By Grace Alone…

grace

Nearly everyone is looking for the magic bullet that will propel their ministry into visible significance.  Most of the church planters I know who have had remarkable results do not really know why it happened.  I tell this story to remind us all that it is by God’s sovereignty alone that we prosper.

We planted a church in Eastern NC in 1997.  We met in a school and gathered our original crowd with a set of Tellstart calls. We had 138 people at the launch.  There were 11 in our core team, so we felt good about our start.

A year later we were running between 150 and 200.  I had a daily radio broadcast on a new local Christian AM station.  We met in an elementary school gym.  You know the drill… metal folding chairs, lousy sound, labor intensive set-up every Friday afternoon…

One Sunday morning a couple walked in.  I had never met them; didn’t know their names. They answered one of our automated phone calls a year earlier but never came.  After the service he asked me, “Are you ever going to build?”  I said, “Eventually we hope to, but that will be many years away.”  I knew the numbers he did not.  We were MANY years from being able to afford it.  He asked where I would build if I had my choice.  I gave him a location in the next town over that was having remarkable growth.

He replied that he and his partners had just purchased 1,000 acres of land right there and that we should probably have lunch that week.  When we sat down at the lunch table he said something to the effect of “Look I’m busy.  Let me get right to it.  My wife and I have been listening to you on the radio for the last three months to confirm this decision. We are developing 900 homes on that property. If you will move your church to our land I will give you fifteen acres. We want a Bible believing – Christ centered church on that property.”

Of course I agreed.  But I was quick to tell him that even having a lot of very expensive land to back up a loan, no bank would give one to a brand new church with a tight budget and a short financial history.

He said, “Let’s go talk to my bank.”  So we drove to “His” bank and walked into the branch manager’s office.  (He didn’t knock.)  The banker greeted his old friend and then they talked for at least a half hour about coon hunting.  That’s right “coon hunting.”  I do not know why anyone would go out at three in the morning with a very expensive dog just to find and shoot raccoons – but they did.  Keep in mind I was born and raised in New York City.  We had really big rats but I’m not aware of anyone making a sport out of it.

My new friend explained to the banker that he was donating fifteen acres to “this fella’s new church,” and that we needed about a million and a half dollars to construct a 10,000 square foot facility on the land.  The banker said, “Sure, when do you need it?”

OK, at this point I am in shock…  But it was short lived when the banker explained that all of our principle givers would have to co-sign the note to guarantee it.  I said we could not do that because the Scripture advised against doing so in multiple places. (Pro 11:15 et al.) The banker said that was a deal killer.  I told him I understood and that perhaps sometime in the future it would become possible.  When we left the bank I hoped I had not embarrassed my new benefactor in front of his friend.  He meant well and I believe our people would have signed the note.  This was a matter of conviction, not preference, however.  Where the Bible is clear there are no options.

For me this was the old ABC sports line about the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” all in about ten minutes.  I got back to my office and phoned all of my elders and told them what had happened.  We were all in agreement regarding the action taken.

Later that afternoon the gentleman who gave us the land phoned me and told me, “It’s all taken care of.”  I asked what that meant and he repeated his comment, “It’s all taken care of.”  You see after we left he phoned the banker and offered to guarantee the note himself – which he did.

It took a year to get all the permits, build the building and develop the land.  We sent out another set of Tellstart calls to announce our presence the new community.  Our first Sunday in that building there were 451 souls present.  A few months later we broke 500 for the first Easter in the new location.  The church continues to prosper including a full time Christian day school that serves 66 area congregations from multiple denominations.

Back to the magic bullet…  You can see that no part of the story is repeatable in any other location.  This was a great move of God’s sovereignty alone.  If God happens to move on your watch, in your location – you are blessed.  In forty years of ministry this has happened to me three times.  That means that this is not the norm… I have spent many years in less favorable circumstances, but always have been encouraged by these hand full of manifestations of God’s mercy.

Often people would ask about the reason for the success of that church plant. I have no answer.  Many men more faithful than myself and with greater gifts have never experienced such a visitation from Heaven.

Arthur Pink wrote, “Since God loves His people in Christ, it is not regulated by their fruitfulness, but is the same at all times.  Because He loves them in Christ, the Father loves them as Christ.”

Sola gratia,
Phil Spry