Category Archives: Church planting

Reprise: “Give Us Youngsville, or We Die!”

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

This was originally posted on April 28, 2011, one month into Sovereign Redeemer’s existence. It is truer now than then. Read on!

The great Scottish reformer, John Knox, was overheard by friends laboring in prayer for his country, repeatedly calling out to God, “Give me Scotland, or I die!”

Sovereign Redeemer Community Church is a month old now, and I am praying that God will give us the spirit of this man, the earnestness and urgency of his prayers for the people around him, and his boldness in proclaiming the gospel. Maybe Youngsville is no Scotland, and maybe none of us are a John Knox, but the heart of our King is the same. We may not be “God’s gift to Youngsville,” but Jesus Christ is, and we are some of His happy subjects. Our being here is no accident, and we are under orders.

Ephesians 2:8-10 says this: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Here we are, the workmanship of God, having nothing to boast in except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, with good works to do which have been prepared for us by God Himself. As we walk in them, our neighbors will see and hear, and they “may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

So whether we feel ready for this calling or not, it is upon us. And maybe the questioning of our readiness can work in our favor by making us hungrier and more fervent in our prayers, so that we find ourselves relying more fully on God who is able.

Church planting is about God taking ground. There is nothing remotely sinister about this, since wherever and whenever the government of God spreads, happiness and every good thing abounds. Jesus is the best King there is, and to be His subject is to know a peace that passes understanding. Youngsville needs this just as much as a thousand other towns.

May it be that God Himself has assembled us for this purpose, and that He will teach us – drive us – to labor in prayer, “Give us Youngsville, or we die!”

Happy Birthday to Us!

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Where were you four years ago to the day – March 27, 2011? Many of us were attending the first Sunday gathering of Sovereign Redeemer Community Church.

Here we are:

Our First Sunday Together

Our First Sunday Together

Our four years together have been equal parts joy and sorrow, and I am deeply grateful to God for sustaining us and helping us in many ways. If I could go back in time, I would do it all over again in a New York minute, though hopefully with more faithfulness, wisdom and love.

If you have a few minutes, check out the “Church Planting Update,” which was my first blog post ever and summarizes what was being considered five months before we launched.

Let it be said for the record: I am incredibly and especially grateful for my brothers and sisters who have stayed the course through some very rough waters over the past four years. Your kindness to me and patience with me have been remarkable. I love you.

May the next four years be marked by more love among us, more faithfulness, more growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), and more fruitfulness in kingdom work. My heart is burning to see many souls called out of darkness into His marvelous light. And I know that I’m far from alone. May the Lord answer these prayers and glorify His name!


A Beginning

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Our text for Sunday’s sermon recorded the completion of two miles of wall in a miraculous fifty-two days (Nehemiah 6:15). Even their enemies had to concede: “That was God.” (6:16b).

One of the applications was in the form of a question:

“What might God be pleased to do through our church if we are careful to be faithful over a long period of time?”

The most obvious target of this thought experiment is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Even though we are a small church, why shouldn’t we dream out loud of being used by God to send gospel ambassadors to the ends of the earth? Why shouldn’t we dream out loud of planting other sound churches, near and far?

So to that end, today I opened a “Missions and Church Planting” account. It only has a few thousand dollars in it, which isn’t nearly enough to do what we are dreaming of, but IT IS A BEGINNING. It is a stake in the ground which will focus our prayers, our actions, and our giving. It will bother us if we find it languishing. It forces us to ask wonderful, uncomfortable questions, like, “Who will go?” “Where should we send them?” “How can we help them succeed?”

May Sunday, March 8, 2015 go down in the history of Sovereign Redeemer as the day that a great work of God began, Soli Deo Gloria (for the glory of God alone).

Living in Close Quarters

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

THIS JUST IN: Local church life isn’t for the faint of heart. There are people in those churches, and that means challenges for everyone who dares to engage in a meaningful way. That is as much a reality as gravity. What will we do with this reality? By the way we order our lives, we are choosing one of these options:

Option 1: Forget It

Simply exempt ourselves from it all. The bride has spots and wrinkles, so just steer clear. Sorry, not an option for Christians. Baby Christians might think like that, but people who have lived with that view for a long time need to be asking serious questions about why they are still so disconnected with the mind of Christ. Though she does have spots and wrinkles, Jesus Christ isn’t running away from His bride, He is running towards her: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

This text helps correct our inclinations to exempt ourselves from the local church in two ways. First, it forces us to consider that we, each of us individually, contribute to the spots and wrinkles. Not the nebulous “them”. The specific “me”. A heaping helping of humble pie is essential for life in close quarters. Second, if the goal is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ and to have His mind, we need to see the church, and that means our local church, through His lenses of the ongoing, progressive sanctification that He is accomplishing in His people.

