The United States may be the most densely churched nation on earth, but it still needs the work of church planters. Urban sprawl results in new communities or the rapid swelling of villages into cities. Believers are among those who move to these freshly-constructed suburbs, but they often find few churches there. Furthermore, the established churches in many communities have denied the faith and are little better than gatherings of heretics. Even if they retain some echo of the gospel, it is mixed with the proclamation of apostasy. Such communities need churches that proclaim, not only the gospel, but the whole counsel of God in its integrity. Just as importantly, the churches in many communities are not fully or rightly ordered, even when they do proclaim the gospel. The purpose of a church is not merely to win people to salvation in Jesus Christ, but to bring them to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, and to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. This cannot be done where the faith and practice of the church is out of order with the New Testament.
In other words, every community ought to have at least one gospel-preaching Baptist church. Some communities are large enough to need more than one, and some need several. Until that goal has been achieved, the work of church planting has not been completed. The United States needs more church planters.
This being the case, every Baptist church ought to support church planting ministries in America. A generation ago, we used to call these church planters “home missionaries,” and they were considered to be as vital to the work of global missions as the people who were sent to the far reaches of the globe. Not uncommonly, churches would divide their missionary support evenly between foreign missions and home missions.
Today a church planter in the United States finds that churches will not supply the support that he needs. Many church planters are forced into bi-vocational ministry, working extra jobs in order to support their families while they try to establish New Testament congregations. They could usually multiply their effectiveness if they were financially able to devote themselves to their ministry of reaching souls, discipling young believers, and organizing congregations.
The same is true of the agencies that coordinate church planters. Some of these (like Baptist Mid Missions) are agencies that coordinate both foreign and home missionaries. Others (like Continental Baptist Missions and Baptist Church Planters) devote themselves exclusively to church planting within the United States. Churches would rather support missionaries than agencies, but the fact is that the work of the missionaries would be hindered if the agency were not there to assist them. Part of supporting missions includes supporting the agencies.
Of course, any local church is free to coordinate its own missionaries, and some do. This is easiest when the church is sending out members to plant a church in a nearby community—an endeavor in which many Baptist churches would do well to engage. Even then, however, agencies can provide significant advice and assistance, often without any charge to the church. Such agencies are worthy of help.
This week I have been meeting with the missionaries of Baptist Church Planters. Their agency was organized by church planters who wanted to help one another. It was formed under the leadership of pastors with the blessing of local churches. Its board still consists primarily of pastors and missionary church planters. It exists to do only one thing, namely, to plant churches.
Baptist Church Planters is helping missionaries in churches across the United States. Some of these works occupy large cities. Some are in small towns. A growing number minister in minority communities. At least one is a church that ministers mainly to the deaf.
Many missionaries come to Baptist Church Planters after years of pastoral experience. Others come directly out of college or seminary. The agency works to pair veteran missionaries with less-experienced church planters. These teams work together to establish new congregations (or, occasionally, to reclaim declining congregations) for poorly-churched communities. These “Barnabas and Saul” relationships couple the energies of youth with the wisdom of experience.
The church planting teams may also include “Tentmakers.” These are non-ministers whose jobs allow them to relocate to assist a church planting team. Tentmakers provide a core of leadership among the members of a new congregation. Their insight and activity provides vital help for any church plant.
New church planting is an exciting ministry. Church planters are creating something new. They have the opportunity to shape an embryonic congregation in ways that will help and bless it for many years to come. Church planting is work, to be sure—hard work. But the rewards correspond to the labor.
Most church planters are pretty ordinary people in most respects. But they are universally exceptional in one way. They are hard workers who know how to make the most of meager resources. They pour themselves into their labor, usually with great personal sacrifice. Their only earthly reward is that in community after community, they manage to bring new churches into existence.
Established churches need to prioritize the ministry of home missions. How? Some can plant churches in nearby communities. All can support church planters. Each should give regular support to church planting agencies. In some cases, churches should be alert for potential church planters within their own membership—if not as team leaders, perhaps as Tentmakers who would be willing to move in order to become part of a church planting team. The work of church planting is not yet complete.
Lo! What an Entertaining Sight
Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Lo! what an entertaining sight
Are brethren that agree,
Brethren, whose cheerful hearts unite
In bands of piety!
When streams of love from Christ the spring
Descend to every soul,
And heavenly peace, with balmy wing,
Shades and bedews the whole;
‘Tis like the oil divinely sweet,
On Aaron’s reverend head,
The trickling drops perfum’d his feet,
And o’er his garments spread.
‘Tis pleasant as the morning dews
That fall on Zion’s hill,
Where God his mildest glory shews,
And makes his grace distil.