By Mack Tomlinson
As our church, Providence Chapel, in Denton, Texas, has endeavored to engage more in missions intentionally, the Lord has blessed our efforts by giving clear direction to partner with a sister church, Grace Community Church, in San Antonio to plant a new church in the city of Portland, Maine, beginning in January of this year.
Thoughts of a new church there began four years ago, when a pastor and church planter in Syracuse, New York, and a family in Maine, who ministers weekly outside an abortion clinic in Portland, came together outside the clinic during a time of great opposition to their abortion outreach ministry.
This incident birthed many conversations later about the need for a biblical church in the Portland area, and the need of an annual conference in Portland to strengthen churches and pastors. After a period of prayer, the two families felt God’s leadership to establish such a conference for upper New England. The first conference was in the summer of 2013 and, three years later, the fourth annual conference is planned for the first week of August.
The conference consists of three days of biblical preaching, the availability of wonderful discounted Christian literature, and true fellowship with other believers.
Each year, the conference has almost doubled in size. This is due to the significant spiritual hunger in various parts of New England that brings pastors and other believers to Portland for the summer conference. The word has spread, and people as far away as New York City and Toronto have attended the three-day conference.
The desire then began to grow among the Christians who were organizing the conference to plant a biblical church in Portland, which is a morally and spiritually dark area. By the end of 2015, several families were ready to step out and unite as a church. They did this at a planning meeting the first week of December 2015. That meeting resulted in Redeeming Grace Fellowship holding its first Sunday service on January 10th. During 2016, Providence Chapel of Denton and Grace Community Church of San Antonio will send preachers two weekends each month to preach and lead the church prayer meeting. On the other two Sundays each month, the church will live-stream a sermon or have men in the Portland church share the Word of God. Redeeming Grace Fellowship is baptistic in its ordinances, reformed in its basic doctrine, devotional in its relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and evangelistic in its outreach to the community and the world.
Portland is only a two-hour drive from Northampton, Massachusetts, where Jonathan Edwards pastored, and a one-hour drive from Newburyport, where George Whitfield preached his last sermon and where he is buried in the basement of the Old South Church in Newburyport. New England was once a place where the Gospel burned with bright intensity.
Even Portland itself had a bright and shining light in its midst for 20 years, as Edward Payson, known as Praying Payson of Portland, ministered and saw genuine revival. Since then, this part of our nation has seen the Gospel light grow dim and greatly decrease. True churches and Christians are rare and truly in the minority.
I see now a very real possibility of churches being planted in other parts of Maine and in other New England states. This will involve vision, faith, and a calling of some to move there, especially those who are already able to work from home and could more easily re-locate to invest their lives in taking the Gospel in a new way to dark New England.
The harvest truly is always there to be taken, but the laborers are always few. Where are those who would say, “I will move to New England to help advance the cause of Christ”? May God help us to have intentional vision and obedience, to follow the Master in being deliberate and intentional in church planting, whether that is in our own state, across the country, or across the ocean. “Lead on, O King, Eternal!”
For more about the church plant and for more articles and resources like this, download the free March/April RTM Magazine.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations . . .”
But how many of us are going and how many disciples are we making? Countless Christians think the Great Commission is relevant only for the cross-cultural missionary—that it has nothing to do with the individual, except they’re to give to the missions offerings collected at the local church.
One thing that has contributed to this messed-up missional methodology is that we are confused about what a disciple is. Too many think a disciple of Jesus is someone spiritually mature and really into doing the “Jesus thing.” We talk about these as being “into” discipleship, as if it was something the believer could take or leave. Others see the word disciple as nothing more or less than a synonym for Christian, and that being a Christian is someone who has asked Jesus to forgive them of their sin and come into their heart. Period, end of discussion.
But a disciple is a learner, one who learns not just what to believe but how to live. We hear the word learner, and we think books, education, classes, etc. That’s not what Jesus said. He told us to teach the nations “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…” The key word is observe. In other words, our Lord said to teach them to do the commandments, or to put it another way, teach them how to live. That includes the head but also the heart. Discipleship requires the modeling of the life of Christ, showing others how to live out what our Lord taught. When you make a disciple, you demonstrate, exhibit, and display both the teachings of Christ and the theological understanding of His commands.
In 1999, I began to see that my understanding of making disciples was seriously faulty. I didn’t have a clue how to make one. I thought it meant doing a Bible study with a few people in a classroom for 13 weeks and filling in the blanks of a workbook. I started asking other pastors how they made disciples and discovered they didn’t know either. We knew how to lead people to make a decision to follow Christ, but, other than preaching to them, we had no idea what to do afterwards to make them look and live like Jesus.
