Twinterview: Reformed Baptist church planters
Here we are with another twinterview. This time the objects of the exercise are two Reformed (or Particular, if you’re particular about it) Baptist church planters. The one is Lewis Allen, who is working in the recently-constituted Hope Church, Huddersfield, and who blogs at Reclaimed, and the other is Richard Barcellos, pastoring the newly-established Grace Reformed Baptist Church of Antelope Valley (blogging at the same site), which – as you might guess – is not in the UK, but on the planet of California.
As previously, perhaps most striking are those answers in which both interviewees give what one senses was an immediate, instinctive response which happens to be virtually identical to the other guy’s (see Q11). I also enjoy the responses which develop in different directions, which I hoped would be the case when dealing with two men attempting a very similar task in what are pretty much opposite sides of the globe.
Neither interviewee saw the other’s answers until both sets of responses were in, and there was no collaboration or collusion. The answers are as given, and I have not commented on them, either in terms of interest, agreement or disagreement. The responses are edited only lightly for form, and the content is the responder’s own. Please feel free to engage politely in the comments section. I am grateful to Lewis and Rich for their willingness to participate.
You can see previous twinterviews here.
1. How did you reach the conclusion that the Lord God was calling you to plant a church, and what were you doing beforehand? Why have you planted a church where you are now?
Lewis Allen: A précis of the story of the Lord’s guidance would go something like this: I never planned to be a planter, and was happily buried in pastoral ministry in West London. Nearly three years ago my wife and I asked each other and the Lord whether He had any different plans for us. A very intense six months followed of serious prayer, searching our hearts about our giftings and temperaments, the needs of our church and five children, as well as the need of the North of England, which has always been on our hearts. We took counsel from good friends, including experienced Pastors, and found our sights being focused on West Yorkshire. The needs and the opportunities in Huddersfield, and God’s particular providences, convinced us that we should be leaving twelve years in London in order to plant here. We arrived in Huddersfield in September 2010.
Richard Barcellos: (a) Matthew 28:19-20, my training and pastoral experience, my experience with church-planting, my personal desire, the support of my elders, and the support of other pastors. For me, all of the above were important in my decision. (b) I was an elder in a church in Kentucky and teaching at a church-based seminary. (c) I wanted to move back to California and knew some folks who wanted to start a new confessional Reformed Baptist church and call me as their pastor.
2. Why are you a Reformed Baptist? What impact have your distinctive convictions made in your approach to church planting?
LA: Without sounding either smug or simplistic, I believe that it’s the Christianity of the New Testament, and the faith which is the closest response to the Covenant of Grace discovered through the Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve come to a town which has been shaped by General Baptist and Pentecostal / Charismatic churches. As Hope Church we want to hold out the Gospel as the solid promise and amazing invitation of God in Christ. Being a Reformed Baptist Church should make us the kindest church around, as well as a community eager to explore the riches of the faith entrusted to us in the Word and expressed in our Confession.
RB: (a) Why are you a Reformed Baptist? Well, God decreed it. I take “Reformed Baptist” as one who subscribes to the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. I believe the 1689 is a faithful expression of the main teachings of the Bible. It is a Protestant document, falling within the family of Protestant Orthodoxy in terms of its view of the Bible, God, the trinity, man, sin, the covenants of works and grace, Christ’s person and work, the accomplishment and application of salvation, the law of God, the Sabbath, the Regulative Principle of Worship, the church, the sacraments (except possibly its credobaptism J), and the last day and eternal state. (b) Impact of distinctive convictions? The first thing I wanted to do was to make sure our core group understood what kind of church I was going to plant. This meant that I needed to do some teaching on specific subjects. This has also meant that I have begun to preach on key subjects to help our people understand key elements of our doctrinal convictions. I am planning on preaching a series of sermons entitled “Welcome to a Reformed Baptist Church” soon to further instruct our own people and anyone interested in our church.
3. What have been the greatest joys and pains, opportunities and challenges, of the church planting process to date?
LA: Life so far has been very happy. We’ve been able to form a membership and to agree on our distinctives, priorities and leadership in a very short space of time. Our great challenge is to work out patterns of effective evangelism. We’ve had several professions of faith so far. We long for many more. We’re currently working to develop a Christian witness in the middle of the town.
