The second-youngest pastor on our Fastest-Growing Churches list, 29-year-old Dr. David Platt arrived at his first pastorate, 4,500-member The Church at Brook Hills (No. 26; brookhills.org) in Birmingham, Ala., in 2006. Thriving under Platt’s passion for God’s Word and disciple-making, the church sent 1,300 members on short-term mission trips that same year, and newly embraced the practices of the Early Church. Platt also travels extensively, teaching God’s Word in churches, seminaries and the Underground Church. Here, he shares with Outreach why his ministry is worthless without the Word and how numbers can’t gauge success.
Q: David, what strikes you about being one of the youngest pastors leading the churches on our Fastest-Growing list?
A: Throughout Scripture and church history, God is in the business of orchestrating the events of His people so that in the end, only He gets the credit for what happens. Being on that list is not challenging or inspiring as much as it is humbling. He is showing His great glory, and He’s doing it through my weakness, so that only He can get the credit for what people see.
Q: Well, more and more people are coming to see what God’s doing at Brook Hills. To what do you attribute your church’s rapid growth?
A: We’re asking God to give us the nations and do it in such a way that only He gets the glory for it. So the source of our church’s rapid growth can only be His glory. We sincerely believe Acts 2:47: “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
We have a tendency to come up with great plans and strategies in the church, and we think that if we have God-glorifying motives, He will bless our plans. But nowhere in Scripture does God promise to bless us based solely on our motives—God promises only to bless His plan. His plan is to make disciples of all nations.
Q: Do you use “numbers” to gauge your success in disciple-making?
A: Numbers count to us because people count to us. However, we no longer gauge our success by the number of people coming in to worship with the Church at Brook Hills. Instead, we look at the number of people who are leaving our building to impact the world with their individual lives. Our success is gauged by how many of our people are abandoning their lives to make disciples of all nations. More than 1,000 of our attendees are involved in making disciples overseas this year, up from fewer than 70 last year.
Q: Brook Hills emphasizes God’s Word and the Early Church over trends and innovation. What do you believe the Early Church can teach the megachurch today?
A: The New Testament Church, from the start of Acts 2 with Peter’s preaching, was extremely God-centered. And the first thing believers devoted themselves to was the Apostles’ teaching of the Word. The Word and its proclamation were at the center of the New Testament Church, and it should be in the Church today.
Today’s culture has become increasingly post-Christian. We’re similar to the pre-Christian culture—the first, second and third centuries before Constantine legalized the faith. So today’s churches have a lot to learn from how they did ministry in the book of Acts, using the Word.
I’m convinced that the Spirit inside of God’s people longs for the Word. Week by week in our corporate worship, the Word is central—we spend 50 minutes on average studying it together on Sunday morning. I am at a place in my life and ministry where I am more dependent on God’s Word than I’ve ever been before—if it’s not true then we will fall flat on our faces.
I’m not good enough to speak to all the circumstances represented among the 4,500 people in front of me each week. But I’m convinced that if I can bring people in line with God’s Word, then they’ll be in touch with His Spirit and be equipped for everything they need to face.
Q: Even with such a strong emphasis on the Bible, do you struggle with biblical illiteracy at your church? If so, how do you deal with it?
A: Countering biblical illiteracy is one of my passions. It’s easy to preach a biblical sermon, but not show people where we’re getting it from in Scripture. We’ve taken solid biblical theological training in the context of disciple-making and relegated it to seminaries or outsourced it to the elite few.
So at Brook Hills, we’ve launched an event called Secret Church based on ex-perience I’ve had overseas with training house church leaders in underground places. On a Friday night twice a year, we gather together from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. and do intensive study in the Word. We want to identify with our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world who do have to study in secret, and so we spend a lot of time in prayer for them. Then we study the Word.
We did an overview of the Old Testament the first time we held the event and an overview of the New Testament the second time. We’re also taking all this training and translating it into Chinese, Swahili, Spanish, German and French, so we’ll essentially have “seminary on a stick.”
Q: How do you then motivate your congregation to take this knowledge and share Christ with others?
A: What I want our people to see is that everything in the Word and in Christianity is intended to be lived in the context of mission! What we see in the Word and what God does in our lives together is not just for us. It’s intended to be reproduced through us. And so I constantly connect the blessing of God with the purpose of God. God desires to bless us greatly—and I’m not saying with material resources—so that His glory, grace, greatness and salvation will be made known to all nations.
So if we ever take the blessing of God and disconnect it from the purpose, then we’ll miss the whole point of our Christianity. I continually show my church that purpose in the Word over and over. I encourage them to always have an outlet for taking whatever we’ve studied on Sunday morning together, and pouring it out on someone else, whether it’s serving in Birmingham or around the world.
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