A couple of years ago the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic was doing some preliminary work in regard to planting in Washington, D.C. When they expressed the goal of the project they stated it this way:
“We do not presume to know, at this time, whether the Lord would have this presbytery engage in church planting in the District. Rather, coming with the attitude of a servant (Mark 10:42-45), the CMCE would seek to glean hard and soft data to guide our thinking. Through studying demographics and having conversations with both church leaders already laboring in the District, and residents of the city, we aim to discern something that seems to bring together our understanding of the OPC’s unique strengths and what seems to have God’s fingerprints on it for how the PMA can serve this strategic city. We want to join God’s harvest if we can usefully serve without determining beforehand how that might be done.”
The OPC Committee on Home Missions observed the work done and conclusions drawn from this approach and was recently able to help the Presbytery of Southern California in a similar consideration of Los Angeles.
Viewing Church Planting through the eyes of a servant, changes the perspective in a number of helpful ways:
First, you see more clearly what the Lord is already doing in a given area. If we go into a city or town with a different approach–let’s call it a corrective lens–we might tend to see quickly what is missing in the existing churches. Going in with the lens of servant assumes that the Lord is at work in that city and brings to the forefront what He is already doing. Yes, we will still see the shortcomings but perhaps not as our first takeaway. You are free to rejoice in stories of transformed lives and be grateful before seeing the holes in a church’s theology. In contrast, a corrective lens will draw your attention to what’s missing. Your initial evaluation may be driven by the lack of a reformed church or suitable worship. The role of a servant allows you to ask, “What is already happening?” before asking, “What is lacking?”
Second, you see the mission field more clearly. It’s the city and the people. In particular it’s those who haven’t yet shared in the work the Lord is doing. A corrective lens will tend to shift the focus of the mission field to believers who are undernourished. There must be people hungry for something deeper in theology and worship than what they are getting. We need to provide that opportunity. But a servant lens will direct you to those who are discipled by another master.
Third, you are drawn to consider taking your ministry and strengths to an area of great need. Instead of a corrective lens that is to bring a better ministry to a city, your focus shifts to a servant lens that opens your eyes to areas of greater need. If there is a faithful ministry in one area, you rejoice despite the shortcomings and ask, “Where is there no faithful ministry reaching anyone and how can we expand God’s kingdom in this city or place?”
Let’s compare how an initial evaluation of a city may look under the two lenses:
Corrective Lens: There is no solidly reformed church in the city. The worship that is there is evangelical and lacking in depth. There is a real opportunity for us to bring a truly reformed church to the area. People will begin to see the difference between a weaker contemporary approach to church and reformed thinking. The church needs to be strong and we can bring that to this city. As the church is strengthened and built up the Lord bless that faithfulness and will bring more to us. Where do we think is the most centralized or accessible area to plant a reformed church so that people can find and get to us?
Servant Lens: There are several churches that are genuinely reaching people for the gospel. Despite shortcomings in the churches, peoples’ lives are being transformed to serve Christ. There is an opportunity for us to be a part of the work the Lord is doing—to strengthen the work of the kingdom in that city and reach more people with the gospel. Where in the city are the biggest gaps with no faithful ministry and which of those areas are we best suited to meet the need.
Obviously, these aren’t mutually exclusive and there may be overlap in how we think about it, but can you see how the different focus and emphasis can change your perspective on church planting?
This opportunity to think of church planting through the lens of a servant isn’t limited to cities. It may be heightened there, but the same approach and focus can be applied to any area. Take some time to think about your own town or city, how would the lens of a servant for church planting change how you see things?