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.”
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.
I believe a potential model for what a “Great Commission Resurgence” Church in the SBC might look would be my local church. I want to state up front that I am not the pastor, nor vision setter for my church. I joined this church when I moved to seminary because I believed that my own spiritual maturing would take place best at this church, though there are other great churches in the area and many that could be a model Great Commission Resurgence Church. When I say “model” GCR Church, what I mean is, if SBC churches looked like this, accompanied by the power of God, we would experience a true Great Commission Resurgence. I perceive that in other areas of Evangelicalism and even in some churches in our convention there seems to be the beginning of a great movement of the Spirit. I am no pneumatologist (not sure that is a word) but I have observed several factors common among the churches that are experiencing the beginnings of what might be a mighty movement. Those factors, or values, are an obsession for the glory of God, gospel-centeredness, a focus on the primacy of the local church, and a missional focus.
In order to proceed I must define these four terms. I think most evangelical churches would say, “yeah, we affirm those” but I think reality is much different.
So with that as a backdrop, tomorrow I will explain how our church finds itself striving after these things and so making it a model GCR church.
The Primacy of the Local Church should also help the mission board make church planting its primary concern (maybe only concern). The main focus of a home mission board should be the planting of churches. It should be a church planting network. Why? Jesus promised that He would build His church (Matt. 16:18), not just save individual people. When the Church at Antioch sent Paul out to accomplish the Great Commission he went planting churches not just evangelizing individuals disconnected from a community of believers. Christ is purchasing and building a people who are in community with one another (Acts 2:42-47). The local church is the manifestation of Christ’s Kingdom community on earth. So, the local church is the body commissioned by King Jesus with the task of carrying the Gospel forward. This is done as the Gospel is declared with our lips and displayed with our actions. The primary way that the Gospel is to be displayed is in the way in which believers within local churches demonstrate the cross-love of Jesus of Nazareth as they take care of one another (cf. John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:10-23). This will mean meeting the needs of those in the family of faith first of all, but also displaying mercy to those in the larger community. The Church is the community commissioned to take care of the needs of people (not the government), both chief needs (salvation) and felt needs (mercy ministry). The Church is commissioned with discipling and training its people, more so than seminaries or bible colleges. Finally, the Church is the chosen vehicle that demonstrates to the Prince of the Power of the Air that his rule has ended. Therefore, to be of utmost effectiveness, a home mission board should be about planting these “outposts of the Kingdom”. Why do we say all this about the church? Because the Church will most effectively meet the problems in our cities and country. So, it is our job to plant as many of them as we can to address the great need of the world. If we plant healthy, vibrant churches we will experience better missions, better mercy ministries, better discipleship, better church planting, resurgence of baptisms, and more ministers called out. A great article to read about the church and parachurch ministry is an article by Russell Moore entitled, “Jesus Didn’t Die for Your Campus Ministry.”
The Primacy of the Local Church will set in place a Church-focused Strategy. Here is the strategy, “Find the churches who are already planting healthy churches and let them set the pace.” The main strategy of this church planting network should be to find churches that are planting well, support them, and teach others to follow their pattern. The mission board should find those churches that have the vision to do this and have a track record of doing it well. There are many examples here to follow. One pattern could be that of FBC Woodstock and Pastor Johnny Hunt. They pick strategic areas that need churches and they bring in men who they think are capable of planting and they train them on site for nearly six months. They train additional staff for a couple of months and they encourage people to go with the church planting team and make up the church’s initial core group. They then send them out with great financial resources. These churches have proven to be successful. Here is what Danny Akin said about them in an interview in 2008 with the Western Recorder, “First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., which has started three churches in the Las Vegas, Nev., area and funded them initially with $500,000 each. Each church now runs more than 1,000 members.” This is a model to emulate. The church planting network should come along side of a church like Woodstock by: 1) giving them the resources necessary to do this on an even greater scale and 2) helping them model this for other churches. For churches that are smaller, they could emulate churches like Open Door Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC (here is a baptist21 podcast with Open Door’s Pastor Dwayne Milioni). So far Open Door has planted 3 churches with 3 more in the works very soon. All of them are viable and the plants are even looking themselves to plant other churches. Open Door has planted on a small scale because of resource limitations, but if they were to be aided by a church planting network they could send many more out. For very small churches, this church planting network could help them form “networks” or associations with other local churches in which they pool money together and help each other plant churches. The main call of the board should be to come along side all these churches and help them plant. Churches that for whatever reason feel that they absolutely cannot plant but still have a passion to see churches planted in order to reach North America would still be able to give to the church planting network to be a part of something greater than themselves through the Cooperative Program.
