Residency Hopes, Prayers, & Definitions
This semester, I am praying that God would do 3 things:
- Cultivate in me a greater intimacy with him through his Word and prayer.
- Bring greater clarity to my understanding of the church in its beauty and purpose.
- Establish the foundations of a rich community - men and women we get to share life with, confess sin with, and worship Christ with while we're here in Austin and hopefully beyond.
I am currently a resident at the Austin Stone to grow in my character, deepen by theology, and acquire the skills needed to venture further into vocational ministry, hopefully to plant a new church somewhere in the world. And for those on this journey with us, I think it'd be helpful to define some terms:
What is it? Oddly enough, the term "church planting" is not exactly in Scripture, nor is it ever commanded by Jesus. Yet, the reality of church planting is all over the New Testament. Many of Paul's letters (Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, etc) are to churches or groups of churches that he "planted" as he traveled throughout the region. In the gospels, Jesus refers to the Word of God as "seed" being sown in the ground. In keeping with the agricultural metaphor, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3 "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth." As the gospel is shared, people hear it and respond in a variety of ways, and as God brings the growth people are adopted into the family of God, his church. Church planting is the process of birthing new, localized expressions of the church with the intention of engaging a new area or people through the proclamation of God's Word. The hope is to see more people come to know and grow in their knowledge of Jesus.
So what's a church? The church as defined in the Bible is not a building nor a service on Sunday. The church is God's people - the redeemed people of God purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. There is a cost to our rebellion against God that Jesus willingly pays on the cross for those who place their faith and trust in him as their Lord and Savior. The church is a New Testament concept and reality, described in several ways: the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, a flock, living stones, the household of God, etc. Paul calls the church in his first letter to Timothy "the pillar and buttress of truth" whose purpose is to uphold and put on display the truth of the majesty and beauty of who God is and what he's done for us through Jesus. The church is God's plan to show the world what he's like and draw others to his loving embrace.
Who's in charge? Throughout the New Testament, we see the church expressed in local contexts under a governing body of pastors, also known as elders or overseers. In Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus, he lists the qualifications needed for these "overseers," describing the office as "noble" and "worthy of aspiring to." Ultimately, a pastor is a man deeply rooted in the character of God and able to teach and defend God's Word. In Acts 20, Paul says pastors are appointed by the Holy Spirit and refers to them as shepherds who are called to know, lead, feed, and protect the sheep of their flock. Pastors shape, guide, and spur onward the vision of their localized church as they regularly gather together to worship, pray, hear God's Word read and proclaimed, and practice the sacraments Christ ordained: baptism and communion.
They're not exhaustive definitions, so please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions! I think I'll be writing an FAQ's post soon (i.e. Are you becoming a priest? Will you be ordained?). So stay tuned. Otherwise, we covet your prayers as we continue down this fun and refining journey.