This is what the LORD says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
You never know what a year might bring forth. One year ago, I could never foresee what I would be doing now. Last fall, providentially it became clear for me and a number of other people that one phase of our lives was ending and another one was about to begin. During November and December, several couples began seriously praying and considering whether or not we believed the Lord was leading us to begin a new church in the Laurens-Clinton area of South Carolina.
By January a core of about 30 people believed affirmatively that yes, we were being led to begin a new fellowship. We wanted very much to know that we were not running from something but that instead we were being led towards something by the Holy Spirit. One year ago, none of us had any serious ideas of starting a church. But as my youth pastor told me once before I moved off to college, "Rhett, if you can ever tell me exactly what you are going to be doing six months from now, then you are no longer living by faith." When you walk with the Lord, His ways are often suprising. So, after a couple of months of quietly seeking guidance, early this year in agreement with each other, we began a process of praying and planning.
A group agreed to meet on Sunday evenings and go through the workbook Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God, by Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackby. We did that because that resource is an excellent one to get you face to face with God and it helped us to lay a foundation of prayer. Compelled by structuring a church with three key elements, we continued to sense the Spirit of the Lord moving us toward a new work. The three key elements are as follows:
1) Back to the basics. A solid emphasis on the four basic functions described in Acts 2:42: Bible teaching, fellowship, worship, and prayer. The early church devoted themselves to these simple things. Modern churches easily become enthralled with the wrong things – either a preoccupation with man’s traditions that leaves little room for the leadership of the Spirit and spiritual formation – or a pursuit of relevance so much that the basic building blocks of a biblical church are diluted.
Personalities and pressure tactics can replace the Holy Spirit. Entertainment, focused on the individual, replaces worship, focused on God. Therapy replaces the ministry of teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training. Making people happy and reducing conflict replace spiritual formation. The centrality of the Word of God is minimized in our culture. The latest fad and/or a dependance on the props of modern technology can be given more attention than calling on the name of the Lord for the anointing of the Holy Spirit and His deep work of revelation, conviction, and illumination. In this shift, “cool” can replace “conviction” - or personalities become more important than God’s presence. There is a hunger within us to return to a simple devotion to Jesus, a sincere openness to the Holy Spirit, and a verse by verse teaching of God’s Word.
We need to return to the four essentials: Bible teaching, fellowship, worship, and prayer. One of the key tools we have used during our planning has been Charles Swindoll's excellent book The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal. In it he writes, "You can’t have a church if you take away any of the four essentials. You can have more than these four, but you cannot have less and still be a church. And if you have more – and most churches do – those things added must never contradict or obscure the importance of the essentials. When they do, count on it, erosion occurs."
2) Experiencing God in small groups. Many of our most meaningful times of worship have taken place in small group gatherings in homes, in hotel rooms, in mountain cottages – places where friends gather informally in comfortable settings intentional about seeking the Lord together. The early church experienced much of her communion and fellowship in the homes of the believers. We have a great desire to build a fellowship that will foster the meeting of small groups that will intentionally foster such love, caring, and accountability. Though we are not certain of what form those groups will take (Sunday morning Sunday School, in-home cell groups, etc.), we are deeply devoted to structuring a church via small groups.
3) A family-equipping model. The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) is considered by the Jews to be the foundational instruction in the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament. Jesus later used the Shema to illustrate life’s most important commandment – loving the Lord (Mark 12:28-29). The context of the Shema – the laboratory for producing persons who love the Lord with all of their heart, soul, and might - is not the church but the home. Parents are instructed in Deut. 6 what to do in order to produce such type of children. The imperative there is that parents must walk closely with the Lord with His Word on their hearts, and they will in turn impress those teachings and words onto the hearts and minds of their children.
The family is the bedrock of society. The family was made before any other institution. The family was created before the community of faith – actually the family is the primary faith community! Society will be strong when families are strong. Churches will be strong when families are strong. And churches need to organize in order to strengthen families. Sadly, many parents do not see themselves as the primary faith-influencers in the lives of their children. For years, churches have not strategically equipped parents to train their children spiritually. What if the discipleship processes at church and parents’ efforts to lead their children spiritually became one simple, common path? What if the church embraced a strategy to equip parents to be the primary faith influencers, giving them motivation, resources, training opportunities, and most importantly a clear path to walk on? What if the church offered Bible study and events that reinforced the parents’ role? The primary distinctive of this new church will be a heart and a strategy for equipping families, helping parents and grandparents to shape their families spiritually.
Simply put, we desire and sense a divine compulsion to build a church that will strengthen families as the primary catalyst for spiritual growth, healthy relationships, and societal stability. Raise disciple-making families who will impact people and the culture for Christ.
These days we are praying to that end. Please pray with us.