December 14, 2012 by
Categories: Church planting | Testimonies
What God promises, he provides!
It is God’s promise to call out a people for himself through the planting of local churches, and what God promises, God provides!
Dreams and goals
For several years, the pastors of Grace Bible Church in Northeast Philadelphia have been dreaming and praying about planting more churches in Philadelphia. At Grace it has been our hope to plant churches which stand in strong relationship to one another with our eyes fixed on a common mission: to plant churches across the Philadelphia area, and beyond, for the glory of God.
Strategizing locally and extra-locally
It has been a joy to plan and strategize on a local level, but also, it has been extremely beneficial to receive counsel and care on an extra-local level from the Church Planting Group. Mark Prater has led with exceptional wisdom and care while individuals such as Kenny Lynch, Eric Simmons, and C.B. Eder have, on several occasions, given of their time to invest in me and other aspiring planters.
They have helped me understand the unique challenges of transitioning a core group from an existing church to begin a new church. They have helped me understand the necessity of keeping the plant simple. They willingly bared their souls and have helped me understand the unique temptations that can accompany church planting. And they have helped me understand that church plants can find ways to sacrifice for the good of other church plants. What a joy it has been to learn from those who love Jesus and sacrificially invest themselves into others for the health of new local churches.
What do we intend to do?
It is our hope as we plant Grace Bible Church of Wissinoming to embody the same mission that we have learned and lived at Grace Bible Church of Northeast Philadelphia. It is our aim to display the glory of God by celebrating, proclaiming, and living the gospel as a community of believers by the power of the Spirit.
We hope to embrace this mission by embodying it uniquely in a neighborhood context. It is our vision to see our neighborhood and beyond renewed by the Spirit through the gospel for the glory of God. Practically, this means that it is our deep desire to see the addicted set free because they are in Christ, to see the abused at peace because they are with Christ, to see the thieves satisfied because they have received endless riches in Christ, to see marriages reconciled because they have first been reconciled to God, to see those overwhelmed with same sex attraction overwhelmed by the grace of God so that they embrace God’s intentions instead of their own feelings…and the list goes on. Our desire is to see the broken healed!
What has God been doing?
As my family and I returned from the Pastors College to Philadelphia, God has made it clear that the neighborhood of Wissinoming is the place for the planting of his church. He has brought about unique relationships with neighborhood leaders. He has stirred up a rousing interest from believers and unbelievers alike. He has begun calling out a people for himself, including two individuals we have already had the privilege of baptizing. And most recently he has provided us with an 85-year-old building…for ONE dollar! What church plant begins with a building?! God is at work to build his church for his glory in Wissinoming and there is no other explanation to it—what God promises, God provides!
Dan Birkholz is a church planting resident at Grace Bible Church in Northeast Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, preparing to plant a church in Wissinoming in the coming year. He is a 2012 graduate of the Pastors College. Dan is married to Jodi and they have two children, Trinity and Judson.
November 12, 2012 by
Categories: Articles | Testimonies
In the providence of God, full of irony and purpose, I was muted.
At a doctors appointment in late August, my Otolaryngologist (I still cannot pronounce this word) delivered the news: either I remain silent for at least six weeks to rest and heal my vocal cords, or surgery would be required for removing the nodule forming on my right cord. So on Sunday, August 24, I began life without the use of my voice.
My experience of silence came with difficulty. My dear, dear wife Brenda sought to make things as comfortable for me as possible. We communicated the best that we could, and drew closer through the trial. My children did their best to understand that daddy can't talk (my poor two year old couldn't get it as he kept pointing up at me saying, "daddy talk!"). As a pastor at church gatherings it was very strange to enter into a room with people and to be unable to express anything easily. In several “conversations” (more one-sided, for sure), I felt frustrated, knowing that the other person was feeling a bit awkward having to keep talking while I did my best to nod, smile and interact. By the end of each day, after innumerable interactions, I was exhausted.
As a worship leader, songwriter, and musician, the loss of my voice certainly silenced the making of music, which I love so much. Without a voice, there's no melody. Through those four weeks of silence (total of six weeks of no singing), it was quite a challenge to refuse my impulses to make music. As a worshipper, however, I must actually say that things were clarified as a result of silence.
With my silencing came grace. The Lord came to me in the middle of the trial and ministered truth and his presence to my soul. This, like any trial, had the profound, sweetening result of building character and then fostering hope and joy in my communion with God. And where God is, no voice or human abilities are really that necessary as silence and stillness before him are very appropriate. During worship times or prayer, the reality of my weakness and inability never once interrupted the fact that Jesus Christ is within me by his Spirit, and that the Spirit was interceding for me and communing with me where my voice and abilities failed. My silence became sweet, only in that Jesus drew me near. My worship of Christ during my silence became one of mouthing the words that I would love to have sung, but in my weakness the Spirit helped and moved me to rejoice in spite of my condition.
