Starting a church is one thing. Seeing that newly planted church take root and become firmly established in a community is another. Many churches are STARTED. Far, far less become ESTABLISHED.
Allow me to give three suggestions concerning what is needed to establish a church in its community. I readily admit that there are probably exceptions, but I believe that, on the whole, these suggestions will hold true:
1. A NEW CHURCH NEEDS SOME PILLAR FAMILIES AND INDIVIDUALS.
Galatians 2:9 And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars…
A pillar is a “supporter; that which sustains or upholds; that on which some superstructure rests.” Samson showed the Philistines the danger of putting an entire structure on just two pillars, and yet many new churches rest totally on the shoulders of the pastor and his wife. This is how it must be at first – but for a church to become established, it needs some solid, dependable, faithful, supportive people who can bear the weight of the church’s ministry.
When I visit new churches, I look for the “pillars.” Just yesterday, I preached at a year old church in Arizona. I quickly picked out three families. The pastor told me what a blessing they were. Those three families will be the supporters of the church’s ministry – and they are.
I thank God for the pillar families of LBC, Wylie. I won’t name them, and don’t need to. Everyone knows who they are. Their faithfulness in attendance, in financial giving, and in service – humanly speaking, of course – allow our ministry to function.
I would suggest to church planters to focus on people with character and get them in and involved in the church. These may or may not be new converts – but they are the ones who are there, who want to be involved, and who are either dependable or becoming so. Those are the people who will one day run bus routes, teach classes, serve, lead, and support the ministry.
Some men with zeal, but perhaps lacking in knowledge, build too large a superstructure without first working to and allowing God the time to raise up these pillar families that will “establish a church.” Everything rests on the pastor and his wife. They have fifteen ministries and they run every one of them (see my article on “The Small Church and Multiplied Ministries.”) These pastors may one day learn a lesson from Samson – when those two pillars are pulled down, the whole house comes down with it.
II. A NEW CHURCH NEEDS ITS OWN PROPERTY AND BUILDING.
We know that a church is not a building. We know that historically, Baptists did not have buildings for a long time. We also know that churches do better when they have a building – even a small and inadequate one. In fact, a small church filling up a small building is more conducive to building enthusiasm and excitement than a small church rattling around in a big building.
I believe that independent Baptists would do well if we would focus on getting new churches into buildings of their own. Sometimes, a new church will spend tens of thousands of dollars renovating a storefront and renting a facility. Perhaps if we could figure out a way to spend that money on a down payment for an acre or two and a small, unfinished building – to be “finished” by the new church as it grows. I don’t claim to have the answer for this, but perhaps we could give it some thought – and perhaps some large, established churches or some wealthy Baptist businessmen could finance such works.
III. THE PASTOR NEEDS TO BE FULL-TIME.
Please don’t be offended if you are bi-vocational. I thank God for bi-vocational pastors. When we started LBC, I still worked full time driving a forklift or pallet jack on a freight dock, and later I had a part time job to get through a tough place. So I applaud your willingness to sacrifice and serve. Many of my best friends are bi-vocational and I love and respect them and their work.
However, churches need to understand their responsibility to support their pastor. He is their first financial priority:
1 Corinthians 9:13-14 Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? (14) Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
The Old Testament house of God was supported by the tithes and offerings of God’s people. The servants, services and structures were supported by the tithes. “EVEN SO HATH THE LORD ORDAINED” carries us clearly into the New Testament house of God, where the servants, services and structures are also to be supported by the tithes and offerings of God’s people. Let the mammon-lovers scream about it all they want – this is the only plan God has given us in the New Testament for the support of His church. He doesn’t send a check in the mail to support the pastor or pay the electric bill. He expects the church to take care of their own responsibilities.
Our church has supported missions from the beginning – but the pastor should be the church’s first missionary. I know of one situation where a man started a church (he was fully supported), and then committed the church to supporting almost a dozen new missionaries before turning it over 2 weeks later to the new pastor. The new pastor had to continue working full time to meet these obligations. The church planter would have been better off leading the church to institute a pastor’s salary so that he could serve God unhindered – and then the church would have been far better off towards her missionary obligations.
I understand that there are many differences in opinions, but my own observations of current churches and history tell me that when the church takes care of the pastor, and the pastor is a good steward, God will bless that church. The church will be ESTABLISHED.
Thank you for reading. God bless.