Why We Restarted Our Church

Acts 29: Churches Planting Churches

I love my grandmother’s food. The grandchild of freed slaves turned sharecroppers, she grew up in Tennessee learning to make the best, even though she often had little.

Slaves were given the food scraps, the undesirable, and what was left behind. This is what they had to make their meals. I’m amazed when I taste my grandmother’s saltwater cornbread, dressing, and sweet potato pie, knowing these dishes have simple and minimal ingredients.

Like soul food, some of the history’s greatest strokes of genius, waves of innovation, and means of advancement come from those who lacked something.

The Problem

Years ago, I felt compelled by the Lord to plant a church in Northwest Detroit. I’d spent my whole life here, and my heart ached for the lost and socially disenfranchised of my community. After I came to know Christ, he opened my eyes to the gospel barrenness, generational brokenness, and hopeless apathy destroying my neighborhood. I knew that only the gospel could change these things, just as Jesus was changing me.

After reading the prescribed books and attending the requisite conferences, I only felt less clear on the task at hand. I wanted people to know and follow Jesus, but I felt conflicted as I was taught how to “attract people,” “pull off a service,” and “build systems.” It seemed I was being taught how to build a church similar to a party bus, not a war tank.

Further clouding my vision were the conditions in Detroit. While there’s much I cherish about my city—rich culture, amazing history, strong and resilient people—we also face tremendous issues here. Immense poverty and crime, a deteriorated education system, government corruption, broken families with generational cycles of abuse and neglect—these are some of the things that make up the fabric of my city.

Planting a church in one of America’s poorest and most crime-ridden cities presents a myriad of unique challenges and often leaves me with more questions than answers.

Planting a church in one of America’s poorest and most crime-ridden cities presents a myriad of unique challenges and often leaves me with more questions than answers.

The Solution

Acts 2:42–47 proved to be the solution I desperately needed. After much time and frustration, I went back to the “church-planting drawing board.” I sought to recapture the vision: to plant a gospel-centered church that reached the lost in Northwest Detroit. I remembered what I was cooking and simplified my recipe.

After much prayer, fasting, and wise counsel, my wife and I decided to uproot our church plant and regroup. We realized we had people, but not a church. We met together on a Sunday, but there was little discipleship and transformation. We had begun planting what we saw around us, not what we saw in Scripture.

We ditched unrealistic methods for the dependency of prayer. I prioritized preaching, discipleship, and pastoral ministry. The Spirit led us to take small steps of faith, like we see in Acts 2. It was a humbling and thrilling time.

Church planters are called to establish families of faith rooted in the gospel.

Church planters are called to establish families of faith rooted in the gospel: families that have godly leadership, deep relationships, and intentional discipleship in order to reach the lost.

Die to Self

God helped me to realize something simple yet life-changing: this is not about me. Never. The planting pastor is called to cross-bearing sacrifice, not to “likes,” “follows,” platform, or prestige. Philippians 2:3 is Paul’s mandate against self-absorption. It’s a needed word for church planters: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Are others more significant to you than you?

Church planters need godly people to keep them accountable. Planting a church does not negate the need for accountability, repentance, and encouragement. Your soul needs to be shepherded, corrected, and cared for. Planter, you can’t do this alone.

I realized I would have many roles and responsibilities as the lead planter. But none of my responsibilities was to overshadow my role as pastor. In the whirlwind of church planting, we must cling to our shepherd’s rod.

Leading a church is a humbling activity. We are often forced to say ‘no.’

Leading a church is a humbling activity. We are often forced to say “no.” We must learn to pass the buck. We see this in Acts 6: the apostles appointed deacons to meet the physical needs of the widows, so they could focus on the spiritual needs—prayer and the Word. We must realize our limited capacity and “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12).

A shepherd is not a CEO. The shepherd’s task is to feed the flock, pursue the wandering, correct the rebellious, and comfort the ailing and broken. Planting a church requires faithfulness in the seemingly mundane.

What It’s All About

About two years ago, a friend at a crisis pregnancy center approached me about meeting with a young man who had a checkered criminal past and one foot still in the streets. But for some reason, he was willing to listen to me. After many meetings and many tears—and being embraced by our church family—he and his girlfriend surrendered to Christ. Our congregation wept tears of joy as I married them one Sunday after our gathering.

Our joy continues to overflow as we watch other stories like this unfold. This is what it’s all about: the gospel breaking in and giving life to the dead. This is why we plant churches.

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