Years ago while I was working in Christian publishing, I was also a Sunday school teacher, and a young deacon. I had also been a youth minister, and a worship leader. But I did not have Bible college or seminary education.
So I was a little intimidated when I learned that the new couple in our young adult Sunday school class both had seminary degrees, and the husband, Tim, also had a doctorate and taught at the nearby Wheaton Graduate School. Though I had grown up in a pastor’s home and studied the Bible quite a bit, I soon found myself turning to him whenever there was a tough question in class.
Finally one day, Tim took me aside and reassured me that my preparation and teaching were solid, that he could sense the Spirit’s work in my leadership of the class, and that I had every reason to trust my own biblical knowledge and interpretation and not defer to him so often.
In fact, he said, he wondered if I might be interested in talking with him about the possibility of starting a new church in a nearby community. Tim was a professor of evangelism, and his studies had shown him that new church plants are especially effective at reaching unbelieving or unchurched people.
By offering a church in a new location, with a more informal and contemporary style, Tim was confident we could see people come to faith in Christ that no other church was reaching. But he didn’t feel he could do it alone. His young family and demanding full-time job left little extra time in his schedule, and he said he knew it was the same for me. But together, and with help from other part-timers, he thought we could do it.
I won’t try to share here all the details of the church plant that grew out of that conversation, other than to say that a couple of years later about 200 regular attenders were worshiping in a school gym, meeting for Bible study in a dozen homes, and baptizing new believers in a hotel swimming pool.
But here’s my main point. There are church planters among us.
They are in our churches. They are Sunday school teachers and deacons. They are businessmen and farmers and educators and entrepreneurs. Few have formal Bible college or seminary education, though today that is more possible than ever. But they are students of the Bible, they have unique skill sets from their own vocations and experiences, and they care about people who are far from God.
If there are “church planters among us,” then why are more of them not out there taking the gospel to the lost and churchless communities of our state? For the most part, I believe it is simply because no one is inviting them to do so.
It probably would have never occurred to me as a young Sunday school teacher and deacon that I could help lead a church plant that would reach hundreds of people and introduce them to Jesus. But then someone told me I could. He invited me to join him in doing so. And I’ll never be the same.
At this time of year, many churches focus on North American missions, and on the missionary task of planting churches. Leaders in this area consistently tell us that the greatest limitation they face is not money, strategy, or opportunity. It is the shortage of church planters. I think I know where they are. They are among us. Let’s tell them what we see in them, challenge them to answer the call, and join them in the mission.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.