Option 2: Find the Perfect Church

There was a perfect church – God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the day for two whole chapters, and then came chapter three. Sin entered the world, and churches have never been the same. Deal with it. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be careful about what church we join, and I’m not saying people can never leave one church for another. I am saying that too many people have wasted too many years chasing a fantasy. Find a sound church and literally spend your life there, by Paul’s definition: “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15). As you can see, Paul did not suffer from naivety about church life. He simply pressed forward anyway.

Option 3: Keep It Unreal

Sinners in the church? No problem, we can just keep interaction at the surface level. Pre-damage control, as it were. Minimize the contact, minimize the risk. That way we can love doctrine without having to love people. But wait – isn’t the doctrine so we can love people? Matthew 22:36-40, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

If love for God and neighbor is the great frame for all of this law that we are so eager to parse and nuance, if love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10), then loving the law of God without loving each other – as the Bible defines love in 1 Corinthians 13 and elsewhere – is way worse than silly. And for anyone who thinks they can nurture love for God while staying above messy entanglements with fellow believers, check 1 John 4:20, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” It is clear that love for God and love for each other have an unbreakable connection, and that this isn’t cotton-candy emotion only love, it is meat-and-potatoes sacrifice for each other love.

A local church where everything operates at the surface level is a Frankenstein of our own creation, not the Bible’s. Search the New Testament for the phrase “one another” and feast your eyes on how God actually wants us to live together.

Option 4: Embrace, Cultivate, and Maintain the Close Quarters

Oh, that God would give us hearts so full of His forgiveness, grace and love that we could look at the inherent dangers of living in close quarters and say “BRING IT ON!” Let it be said that I feel the full fury of the proverbial three fingers pointing back at me. What rises in my heart during the inevitable dust-ups that occur when we live together in close quarters condemns me for my own lack of love. But I have hope, because I know that I need to be different, I want to be different, and little by little I am starting to be different.

What about you? God brings His people together into close quarters for His own purposes. Proverbs 14:4, “Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; But much increase comes by the strength of an ox.” Do we want clean, or do we want strength for the kingdom of God? We have a big commission, a Great Commission, and when we settle for clean, we must understand how much strength is lost.

Trust God. He is right about the way we should live together. He is teaching me how to live in close quarters in a local church for His glory, and He is teaching you the same. Don’t exempt yourself. Call off the search for the perfect church. Commit yourself to a sound one and get below the surface in close quarter relationships for a long time. When we do that, though life together won’t always be “clean”, we will have the strength for serving God that we need and want.

Decades of Faithful, Sustained Focus

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

A thirteen hour drive to Pensacola was one of the best investments in recent memory. The return on those invested hours? A front row seat at a ministry that squeezes a lot out of a little. If you have ever read any of the tremendous literature printed and distributed by Chapel Library, you know the treasures in which they traffic. But if you actually saw first hand how much they do with a very few hands in an unassuming building tucked away in a small corner of town, it would get you thinking about your own church in your own town.

The Ministry

Chapel Library distributes over 800 titles, all rock-solid works that form an invaluable body of help and encouragement for the people of God all around the world. Prime example: I was there with five brothers from Malawi, Africa, and when the tour made it around to the shipping dock, there sat a pallet of literature ready for the long trip to their little book shop in Malawi, literature that is helping advance the kingdom of God in that African country. And all this without selling anything, being totally funded by what God sends them through people who are moved to give.

The Secret

God is the secret, and a poorly kept secret He is, at least in our circles. He does whatever He pleases, and it often pleases Him to accomplish mighty things through very surprising vessels. Frequently the vessels themselves are the most surprised, not that God is doing something great, but that He would condescend to use them. In this case, it all started with one man’s simple, clear vision, a vision that is alive and well a generation later. The man is gone, but the work is more significant than ever. And how did one man with a mimeograph in the basement evolve into a ministry which is a significant producer of reformed Christian literature? A few people had it clear in their minds what they should do. And they did it. Then they did it some more. And some more. For a long time. And with this faithful, sustained focus, ten titles became fifty, a hundred, eight hundred, and all the while the number of shipping addresses kept doubling.

What About Us?

Having seen first hand what can be accomplished when God is pleased to mobilize a small group of His people for persistent focus in a particular area of need, I can’t help but daydream about the possibilities in our little corner of the world. We should pray that God would give us a clear vision of where He would have us chip away for the next few decades. And when He does, let’s get after it, prayerfully, circumspectly, but also vigorously, passionately, and tenaciously. As Paul says in Galatians 6:9, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”

In a sea of “flavor of the year” churches, where most of us have the attention span of a gnat, Mount Zion and their decades of faithful, sustained focus on building Chapel Library for the glory of God is inspiring.  May God continue to direct and bless their work, and may He be pleased to do something as significant with us.


