounds like a given, but often is not unfortunately.

5. The genuine bonding of the people together, unprovoked and not scheduled by the Church.  People desiring to "be the church" motivated by the Gospel. In our Bible Study, we are helped to see how we are bound to Jesus clearer, and that has helped us recognize how we are bound to one another. It shows practically in our growing love for each other.

6. The zeal of our group to pray for one another. We are so thankful for God's work thus far among us, and excited to see what He has in store for us.  

Statement 5:

So far I have really been enjoying this church plant initiative in South Richmond. I have never experienced a church like this, for one, the relationships that I have begun to cultivate with others is truly amazing. I don't have to be somebody I'm not, the people there are welcoming and willing to receive me for who I am, a brother in Christ. Aside from the wonderful relationships, another aspect of this church plant that I have never experienced before is the gospel-centered teachings. I am not accustomed to hearing every aspect of my life to be centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ, but yet I am constantly reminded of this great truth on Wednesdays, not just from pastor Leon but also from those who attend the bible study. This has been extremely helpful in my Christian walk and also in my relationships with others, to constantly be looking unto Jesus Christ and to point others to Him as well. In addition, I am truly encouraged by the kids. It is such a blessing not only seeing them sitting amongst the adults during bible study but to see them actively participating during group discussion. I believe that they feel like this is their church as well. I am so excited by what the Lord has done thus far and by His grace I am looking forward to what He has for this church plant in the future. 

Church Planting in Grand Rapids?!?

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This coming Wednesday, April 16th, at 7pm Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church a "new, old church" will launch its first public gatherings in the heart of the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The church plant is beginning with its Wednesday evening gatherings--a time of teaching through the book of Ephesians, worship and prayer. During the fellowship time afterwards there will be an introductory, informational, meet-and-greet meeting for all who may be interested in this new Reformed church plant, located at 507 Broadway Avenue NW. If you know someone in the Grand Rapids area who needs a solid church, feel free to share this with them.
 
Here are some thoughts via an interview with the lead (interim) church planter, Bill VanDoodewaard:
 
1. The question many people might be tempted to ask is, "Does an area like Grand Rapids - a place that is seemingly saturated with evangelical Christianity - need another church?" 
 
Some people are asking that, and some--not just hyper-Calvinists--believe it is a pointless exercise in this city. That's not the case! The Grand Rapids census metropolitan area has a population of 1.3 million. Of these approximately 35% self-identify as being affiliated with a Protestant church. This includes everything from mainlines, which are either apostate or in significant decline (Episcopalian, PCUSA, RCA, etc.), to evangelicals and the confessional Reformed, to the pockets of legalistic hyper-Calvinism that remain in the city. If we are liberally optimistic and assume all of the 35% "Protestant affiliated" are Christians, that leaves around 800,000 non-Christians in Grand Rapids and the surrounding region. This is the vast majority of the population. The reality is that a good number of the Protestant affiliated are also desperately in need of hearing the gospel.
 
Most think of Grand Rapids as a bastion of Dutch Reformed identity. Again, the reality is somewhat different than the image. Right now, about 20% of the population is of Dutch ancestry, 80% is not. Sadly, while the Dutch (my own heritage, if the name doesn't make it obvious) still represent a good part of the Reformed in the city, many have not done well at reaching beyond the walls of their churches. The tradition has many great strengths, but one of its weaknesses is that it tends to be a fairly insular ethnic community: Dutch Reformed family, Dutch Reformed church, Dutch Reformed schools, Dutch Reformed businesses.
 
But within the Dutch Reformed community, not all is well. The RCA and CRC, once strong, now face bleak futures as they increasingly embrace theological error and immorality, and pressure remaining faithful ministers and congregations to do the same. Some of these pastors are among the most encouraging and appreciative of the church planting effort. The smaller stream of hyper-Calvinism, legalistic pietism, and half-way covenant church doctrine also needs a vital evangelical Reformed witness.
 
Of course, there are solid evangelical and Reformed churches here, but almost all of them are in a suburban ring, outside Grand Rapids proper. The inner west-side community where our building (formerly a Latvian Catholic Church) is located has not seen an evangelical church presence for about 50 years--and only older people remember it. This was historically the Roman Catholic, non-Dutch sector of the city. Today, it is a mix of poverty, urban gentrification, and university and college campuses, including a Michigan State University medical school within walking distance of the church. There is also a growing Hispanic population nearby. By and large the heart of the city has a decidedly secular, post-Christian culture. So there's a need.
 
