First, my church strives after the glory of God in all things with a strong emphasis on the Scriptures and Gospel-Centrality. This works itself out in a commitment to expository preaching. This method of preaching, above all others, highlights the Word of God, which is sufficient and authoritative for all matters of “life and godliness.” This means allowing the Scriptures to drive our practice and not tradition for tradition sake. That means we evaluate our practices by Scripture and not “how we have done it.” This led us years ago to change the “Sunday School” practice to a “small-group” model. This was not easy, but a church that trusts the sufficiency of Scripture is willing to make changes. This is not to say that small groups are the only biblical model that encourages fulfilling the “one another” passages, but it is a route that takes those commands and the fellowship of the church seriously.
In addition, this has led us to a focus on discipleship. This love for the scriptures and the glory of God in all things drives our church to grow “theologians” who think well about God and life. This can only be done through a focus on discipleship. This has been a major problem with the SBC. There has been such an emphasis on “numbers” especially “Baptism” numbers, but this has caused us to miss the emphasis of Matthew 28. Because we have seen the end goal as merely “dunking” someone in water we have failed to reach the end goal of equipping and maturing believers in Christ to be disciples who are disciple-makers. How does our church focus on discipleship? Our church focuses on several factors that might be helpful to all SBC Churches.
First, there is a membership process; this comes directly out of our belief in the Baptist distinctive of “Regenerate Church Membership.” This starts, as our Lord commanded us, with Baptism and initiation into the community of God. In order to be baptized at our church, you have to meet with the Elders and share your testimony with the congregation. Second, there is a membership class that lays out the values and visions of our church that all “members” have to go through to become part of this gospel community. During this process, each new member must have an interview with one of our elders. The importance of our small group ministry and our focus on a Regenerate body (also we explain that we employ redemptive church discipline as a means of discipleship and love for erring members and for our witness to the outside world) are detailed during this process.
Next, members are integrated into a small group, which is the primary means of discipleship and community in our church. This is the place that we carry out the “one another” commands in scripture given to the gospel community. This is where we challenge and encourage one another in discipleship and love. A practical example, when someone in the small group or care group has a child, the care group provides meals for a month for them. In these groups, we also confront one another over sin and we challenge each other to grow in our love for the word and our maturing in Christ. This is where we seek to live “life together” outside of just a Sunday gathering, as they did in the New Testament (C.f. Acts 2). In addition, and in context with our focus on regenerate church membership, the care group leaders are trained in biblical peacemaking and helping through conflicts in a redeeming, gospel-centered way. Through these groups our church begins to recognize the men that are potential future leaders, either as elders at our church or in church planting elsewhere. These men are then moved into a “shepherd’s training” program (more about that later).
Finally, in the context of Gospel-Centrality, there is a focus on being as diverse as the community around us. The gospel has broken down the dividing walls of race, socio-economic status, and cultural differences, and our church strives to be a gospel witness through a unity in the gospel.
Second, our church is adamant about the primacy of the local church. This plays itself out in the training up of leaders (2 Timothy 2:1-2). This is done in house. The elders and leaders in the church begin to identify men that they see as potential leaders and church planters and they invite them into our “shepherd’s training.”
Excurses: What Shepherd’s training looks like
The elders invite these men that they have identified into the 2-year program; it is not open to everyone. He is then paired with an Elder or leader in the church, along with one other trainee. This leader focuses on personal development and maturity with him. In addition, there is a focus on accountability and the character necessary for an elder. He meets with this Elder/leader every other week to go through these things and to work through memorizing the Pastoral Epistles. In addition, he also meets every other week with all those in the program and all the trainers. Each “semester” during the 2-year cycle focuses on a different aspect of pastoral ministry and leadership. The every other week meeting focuses on the portion of the Pastoral Epistles that was to be memorized that week. One of the Elders then leads through an exposition of that passage and the other elders add thoughts on the passage as well. Next, all the trainees are required to read a book for the week, examples of books read are Baxter’s “The Reformed Pastor,” Dever’s “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church,” Spurgeon’s “Lectures to My Students,” and Bonheoffer’s “Life Together.” Each week, two of the trainees deliver an oral book review of the book for that week and then ask questions of the book that the elders answer and discuss. Finally, the night ends with one of the elders lecturing on an area of pastoral ministry and then discussion of that topic among the elders and trainees. The topics range from “why we employ small groups” to “regenerate church membership.” In addition, during the semester the trainees write two position papers on topics of interest in pastoral ministries. The topics of these papers are things like, view of spiritual gifts in ministry, use of alcohol in ministry, view of divorce and remarriage, and view of church government. Finally, each trainee is to work on a ministry project in some area of church life. The goal is to lead to the training of future elders and church planters through life on life training. This is the best way to evaluate whether a man possess the qualifications of an Elder and if they are ready to take on a role such as that.
Finally, in the focus of church primacy, my home church does church planting and missions “in house.” They have already raised up in house the leadership for five church plants. Four have launched in the last Five Years and one more will launch this summer. These church plants are located in Downtown Raleigh (NC), Wilson (NC), Del Rio (TX), Myrtle Beach (SC), and Boston (MA). It seems that a major focus for the GCR is church planting. My church is a model for how to do this and how to do it well. They have assessed and raised up leadership in house, which is the best evaluation process there is because the life of a planter is viewed over a long period of time. Through this process, Elders can determine if these church planters fit the qualifications of an Elder laid out in the Scriptures. This process has been effective, as these plants are viable and themselves moving toward future planting. If the focus of the GCR simply is discipleship and multiplication, seen in healthy churches discipling their people and then planting churches with these people, here is a model.
This focus on the primacy of the local church does not mean that my church does not seek to be aided by the convention structures, but it means that they do not farm out missions’ work or church planting to an outside organization. Unfortunately at times, they have had to go around convention structures to do the work of missions and church planting. It is my hope and our church’s hope that a GCR will focus on how convention structures can best serve local churches so that SBC churches do not have to go around convention structures to cooperate in mission work that the Bible has assigned to the local church.
Finally, how does my church focus on missional living? First, there is a focus on the small groups being missional. They are all to carry out community projects in our “We Love North Raleigh” campaign. There is the hope that small group leaders will instill in our people the importance of being missionaries in our community, sometimes through tangible projects, but also through just daily life.
Second, as has been mentioned, we focus on missional living through church planting. Recently, our elders have moved us from being “just” a church planting church, to a church that has created a network that encourages further church planting through cooperation. The model still holds though that the church is primary, and the teams will be launched out of local churches being served by this Pillar Network. And the idea is to perpetuate the model of my home church through focusing the churches planted out of this network on three values: Gospel, Community, Mission.
In addition, the church has worked hard at overseas and cross-cultural missions. One of the ways our church is involved in cross-cultural missions is very exciting. Through our church plant in Del Rio, Texas, which is a border town with Mexico, we have set up a Bible institute in Acuna, Mexico that trains Mexican pastors. This is for the purpose of strengthening the local churches in that area and having those churches multiply this effort in their own country.
My church is certainly not the only model, but it is a model that I wish more Southern Baptists would take a look at. Some reading this blog are probably incorrectly assuming that we are a mega-church and that only Mega-churches can do what is being laid out here. This is not the case. In fact, SBC.net shows the average attendance at around 700. Instead, this is simply a church concerned with discipling and multiplying. It is not concerned with mere numbers or high attendance, but with multiplying. And the way they have gone about it should be examined and emulated by churches of all sizes. If this were so, and as the convention structures begin to aid and assist churches like this in planting and missions, we may see a genuine movement in our midst, and maybe just call it a resurgence.