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Author: Jacob Young (page 1 of 4)

A Gospel Dream: 100 New Sovereign Grace Churches, Per Region, in 10 years

I want to make a simple case: Sovereign Grace Churches can plant 100 churches per region in the next ten years, all because of our Book of Church Order.

Let me lay out a Gospel Dream: Imagine what would happen if every region in Sovereign Grace Churches committed to planting 100 churches in the next 10 years? You can divide this two ways, 10 new churches a year, or exponential growth, but the vision’s the same: 100 churches, per region, ten years.

Crazy? Keep reading.

Here’s the numbers

Let’s just work with round numbers: I’m not sure how many churches there are per region exactly, but let’s say there’s 8 regions, with 10 churches each.

If every church in Sovereign Grace committed to doing a church plant every two years, a region of 10 churches would be 180 churches in 10 years. That’s just plain exponential growth math. In 2 years, 10 churches becomes 20 churches. Those 20 churches now are all planting a new church in the next two years, which turns 20 into 40. And so on.

Imagine what that would do? Reach the lost. Strengthen the church. Glorify God. Build for mission. We could be over 10,000 churches globally in 20 years.

What if we don’t hit that? What if we don’t hit that number? Let’s say we only half it. Awe shucks, we’ll have only planted 50 churches per region in 10 years… We’ll have to console ourselves with only…what, a 600% increase in our number of churches? You get the idea.

Historic Objections

Maybe people read this dream and scratch their heads. Others may have a few questions. Let me raise a few and set them aside.

I think that SG churches have historically followed a big-church model for church planting that we need to adjust. By “big church” model, I mean: Sending 5-10 families off to another city to plant a worship service and build from there. This is a big church model because it requires a church of a certain size to send out a core team of 5-10 families and have anybody left afterwards.

Historically, this looks like a mini-hive model of planting (or a massive-hive-off, depending). I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it’s a model regardless. And it’s largely the only model we’ve followed. This, the majority of SG churches are left feeling like they could only ever hope to plant… someday.

If you look to the places in the world where mission work is growing fast and furious, things look very different. Small groups are the focal point of outreach, and they grow like Catholic rabbits. You see this reflected in the uprising of “missional” literature in the English speaking world. The idea is simple: Love your neighbors as yourself, live a life with the people of God that displays the beauty of the Gospel, and invite your friends in to share in that communal life with you. From there, trust God to do his mighty work of salvation. Fairly simple.

All you need to extend the mission of God is a few people who love Jesus, each other, and their neighbors, and voilà: a church plant. Seems rather simple to me.

If we are going to be serious and proactive in reaching our neighborhoods and the nations, we have to be open to lots of different types of models of planting. Our BCO allows for, and invites this ingenuity. So long as somebody’s not violation our shared values or BCO, in letter or spirit, lead on my friend.

This will mean that our old model of hive-off planting, which is only do-able by bigger churches, will become an option of the many in our tool box. It will also mean that the normal SGC church of 100-300 people can plant churches now, and do more regularly.

The BCO Requires It

Our Book of Church Order, may the hair on its toes never fall out, is in it’s 5th edition. The basic structure is simple: Elderships in regions lead on mission – National serves the work of churches.

National has put together a rather good ordination process, and some very helpful stages for planting. I’ve been though both recently, and while I’d recommend a few adjustments, they put us in a posture for planting that I’m not sure others realize. Imagine the moment right before Olympic sprinters sept out. That moment between gun fire and action. That’s where we are.

An example: Our new ordination process.

Take the ordination process for a second. We now have a rigorous process for ordaining men without having to send them to the Pastors College. They can be truly Sovereign Grace elders without having to pick up their lives, dislocate for a year, get back to their home churches, resettle, and then plant. I think the Pastors College is great, but it’s cumbersome to require all planters to got through it. If we trust the standards our Theology Committee has created (and um, having done it recently, it’s for real), we know that if a man has passed the ordination process, and his church feels he’s called to plant, that he’s ready to go. We don’t need to hold up some unspoken requirement that he get the PC stamp to plant. We’ve agreed to a process, developed it and affirmed it, and now let’s use it. A year or so for ordination, a year or so of a church planting internship and you have your new church plant ever two years.