2. What is the vision for Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church? 
 
We desire to pursue establishing a strong and faithful evangelical Presbyterian church, with Christ-centered expository preaching and rich, simple biblical worship. We desire it to be a place of faithful shepherding and warm Christian fellowship. We are passionate about confessional commitment to God's Word and share in encouragement, accountability, and mission with the wider church. We desire that this place will be a center of gospel proclamation, new birth and growing life, and ultimately of communion with the Triune God, glorifying and enjoying Him.
 
3. Can you tell us why you are part of the ARP as opposed to another denomination?
 
My wife was a key factor; she was ARP, the daughter, niece, and granddaughter of ARP pastors. I love the denomination: did a PhD in Scotland on its heritage of gospel proclamation going back to the Marrow controversy, became a student under care in the ARP, was ordained in it, and have been tremendously blessed by many of its people. I appreciate its gospel-centered character, its settled maturity as an old denomination, and its winsome warmth. The ARP has had significant struggles and challenges, and, like any denomination pursuing faithfulness to Christ, will continue to in this world. God has been very gracious to us. I am deeply thankful for its ongoing evangelical and confessional Reformed recovery from a former mainline trajectory.
 
4. What are some of the challenges that you face personally as a church planter and seminary professor? What advice would you have for those seeking to be church planters?
 
Each can be all-consuming--and aspects of each can be all-consuming. Prayerfully making strategic choices with time and energy, along with learning when to say no, are essential. God has blessed me with an excellent wife, presbytery committees, and friends who help me in these things. As far as advice for those seeking to be church planters--I am just beginning so have more to learn than say. What I will say is (1) do it Presbyterian, with real accountability and experienced mentors; and (2) in past weeks Haggai has had much to say to me: be strong and courageous; look to the Lord of hosts, he will shake, and is shaking the nations; I and my work are defiled, Christ is abundantly sufficient; love and work together with the saints, pursuing God's glory. And even if it fails by earthly standards, through Christ, it will resound to His glory.
God is doing amazing things at our Wednesday evening church plant Bible study. One of the parts I love is hearing and seeing the children participate. Last night our children read scripture, read the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and prayed. I should also mention that they played hard afterward. Check out the image. (Apparently, some people weren't in the photo).

View image

One of the ideas I instituted last night was having the families (and singles) involved in our study commit to memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Throughout the days ahead, we are memorizing WSC Q & A 19 and 20.

WSC Q. 19. What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?


WSC A. 19. All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.

WSC Q. 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?

WSC 
A. 20. God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a redeemer.

Please continue to pray that we would trust the Lord in all areas regarding our church plant initiative. That includes, but is not limited to, the families (and singles) we hope the Lord sends, as well as finances we need. 

Thanks!

On Wednesday, April 3, 2014, we had our sixth church plant Bible study. Currently, I am teaching a series on community from the book (or epistle) of Philippians. At this point, we have not escaped the first 2 chapters, but we have been able to discuss some important matters nonetheless (e.g., the composition of our church ethnically, culturally, and vocationally; service toward one another; the gospel, as well as the overwhelming effects of the gospel; conflict resolution; witnessing). From what I gather, people seem to enjoy it.

Last night we tried something new. During our first 5 Bible studies, the children remained with the parents as we opened our time in prayer and sang one song. Moments after we sang, the children normally went to play as we, the parents and singles, continued in our study of Philippians. Once our study was complete, the children returned, we prayed and sang once again. However, after a brief discussion with the parents about one week ago, we decided to require our children to stay during the entire study. 

Why? 

Since we will not have children's church (although we will have a nursery) at our church plant, we wanted to set a precedent that as adults gather, children and youth are a part of that gathering. In other words, this is their Bible study, too. They are a part of the covenant community and as such should be present. The parents welcomed the suggestion.

While I have a long way to go in terms of learning how to more effectively incorporate the children in our Bible study, it was a great blessing to have them present. I had the children and youth read scripture; I spoke to them directly (e.g., "children/youth, this is what we mean when..."); and I asked for their prayer requests. I am sure there are other ways to get them involved. I simply need to do some research. Nevertheless, it was a blessing to see them (all 18 or so ranging from 1 to 17) sitting with their parents seemingly engaged in the study. 

