Balanced Strategy Needed

Missionary David Vaughn’s message at the close of April’s GA was the kind of message that could set a paradigm for a church planting philosophy and strategy.

Following are a few thoughts on how David’s message might set our hearts and minds to the great task of penetrating the darkness of our land with the light of the gospel. These thoughts are not meant to be a simple rehearsal of what we heard last April, but a reminder of a few points applied to the home missionary endeavor.

First, we must be clear on the twopronged nature of the vision of a balanced church. That vision (from Luke 24:46-47 and other passages) includes the Messiah’s crosswork and resurrection from the dead, and “the proclamation of his name to all nations.” It is this second aspect of the vision that must find its place at the heart of church-planting efforts. Often, Reformed Baptist church plants begin with a committed core group of Reformed believers that either crop up in a particular locale or are sent out from an existing church, or sometimes, a combination of the two.

Certainly, this beginning is often necessary, right, and good. But the plant needs immediately to see herself as a light in the surrounding community, charged with the blessed vision and task of proclaiming the gospel into that community. The church cannot see herself merely as a place for lonely Calvinists joining her from out of Arminian churches, or disenchanted credo-baptists leaving the ranks of the paedo-baptists.

She must develop strategies that make a determined and thoughtful thrust into the unbelieving world around her. For this to happen, all of the members need to see themselves as part of that thrust.

One of the best ways, as we were reminded, is through hospitality and the “overthe-fence” kind of neighborly contact with unbelievers. Members of a church often have much more natural contact with unbelievers than do its pastors, particularly if they are full-time ministers engaged in ministering to the flock.

Perhaps the best example of this strategy working out in the New Testament is the Thessalonian church. The apostle Paul attested to their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess. 1:3) This labor Paul speaks of was surely that the gospel had “sounded forth” from them (v. 8) and that they had become “imitators of us (the apostles) and of the Lord.” (v. 6) They had become servants of the Lord, turning away from their slavery to their former idols. (v.9)

We see this kind of call to servanthood earlier in our Lord’s own ministry. He reminds disciples in the “sermon on the plain” of Luke 6 that a servant, one who knows the blessing of grace in his own life, goes to great lengths to engage the enemies of the gospel. The call to “love your enemies” (Luke 6:27) comes in the context of their sometimes violent opposition to believers “on account of the Son of Man.” (v. 22)

That kind of opposition can only occur when believers are a light and a witness to Him. In spite of that opposition, disciples are to “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28) That kind of response requires a steadfastness that Paul saw in the Thessalonian believers.

It is that steadfast servant mentality that defined the spirituality of the Thessalonian believers and serves as a reminder of what true spirituality consists. As Pastor Vaughn pointed out to us, too often our spirituality can be defined almost exclusively as “personal holiness.”

But the believer must also see himself as a soldier, a laborer, a servant called to share in the great Messianic vision described at the end of Luke’s gospel. For this the church needs to pray for boldness in gospel witness (Acts 4:23-31) and for a heart that overflows with the good tidings of peace. The remaining deadness and apathy for the souls of men must be supplanted with a desire for the Lord’s glory and the good of souls. As the Lord reminds his disciples in Matthew 12, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (v.34)

Believers who are full of the gospel themselves, delighting in the truths of amazing grace, find themselves with a similar argument to that of Peter and John before the high priest, rulers and scribes: “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:5-20) While the disciple of Christ in these last days has not “seen” as the apostles of the first century, surely they have heard and felt the power of the gospel in their own lives. They, too, have a witness.

Another aspect of the strategy that Pastor Vaughn highlighted for us was the importance of evangelistic preaching. Not only may the church utilize evangelistic preaching at special times when unbelievers may be invited, preaching that searches the hearts of the unbelieving can fire the hearts of believers to long for the souls of those around them who sleep the sleep of spiritual death. It is this kind of preaching that has been paramount in times of spiritual awakening throughout history.

As Iain Murray recounts in “Revival and Revivalism,” “The Great Revival taught the Presbyterian churches (may the Lord teach us as well!) that orthodoxy and correct preaching, indispensable though they are, are not enough. Authority, tenderness, compassion, pity – these must be given in larger measure from heaven, and when they are it can truly be said that theology has taken fire.” (Revival and Revivalism, Banner of Truth, 1994, p. 109)

May the Lord be pleased to grant this unction, this “theology of fire,” to our own preaching and in that of our church planting endeavors for His eternal glory.

Hank Rast is a pastor at Heritage Church in Fayetteville, Ga., and a member of the ARBCA Church Planting Committee.

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