The Western United States is the fourth-most lost part of the world behind China, India and Indonesia. If you’ve lived in that part of the U.S. for long, then you know the weight of this reality. You know—by name—friends, neighbors and children who don’t know Christ.
But statistics show it isn’t just the western part of the country that’s in a state of spiritual decline. Last year, the SBC was in its 14th year of membership decline. According to Lifeway Research, “Membership in Southern Baptist congregations peaked at 16.3 million in 2006, declining more than 2 million since.” The SBC also saw our ninth consecutive year of decline in baptisms, church-type missions and outreach-oriented events.
I believe we can see those numbers changed. In fact, one of the most sustainable ways to see people’s lives transformed by the power of the gospel is through church planting. And we’ve already seen this. In 2020, the SBC planted 588 new churches.
You’re an interim pastor
If you’re the lead planter and pastor of your church, it’s critical you remember one thing. The church is not your church — not permanently, anyways. You’re an interim pastor. If we want to last in the journey of church planting, we must realize this.
In Matthew 16:18, after Peter confesses Jesus is the Messiah, Christ says to Peter, “…you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”
Christ says He will build His Church. It’s not our church. He is and has been building His Church for thousands of years. A good question for us to consider: are we trying to be the cornerstone of our church or are we just a stone?
How would Jesus plant a church?
When I first planted Journey Point Church in Denver, I wondered how Jesus would plant a church. Since then, I’ve realized Matthew 16:18 gives us an idea of the answer to an even better question: how has Jesus built His Church?
Here are three ways Jesus has built an enduring Church that will never perish:
1. He built His church on Himself.
This instance is the first time in the New Testament that we see Ecclesia (the Church) mentioned. It becomes very clear the foundation of the church is Christ.
Jesus builds His Church on the truth of Himself. And as pastors, we should be inseparable from Him. Thus, we are inseparable from His truth. If we’re inseparable from Him, we’re inseparable from His truth.
He knows everything about you. He knows every good thing about you. He knows every bad thing about you. He knows the number of hairs on your head (or lack thereof for some of us). He knows everything about you, and He still wants to use you to build His Kingdom — His Church. He is the foundation for which you are to be used. He wants to use you.
Our churches can’t be built on our personalities. They can’t be built on our abilities. They can’t even be built on our ability to handle the Word well. They’re built on the Word, but not on our ability to handle the Word.
Our churches need to be built on Christ. He is using us as a foundational piece to point others to the true foundation — Himself.
2. He built His church with hopeful clarity.
Christ says He will build His Church. He doesn’t say He might build His Church or that He should build His Church. He says He will build it. There’s promise behind this word.
The Church isn’t a building. It’s a people. Jesus doesn’t emphasize when everything is going to happen, but He emphasizes the certainty that it is going to take place.
We’re often worried about timelines. When we start, when we launch and when we do all this. Jesus isn’t worried about our timelines, but He’s telling us He will build His Church. And if God has called you to be a planter, you can be confident He will build his church through you and the people He brings to your church.
No matter what you’ve been through or what you’re walking through — He will build His Church.
No matter what obstacles you have faced or will face — He will build His Church.
No matter how uphill the battle seems or is — He will build His Church.
There’s hope in the fact that Jesus was crystal clear on the purpose of His mission.
In an infamous 1950s study, biologist Curt Richter put Norwegian rats in a chamber to see how long it would take them to drown. The domesticated rats — who were cared for — could swim pretty long. The wild Norwegian rats would drown within minutes.
He began to take the wild rats out just before they drowned, dried them off and about 15 minutes later they put them back in. Do you know how long they swam after they were taken care of? 60 hours. They went from drowning in a few minutes to swimming for 60 hours. Why?
They had hope. They had been cared for once and they knew they would be taken care of again.
How much more hope do we have? Christ has proven through word and deed that He will never leave us or forsake us. We have an enduring hope that he will build His Church because has been doing it.
If Jesus is building His Church and will build His Church, the best is yet to come. As believers, our best days are always ahead. We can rest in this. We have been called to a cause that can’t fail.
3. He built His church to multiply His mission.
The church Jesus would build — and is building — would multiply the mission.
What does it look like to multiply a church instead of simply growing a church?
Let’s look at my church for example. If God grew my church to 30,000 members in the next 30 years, that would be pretty exciting. What church planter wouldn’t want that?
But if I grew my church to 30,000 people in 30 years, we would effectively reach less than 1% of our city. That’s less than 1% in a city where about 92%-95% of people are spiritually disconnected from Christ.
But over the next 30 years, if we had five churches in our city that planted one church every three years, our reach (our genuine personal relationship, not necessarily Sunday morning attendance) would be exponential. We could reduce the percentage of lostness by around 25% to 32%.
If Jesus was more concerned about the size of His following like we are our church, then He would never ever talk about the things He did. Jesus wasn’t concerned with the size of His following; He cared about the substance of those following Him.
Are you sold out to plant a church that plants a church that plants a church? That’s the church Jesus would build and has built.
A movement of God
Every major new spiritual development is unprecedented.
There was never a movement of God until there was a movement of God. There was never a revival until there was a revival. There was never a reformation, until there was a reformation.
Tim Keller puts it this way: “There has never been a fast-growing revival in a post-Christian, secular society. But every great new thing is unprecedented — until it happens. Jesus said, ‘I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it,’ (Matthew 16:18). There’s no reason to believe this promise has an expiration date.”
Jesus would build his Church on Himself, with hopeful clarity, and He would build it to multiply His mission. It’s not just that he would do this, he has done this. This is good news for us.
The success of His Church — and our local churches — is not contingent on our personality, skills or spiritual maturity. God uses these, but they’re not the greatest asset to our churches.
The greatest asset to our churches is Jesus. He will build His Church. We need only to build our church on Him.
Published March 18, 2022