Men have a clear path for ordination and eldership. Churches have clear direction for accountability. Planters have the ability to borrow elders from the region for stability in their churches. Planters receive coaching. Regions affirm ordinations. Mission advances with accountability and wise enthusiasm. Since church plants are sent with regional cooperation, we are not waiting for national to give green lights. They’re postured to serve the enthusiastic mission in churches local areas.

More lean and nimble than ever.

Because Sovereign Grace Church is now elder lead at a regional level, we are more lean and nimble for planting. We can plant at our own pace. We can ordain at our own pace. We can scheme new planting strategies for our own contexts, without being confined to historic planting methods.

What would be the payoff of such a method? The lost being saved. More churches being planted. The Gospel advancing.

Fellow Sovereign Grace Elders, can I ask you to seriously consider this vision? 100 churches in your region over the next 10 years. Your BCO has laid the ground work. The Gospel will bear fruit for the infolding of the nations. Will you have faith for the mission? Let’s aim high, and trust the results to God.

On my Ordination Eve: Will I survive?

My ordination is this weekend. It’s Ordination Eve, you might say. Michelle (my wife) and I were talking about this momentous occasion recently. We’ve been dating, engaged and married for 14 years. I’ve been pursuing ordained pastoral ministry for some 13 years. It’s been, in effect, one of the long-term goals of our entire relationship. This call to ministry has determined how we’ve understood the Lord’s leading, our own growth and purpose, and a number of sacrifices along the way.

But on the eve of my ordination, this realization of 13 years of pursuit, I’m haunted by the question: Will I survive?

Several of the men who were a part of bringing me into ministry are now out of ministry. Some for good reasons, others, sadly, for disqualifications of one kind of another. I’ve watched men in my family of churches and outside fall to various kinds of moral failure. I’ve seen friends, well intentioned, go down heretical paths with gusto.

Having been in full-time ministry work for the last year and a half, I can hardly say I understand the full weight and temptations that lead men to disqualification (morally or doctrinally). But, I’ve been at this long enough to see the hints. Those hinting, quiet thoughts of reprieve from the isolating stress of vocational ministry. Those alluring doctrinal compromises that would seem to affirm more people, garner more influence, lay smoother tracks.

I’m haunted by the question of “Will I survive?” because all those alluring temptations need only the fertile soil of my own heart to grow. I know my own inclinations, I see the temptations. I see that, with John Bradford watching a man lead to execution, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

In light of this, I’ve made it a bit of my mission to interview older pastors about surviving and thriving in ministry. I may turn those questions and discussions into a series at some point, but I’ve garnered some categories to consider. These are six categories contrasted with a temptation that could lead to ministerial disqualification.

Sobriety over presumption

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”

~1 Corinthians 10:12

Maybe this is the obvious one, but it’s foundational. I am no better than any man who’s disqualified from ministry. Yes, even the pastor who’s cheated on his wife and sent her out to the wolves. I’m no better. Maybe I have not done what he has, but if I believe “I’ll never do that” I’m an idiot.

Of the ten thousand things God is doing in the ministry failure of any pastor, he is certainly teaching us to be sober about our own propensity to the same failure. I am no better than any man. And given the same circumstances, I have no confidence in myself that I would not succumb in a similar way (1 Cor. 10:12-13).

So, dear soul, strive for humility. Cultivate it in active prayer. Strive to diligently keep the Law of the Lord – for he is your only preservation against the sin in your own heart (Ps. 119:4, 8).

