Matthew 16:18: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Today, I am teaming up with John Erickson to preach about God’s grace in church planting. The church voted last Sunday to approve Treasuring Christ Together funds for the planting of Jubilee Community Church about 2.5 miles from here at 16th Avenue and 33rd Street South. John will be the preaching pastor there, and I want you to hear his vision and consider going with him in this new work. So he will come and take the last 10 minutes or so of this message.
Why Plant Churches?
But before he does, I want to give you a historical and biblical setting for what we believe God is doing. But first, why is church planting so important?
There are about 200 million non-churched people in America, making America one of the four largest “unchurched” nations in the world.
Each year, about 3,500 churches close their doors permanently.
Today, of the approximately 350,000 churches in America, four out of five are either plateaued or declining.
One American denomination recently found that 80% of its converts came to Christ in churches less than two years old.
Planting Churches to Multiply Strengths
There are many more reasons. Let me give you one that’s in my heart. Someone might say, “We plant churches because we love so much about Bethlehem, we want there to be lots of Bethlehems.” Well, you need to know that is not the way my heart works. I say this instead: “We have a great God, a great Savior, a great gospel, a great vision of God’s sovereign grace, and we want to see more and more incarnations of this in local churches. But there are so many weaknesses and so may imperfections and so many cultural limitations to Bethlehem that I am not eager for her replication.
Rather, what I dream about is more and more incarnations of the vision and the theology without the same limitations and imperfections. What the world needs is not the replication of our imperfections and limitations but new sets of imperfections and limitations. If we could multiply enough churches with different strengths and weaknesses, then the sum total would come closer to meeting the crying needs of the world.”
A Legacy of Church Planting
So I have no rosy picture of our beloved Bethlehem. She is precious to me beyond words. And all the more because she has been about this mission of church planting for 139 years. And will continue to be in the future, I pray. I hope you love this history and will be committed to this future.
In 1871, this church was planted from First Baptist Church across town as the First Swedish Baptist Church.
In 1879, we sent 29 members to start First Norwegian-Danish Baptist Church, which became Powderhorn Park Baptist. When that church closed 127 years later in 2006, the building was given back to Bethlehem and is now the building at 16th Avenue and 33rd Street in South Minneapolis where this new church plant will be started.
On February 21, 1888, Bethlehem planted Elim Baptist Church in Northeast Minneapolis.
In 1896, we planted Bethel Baptist Church in the Seward neighborhood.
In 1941, we partnered with 16 other churches to form Spring Lake Park Baptist Church.
In 1944, we sent members to help form Saint Louis Park Baptist Church, which later merged to form Cross of Glory Baptist Church in Hopkins.
In 1948, 106 Bethlehem members formed Edgewater Baptist Church in south Minneapolis.
In 1949, Bethlehem helped organize the Wayside Chapel and sent John Lundberg to pastor the body of believers that became known as Wooddale Church.
In 1952, we sent Pastor Winston Sherwick with other members to establish Brooklyn Center Baptist.
In 1988, the Laotian Church of Peace was launched.
In 1996, one of our interns, Steve Treichler, took a group and started Hope Community Church, which is now one block from us to the west where 800-plus people gather for worship each weekend, and from which they have now planted five other churches.
In 1998, we sent out Jim Bloom with Celebration Community Church.
In 2000, we sent Rick Gamache as pastor and reestablished the church that became Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Bloomington.
In 2000, Russ Gregg and Cecil Smith planted Sovereign Joy Fellowship.
The TCT Vision
In 2002, Bethlehem embraced the Treasuring Christ Together (TCT) vision, including multiplying campuses, planting churches, and caring for the poorest of the poor through the Global Diaconate.
From this has emerged a church-planting network called Treasuring Christ Together Network under Kenny Stokes’ leadership. The aim is that the churches that are planted help each other keep the vision and plant other new churches so that the effect is exponential—churches that gladly embrace the mission statement “to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ” and hold to the Elder Affirmation of Faith and Ten Dimensions of Church Life.
In 2003, Desiring God Community Church was started in Charlotte, North Carolina, by Coty Pinkney and people from Bethlehem who were moving to Charlotte with the Billy Graham Association.
In 2004, one of our elders, Dwayne Gibbs, planted the Harvest Movement Youth Center in St. Paul with the aim to develop a church, now Berean Missional Church.