Jon and Nathan Akin
Part 3 of this series will deal with streamlining this church planting network
Dwayne Milioni has been the Senior Pastor at Open Door Baptist Church since 1999. Pastor Milioni has led Open Door Baptist Church (where contributor Nathan Akin is a member) to become a Great Commission Resurgence kind of Church. He is a committed expositor who faithfully preaches book by book and chapter by chapter through the Bible. He is currently taking the church through the Gospel of John. In addition, the church is committed to the work of the Great Commission both nationally and internationally through Church Planting. Open Door Baptist Church has raised up leadership within its own congregation and sent them out to plant churches in Del Rio (Texas), Raleigh (NC), Wilson (NC), Myrtle Beach (SC), one in an international context, and by next summer in Boston (MA). Through the Church Plant in Del Rio (which is a border town), a bible institute has been established in Mexico to train Mexican Pastors in preaching, hermeneutics, and theology. Open Door believes that Church Planting is vital and has now established a North American Church Planting Foundation to partner with other churches in furthering Church Planting efforts in the United States.
Open Door is also committed to training a future generation of men to teach other men (2 Tim. 2:2). So, Pastor Milioni has set up a cohort called “Shepherd’s Training” to train men in the congregation as potential elders of future church plants. This training involves personal mentorship from an elder or church leader. It also involves curriculum and training through topics of leadership, preaching, pastoral ministry, and theology. The interns are instructed through reading, writing, and cohort discussion. This is an exciting ministry and it is my hope that every Church would seek to implement something like this in their church.
I say that Open Door Baptist Church is a Great Commission Resurgence kind of church. There is much suspicion swirling the GCR as to how effective it will be. And there are many questioning how we put a GCR into action. The answer is more churches like Open Door Baptist Church. If we have churches that are committed to the principles of the GCR declaration and if we have a convention that is lean enough to empower these local churches that just might lead to a GCR. We need every Southern Baptist Church to be committed to the Authority of the Word through expository preaching. We need every SBC church to be committed to the Great Commission through multiplication. This means multiplication through discipleship and multiplication through church planting both here and abroad. Every Southern Baptist Church should seek to implement preaching, missions, and training of the future generation like Open Door has done and is doing. Open Door is doing these things and that is why I call Open Door a GCR church. I am grateful to call Open Door my home Church and to be a part of what that church is doing for the good of nations and the name of our Lord Jesus.
Part One of b21 Interview with Pastor Milioni:
In this part, Pastor Milioni speaks about church planting, the GCR, and issues facing the SBC. He has some insights on what might make us more effective in the 21st century, such a name change, spacing out our annual meetings to every other year, and streamlining our structure. You will want to hear these suggestions. He also addresses why many who stand to lose financially from a restructuring should still support examining it. In the context of this question, he asserts that stewardship of the money churches send to a local, state, or national entity should be our main concern. Therefore, we should examine our structures because we are accountable before God with how our money is spent. Finally, he addresses some areas of concern to the SBC, such as, young leaders, SBC identity crisis, and the importance of the local church.
Quotes from the Interview:
“(The) Churches planting churches concept in the long run will, first and foremost, be better equipped to make disciples”
“The State convention and NAMB have been tasked to do something that they ought not to be doing and that’s planting churches… local southern Baptist churches are to be planting churches”
This post is the final post in a series that has focused on the insights gained from D.A. Carson’s “The Cross and Christian Ministry.” This final post focuses on more implications drawn from his work as he examines I Corinthians and the effect of the Cross on ministry. Carson’s work has challenged me and so I hope that this final blog relays that truth; I do not in anyway hope to portray that I have mastered this in my personal ministry. I do not intend to indicate that I know how to best implement or lead this kind of ministry, the areas I address instead I have drawn from Carson’s work and the example of men godlier, wiser, and more mature than I am. This post is a challenge to me and I hope to the rest of us as well.
The cross will affect our Mission- Carson says Christians should become “all things to all men” without damaging the message of the Gospel; knowing that “there will be times when it is necessary to confront culture” (122). We will be willing to give up “real rights” for a greater cause. A list of things that may need to be given up for the mission could be discussed, but this is more a matter of conscience in individual cases. Nevertheless, this mission is nothing less than the salvation of the world. What a wonderful misson and what a merciful God who allows us to be a part of it! We are compelled by the cross to receive this cosmic battle plan and to strive to be ministers who can serve in any context. This can be done if we die to self and give up our “real rights” for the sake of the perishing. We must ask above all, “How will this course of action contribute to, or hinder, the work of the Gospel?” This question should be attached to everything we do; this is a question that seeks to keep the cross central.
This will also affect whom we minister to, knowing that all different kinds of people eschew the wisdom of this age. The Southern Baptist Convention, traditionally, has been a denomination that is to be condemned in the area of racism. In light of the cross, I hope the future years see a very diverse SBC. The Cross-is color blind, but race is not the only factor. There is no type of person that is out of the reach of the sovereign God who is on mission to redeem some from every tribe. The greatest show of power and wisdom exploded on the scene at Golgotha. In light of this, racism, classism, sexism, social elitism, etc. are strictly condemned in light of the work of cross—the work of the cross is a cross-cultural work.