No over Yes

This is largely catalogued and acknowledged in the sphere of ministry: Pastors do too much. They say Yes too often, and say No infrequently. I’m not going to belabor this point, but simply offer a thought: If the call of pastoral ministry is to “equip the saints for the work ministry” (Eph. 4:12), then maybe this is just me, but it seems that all the work of ministry must not be done by the pastors. I’m not a quantum physics major, and I wore punk suspenders in high school, but it seems to me that “equip” means pastors need to say No more often.

Along these lines, I simply offer Essentialism as a book for your consideration. It’s not a “Christian” book (can a physical book profess Christ?), nor to my knowledge written by a Christian. However, I’d say that this book has been the most helpful book on productivity and leadership that I read in 2015. At it’s core, it’s a book about the nature of being disciplined. What is your main purpose in life pastor? How do you cultivate that focus, and equip those around you to do those things which are not your main focus? I think this book serves pastors to do the very command of Ephesians 4:12. It equips the pastor, and thereby, equips the church to be productive for God.

Doctrinal Growth over Knowledge Maintenance

The demands of ministry are brutal. What’s the church mission statement? What are our core values? What is our ministry philosophy? What’s our budget? What is a budget? How do I set up a budget for an organization? How do we incorporate? What’s our policy manual going to cover? How do we relate to each other outside of worship? What are our worship services going to look like? What about our guest packets? How are we going to do fundraising? What’s the church’s name going to be? How do I keep up with all these people? Why did X leave the church? I need to visit X in the hospital. I need to prepare X sermon. I hate cats.

There are lots of things to be done in ministry. It’s easy to push simply reading a theological book on the back burner. It’s even more alluring to stop growing doctrinally if you’re a relatively well-read guy. (If you don’t read, I guess that’s a different temptation.)

I can already see in my own soul the inclination to stop growing doctrinally. I’ve got all these other things to handle – getting into the nuances of say, the Covenants, just seems overwhelming. But, my brother, if we do not strive to go “further up and higher in” to the glories of God in the teaching of Scripture, then we’re drifting away. You need to lead you people – which means leading them doctrinally. I wonder if the reason some pastors tenures at churches are so short – maybe 3-5 years – is because at the end of 150-250 sermons, they’ve said everything they know. May that never be brothers! Strive for doctrinal growth. Repent of doctrinal error or mishandling. You are called to feed the sheep of Christ. Get the food!

Soul Care Rhythms over the Taut Bow Syndrome

I get this phrase from our good friend, Charles Spurgeon:

The bow cannot be always bent without fear of breaking. Repose is as needed to the mind as sleep to the body. Our days of worship (which were, in the Old Testament, sabbaths) are our days of toil, and if we do not rest upon some other day, we shall break down. Even the earth must lie fallow and have her sabbaths; and so must we; hence the wisdom and compassion of our Lord, when He said to His disciples that they should go “apart into a desert place, and rest a while.”

You need to know yourself. I can easily see how I could do 80+ hours of work “for the sake of the Gospel” every week. It’d kill my soul, and probably destroy my family, but I could do it. Even still, I can maintain a heavy work load for a while, but it would break me, and be unbelief tot he core.

Part of this is knowing yourself, and knowing your culture. In New England, the summers are slow and low. Church attendance drops to nearly half. Apparently, in the old days, pastors in New England used to swap preaching at each others churches to enable each other to get some time off. They understood their culture.

I once had a conversation with Warren Boettcher, where he recommended a personal retreat every 3-4 months. Depending on your own makeup, it could vary. But doing a regular, three day personal retreat was recommended. I’ve started setting this up for my own schedule.

At it’s core, this expresses faith in the Lord. I’m not the Lord of the Church, just a slave. The church will do just fine without me for a few days. In fact, it’s likely to improve! But the burdens of ministry are such that taking time away to care for your soul should be regular, and should be supported (relationally and financially) by the church.