One in a Million?

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

About a year ago, I raised my hand to say I wanted to lead the planting of a church, to be set aside to labor in the word (1 Timothy 5:17), to be fully dedicated to a local church. You can image the checking of motives that happens when a person starts to have those rumblings in the soul. Is there anyone who doesn’t suffer from occasional moments of self-aggrandizement and delusions of grandeur?

At the end of the soul searching, our family pressed forward with eyes wide open. Though I have some gifts, they are not more in number or degree than those of most other men. I will never be the “draw” that brings together a large church. But that isn’t what the body of Christ needs anyway. So while I happily acknowledge that my limitations keep me from being “one in a million,” I can be “one of a million” as God raises up many, many men of normal ability who have been forgiven much and therefore love much. By and large, these are the sort of men that God is giving the church to help and care for His people. I see it happening. I frequently meet these men from all around the country. I am daily with some of them in our own church body. I thank God for His kindness to His people.

So while there is a trend towards “one in a million” mega-pastors (please read this incredibly insightful post), God is leading a mighty but less visible counter-trend, and I am so happy to be a millionth of it.

Kevin DeYoung, a pastor associated with The Gospel Coalition, commented on this in late 2010. The entire post is well worth reading, but I’ll give you my favorite line, where he defines an ordinary pastor as “the pastor who flies under the evangelical radar, the pastor who labors in an ordinary place with ordinary people who don’t give a rip about the evangelical radar or if their pastor is on it, so long as he is with them.”

I recently finished Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor, and Baxter noted a similar move of God in his own day, the mid sixteen hundreds, where he witnessed a dramatic shift within little more than a decade of time:

“Sure I am, the change is so great within these twelve years, that it is one of the greatest joys that ever I had in the world to behold it. O how many congregations are now plainly and frequently taught, that lived then in great obscurity! How many able, faithful men are there now in a county, in comparison of what were then!… And, in particular, how mercifully hath the Lord dealt with this poor county of Worcester, in raising up so many who do credit to the sacred office, and self-denyingly and freely, zealously and unweariedly, lay out themselves for the good of souls! I bless the Lord that hath placed me in such a neighbourhood, where I may have the brotherly fellowship of so many able, faithful, humble, unanimous, and peaceable men. O that the Lord would long continue this admirable mercy to this unworthy country!”

A hearty “Amen!” to that, and may God make this our truthful testimony as we look back on this decade and the next.

May God give His church a million faithful, hard working shepherds. Men who know their limitations and can cheerfully say, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:10a). Men who know it is God’s church and that He is mighty on behalf of His people. And for all such men, may there be an abundance of Christians who have an insatiable appetite for the kind of walk that is so wonderfully helped along by such shepherds.

Peter continues to exhort: “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:1-4).

To close by repeating the words of Richard Baxter, “O that the Lord would long continue this admirable mercy to this unworthy country!”

Church Planting Update

Greetings Hope Baptist and other friends.

The following is a summary of the update that was given during our quarterly meeting last evening.

The last time the elders addressed the church on this topic was in very late May.  At the time, Scott, Dan and I had decided to purposefully avoid making any decisions for three or four months, so that we could go through multiple cycles of praying, thinking, and talking together.  Thankfully, we all believe that we are beginning to have clarity about what we should do, and this is the next step towards solidifying a plan and getting in motion.

One of the most fundamental questions that has been resolved is whether this should be a local church plant, or whether we should be working to establish a church in a location where the principles of family discipleship and the Biblical relationship between church and home are much less understood.  Along those lines, we considered locations from Toronto to the gulf coast and many places in between.  In the final analysis, though, there are many compelling needs in our own church and community, and we desire to address those as best as we can through planting locally.

In an attempt to provide basic information about our current thinking, five core questions will be asked and answered.