Much of church planting is new to me. I am learning as I go. Thankfully, I have plenty of fathers and brothers in the faith who are instructing me. They guide me through my questions and provide practical ways to implement my ideas and teach my people (to name some: Wy Plummer, Irwyn Ince, Lance Lewis, Russ Whitfield, Randy Nabors, James Ward, Bob Becker, Gordon Duncan). I should also add that I have godly women in my life (number 1 on my list is my wife) who provide their input. Taking all the information that I receive from them into account has been, and I hope will continue to be, helpful. The people in our Bible study also provide their input, which has been beneficial. I am thankful the people feel an openness to share their ideas.

So what is next?

Once I complete this series on community from Philippians, I will teach a short series on hospitality. Quite frankly, I could skip this series because the people are already spending time together apart from any exhortation from me; nevertheless, I think it will be encouraging for my people to see the biblical basis for our hospitality toward each other. 

Prayer requests:

Please pray for me as I continue, by the grace of God and in the power of the Spirit, to instruct this group. Also please pray that God would provide as I continue to fundraise. We need funding. Lastly, pray for the continued growth vertically and horizontally of my people (me included) in this study.

Until next time...
As Katniss Everdeen, Haymitch Abernathy, and Peeta Mellark are traveling to the Hunger Games, Katniss walks into a conversation where she is greeted by these words from Haymitch: "I was just giving some life-saving advice... It should come in handy if you were still alive." The goal was survival. Someone needed to be the last man or woman standing. Who would it be?

As far as I was concerned, the last man (or family) standing at the Presbyterian Church in America Mission to North America (PCA MNA) Assessment Center was going to be my family. Prior to attending the assessment center, I was looking for "life-saving advice." I had heard too many horror stories about the process. In some cases, the stories I heard were just short of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Attempting to be a good husband, therefore, I relayed the information to my wife. It did not help her much. In fact, it made her more nervous. Apparently the fact that she was/is pregnant was unhelpful as well.

On day one, we got acquainted with the assessors and those being assessed. My antennas of discernment were up. I quickly began analyzing people. "Who do I need to take out first?", I thought. "If there is only going to be one family remaining, it must be us." My competitive juices were flowing. I began analyzing the dominant personalities and those whom I could befriend. Although the assessors claimed to be on my side, I was not entirely sure. They were watching our every move. As a matter of fact, someone was told that they placed hidden cameras in our bedrooms. For my family, it did not matter. We were on our best behavior.

My desires to compete with the other families and have our arms raised as the victors of the Hunger Games at the end of the assessment soon ceased. By the end of day one, the fog through which I analyzed the process cleared. I began to realize people were extremely friendly. This was not a competition. We were actually all trying to get to the same place - church planting. The assessors were warm, welcoming, pastoral, and gentle. So, too, were the families being assessed.

What I heard about the PCA MNA Assessment Center and what I experienced were two completely different realities. There were no hidden cameras in our rooms. You did not need to be the victor. The entire process was about glorying God by helping us, those being assessed, to further embrace Christ. Yes, there were times when the assessors had to expose the idols of our hearts, but they did it in such a gospel-saturated manner, they left us with hope.

I highly recommend the PCA MNA Assessment Center. It was a blessing to my family. The assessors truly cared about us and it showed. We also met some amazing church planting families with whom we hope to keep in touch. 

If you are considering attending the assessment center, you might not want to believe the hype. It might have you going to Atlanta (or wherever the assessment is being held) ready to chop off peoples' heads and take no prisoners. Rather, let your guard down. Know the assessors have your best interest in mind. Relax. Enjoy. Learn. Have a good time, and may the odds ever be in your favor.

Is This Possible?

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Here, signs above the water fountains said, "For Colored Only." Certain parks, restaurants, and swimming pools prohibited all but its white guests. Distant past? No. As recently as 1960, ethnic integration on public transportation was still questionable. 

Home to the Manchester Slave Trail and Lumpkin's Slave Jail, Richmond, Virginia - the capital of the Confederacy - still suffers from its terrifying and unfortunate history. Conversations of white supremacy and suppression among blacks occur in one neighborhood - the black neighborhood - while the stained image of black victimization, slothfulness, and criminalization occur in another neighborhood - the white neighborhood. Like many cities, Richmond is largely segregated. In fact, Christianity Today writes Richmond is the "site of urban-suburban divisions as stark as any in America."