Robust Polity over Independence

I wonder if part of ministry burnout – morally or emotionally – is due to not having a healthy church polity. If a pastor is taking all the hits of a church on his own chin without a plurality of local elders and a region of elders confessing the same doctrine and mission, I can understand how bitterness, lusts, etc. would have fertile soil.

At the same time, I don’t think it’s easy. I’m not going to lie, church planting with Sovereign Grace over the last year and a half has not been a walk in the park. I don’t imagine life together in the years to come is going to be sipping coffee. But I know that other men need my help, and more importantly, I need theirs. I need a regional leader to keep my eyes on the mission. I need other men in our region to pick up the slack of my own failures in ministry. I think our church and my own ministry longevity are healthy due to a robust partnership that means something. We’re not just friends, we’re brothers. And I think brothers help cary the load of ministry better when there are more shoulders to the task.

Faith over Fear

At the heart of this is the call to faith. Will I fail in ministry? I put my trust in the Lord, who cares for me. To fearfully wring my hands over disqualification will certainly lead to failure of one kind or another. When you’re driving, you don’t get to your goal by watching the guard-rails, you keep your eyes ahead. You get to the goal by watching for it – and in this spiritual case, trusting in Him.

Maybe that’s why Paul encourages the young pastor Timothy with a reminder about faith in contrast to fear from his own ordination:

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

~2 Timothy 1:6-7

What’s my ultimate hope against these haunting fears of disqualification? God himself, in the Gospel. The Gospel that has saved me – Christ’s death on my behalf, his righteousness counted as my own in Him – this is my hope. The inward evaluation will kill me. It’s the eye of faith, that looks to God, and knows that he has given me a spirit of power (that makes real change) and love (for who he is and his work) and self-control (to put to death the sin within), that he might be glorified in my life.

In the end, it is God himself that preserves a man for a life-time of faithful ministry. On my Ordination Eve, would you pray that I would know this more deeply? That I’d trust this God for the calling? And if you’re provoked by these categories, I guess you can pray for yourself. But pray for me first. I need it.

Two Books to Stir Your Soul

At times I’ve read a great deal for my devotion times. I’ve read (and continue to read) the Puritans to help me in my devotion times in the past. I’ve read 10+ chapters a day. For whatever reason, I’ve been on a few verses plus a few pages in a good book kick lately. I need accessible, rich food for my soul, and I’ve found two books that have been incredibly helpful.

Delighting in the Trinity

9780830839834In this little book, Michael Reeves works some major wit and heft to lead you into seeing the shear beauty and glory of our Triune God. This isn’t a doctrine for heady Christians, it’s the heart and arteries of the Christian faith. No Trinity, no faith.

Reeves is accessible, fun and profound. In an age where any mention of “God” in public is considered a “win” for people of faith, Reeves reintroduces Christians to the profound joy of the Triune God. The Trinity is not what may sell major books, but it is the heart of the Christian faith, and it is the only sure ground of true, lasting and real joy. Ever. No Trinity, no joy. If that sounds like a big one to buy, then give Reeves a read. He’s simple, clever and clear. I read this for my devotion times over the last couple weeks, and it left me wanting more of the Triune God, and having a clear sense of the mystery of God as Three in One. Highly recommended.

Rejoicing in Christ

9780830840229This is Michael Reeve’s follow up book. I actually read this one first and loved it so much that I went back to read his one on the Trinity. As I said above, I find myself rather weary lately. I imagine this is just the way church planting goes. What I love about Reeves is that while he’s clearly very smart, he’s not out to impress anybody. He uses his gifts to lead us into the heart of the Gospel. In this book, he does just that. He leads us to Jesus, to marvel, wonder, to delight in him.

What I find especially interesting here is that the early church fought (sometimes with actual blows – thank you St. Nick!) to preserve and clarify the doctrines of the Trinity and Christ. Their formulations weren’t power plays or arguments over minutia. Reeves shows us how each point in the doctrine of Christ is crucial for our salvation and the glory of God. With good wit and some fun, he shows us how the early Church’s formulations about Christ were not only Biblical, but essential for life and godliness. This book is deep, accessible and rich. Very edifying while being easy to understand with deep, great truths. It helped me love Jesus Christ more. And for this weary soul, that’s just what I need in morning.