So, I began to pray and ask Jesus to show me how He did it since He had made at least 12 disciples. And since those 12 turned the world upside down, I thought it safe to assume He knew the right procedure. Why do we not follow Jesus’ method of discipleship? Why don’t we imitate His simple way of disciple making? Why do we feel the need to reinvent and come up with divergent and complex methods? It must be because we don’t trust the Lord’s process, we don’t think we can do it His way, or we’re simply ignorant of His method. In my case it was ignorance.
I read the gospels over and over looking for Him to show me His methods. And He did! What He revealed was that I had wrongly divided evangelism and discipleship into two different things. Jesus did not think this way nor did His methodology do this. Jesus started discipling people before their conversion. Even before they truly believed in Him, He was already making them His followers.
For example, In John 1:35-39 we read,
Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. and looking at Jesus as he walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” they said to him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, teacher), “where are You staying?” he said to them, “come and see.” they came and saw where he was staying, and remained with him that day (now it was about the tenth hour).
Andrew and John were disciples of John the Baptist before they were disciples of Jesus. They already had some realization of their need for repentance and that the coming Messiah was at hand. Therefore, they were hungry to learn about God and His kingdom.
We must be alert at all times to look for people who are eager to hear the truth. That doesn’t mean they will readily accept what we say, but they will be willing to hear us out, and once they hear some will come to believe what we are telling them. The way you bring this about is by living in the power of the Spirit and modeling the life of Christ. Many people profess Christianity but to make disciples, your lifestyle had better be different than most professing Christendom who simply wear the title but don’t have the new heart to prove it. Let people see that Christianity is much different than they erroneously believe. If you do not live like a biblical Christian then please do not tell anyone you are a Christian. Repent and become a disciple yourself.
Again, Jesus’ method was to find men interested in learning about God and teach them. Some of His early disciples were not converted when they began to follow Him. Peter had been following Jesus for weeks before he was converted. This is evident in a harmony of the gospels. John 1 happened quite some time before Luke 5 when Peter was converted.
So it was, as the multitude pressed about Him to hear the word of God, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret and saw two boats standing by the lake; but the fishermen had gone from them and were washing their nets. Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. and he sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat. When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.”And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. and they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11)
It changed everything for me. Discipleship is not only for the saved but for anyone willing to learn about Christ. This takes discipleship out of the clinical, cold classroom and puts it back into life and everyday living.
Making disciples is about making relationships with not-yet Christians by seeking to find those in whom God has developed an inquiring heart or in whom He will develop by their observation of your life and teaching of Jesus.
I have only scratched the surface. So much more needs to be stated, but it is enough for us to know that discipleship is not the mere passing of information from one intellect to another. It is the demonstration of a way of life and investing that life in another. Jesus invested Himself. This is the simple way of making disciples like Jesus.
For more articles and resources like this, download the free March/April RTM Magazine.
My normal, “let’s make lists and plan everything down to the second” and “because it’s planned it better go that way” mentality flies out the window (pun intended) and is replaced with (what must be supernatural) flexibility and new thinking that says, “Things are going to work out exactly like God wants them to so there’s no need to get bent out of shape. Just savor all the seconds and go with whatever happens.”
When you’re on a mission trip you look at people differently, don’t you? Maybe you’re in a foreign country and a national cuts you off in the checkout line. You smile and wave, “It’s okay.” You give grace. You silently pray for them that they might come to know the real Grace Giver. Maybe you even initiate conversation and ask about their life.
Life looks different on a mission trip.
But should it?
WHAT IF we lived with our “how can we insert the greatness of Jesus into this conversation with a total stranger” radars on at all times so that a trip to the grocery or the park or the post office became a trip to the white fields Jesus wants to harvest?
WHAT IF we recalibrated our minds to be flexible and give grace regardless of our emotions or circumstances or geographical locations?
WHAT IF we treated our brothers and sisters in Christ like we were part of one team on mission?
WHAT IF we prayed for that team as well as the people around us with the compassionate lens of understanding how we’re interlinked and knit together?
WHAT IF we studied and researched those around us to discover what they need and how the Gospel is good news to them and then did something about it?
WHAT IF we actively leveraged our lips, lives, talents, giftings, and abilities for the sake of making God’s name famous where we live?
WHAT IF we sought to redeem the time in our own city like we do when we’re overseas, strategically filling our days with ministry opportunity after ministry opportunity?
WHAT IF we stopped viewing life and the days that fill it as “ours” and saw them as gifts from the Lord to make much of Him?