All this to say, with this trial, the Lord Jesus more than matched my challenge with his tender mercy towards me. It wasn't much of a trial compared to what I've seen dear saints suffer through, but the principle remains the same: Christ draws us upward and closer through even the worst that we can face. Because Jesus Christ is as glorious and all-satisfying as he is, he really does sweeten whatever bitter waters that come our way.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
Doug Plank is a pastor at Crossway Church located in Millersville, Pennsylvania, where he oversees worship, singles, and young adults. Doug and his wife, Brenda, have four children. You can listen to some of Doug's songs here.
November 1, 2012 by
Categories: Articles | Resources | Testimonies
I’ve noticed something interesting in watching footage of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Decks, boardwalks, and peers up and down the coast have been ripped off in the storm but the pilings remain as they were, untouched by the waves. A sturdy piling, properly prepared, and pressed deep into the sand can last a lifetime. Deck boards will come and go as will rails, wearing in the sun, salt, and surf. Even support joists are ripped off in a storm, but you can rebuild on pilings.
Our lives are meant to stand like those pilings. Fathers and mothers are called to weather the storm. I’ve watched as newscasters are drawn to those folks who, after living through the onslaught, are ready to rebuild. Though their homes were destroyed or flooded to the point of no repair, yet they are standing firm, like the pilings still sticking up out of the ocean.
As pastors, most of us are called to be pilings. The kind of leaders who stand strong behind the scenes, men who remain undaunted by the waves of trial and the winds which in difficult times strip the decking from over us. Pilings are not afraid to see a new deck built once again upon their shoulders. Pilings remain, glad to continue their service.
Sure, now and again a piling is replaced, after decades of faithful use, but no one drives a piling down they expect to fail. As a pastor in Sovereign Grace now in my twenty-fifth year of service, I want to be a strong piling. Sure, were getting a new deck, but you will find me in the same place tomorrow that I was five, ten, and twenty years ago.
After three cancelled flights, three of us pastors and our wives drove from northeastern Pennsylvania south to Charlotte North Carolina to pick up a flight, just to be at this years Pastors Conference. Many more like us rescheduled and took later flights to catch as much of the conference as they could – we had to – we are pilings.
So while we’ve seen, through the past year, the waves carry away much of our decking and rails, as pilings we trust God’s sovereignty and know that he works all things together for our good. Once the decking is rebuilt and the railings back in place, a whole new generation will be served and thank God for the deck beneath their feet. Few of them will realize it is all supported buy those faithful, willing to go unnoticed pilings – the ordinary pastors – those faithfully serving day in and day out which hold it all up. There is a profound joy in serving as one of those supports.
Marty Machowski leads the children's and youth ministries at Covenant Fellowship Church and is the author of The Gospel Story Bible, Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God, and Old Story New: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family To God. He received a Bachelor of Science in industrial design from the Philadelphia College of Art. Marty resides in West Chester, PA, with his wife, Lois, and their six children.
A year ago, I wouldn't have been able to imagine all that God had in store for our little church plant. We were just trying to get our bearings from our recent move leaving friends and church family in Charlotte, NC to moving to the “Lowcountry” (the eastern part of South Carolina that is flat, swampy, and to me…beautiful.)
In the Spring/Summer of 2011 my family (along with 9 other adults) moved to Summerville, SC to plant Sovereign Grace Church of the Lowcountry. During that first Summer, I was going through training with many “missional” church planters and we talked about really “owning” the “lostness” in our area. I wondered what that looked like. What does that mean for my church plant and what does that look like for me, personally? Jim Hawkins (our other pastor) and I began praying about how we would reach out to the community with the love of Jesus Christ.
In July 2011, I approached Sangaree Middle School’s administration about coming alongside them. We wanted to be in the community and we had heard from many books and other church planters that if you know the schools, you know the community. We were welcomed warmly and we began slowly partnering with Sangaree Middle. We helped the teachers set up their classrooms, we did Family Movie Nights with them, we watched the students during lunch at times so the teachers could have a break, and we simply sought to build relationships. The teachers began loving Sovereign Grace Church and many in our church loved serving in the school.
On Sunday, March 11, 2012 our partnership turned into a kinship. I received a text from one of the teachers at Sangaree Middle telling me that the Security Officer at the school had committed suicide the previous evening. Later that day, I talked to Mrs. Day, the principal at Sangaree Middle and she asked me to come to the school on Monday morning as she was going to inform the staff what had happened. She told the teachers that I would be around the school that day if anyone needed to talk. I talked with many tearful faculty members, but I had one teacher who particularly sought me out. Her name is Cassy, a young single woman in her mid 30’s…and I will never forget my first interaction with her.