1. Why are we planting a church?  There are many more answers to the question, but I will offer two here.  First, the growth our church has experienced over the past year is beginning to have an impact on the sense of community that we believe is vital to New Testament church life.  We value this sense of community to a great extent, and we want to nurture it and see it grow, not have it begin to erode as a result of having more and more people.  That said, let me speak out of the other side of my mouth for a moment – we are also praying that God would frustrate us, in the sense that He would pour out His Spirit on this community in an unusual way and outstrip our ability to have what we believe are ideal size churches.  We desire churches where everyone can be tightly connected and where the shepherding is sufficient for the needs, but we also recognize that the Church has more glorious objectives than this.  We know what we believe ideal church life looks like, and we also know that the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2, with the subsequent addition of 3,000 souls in a single day, challenges that notion.  Those two things need not be in conflict, however.  God gives the increase as He sees fit, and in the midst of that we should always be pointed in a direction to have churches which reflect the closeness that we see beautifully portrayed in the New Testament.  The church plant is an attempt to point in that direction.  Second, planting a church raises the bar for everyone.  There is an instantaneous doubling of the need for everything – elders, deacons, song leaders, musicians, sound team, setup, and on and on and on.  The number of people who can simply attend and receive goes down dramatically, and that is a very good thing.  We are normally happy in the local church to the extent that we are actually investing, so this will increase our happiness.  By way of personal testimony, I can say that I literally grew up through church planting.  Many of the things that I brought forward from my boyhood into my late twenties and early thirties disappeared as a result of participating in church plants.  Those things needed to be left behind, and the pressing needs of a fledgling church deprived me of the time to continue in them.  People are given opportunities to serve that never would have existed for them in their old church.  They are shaken out of their comfort zones and stretched and pressed on.  They grow.  I know, and I praise God.

2.  Who is participating?  Anyone who wants to.  It is that simple.  Families will decide whether they should stay or go.  There will be no arm-twisting and no looking upon with furrowed brow.  It is understood that there are many, many factors that go into deciding what local church to covenant with, and we trust that heads of households are engaging with their families to weigh those things appropriately and to guide their families accordingly.

3.  Where will the church be located?  Two locations are currently being considered – Youngsville, and the Zebulon/Wendell/Knightdale corridor.  Youngsville is the absolute population center (ground zero) for Hope Baptist, and the Zebulon area also affords access to many.

4.  What will the church be like?  There are at least a couple of ways to answer this question.  We think choice of location is likely to make a difference.  If what we have observed historically is a reliable guide to how things would develop, we would expect that a plant in Youngsville will draw more people from Hope, which would in turn shape the demographics of the church going forward.  In other words, we would have a decent size group of people who have been thinking about and practicing family-integration for a good period of time, so others that we would naturally attract would be similar.  There are always exceptions to the rule, but that only proves the rule.  The Zebulon area, however, is likely to draw less people from Hope simply because of geographics, and we would expect that to create the opportunity to incorporate people who are on different points of the curve in terms of orthodoxy and orthopraxy.  If all that holds true (a very big “if” indeed), the Youngsville plant would be off to the races, while the Zebulon area plant would require time and attention to establish the foundations of the sufficiency of Scripture, the regulative principle of worship, family discipleship, etc.

Here is one thing the church plant is not – an opportunity to “fix” Hope.  Local churches are always a mix of things that are liked and not liked by everyone who attends, so I want to disavow anyone of the notion that this represents an opportunity to carry forward the things that are appreciated and to change the things that are perceived to be wrong.  For the foreseeable future, the church plant will be like Hope.  This is not to say that Hope is the end-all in local churches.  It is simply a recognition that the men leading Hope are unified and settled regarding doctrine and practice.  We are a confessional church (Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689), and we have spent hours, days, weeks, months, years thinking through what the Bible has to say about church practice.  Significant movement in either doctrine or practice is highly unlikely, and must not be an objective of anyone desiring to participate in the plant.

On that point, the church will initially be shepherded by the existing elder team (Scott Brown, Dan Horn, Jason Dohm), for as long as is necessary to raise up other elders.  The Dohms will be going with the church plant, and as soon as another qualified man who desires the work can be tested and installed as a co-elder, he and I will become the new elder team that shepherds the church.  We believe this is consistent with Titus 1:5, “For this reason I [Paul] left you [Titus] in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you”.  From this verse we learn two things:  that a church without a plurality of qualified elders has a lack and deficiency that needs to be set in order, and that the Apostle Paul was willing to begin churches in this deficient state and have the Biblical leadership structure catch up.  We recognize the gap and will be working to close it as soon as we can responsibly do so.

The church will be setting me aside to labor hard in the word, meaning that I will be doing much of the teaching, and I will be leaving my current employment to focus on that work.  The basis for this is 1 Timothy 5:17-18, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.  For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.'”

5.  When will the church begin functioning?  April or May of this coming year, if the Lord wills.  This will be upon us like tomorrow.  There is so much praying, planning, organization, and doing ahead of us, and all of those things will begin immediately.

So there you have it, all the basic information for the plans as they exist today.  Please pray that we would clearly discern the voice of God regarding all these things, that we would carefully and faithfully obey everything that He says, and that a church would be planted that lifts up Jesus Christ as crucified for sinners, and raised from the dead to be exalted above every other name.

If you are a member of Hope Baptist and know that you would like to participate, please let me know.