On short-term trips, everything is so intentional. It has to be, right? You’re only there for an allotted amount of time so you pack your days full in order to redeem the time and do the most good for those to whom you have come to live among.
Why does that intentionality with both time and the Gospel cease on the plane ride home?
It doesn’t have to. Nor should it.
If we think about it, once God saves us, our whole life becomes a mission trip. We now have a Divine team leader who has organized our days and leads us to go and make disciples, trudging through the mundane and the magical and the messy for one purpose: to glorify the One who tasted death for every man.
As I heard one missionary say: living on mission should never be confined to a trip.
All Your works shall give thanks to You, O Lord, and all Your saints shall bless You! they shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom and tell of Your power, to make known to the children of man Your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of Your kingdom. -Psalm 145:10-12
For more articles and resources like this, download the free March/April RTM Magazine.
It’s like asking honey to pour like water or the turtle to move like the rabbit. Long-standing paradigms or methodologies in a church are like the daily routine of the elderly. They have taken a lifetime to acquire and will not change quickly, much less immediately. Churches get set in their ways. Often, a church may have no idea why they do what they do, but you had better leave well enough alone before you discard their tradition for your latest theory.
I’m not advocating or arguing for the status quo if the status quo is hindering the progress of the Kingdom. I’ve spent my whole ministry coming against traditions that nullify New Testament Christianity, but I’ve learned that even the Spirit of God doesn’t get in a great deal of hurry when bringing reformation. Our God is a very patient God, and He often doesn’t move at the preacher’s pace, which can only mean that the preacher and not just his tradition-laden church is also out of step with God.
One of the paradigms that need to change is the attractional model of evangelism most evangelical churches maintain. It says, “Come over here to us and see what we are about!” It leaves the work of missions to the unbeliever; it asks he or she to go to the church rather than the church to go to them. Yet, it was to His church that Jesus gave the command to go, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”
The attractional model believes that if we can build a better worship service, then those who worship at the altar of __________ (fill in the blank) will come and worship with us. But what can we do that appeals to the sinner more than what he or she has already found worthy of worship? Do we really think better lighting, music, drama, food, or jokes will be any more entertaining to the worldly? Do we believe we can motivate them to get out of bed a little earlier on Sunday morning, after having gone to bed a little later due to extra sinning on Saturday night, and come to our better-built worship service?
The paradigm must be as Christ established, that we, the people of God, go to the lost and unbelieving and show them by our love the only thing that is better than what they are worshipping. In other words, the attraction must not be church services, but Christ Himself. The attraction must be the Gospel of our Lord demonstrated in our loving service and proclamation. But the attraction cannot be tucked away within the walls of our respective churches. The mission of the church is not to wait for the world to come to it, but the church must go to the world.
How do we, as pastors, lead our churches from an attractional model to a missional attraction that showcases Jesus? Let me suggest we must trust the Bible when it says that the Scriptures are “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Teaching the truth of God in the power of the Holy Spirit should not be underestimated. What should we teach?
Our flocks have seen almost every new idea generated to help strengthen the church. And with few exceptions, the ideas have been packaged and promoted as a program. Life is not a program no matter how much we try to program it. It has a way of throwing you unanticipated curves. And if life can disrupt your church’s program, then your church isn’t missional. Making disciples can happen no matter what is happening; you don’t need the right environment because discipleship is a lifestyle not a curriculum or a campaign.
The pastor must regularly sound the note that to be missional is the kind of life our Savior has called us to, which leads to the second thing we must consistently teach.
Too many evangelicals see the church and the kingdom as synonymous. But that is not the case. The church is a part of God’s kingdom, but it isn’t the same. We must advocate a kingdom mindset rather than a church mentality. The result of typical church thinking has made church attendance equivalent with spirituality. We do not convert men to Christ, but sadly we convert them to the church, which makes Christianity equal to church activity The more one becomes involved with the activity and infrastructure of the church the more devout he or she is seen to be. There- fore, evangelism is more about conversion to a church system than it is to the freedom of Christ and His rule.
Ed Stetzer, Christian missiologist and Executive Director of LifeWay Research, has written, “My fear is that we have created a class system in the body of Christ comprised of the ‘called’ and the ‘not so much called.’”
Several years ago 750 laymen who were not Christians were asked this question, “If you wanted to talk to someone about spiritual matters, who would you want to talk to: a member of your family, a clergyman, an evangelist, or a layman in the same business you’re in?” Ninety-one percent replied, “A layman in the same kind of business I’m in.”