RB: (a) I have been very encouraged with the love of the saints exhibited by our people. I have had many opportunities to teach the old truths to folks who want to know what the Bible teaches and how a church should function. I have also been very encouraged by the various types of support we are receiving from other churches. (b) The most pain I have is self-inflicted. My own sins and lack of spiritual growth continue to astound me. But the Lord is faithful! Since we are still meeting in our home, it is sometimes painful to realize that it will be difficult to get visitors. Another difficulty in my own soul is the concern I have as a provider for my wife and children. Our church-plant is not able to fund our entire budget so we rely on the financial assistance of other churches.
4. Have there been any books, models, counsels or counsellors who have been a particular help to you in wrestling through the demands of planting a church? How have you gone about planting this church?
LA: The best preparation for planting has been pastoring. My best church planting lessons have come through the many mistakes and lessons found in trying to bring God’s Word to the lost as well as to the Lord’s people, through all of the different stages of my pastoral ministry. Regarding our move to Huddersfield, we went through the guidance experience I’ve outlined and we felt it was right to go, so I resigned from the Pastorate, raised some money, advertised that we were going so as to prompt interest in the project, put out feelers with potentially interested parties in the town, and then moved north. It was exhausting, stressful, and highly risky. But the Lord has clearly owned His work.
In terms of models, I’ve just kept an eye on a handful of plants in the UK. No one of them has had an enormous influence, but several have been valuable.
RB: (a) Books? I think I bought three books dealing with church-planting with the intent to read all of them. I could not get through two of them (I will leave them unnamed). They undervalued public worship, IMO, and other things I think are crucial. The one I really enjoyed was published by Reformation Heritage Books. It is entitled Planting, Watering, Growing. I read the whole thing and recommend it highly. (b) Models? Can I put in a plug for a blog post on this issue (http://grbcav.org/2012/03/spirit-lead-leadership/)? Thanks! The only models I try to follow are the ones we have in Holy Scripture and those I think follow that pattern (which are too numerous to list). I think it is dangerous to establish models (i.e., emphases of ministry) outside of God’s revealed will (i.e., the Bible). I have found that the models-of-ministry approaches are often a reflection of someone’s personal agenda or perceived personal strengths or personal burdens. I never want to impose my personal perceptions upon the people of God, though I am sure that has and will happen against my principial commitments. (c) How have I gone about planting this church? I think I have already answered that but can flesh it out some more. Once we arrived in CA, I began Friday night meetings twice per month for interested people with the goal of forming a core group committed to what we were attempting – to start a new confessional Reformed Baptist church. At that time, we had four couples committed to the new work. That included me and my wife. Because I had lived in this area in the past (for 17 years), I had friends who were interested in what we were doing. A couple of months after we started those meetings, a few more couples committed to the work. A friend in Dallas, TX, recommended (via Face Book) to some friends of his in our area that they check us out. Two couples came and committed as a result of that. We created a web-page, Face Book page, Twitter account, fliers, and “business” cards. Once the core group was established, a steering committee of three men was appointed to help hold me accountable and to plan for the future. I drafted a church constitution which the committee helped edit and modify. We took the constitution to the core group and studied through the whole thing so everyone knew what they were getting themselves into. We started meeting Lord’s Day mornings for singing, praying, and the ministry of the Word in October of 2011 with 25 total people. We met in the evenings to learn hymns. In February of 2012, we constituted as Grace Reformed Baptist Church with 17 members. We now meet Lord’s Day morning and evening for public worship. Our attendance runs from 35-40 on a typical Lord’s Day. The men come over our house on the first Friday night of each month to discuss theology. We have a meal together twice per month after morning worship. From the beginning, I have sought to create a culture of love for the saints and hospitality based on the truths of God’s written Word. I think this is important for at least two reasons: 1. it is a display of true Christianity and 2. it is a means of evangelistic leverage.
5. What are some of the myths and legends of church planting that your experience has, in your opinion, exploded? In this regard, does a church planter differ from a pastor, and – if so – in what ways?
LA: I would love to see more Pastors becoming planters in needy places. If you’ve been in a settled ministry context, you love people, can preach to a church and lead it effectively, are shepherding a Word and one-another loving congregation, then keep under review whether it’s right for you to remain there. I applaud lengthy pastorates; but I think that men should always seek to train the congregation in order that they will one day thrive without them. I rejoice that my London church goes on thriving since my departure (and has recently called my successor).