“I don’t know much about this Jesus thing,” said Cassy, as I entered her classroom. I had never met Cassy, but she had asked to speak with me. She said, “Can we talk?” I said “Sure.” For the next 45 to 50 minutes Cassy asked me question after question about God, Christianity, and death. She cried a lot. I came to find out that Cassy had been an atheist, but had recently been thinking that there was a God, but she had more questions than answers. As she asked questions about the afterlife, I assumed she was asking because her friend had just committed suicide. I told her that if he had turned from his sin and trusted Jesus as his Savior, Jesus saved him and her friend had a hope for eternal life with Jesus. However, if he had not, I could not give her hope for where he was now. She then looked up at me and through her tears she said, “I have stage IV breast cancer.” I was speechless. Cassy was not just asking about eternal life because of the suicide. She was staring death in the face and trying to figure out where she was going. She has an incurable form of breast cancer. And as a women in her mid-30s her cancer has bluntly forced questions into her mind that many try to avoid.
The next day, I came back to check on Cassy and we had another good discussion and I was able to talk with her more about Jesus substitutionary death and resurrection. My wife, Kristin, invited Cassy to a ladies conference (hosted by local like-minded church) that upcoming weekend and Cassy was willing to go. Our ladies surrounded her with love and the speaker (Ann Voskamp) spoke to Cassy about Jesus. The Lord used this conference to open her eyes and heart to the truth of God’s hand in the midst of hardship.
Over the next few weeks, Cassy would send many emails to Kristin and me. And we would have lots of conversations. Many times she would ask a question and I would think that my Biblical response would push her away. I remember telling Kristin, “Okay, I’m going to point her to what Scripture says, but I don’t think she is going to like it.” I even felt the temptation to make things more palatable for Cassy, but by God’s kindness, I never sought to do that…and Cassy kept coming back with more questions and more intrigue.
Then came April 16, 2012. We invited Cassy over for dinner and enjoyed getting to know her better. She explained her various religious experiences and background, but continued her deep philosophical questions. It was funny watching my four daughters interact with Cassy and seek to ask her questions as well. Cassy would describe a type of meditation that she did and my girls would start asking, “what is that like?” or “Why did you do that?”
Later in the evening, when the children were in bed, I asked Cassy what was keeping her from trusting Jesus as her Savior. She said, “Control, I like being in control of my life.” About ten minutes later, in the middle of more conversing, Cassy announced, “I’m ready!” I said, “What, you’re ready… really?” Kristin’s jaw hit the floor and we made sure that Cassy did not feel any pressure from us to “make a decision.” Cassy said that she wanted Jesus as her Savior. So, she prayed…and I’ll never forget the first words of her prayer: “Jesus, thank you for hounding me.” She understood that Jesus had been pursuing her. We had often talked about how God is the “hound of heaven.”
A few months later, Cassy stood up in front of Sovereign Grace Church of the Lowcountry and shared her testimony. The next day, we baptized Cassy at the beach.
Disciples Making Disciples
Cassy e-mailed me last week telling me that her mom had read her testimony on her blog and wanted to know more about Jesus. Cassy is encouraging her to read the Bible and now Cassy, the former atheist, shares about her Savior, Jesus Christ!
The Story Continues
Our relationship with Sangaree Middle School has continued and our church actually began meeting in their facility on August 5, 2012. We were not anticipating using this school, but their administration warmly welcomed us and now we will continue to partner with them as we seek to be a blessing to the community and our church will seek to be a witness of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
As a guy who has never planted a church before, I’ve learned a host of lessons throughout my interactions with Sangaree Middle School and Cassy. First, I learned that the gospel goes forward through friendships. I’ve become good friends with many teachers and administrators at the school. They know that I (and our church) love them and I frequently get email prayer requests from them.
I also learned that it is God’s favor that paves the way for a church plant. Jim and I could not make any of this happen. In fact, we usually just watched doors open up and conversations start that we neither initiated nor anticipated. Jesus says that HE will build his church…and I’ve found that it is one thing to believe this and another to watch it unfold.
On a practical level, I learned that Middle Schools are a great place to reach the community. Many people enjoy serving in Elementary schools with those cute Kindergartners and funny 3rd graders. Many people also like serving in High Schools with their athletic programs and nice facilities. However, not many people like serving in Middle Schools. If you are like me, you didn’t even enjoy your middle school years. Pimples, voice cracking, social awkwardness, school dances…I’m getting nervous just thinking about it. I hated middle school…but this is precisely the reason these teachers and administrators (and parents) could use the support of a loving church who comes alongside them. A church who prays for them, cries with them, and when it is legally allowable…shares the Gospel with them.
Lastly, I learned that our doctrine of sin is linked to our evangelistic friendships. Because of the Fall, people are going to suffer, sin is going to happen, and people are going to need hope. They will go to their friends for counsel and comfort. Over the last year, I’ve learned to have true friends who are nonbelievers. They know I’m a pastor and they know I love Jesus, but they also know that I am there for them and that I am only a phone call (or text) away at any time.
I’d like to conclude by thanking Sovereign Grace Ministries and Crossway Community Church (Charlotte, NC). Our church plant does not exist without your financial and relational support. We are blessed to be a part of Sovereign Grace Ministries and thankful for your investment in us! I know that this story is one of many in Sovereign Grace and I hope it was encouragement about our amazing God who pursues sinners and can use schools, suicides, and cancer to bring about his unstoppable plan.