I want the church – your church and my church – to grow. I’m encouraged when I see the church effectively demonstrating the love of God and communicating the Good News of Jesus to a culture with an ever-evolving language. I’m concerned when I see the church struggling to connect with people who are far from God. This concern is grounded both in my understanding of Jesus’ challenge to be fruitful and my conviction that millions are spiritually dead and hopeless until they trust in Jesus. But fruit-bearing is only half of the equation.
I do not have a green thumb. I’ve purchased a number of plants over the years and have managed to watch most of them die grueling deaths, mostly from dehydration. But I do have enough common sense to know how vital roots are to the life and vitality of any garden variety plant. And typically, the deeper the roots, the fresher the fruits. Jesus even used this as an illustration of the Christian life.
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me” (John 15:4 NLT).
Church planting is trendy, which has the positive benefit of producing a lot of new churches which are hopefully engaged in spreading a biblical message of Good News for a lost world. But when something is trendy, people usually jump in a bit unprepared. Like prospectors running westward in a rush for gold, people pursue fruit sometimes with such hastiness that they fail to put down roots and tap into something deep and nourishing.
When we plant without deep roots, we’re subject to being blown away, washed away, and dried up in seasons of drought. Plenty of church leaders get upset and yield to a kind of ecclesiastical arrogance, offering a critical backhand to the contemporary church. This only pushes the walls up further and prevents healthy growth for the Kingdom. I’d rather share a challenge and some encouragement.
As we have gone about the work of planting Grace Hills Church, we’ve articulated 10 core values that guide our decision making. I’m blogging about them one-by-one, and the first and most important for us . . .
The Bible is totally truthful and uniquely powerful. It is a complete and perfect guide for life. We will trust, teach, obey, and live it out loudly.
When I first heard God calling me to ministry, my father-in-law handed me a copy of Standing on the Promises, the autobiography of W. A. Criswell. It changed my life and set the course of my entire ministry. I knew from my earliest days of preaching that I would always remain committed to the Bible as God’s inerrant, infallible Word. Criswell said,
“As a Pastor for over forty years, I have found that nothing equals the power and the help of God’s Word in ministering to human necessity. The unique contribution of the Bible in counseling is beyond my ability to adequately present. The Scriptures are a veritable fountain of life and healing. To turn to the Bible as an effective aid in time of need is to open God’s door for the minister who believes God’s Book. The Bible has no equal in its message to the human heart.”
In other words, the Bible is not only absolutely true and trustworthy, it is also the ultimate handbook on living life. I will confess that I don’t understand it all. I don’t have all the answers to all the tough questions people ask about apparent contradictions or difficulties, but I’m also not afraid of the questions. The Bible has managed to stand the test of 2,000 years of being banned, burned, and belittled. But every Sunday, I see it changing lives!
When I speak of planting churches with deep roots, I’m not referring to any particular organic succession of churches. For me, the authority and power of a church is not found in its ecclesiastical heritage or denominational traditions. It is found in its adherence to the Bible as the Word of God. Out of this core value come several challenges for anyone involved in planting or building the church today . . .
- Study the Bible and its theology continually and never assume you know enough to move on to loftier pursuits.
- Tap into the history of the church and the people whom God has used to teach the Bible’s truths for 20 centuries.
- Allow the Bible to be the centerpiece of every sermon and a primary focal point in every worship service.
- Look to the New Testament for the original model of ministry – Jesus and the apostles.
- Live it out by boldly obeying it and letting it change your beliefs and attitudes every day.
I believe in adapting our method of communicating the Gospel to each new generation. Our terminology, the mediums through which we share the message, and the mechanisms through which we accomplish ministry will change with every age, but always remember that “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).