On February 28, 2015 at 4:00 P.M. the College Drive Church launched a new church in Clinton MS called The Ridge. What started as a vision years before had finally become a reality. The process began when I sat down with my head elder, Mike Whatley, and he shared with me the vision the church had in planting another church in the middle Mississippi area. The city of Clinton was the area that God put on our hearts to be the location of this first church plant. The Holy Spirit affirmed this decision when the church as a whole officially voted it in the following year. The church unanimously embraced the plant, although there were a fair share of questions, and concerns about this venture. “How would it affect College Drive, recent growth, and evangelistic emphasis?” “How would it affect their pastor (me)?” “Will it hurt our attendence?” And the question you can always expect at any church business meeting, “where’s the money coming from?” Without fail the objections I hear most concerning church plants are fear-based. Which is normal. It is a major move, it requires change, no on likes change. It requires major faith and courage. However, the overarching commitment from the church for mission and evangelism prevailed. “Perfect love casts out fear”-1 John 4:18. Through this journey we have discovered many things. However, we have seen first hand how church planting is a miraculous, necessary, and incarnational work.
First, church planting is miraculous. Psalms 127: 1 says Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. If I ever doubted this verse before, I don’t anymore. Giving birth to a church is a lot like giving birth to a child, and just as miraculous; God has to be the beginning, end, and everything in between, of the entire process. Once the launch date of the new church was selected we stayed committed to that date. Many obstacles appeared which tempted us to push back our date, but we remained committed to the original launch date. We firmly believed that the reason we often don’t see God do the impossible in our lives, and our church, is because we only attempt things we can do on our own. To push back the date would be relying on our sight, rather than God’s. Isaiah 55:8 says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.
One of the larger obstacles we faced was the issue of location. We explored many different options, from meeting at a local church, to leasing a storefront. However, every door we tried go through seemed to slam shut. We finally found a vacant restaurant in the middle of the city that became the hopeful prospect. The renovations were going to be significant, and the rent high, but the restaurant seemed like our only option at the time. However, just one month from our launch service, due to various issues, this prospect also failed to materialize. But God is always behind the scenes bringing about his will. Which is always far better than anything we could possibly imagine. About the time the restaurant fell through a friend of mine saw a church with a sign on it that said, “congregation moving to new location.” This church was in the perfect location. It had the perfect, storefront, look we had originally wanted. However, when I called the pastor he quickly told me he had no interest in renting it, but wanted to sell. So we made it an issue of intense prayer and fasting. We had just begun a major evangelistic series in a nearby convention center. This was to be our major launching event to begin our new church, (keep in mind we still had no place to meet once the meetings were over). However, after continued prayer, and (a little bit of obnoxious calling from me) the pastor agreed to let us lease the building. One week before our meetings came to an end, and the launch service for our new church was to begin, God stepped in and answered our prayers. Not only did we have a facility, but it was worship-ready. The church had all the chairs, projectors, mics, we needed in order to launch on time. Not only that, but the pastor agreed to apply ¼ of all our rent to the eventual purchase of the building.
When some of our funding did not come through when anticipated we saw God again step in. Church planting has singlehandedly been one of the most difficult things I have ever been a part, but it has also been singlehandedly one of the most rewarding. We have seen God work miraculously throughout the entire process. We have experienced God’s power in a way we never would’ve had we not stepped out in faith.
This is why church planting is so necessary for the growth of God’s Kingdom, and even the health of established churches. Because we planted we have seen God work in a way we never would have if we hadn’t planted. It has forced our church to emrbace a better paradigm for discipleship. New members immediately stepped into essential roles, and leadership expanded. A church plant does not allow the luxury of postponing engaging new members. They must be immediately assimilated into roles right away. This has allowed for members in the parent church who have been taking more of a passive role to be called on to step forward. Church planting is so necessary because it forces us back into Christ’s-way of discipleship. Jesus did not teach people how to do evangelism in a classroom. He didn’t have seminars on church growth strategies. “The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me.” If you do not disciple you will fail as a church planter. Church planting is absolutely necessary for growing God’s Kingdom.
Finally, church planting is incarnational. The central theme of the Gospel, and what differentiates Christianity from every other religion, is that we do not find our way to God, God came down and found us. “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” John 1:14 (The Message). Similarly, the church has to operate in a setting where it can identify with it’s community so that it can serve it. No longer can we work from a paradigm where we sit back and expect people to drive 30+ miles to our church. We cannot serve communities we are out of touch with. We must incarnate into the community. We must become the Word-made-flesh in our businesses, in our neighborhoods, in our cities. In Matthew 5:14–16 (ESV) Jesus says 14“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
The Ridge has just started to see the miraculous, necessary, and incarnational ministry of church planting. We’re excited about what the future holds, because we know who holds the future.
 The Ministry of Healing (p. 143). Pacific Press Publishing Association.