As for the pastor/planter distinction, well, I don’t know! There are planters whose burden is to plant and move on, and replicate that. That’s not me. I always wanted to be an evangelistic worker as part of my role as Pastor in London, and hope that I’m doing both here in Yorkshire.
RB: (a) Myths or legends? I am not sure anything I have experienced explodes any myths or legends. It is no myth that God uses weak men for His glory. I am just an average guy seeking to do what God’s Word calls me to do. I think the Scriptures indicate that doing what I am doing has its blessings and its challenges. I don’t think that will change until the consummation. I guess if anyone has romantic views of church-planting or pastoral ministry they should get rid of them fast. God calls pastors to be faithful to their charge. Find out what that is in the Bible and do it. That’s what I am trying to do. (b) Church-planter v. pastor? Good question. Here’s the process I went through. I transferred my church membership from a RB church in KY to a RB church in CA. This was done with the blessing of my elders in KY. The RB church in CA sent me to Palmdale to preach the Word and establish a church. Once we had enough folks to constitute a church and a constitution we did so. Two of the elders from my CA church came and ordained me at our request. Though I think churches can (and ought to) send men to preach the Word in other places, this does not mean that those men in every case will pastor the church that comes as a result of their labours, though I think that is normally the case. I think church-planters should, under normal circumstances, become the pastor of the church born of their labours. And I think church-planters, under normal circumstances, ought to be sent by another church.
6. Most preachers learn to preach, at least in degree, by reading sermons or hearing preaching. Can you give a couple of names from the past, and a couple from the present, of men whom you would commend as models for a young minister developing his preaching gift?
LA: Listen to all that you can, listen discerningly, and beware of models to follow! I’ve been blessed beyond words by preachers old and current. The humility of Calvin, the alertness of Spurgeon, Flavel’s directness and insight, Hugh Martin’s depth and logic – these have been great teachers. Today I’m moved and instructed as I listen to Iain D. Campbell, Paul Tripp, Tim Keller, Alistair Begg, Sinclair Ferguson. I’ve little time for preachers who can’t keep my attention as I exercise with my iPod in my local gym. Like John Flavel, I want my preachers ‘hissing hot’.
RB: I am not the right man to ask this question. I rarely read sermons and don’t listen to sermons very often these days. As far as the venerated dead, certainly John Owen and C. H. Spurgeon come to mind.
7. What particular pressures do you face to water down your faith and your life as a new local church?
LA: The Lord has been very gentle with us so far. We’re enjoying the relative romance of new church life. Come back to me in a couple of years.
RB: I suppose since we are very simple in terms of what we offer, there may be pressure to become things that people expect or to start doing things that “work” in our day and age. I do not think any of our people are struggling with that at the moment. I do know that some of the things we believe and practice are not very popular in our day (primacy and centrality of preaching in public worship, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs without accompanying instruments [though in principle we are not against them], Lord’s Supper as a means of grace, weekly Lord’s Supper, morning and evening public worship, the RPW, the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath, covenant theology, etc.). Though in our geographic area these types of beliefs and practices are not that prevalent, I am aware of a growing movement of younger people (and some older) who are coming to these convictions which, in my estimation, is a good thing.
8. How do you go about seeking to draw near to God when you feel discouraged or drained?
LA: I need to get away on my own on my motorbike. I take my Bible, i-pod, notebook and pen and a Puritan (usually John Flavel), and find somewhere for half a day or a day (a couple of days is a real treat). I read, repent, praise, make notes, and pray. Sometimes I still feel like lead – but far more often my heart soars and I feel like a new man. I need friends too, and it’s a joy to share with brothers in different parts of the UK, even if just in a short phone call. Oh yes, I fly-fish – worship comes easily when you’re waist-deep in a river…
RB: Since I view the written Word of God and prayer as means of grace, I try to read my Bible and pray daily. Also, I go to church every Lord’s Day, which is a great encouragement for my soul.
9. What do you think are some of the peculiar temptations and challenges that Christians face in the modern Western world?
LA: All the obvious ones – laziness, lukewarmness, worldliness, greed. The less obvious ones are a lack of love for and desire to serve the wider church, and a failure to live truly by faith. They’re my sins, anyway.