This is where our convictions will be tested; do we genuinely believe what we are teaching? We must purposefully step back and let others do many of the things we were told only “the ordained” were qualified to do.
John Stott once said, “Our static, inflexible, self-centered structures are heretical structures because they embody a heretical doctrine of the church. If our structure has become an end in itself, not a means of saving the world, it is a heretical structure.”
How true this is! However, we must be courageous to be patient and allow God all the time He wishes to persuade our dear brethren that our churches have been sent to go and not sent to hang out and wait for people to show up. We are dealing with deeply rooted concepts about what church and church life is. Change is needed. We are to be missionally attractive, and the change must begin with us as pastors modeling what missional attractiveness means: going to the lost and both showing and sharing how beautiful Jesus is.
For more articles and resources like this, download the free March/April RTM Magazine.
I’ve been staring at this blank screen for a while now trying to produce words that will convey some sort of semblance to what my heart feels. I keep coming up short.
Yesterday, I attended the funeral of Mike Morrow, one of the greatest men of God I’ve ever known. His life has touched mine in various ways; directly, through his children (one of whom, with his wife, taught my Sunday school class and poured into me throughout college, for which I will always be grateful), through his church (especially the women in it), and through his kindred-spirit relationship with my pastor.
He was a contributing writer for RTM Magazine and the co-founder of our bi-monthly pastors’ fellowships, and those are just two of the many avenues God drove him down to distill the Gospel and His glory.
Mike’s heart was focused by grace on the exaltation of God’s flawless beauty, with the sky not the grave as his goal. He loved and lived the Gospel and I’m so grateful for his life and legacy that remain as he joins the great cloud of witnesses around us.
Watch for yourself as Mike talks about the world he is now experiencing:
For audio from his funeral, click here.
It was the perfect afternoon for a grill out. Driving several miles outside of the city to the home of one of the families, we joined with the core group of the new church plant for an evening of food, Bible study, and prayer. Last night was relaxing, delicious, edifying, and fun.
When it came time for the Bible study, Michael encouraged the church to fight the idea of “church” based on traditional church culture, which says church is something to which one goes, and instead find their roots in the New Testament, which says church is something one is.
“It’s easier to follow tradition than the Holy Spirit,” Michael said. “Fight this.”
Using the text of 1 Thessalonians 1:8, Michael gave four characteristics of a missional church (there were eight but time was limited).
“For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.” -1 Thessalonians 1:8
“What I care about is not your ecclesiology, eschatology, or your denomination. I don’t care that you’re not Baptist—you can choose to be wrong, if you want to,” he said with a laugh. “But really, when we get to heaven we’re going to find out that we all missed it somewhere. None of us have all truth. If there’s no perfection past this life that means I’ve already got it and that’s just not true. What I care about is your understanding of the Gospel.”
Through two nights and four sessions, Michael challenged the pastors out of the 60 people in attendance to continually both believe the Gospel for themselves and give it to their flocks.
He encouraged them to not reject their personalities in pursuit of preaching like their heroes but to recognize their personalities have been created and shaped for their specific role in their specific church.
“This conference is not for you to imitate what I do,” he said. “I preach the way I do because that’s who I am. I should be less of who I am and more of Jesus. The truth is God uses us in spite of us not because of us. Be who you are.”
“Be men, real men, and that includes all of your emotions,” he said. “I refuse to preach on hell, if I cannot be broken. I don’t know how you can preach on eternal punishment in a detached way. And how can you preach about the fullness of joy at God’s right hand and pleasures forevermore with a straight face?”
“The way you discuss God ought to befit the dignity that is His.”
“The point of preaching is not to teach your people more Biblical information; that’s just a tool God uses to manifest His presence.”
“If you don’t lay down your life for your sheep, you’ll never get on a cross for them. Our lives are too wrapped up in our reputation. When you can die to your reputation, you’re laying down your life for your sheep.”
“If you don’t spend time in prayer praying for you, you cannot adequately pray for others. If my heart is not right with God, how can I help your heart? The best thing a pastor can do for his congregation is keep his heart in love with Jesus.”
“Pastor, God didn’t call you to be the Holy Spirit for your people and if you are continually answering people and doing what they ask they’ll never learn to listen to the Holy Spirit for themselves. One of the best things you can tell your people is no.”
“God has entrusted you with one of the greatest gifts given to men: the privilege of preaching. It is a holy and serious thing but it is also a privileged thing. God called me to be a preacher for my people but also because I need it to be made more like Jesus. Preaching is a place where you are carved and crafted to look more like His Son. He is more concerned about the man than the ministry and the philosophy of God is that if He can get the man right, the ministry will be right.”