In 2005, Sean Cordell and Kent Capps went out after being here for TBI and planted Treasuring Christ Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.
In 2006, Matthew Molesky and Chris Lent went from TBI and partnered with Gregg Heinsch to establish Celebration Community Church in Orlando.
In 2006, Jordan Thomas, one of our first TCT Church planting residents, started Grace Community Church in Memphis, Tennessee.
In 2006, three pastors from Bethlehem, Wally Brath, Sherard Burns, and John Erickson, planted All Nations Christian Fellowship in Brooklyn Center.
In 2007, Charlie Handren completed his TCT Church planting residence and took a team of people from the North Campus and started Glory of Christ Baptist Church in Elk River.
In 2009, after completing the Church Planting Residency program, Tim Cain moved to El Cajon, California, and planted a new campus of Kaleo Church.
And today Jason Vaden and Brett Louis are TCT Church planting residents at Bethlehem and are praying and planning for God’s next church plants through their leadership.
Which brings us to today’s focus on God’s work in establishing Jubilee Community Church in South Minneapolis at the 16/33 center. That’s the historical setting.
The Biblical Setting
Now the biblical setting. Please turn with me to Matthew 16:18. We will focus briefly on this one verse. Jesus says to Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Representing the Apostles, Peter had spoken the foundational truth of the church: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And thus he and all the Apostles became, according to Ephesians 2:20, the foundation of the house of God—the church. And on this foundation of apostolic truth—cherished by the leaders of Bethlehem and Jubilee—Jesus promises, “I will build my church.”
That’s all I want to talk about in these next few minutes. Four comments about this spectacular promise: “I,” “will build,” “my,” “church.”
“I will build my church.” Who is this “I” who made this promise? Take one scene as the answer: We are in heaven beholding the throne of God. In his hand is a scroll—the unfolding of the end of history and the destiny of the church of Christ. At first, no one is seen worthy to open the scroll—that is to bring history to its appointed consummation. John weeps that none is found. Then one of the 24 elders says, “Weep no more because the Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered and is worthy to open the scroll.” Then the Lion-like Lamb and the Lamb-like Lion takes the scroll. And the elders and creatures around the throne sing,
Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.
One person is worthy to bring history to its appointed consummation—the Christ, the Son of the living God who has a ransomed people in every ethnic group on the planet. And then two astonishing things happened: millions of angels and talking birds and horses and fish confirmed the greatness of Christ.
[I heard] the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands [that’s at least 2 million], saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven (birds and butterflies) and on earth (horses and tigers and squirrels) and under the earth (worms and moles and groundhogs) and in the sea (fish and squid and lobsters), and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
This is the one who said, “I will build my church.” It is going to happen.
“I will build my church.” The church is not a building. It’s a people, with or without a building. But the Bible pictures this people sometimes as a tree that grows and sometimes as a building that is built. The point is that this people has a builder, and the builder is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus builds the church.
How? By ripping down the gates that hold the human heart in hell-bent sin.
How did he build the church in Philippi? With 1) a businesswoman (Lydia), 2) a demon possessed slave girl, and 3) a pagan city employee who worked in the local jail.
Lydia: The Lord opened her heart to give heed to the word (Acts 16:14).
The demon possessed slave girl: “‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.” (Acts 16:18)
The jailer: At midnight, Paul and Silas were singing in their cell to God, and God blew the doors off the cells with an earthquake—and off the heart of the jailer.
Paul was Jesus’ instrument. Jesus built his church in Philippi, and he will build it in South Minneapolis.
“I will build my church.” God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). And not only us, but millions more scattered throughout the earth (John 11:52). And he has many people in this city (Acts 18:10). He bought them by his own blood (Acts 20:28). And he will make them a kingdom and priests to his God. And they shall reign on the earth (Revelation 5:9). They will be his church. They are not their own. They are bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). They are his. He will gather them. And build his church.
“I will build my church.” It is a thrilling thing to me that what we are celebrating and supporting today is a church in the making. Not just a ministry. But a church: Jubilee Community Church being built by the Son of the living God out of hell-bent lives.
Mark this well: Jesus does not promise that he will build his school, or that he will build his co-op, or build his medical clinic, or build his university, or build his social service agency—as good as those are. He promises with absolute authority: I will build my church.
Jubilee Community Church, believe this. Stand on this. And the gates of hell will not prevail against you.