Mission strategists discuss church planting, revitalization at Southern Seminary
Without the Holy Spirit’s help, aspiring church planters are “doomed to fail,” according to mission strategists in a panel discussion on church planting and revitalization at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Oct. 2.
“I think the most important thing you can do is figure out who you and and who you are not,” Aaron Coe said, vice president of mobilization and marketing for the North American Mission Board. He emphasized the importance for those interested in church planting to realize their leadership capacity in certain contexts. “People who enter ministry with an uninformed idea of its realities result in disappointment,” he said.
Coe began the panel discussion, saying he thinks much of the struggle in church planting — a spiritual activity, he said — stems from men who “plant the church in their mind long before they plant the church in the field.”
He also pointed out that ministry in general is not about Christians and their desires, but about God’s glory.
Aaron Harvie, Southern Seminary adjunct professor and church planting mobilization specialist for NAMB, and Jeff Walters, assistant professor of Christian missions and urban ministry at Southern Seminary, joined Coe in the panel discussion to talk about the various difficulties and rewards of church planting and revitalization. Each church planting practitioner discussed important characteristics and problems of church planters, and how to define success.
Walters said that one of the most important characteristics of a church revitalist is a love for people and a relaxed personality that can adapt to various situations.
“You have to love people more than you love your system of theology, more than what you think what makes a good church, because loving people is the point,” he said.
In church revitalization, Coe said, patience is imperative.
“If you’re going to revitalize a church, you’ve got to have patience and you’ve got to be willing to lead people with a clear vision, clear direction about where it needs to go,” he said.
Harvie told attendees their spiritual lives are most important, including the decisions they make today in preparation for the future.
“If you do not walk with the Lord and really understand who he is and the call that he places upon you to go and plant, you will fail because it’s about him and his glory and not your own,” he said. “The decisions you’re making now are critical to that mission you’re desiring to fulfill in the future.”
Coe also spoke in Southern Seminary’s chapel before the panel discussion. He talked about his journey with NAMB and church planting, encouraging students to follow Christ’s missional example and live humble lives.
Reading from John 20:21, Coe said that Christians need to be sent as Jesus was sent. He then used Philippians 2:5-8 to encourage seminary students to think about how to reach North America and the world through church planting.
After Sept. 11, 2001, Coe said he and his wife realized the need for healthy churches in New York City. “Cities create and develop the culture that determines the way the rest of the world thinks and behaves,” he said. “The reality is that we are not numerically present in cities in the way we should be.”
Church planting, according to Coe, “is a key methodology that God uses to spread his fame around the world.” Coe emphasized that while theology does not change, churches, and the neighborhoods they serve evolve over time. So, church planters need to “be open-handed to make sure our church methods, our way of doing church, is relevant to the context in which we have been called,” he said.
Coe offered four areas of application, urging seminarians to get involved in church revitalization, plant churches in cities, do academic research about cities, and teach their churches to live on mission.
“God has called each and every one of us to live on mission,” he said.
Southern Seminary’s Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization hosted the panel discussion. Information about the Bevin Center is available at missions.sbts.edu.
Audio and video from these events are available online at sbts.edu/resources.