Clarity, Conviction, and Commitment in Church Planting
Over six years ago a handful of men, women, and children embarked on the journey that is East Point Church. We had a desire in our hearts for a new church intentionally planted on the often-neglected south side of Atlanta. The heard of, but not well-known, city of East Point seemed to be the perfect location. In his providence, God planted us in East Point six years ago. Today, in spite of our best efforts to the contrary, God has been pleased to bless our labors and establish the work to which he has called us ().
For these past six years we have witnessed the grace of God in growing a community of believers in ways none of us could imagine. Still, church planting has not been easy. Like most journeys with God, the onset was full of excitement and at the same time wrought with questions. Where exactly will this journey take us? Who all is going to take this journey with us? Will those who start with us continue and complete it with us? How many stops can we anticipate along the way? How long will it take to get there? How will we know when we finally arrive? These and many other questions raced through our minds as we took those initial steps in planting East Point Church. They continue to be raised today.
I have the pleasure and privilege of being part of a church planting team, but I am not an expert on church planting – especially if you mean by expert someone who comes from out-of-town and has written a book on the subject. My expertise (what little I have) comes from living with the process for over six years and experiencing the highs and lows. Or as my man Frankie Beverly and Maze would say, the “joy and pain…sunshine and rain.” Nevertheless, I am often asked what advice and encouragement would I offer to young (or some not so young!) church planters. In brief I would sum up my encouragements to them in three words: clarity, conviction, and commitment.
1. Clarity of Vision. Few things are more important when the boots hit the ground than is a vision for what is going to happen next. In planting a church there must be an agreed upon vision and understanding of who we are; let that vision guide your decision-making. At the onset of East Point Church, we had a vision for the Gospel in Community. Our hearts desire was for a church where the gospel formed us into community, and we consequently would be seeking to live out the gospel in that community (). The vision was not for a church campus or complex, but for a church community. For us, the goal from the beginning was doing life together in proximity. Every church plant is different. However, each plant should have a clear vision for who and what it desires to be and come back to that vision again and again. People may change. Circumstances may change. Nevertheless, the vision must remain clear.
2. Theological Conviction. Unfortunately, much of the church today is awash in a non-distinct, a kind of androgynous theology – neither this nor that. I am often asked, “Why plant another church?” You see, East Point Church is planted in an area of town that is predominantly black. As such, the landscape is littered with churches (some old established, some store-fronts, and some start-ups). In a community like ours, the question of why another church is a legitimate one. And if you are planning to plant just another like church in the midst of the churches that are already there, then I would agree that another church is not needed. However, the desire for us was not just another church. We desired an intentionally reformed church on the south side of Atlanta. Our theological convictions are distinct from the other churches in our area. We make no apologies for it. When it comes to church planting, if you are simply trying to get people into a building so you can preach at them, don’t bother. Those places already exist. Rather than plant another one, go and join one. However, if you have strong theological convictions (and you should) and there is not a similarly constituted church in the area, church planting may be the answer. In planting a church, don’t be afraid of being theologically distinct (). At East Point Church we desire to offer an alternative to the run of the mill a-theological churches in our area. Theologically, East Point Church may not be for everyone. However, if you are in the South Atlanta area and looking for a Reformed minded church, praise God one now exists.
3. Commitment Long Term. When we first began we had a lot of discussion around how fast we should move and what things we should do to facilitate immediate growth. Because of the celebrity culture around Christianity these days, and the supposed need to keep up with First Church of the Jones, the temptation is to believe that success needs to be immediate and visible. However, I suggest taking the long view approach. Growth may happen immediately and God may grant expansion before you really know what to do with it. Still, for the majority of us church planting, particularly in tougher places like East Point, GA, the goal must be, as Eugene Peterson reminded us, “a long obedience in the same direction.” In other words, it takes a commitment for the long term. Be willing to allow the church to go deep with its roots before you become overly anxious about it spreading. Besides — the deeper the roots (both theologically and relationally) the better and more fruitful tends to be the spreading. At East Point Church we committed to living with each other for the long haul.
Church planting is good, hard work. Having a clear vision, consistent theological conviction, and a commitment to the long term are essential elements. Admittedly, biblical church planting is more than these three, but it should never be less.
16 Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands! (ESV)
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (ESV)
9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (ESV)