Lowell Ivey is the pastor of Reformation Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Virginia Beach since 2016. He and his wife, Mae, have 5 children ranging from 8 years to 4 months old. Some of you may know of Lowell’s testimony as it’s one of those you don’t forget and it’s been told in various venues, including Ligonier Ministries. Lowell was in prison and joined a white supremacist prison gang. He was converted in solitary confinement and served another 9 years in prison reading and learning from RC Sproul and others. After release, Lowell ended up at Christ the King OPC in Longview, TX where Phil Hodson pastors. Later at seminary in Greenville, SC, Lowell interned under Peter VanDoodewaard at the OPC church in Taylors, SC. In his five years in Virginia Beach, Reformation has planted one church and is working on another plant.
This week, we’ll give you Lowell’s answers to our first 3 questions…..
Question: What is something that you believe and/or do in regards to outreach that has changed over your time in ministry?
Lowell: I’ve always been convinced, and am becoming more so, that the Great Commission is the work of the whole church. There is ordained ministry, but there is also ordinary ministry. We ought not to confuse the two—they are certainly distinct aspects of the work of Christ as He builds His church. But while they may be distinguished, they must not be separated. The work of the minister and elder, by the grace of God, is to equip and edify the saints, particularly through the public preaching and teaching of the Word, but also through the private ministry of shepherding from house to house (Eph. 4; Acts 20). But the minister and elders are to do their work for the purpose of seeing Christ formed in the hearts and lives of His people, and so that they are enabled to serve and minister both in and out of the body, supplying what every joint in the body is designed to supply for the building up of the whole in love for God, love for one another, and love for those perishing in unbelief.
I regard discipleship in the local church as the cornerstone and foundation of evangelistic ministry outside the church. Every member of the congregation should be equipped to share and ready to defend the faith once delivered to the saints. That equipping happens in public worship. It happens in Christian Education classes. It happens in family visitation and in the catechizing of covenant children. It happens in the home, under the careful and prayerful instruction of fathers and mothers who live out what they teach both in and out of the home. When every member of the congregation sees the urgency of the Gospel in his or her own life, I believe he or she will be awakened to the urgency of the Gospel in every relationship and will be invigorated and encouraged to bear witness of Christ, not as a momentary duty to be crossed off a list, but as a way of life.
I also think that this Gospel urgency produces a welcoming atmosphere in the church on the Lord’s Day and a willingness to open our homes willingly and regularly, both to one another as we live our lives together as the family of God, but also to our neighbors and to those God in His providence brings into the relational spheres of our lives. When the Gospel is our life, how can we not find opportunities all around us to share our life with those who are alive but have no life?
Question: If the OPC and OPC churches want to continue to grow in our effectiveness in reaching the lost-what is the most important thing we need to work on and how or in what way(s) should we be working on it?
Lowell: One thing we have tried to do at RPC is cultivate a warm, friendly, and welcoming atmosphere in the church. While it’s true that most people won’t suddenly decide to come worship with us, and we need to be proactive about outreach, we also want to think about what “hang-ups and hindrances” an unbeliever or unchurched person might have if they were to accept an invitation to come worship with us. We try to make sure that every visitor is greeted at the door, and we try to especially involve our college-age singles in that ministry. We try to be mindful of the immediate needs of those who might visit, letting them know where the restrooms are, or where they can take young children if there’s a need to “make an escape” during worship. We try to ensure that our first-time visitors are made comfortable and shown to a seat somewhere in the back, in case they would feel uncomfortable coming in a bit late and realizing that the only empty seats are in the front.
I also try to carefully explain why we are doing what we do in our worship. I may not explain every element of worship every time, but I do try to make sure it becomes clear that there is a reason why we are doing the things we are doing in the manner we are doing them and in the order we are doing them.
Question: What is something that has surprised you about outreach and evangelism to the lost as you have done it?
Lowell: One thing that has been surprising to see is how the Lord has most often used my wife and children more than me in our personal efforts to minister to the lost. Mae routinely carries cards with church information and tries to engage with people she meets at the grocery store, the beach, the playground, the thrift store, walking or bicycling around our neighborhood, and wherever she goes. Our children regularly pray for lost neighbors and I’m often humbled by the sincerity and the urgency of their prayers. Often, it’s only after my family has had an evangelistic “encounter” that I ever enter the picture.
I should also mention the importance of forming long-term relationships. We have been friends for over 4 years with a Muslim family that lives just across the Elizabeth River from us. We can wave to them from our home across the river. Mae has spent considerable time with the wife, and I have listened quite a bit as the husband has sought to convince me of his views in regard to Israeli-Palestinian politics. Our children play with their children—and yes, sometimes they hear things from them we wish they wouldn’t hear. But this gives us an opportunity to remind our children that they don’t know the Lord and we need to keep praying fervently for them. We’ve given them a Bible in Arabic, shared the Gospel with them in our home, invited them into our family worship, explained why we discipline our children the way we do, and enjoyed time together at a water park. We believe the Lord is calling us to invest ourselves in them, not in order to “score a conversion,” but instead, because they are fellow image bearers who need to know Jesus. We may never see the Lord change them. It may be 10 years from now, or 5 years from now.