Perhaps some of its ethnic segregation is opportunistically planned (e.g., Little Italy, China Town, etc.). Perhaps some of it is worse than that (e.g., exclusively wealthy neighborhoods as opposed to purposefully planned areas populated by government housing). Regardless of the reasons for ethnic and socio-economic segregation - and there are many - what is most unfortunate about the segregation that exists in Richmond is that it even exists in the vast majority of churches

But I thought the gospel transcends ethnic barriers? I thought the good news of Christianity was for Jew and Gentile, rich and poor? It is! The Directory of Public Worship states,

"The unity and catholicity of the covenant people are to be manifest in public worship. Accordingly, the service is to be conducted in a manner that enables and expects all the members of the covenant community - male and female, old and young, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, healthy and infirm, people from every race and nation - to worship together." (1.B.4.C)

Regrettably, most churches in Richmond do not reflect that. We hope to see that change.

So why go into an area with such division to start a Bible study and hopefully plant a church? The answer is simple: people from all ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic categories need the gospel. 

"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him whom they have never heard?" (Romans 10:14, my translation). 

Will you pray for this work? Will you tell others? Our hope is that God will build a Revelation 5:9-10 church in South Richmond. We believe this is possible.

Here is a brief video that talks about our desires. Contact information may be found there. 

Thank you for your prayers; thank you for spreading the word. May God be glorified!

Our family visited a church plant in our presbytery yesterday.  The church had been at it for a while in rented quarters and recently acquired a church building--a former German Reformed church way back in the day, that had long since come under the UCC (boy, that merger was a bad deal for the Germans).  The sermon was delightful.  Gospel-centered and Christ-filled and full of application.  I was drawn into the text and I was challenged. 

After the service we went down to the basement for coffee and some great pumpkin bread.  I love pumpkin bread, but let's not get sidetracked.  The adult education was a time of dialog with the pastor, Mel Sensenig.  He started the whole thing off with, "So what did you think of the sermon?"

My first thought was that this guy is nuts.  Why would you ever start off with that?  What followed was a truly edifying conversation, an extension of the application of the sermon really.  I still think he's nuts. 

We came and we went and we were blessed.  But the pastor and his family has to work hard.  I couldn't help but thinking of the hours and hours that went into the single Sunday service.  I couldn't help but think of the work he has to do.  

Before the pastor asked his question of the sermon, one of the elders was discussing with the group some ideas for the church.  I noticed a man had come in off the streets, a little rough (it's an inner-city church plant).  The pastor took him over gave him some coffee and some pumpkin bread (Yes!) and spent some time talking with him.  Then the man left and the pastor stood right up and asked his question and started in on the 30-minute discussion.

Again, I thought of what a church planter is called upon to do.  Everything, it appears.

It seems that church planting is the hip trend these days, which is great.  The sooner we realize the need to reach the post-Christian culture of America the better, the sooner we plant churches where the unchurched are the better.  But it strikes me, just as a total outside observer, how much work goes into a church plant.  I think of all you pastors and leaders and laity that may read this blog and are involved in a church plant.  I think how easy it might be for you to become discouraged, even depressed at the glacial pace, at the mountain of challenges, at the disappointments, at the seemingly (to you) lack of progress and growth.  And all I can say is be encouraged.

Church planting is more than hip.  It's a noble task.  Paul speaks of the elders who rule well being worthy of "double honor."  What would he think of church planters?

 

     

A Baptist Praises the Lord for the PCA

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Recently, I read a lamentable statement from the leader of African-American pastors inside the PCUSA.  It was lamentable because it made the gospel and the spiritual mission of the church secondary to social and political concerns.

This morning I came across this video of African American pastors inside the PCA.  The video highlights the work of these pastors at church planting and spreading the Good News of Christ.  As a Baptist, I rejoice at the faithful labors of these men because we have everything in common and share a spiritual mission and history far more important than social causes and concerns.

One man I respect in the faith was Presbyterian pastor Dr. Frances J. Grimke.  He pastored 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. for 55 years!  An African American, he was committed to the gospel and the word of God as the inerring truth of God.  One is left to ask: which pastoral fraternity would Grimke join?