I’d recommend getting both of these – Delighting in the Trinity and Rejoicing in Christ – to not only enrich your understanding of the Christian faith, but lead you to experience the Christian faith. Which is to say, these books help you to experience the glorious Triune God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

A Post-Meeting Internal Dialogue of a Church Planter

The following is an approximation of a church planter I know very well, and how he tends to process his own leadership of a meeting after the door has closed, the lights remain on, and he’s all alone.

[Closing of the door after last person leaves]

So, how do you think it went?

Eh, it was ok.

They’re probably talking about the meeting right now… on their way home…

What do you think they’re saying?

Honestly?

Yea…

Disappointed…

Thought so. I wish I were a better leader. If I was only like         , then people would really be happy with how things are going. But… he’s got weird hair… and a swagger. But he’s definitely cool. Cool would  win people.

What do you think people will do?

I don’t know… probably leave, I guess.

Probably. What’ll you do if people leave?

If they leave, it’s ultimately not about me…

Yea, that’s easy to say… but you’re “the guy”. You’re the one that this entire “church plant” gets judged by… What do you think           thought of the meeting tonight?

They didn’t say much… probably hated it.

If           leaves, we’ll be down to           (# of people). How will the plant survive? Do you think the plant will survive?

What do you think I lose sleep over? Why do you think my neck’s always tight?… If they leave, our budget will go down          ($X)….

Gosh… If # leave, and we’re down $$, I’ll have to work at UPS again, the secret level of church plant funding…

What will that say about your ability to provide for your family, when everybody leaves, and your family is left starving because you couldn’t pull it through, to lead strong enough, make better decisions, make faster, more creative calls?

Aren’t you supposed to exemplify leading your home and providing for your family to God’s people? If this church plant fails, what does that say about your calling?…

I know…Why do I have to be such a lousy leader?

Why were you so bad tonight? What can be done better next time?

Ask better questions? Give more time to preparing? Ha! “More time.” What is this “more time” you speak of? …I wish I were more creative… more engaging…

…Do you think the plant will survive?

Sigh… I think so, but not on my battery. Michelle says these sort of thoughts are all about me… That I’m not thinking about God’s view on this.

But you’re the guy…

Maybe, but it’s just a role… and here at the end of the day, I’m just a Christian…I really think Jesus had some brilliant things to say in the Sermon on the Mount. He hit it with that “consider the lilies” bit.

“your heavenly Father knows”…

Do you really believe that? Seems like somebody who believes that doesn’t struggle or fail like you…

Do ponder my Father’s knowing very much?… Clearly not.

“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”

…. Do you really think you’re doing that?

I think so. We left everything to do this… Affirmed by many, commissioned by the church. The process certainly hasn’t been easy and there have been lots of times to jump ship. So I don’t think I’m here for me. I’m doing this for Jesus.

What’s that bit from the Heidelberg?…

…Question 26…

Q. What do you believe when you say,
“I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth”?

That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who out of nothing created heaven and earth
and everything in them,
who still upholds and rules them
by his eternal counsel and providence,
is my God and Father
because of Christ the Son.
I trust God so much that I do not doubt
he will provide
whatever I need
for body and soul,
and will turn to my good
whatever adversity he sends upon me
in this sad world.
God is able to do this because he is almighty God
and desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.

Able and desiring…

Don’t you think your Father is disappointed in the meeting?…

Maybe with my leadership – I can’t make that call – but not with his Son, nor with his precious people.

Are you one of those precious lambs?

On most days…

No, my Father loves me because of Jesus. That’s enough.

He’s able and willing.

What’ll I do next?

Well, I should probably pray… then whisky.