RB: The same things Christians have always faced – the world, the flesh, and the devil. As far as peculiar things, I suppose viewing the pastor as a facilitator of people (kind of like a CEO) instead of a servant of the written Word. Also, I think it is very tempting to want to be heard out there instead of settling for a faithful, plodding ministry with what God has given you. I think there is also a tug against an ordinary means of grace public ministry. I am concerned about an over-emphasis on the personal v. corporate as that relates to Christian discipleship and maturity. Finally, I think that modernism and post-modernism have prejudiced many against learning from the past as we ought. This has affected the way we read and interpret our Bibles. You can read my dissertation for details.
10. What are some of the particular dangers that you seek to watch against as a pastor? What are the particular measures that you take to guard your heart in these things?
LA: As Pastors we so often live between pride and despair. More often, our despair is actually the fruit of our not being able to achieve the targets our proud hearts set for our ministries. We listen to ourselves far too much, and we seek to serve our own lusts, however close they may on the surface appear to be to biblical priorities. We need to be far more captivated and controlled by Scripture. Meditate, memorise and preach are great guardians.
RB: (a) Dangers? 1. Treating myself as a pastor and forgetting that I am first an individual Christian with all the duties, privileges, and concerns of others. 2. Wasting time looking at books instead of reading them. 3. Wasting time on the internet. 4. That wretched thing called pride. (b) Measures? 1. Reading Bible, prayer, family worship, paying bills every Monday, exercising, public worship every Lord’s Day, etc. 2. I keep track of my weekly reading to push myself along. 3. I have yet to find a way not to waste time on the internet, sadly. 4. I read theologians like Owen, Turretin, and Bavinck to remind me that I am not one.
11. What do you find the hardest truths to preach, and why?
LA: Holiness. Do I really want to be as sanctified as a pardoned sinner can be? Or am I happy to make pacts with treasured sins (as long, of course, as I’m reasonably confident that no one else sees)?
RB: I suppose those truths that deal with personal holiness because I struggle with it so much. The older I get, the harder it becomes to preach on personal holiness and the more I appreciate the grace of Christ. This does not mean I do not preach such things, it just means I find those things the hardest to preach because of who I am and am not. “…wretched man that I am…but thanks be to God…”
12. What is it about the Lord Jesus that draws your heart out to him, either in general or at this specific time? Why do you think that many Christians speak so little of the Lord Jesus?
LA: In the run-up to Easter I was preaching through the last days of Jesus in Jerusalem, prior to the Cross. I was so struck by the sheer courage of our Lord. His courage, of course, was the fruit of His zeal for His Father’s glory in the salvation of the elect. I hope that my life might show just a little more courage in Gospel ministry. The more I long to see the Father and the Son glorified, and the more I seek the Spirit’s help in this, the more my life will be transformed. What a prayer it would be for me and my church if God were to grip us with this ambition, so we could not stop speaking about our great God and Saviour!
RB: (a) What draws my heart out to Christ? That’s an interesting question. Let me answer on two levels – top-down, then bottom-up. By top-down I mean Christ draws my heart to Christ. He does this via the grace given me by the Spirit blessing the written Word of God, prayer, and the Lord’s Supper. It’s all of grace! By bottom-up, I mean my understanding of His person and work. I think understanding who He is in terms of the last Adam, the skull-crushing Seed of the woman, the One bringing glory to God by bringing many sons to glory draws my heart out to Him. (b) Why do some speak so little of the Lord Jesus? Because of the effects of the Enlightenment in producing a hermeneutical revolution in the West. Really! I am one of those who thinks that there is too much stock put in human authorial intent instead of asking the whole-Bible or canonical question of divine intent. The Bible means what God intended it to mean and we know what God intended crucial portions of it to mean by allowing God to tell us in His Word. I am simplifying a complex issue for sake of space. I think Christ and the Apostles got the Old Testament right. It is about Christ. Before the Enlightenment, the Bible was not interpreted like any other book (in the main). Due to the Enlightenment, many have sought to utilize the same hermeneutical principles on the Bible they use to interpret any literature. This, in my estimation, was a turn in the wrong direction. One of the practical effects is that we look to find ourselves in the Bible instead of looking to find Christ. We look to fit the Bible to our situations, instead of seeing the Bible as the drama of redemption, focusing upon Christ in bringing many sons to glory. We impose our categories of thought back on the Bible, instead of allowing it to produce thought categories for us. If we view the Bible as God’s written Word, revealing to us how He is getting glory for Himself through what He does through the skull-crushing Seed of the woman in bringing many sons to glory, I think we will speak more of what Christ has done, is doing, and will do for us than what we can or ought to do for Him.