The cross will affect how and by what means we attempt to build a church and how we “do church”- “Number games” are always the temptation for the gospel minister. The recognition that comes from grand numbers is coveted. However, the measure of the cross means we seek one “well done” and that does not come from the lips of mere men. Christian ministers are servants and God will hold them accountable for how they build and handle the church of the living God. Carson says, “God cares about His Church, and he holds its leaders accountable for how they build it” (75). So the minister must avoid distracting from the gospel, coveting the notoriety of the world or the denomination, heresy, apathy, focusing on peripheral matters as “hills to die on”, superficial conversions, and as Carson puts it, “Entertaining people to death but never fostering the beauty of holiness or the centrality of self-crucifying love” (83). Carson’s note about “entertaining to death” is especially applicable to our current context. Innovations are great, but we must be careful that they do not distract or detract from the gospel (as I hear Danny Akin often say). Carson continues, “(This) will build an assembly of religious people, but it will destroy the church of the Living God” (83-84). In light of the cross, we must not seek to work through our own innovations and plans and in so doing sideline the gospel. David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, relayed the idea that it is possible to get to the end of our ministry and realize we have done our gospel work without the Spirit. This is not to say that we do not seek to contextualize and be relevant, but if we do this to the disregard of the Spirit, it is counter-intuitive to the gospel and is to our detriment, shame, and ignorance. Carson gives an example of how we love to be so “smooth” and pretty in our services. He speaks of the transitions of the stage done through the prayer time. The time when we are addressing Lord of the Heavens and Earth, we spend as a stage change. He says rather poignantly, “Has the smoothness of the performance become more important to us then the fear of the Lord?”(38). There is something here for us to chew on and digest for some time. If we build a ministry on personality (no matter how winsome), entertainment, programs, or any number of other things (not in and of themselves evil) then we are not focused on the cross and it is doubtful that real disciples are being made. In light of the work of the cross, we should be fearful and somber of how we play games in church because on the final day we will be held accountable for how we do this.
Finally, it means that we will be humble in how we “do church”. He says, “Is there nothing to be gained from wide exposure to the company of saints in many parts of the world who have expressed their adoration of the Savior with richness of hymnody we can never exhaust, but which we ignore to our detriment” (89). There have been some great things written on contextualization at “Between the Times”, it is something that should be at the forefront of our minds. The NT church did not have pianos or organs, much to the chagrin of many in our more mainline SBC churches. So we all contextualize. We must be careful as younger ministers not to stick our noses up at the tastes of the older, just as they should be careful in avoiding the same prejudice toward us. The way of the cross promotes humility; this will encourage peaceful dialogue about differing agendas, including topics like music styles. Young people need to be careful here of arrogance and older folks need to be careful of obstinacy. Perhaps we should all strive to appreciate a wider variety of worship styles and ways to do ministry.
The cross will affect our pride and it will make us servants willing to suffer -Carson says of the modern Western Evangelical attitude that it is “deeply infected with the virus of Triumphalism, and the resulting illness destroys humility, minimizes grace and offers far too much homage to the money and influence and ‘wisdom’ of our day” (29). Unfortunately, our SBC churches love the idea of triumphalism. We love to say we are the biggest and the baddest. Do not get me wrong–I love the SBC. And I wish to remain a servant in the SBC until death do we part, but we have to be honest here. We have fallen in love too many times with ourselves, our plans, and our programs, instead of with the cross. The cross shames that kind of thinking. Also, our congregations are filled with those that bask in the blessings of the West. Again this in and of itself is no bad thing as this prosperity makes many things for the sake of the kingdom possible. But western prosperity can also so easily ensnare us and cause us sideline the gospel. Carson’s quote helps get to the heart of the matter, “Many of us are well-to-do… with little incentive to live in vibrant anticipation of Christ’s Return. Our desire for the approval of the world often outstrips our desire for Jesus’ ‘well done!’ on the last day” (108). A rabid focus on the cross will help us obliterate that kind of thinking; instead, we will long to hear those words, words from the lips of the one who hung on the cross for us.
A Final Word here: A Cross-Focus will help us create ministries that stand the test of time: Regrettably Southern Baptists have example after example of churches that are built on what amounts to “wood, hay, and stubble” (I Cor. 3). The ministries of many do not stand the test of time. How often do we see churches that seriously decline within one generation of a leader leaving? Instead, the cross should compel us to leave behind ministries that will go on, that will continually transfer the faith from one generation to the next in that location. The cult of personality is too strong in our convention; the light of the cross is too weak. We should seek to build ministries anchored to one personality—Our Lord Jesus Christ! Here are a few thoughts for pastors on what this might look like in our local churches (much of this I also gather from watching godly men who are doing this well, like my pastor Dwayne Milioni):
Carson’s focus on the message of 1 Corinthians delivers wonderful principles for the gospel minister. I hope that the implications I have drawn over the course of this three-post series are faithful to his work. I write this as a challenge to friends and to myself so that we would constantly keep the cross at the center of our ministries. I hope that this also can be a good reminder to the older, godly men in whose footsteps we will follow as future pastors. In that light, may we never allow personalities, personas, and programs to dominate our outlook. Instead, may we see ourselves as servants compelled to live understanding the cross. May this affect our creed and conduct. This may not make us “successful” or popular by world’s standards, but neither were Jesus or the apostles, instead it will make us a people who hope to know nothing “except Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
Again, if you have not read Carson’s “Cross and Christian Ministry” I highly recommend it. It is a short read, but it is full of pertinent information for those of us that aspire to be faithful gospel minist
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