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A report from the Anglican 1000 Church Planting Summit in Plano, Texas Feb. 22-23
BY THE REV. J. PHILIP ASHEY,
AAC COO & CHIEF DEVELOPMENT OFFICER
Sometimes in the heat of battle it’s hard to remember what you’re fighting for. I am grateful to the organizers of the Anglican 1000 Church Planting Summit for reminding us what we are fighting for. We are not fighting merely for survival as orthodox Anglicans in North America. We’re fighting against principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places that blind the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot hear and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Eph 6:13; 2 Cor 4:4). We are fighting for the hearts, minds, souls and eternal destinies of multitudes of unsaved people in North America.
The Anglican Church in North America (AC-NA) is more than a lifeboat movement for those leaving TEC. By the grace and calling of God, we are, in the words of Archbishop Duncan, “the ancient-future movement of the 21st century church in North America” that attracts a rising generation of future leaders abounding in Christ’s love for the broken. This is the Anglican moment. It may become for us the Anglican century if we keep our eyes on the prize and focus on reaching lost people.
Over 300 church planters gathered at the Anglican 1000 conference in Plano, Texas. (Photo courtesy Anglican 1000)
As I listened to the Lord in our times of worship and prayer, to the testimonies of church planters on the ground, to fellow participants in our round table discussions, and to all our gifted speakers, I came away with four action steps we must do together in order to reach the goal of planting 1000 new churches in the next five years:
1. We must exalt Jesus Christ
There is no other reason to plant a church than to exalt Jesus Christ. We do not plant churches to vindicate orthodox Anglicanism in North America. Nor do we plant them to attract attention to ourselves. As our Bible teacher the Rev. Jim Saladin reminded us from 2 Corinthians 4, we plant churches so that unbelievers will come to know “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:5-6). Drawing upon the context of Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, Rev. Saladin reminded us that Paul was drawing a contrast between his own church planting efforts and those who came in after him, who were literally “diluting and watering down” the gospel of Jesus Christ as they “peddled” the word of God (2 Cor 4:1-2). Satan’s way is always to obscure Jesus Christ and veil him, just as these false teachers were doing by trying to make Jesus Christ less offensive to the culture and the synagogue.
What we must do is exalt Jesus Christ exactly as he is with pristine clarity “and by setting forth the truth plainly” (2 Cor 4:2). Our message is not ourselves–not even the orthodox “three streams” of Anglicanism we love so much. Our message is Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as servants for His sake. Every church planting methodology we use–whether it is Alpha, local outreach in the community, or blended worship–must be tested by 2 Corinthians 4:5-6. Does it make Jesus plain, or does it obscure and veil him? If our methods obscure or veil Jesus Christ, we must toss them away. Otherwise we will be a hair’s breadth away from “peddling the word.” We must be so convinced of Jesus Christ’s intrinsic relevance to secular people and our secular culture that we can present him just as He is–even in the face of ridicule and persecution–trusting the Holy Spirit to cause people to fall in love with and fall down before Jesus Christ as Lord.
2. We must do the work of an evangelist
Our keynote speaker, Dr. Ed Stetzer, reminded us that we must “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5). Dr. Stetzer coaches more Anglican church planters than those from any other denomination, and it is his observation that this is the most difficult challenge for us. We know how to do things “decently and in order!” We are much less confident sharing our own personal testimony with non-believers about how Jesus Christ has changed our lives and why unbelievers should follow Him as their Savior and Lord. Specifically, Dr. Stetzer challenged Anglican church planters to spend at least 25 percent of their time hanging out with unbelievers in places where we can enter into conversations with them that will lead to eternal turning points. By example, he talked about his own experiences intentionally hanging out at Starbucks and striking up conversations with strangers that led to opportunities to witness.
As I reflected on my own experience as a church planter in Northern Virginia, I was convicted by Dr. Stetzer’s reminder. Hanging out at Starbucks led to some of the most exciting and life-changing conversations I had, both with strangers and not-yet-believers from our new church plant. Like many church planters, there came a point when the organization and development of our church called on more and more of my time. I spent less time hanging out at Starbucks or other places where I might engage non-believers. If I had to do it over again, I would zealously guard that goal of spending at least 25 percent of my time directly, personally, and conversationally building relational bridges and witnessing opportunities with non-believers.
Yes, it is awkward, uncomfortable and beyond our comfort zone. Yes, there will be times when people are offended by the Cross and the claims of Jesus Christ, and they will shut down and turn away. That’s why Paul called this the work of an evangelist! But Dr. Stetzer cited an important statistic: among people between the ages of 20-29, 90 percent said they would enjoy an honest conversation with a Christian about how faith in Jesus Christ has changed their life. You and I don’t have to be seeker-sensitive, cutting edge or emergent–but we must be willing to talk with people about Jesus Christ and the difference he has made in our lives.
3. We must be more like Anglicans in the Global South
I have long believed that God called us out of TEC and into Anglican life boats in the Global South (Uganda, Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, and the Southern Cone) for a reason. From my own experience on multiple SOMA missions to Uganda and Kenya, I have witnessed first hand the faith of African Anglicans who have a personal testimony to share! In fact, they don’t even begin to speak without explaining how they came to Jesus Christ, when they were “born-again” and what difference Jesus Christ has made to their lives. I have seen the passion of my African brothers and sisters in Christ for reaching lost people. Their hearts are broken for lost people, and they have rejected the heresy of universalism. I have seen their reliance on prayer and the preaching of the word to exalt Jesus Christ. I have witnessed the book of Acts come alive through people who are unashamed to call upon the Holy Spirit and confront the demonic. I have observed personally how their polity and structure serves the Great Commission–as they raise up lay evangelists and lay catechists to multiply congregations and reach more people for Jesus Christ.
So it was with great delight that I heard an “outsider,” Dr. Ed Stetzer, say that if he were an Anglican, the very first thing he would do is be more like the Anglicans in the Global South.
We must make their missionary methods and practices our methods and practices. Instead of fighting over our own “stylistic” worship preferences, we must let the Global South teach us how to adapt Anglicanism to our own culture in our own day so that we can turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
4. We must plant churches now
To coin a missionary motto, multitudes are already in the valley of decision in North America. We cannot wait until we believe our AC-NA churches are strong enough before we begin planting new churches. We must begin now.
Can we identify an outlying area or two and prayerfully explore how that could become a satellite congregation, maybe even in time a new church plant? Could we gather the people in that area and begin to pray together about what the Lord might be calling us to do–an Alpha in our area that is home-based, or an evening worship service or a community outreach? Is there a young entrepreneurial lay leader we could raise up as a church planter for that satellite congregation, one who can help the congregation articulate a vision for reaching lost people with the transforming love of Jesus Christ in that area or “zone”? Can we provide the sacraments through bi-vocational or retired clergy?
Is it possible? Friends, it is not only possible, it is imperative.†