For the Good News: Erin & Church Planting in Texas

Jesus Christ came from God the Father in love—died for our sins, was buried, resurrected, and made appearances—that instead of being condemned to eternal hell we can be redeemed and forgiven new creations who forever worship God. Romans 10:14-15 teaches, of sharing this good news with those who don’t yet know it, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” In this interview series, “For the Good News,” we’re priviledged to feature missionaries and stateside church planters who have been sent for the lost to hear the gospel.

Erin is currently rooting her life in New Braunfels, Texas, as she and her husband obey God’s call to plant a church. She has four precious children, two at home with Lord and two on earth. Erin is the founder of Hope Mommies, a ministry to serve families experiencing miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss. 

Lianna: Share with us how being sent as church planters helps the lost hear the proclamation of good news.

Erin: Christ promises to build His church (Matt. 16:18) Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 5:23). It is through the church that the manifold wisdom of God is displayed (Eph. 3:10).  It is through the church that disciples grow and are sanctified (basically every epistle in the New Testament supports this). It seems prudent and obvious then, that as we fulfill the Great Commission in Matthew 28 to make disciples, we do so through the vehicle of the church.

Personally, evangelism is not my “gift.” When I take spiritual gift inventories, this one ranks low. You can imagine then my fleshly anxiety as we began to pray and prepare to be church planters! Here’s truths I’ve drawn on when faced with anxiety:

1.     Every believer is called to make disciples (Matt. 28:19)

2.     Christ is with me! (Matt. 28:20)

3.     God doesn’t call us to something then leave us high and dry. He will provide what we need. (Eph. 3:20-21).

One very cool thing is that despite any anticipated awkwardness, sharing has been remarkably easy and often. We just moved to New Braunfels, Texas in January. So as I “go” (to the playground with the kids, or the river, or the library) I ask the Lord to give me an opportunity to talk to someone. Usually I can ask a question about the city, and then share that we recently moved. 95% of the time, people ask me what drew us here. And then boom, there’s my opportunity to share that we’re here to plant a church because we believe that Jesus came to die because He loves the world; wants to save them out from their sins and condemnation; wants to have a personal relationship with them; and wants them to be involved and growing in a church that exalts the Word, worships Him in spirit and truth, prays fervently and focuses on making disciples.

Sometimes this ends in awkwardness. But more often than not, I make a friend or at least a smiling acquaintance at the park. I can leave knowing that I planted seeds, and God is at work to yield the growth (1 Cor. 3:6).

L: In addition to the very significant area of financial support, what are some of the most helpful ways you have been supported by the church?

E: Financial support is huge, no doubt. And it was a very clear indication of God’s leading for Blair and I to church plant. Very few people have the thousands of dollars it takes to plant sitting in their bank account. It was a “mountain” that only God could move, and He did, even before we asked!

When it’s God’s will, done in God’s way, for His glory, He makes the path clear (Proverbs 3:6). I don’t mean to minimize the struggles of raising support. Entreating others to support the calling you believe God has made clear through the confirmation of the church is humbling. I hope to encourage you that God is a good Father, who gives good gifts to His children, and owns every bank account. If it is His will for you to go, He will make it happen. What He does in you as you wait is the real gold.

Having a church body joyfully send us to “go” was confirmation, and it has been a joy to have friends and members from our previous congregation show up for Core Group meetings, faithfully pray for us, and financially support us.

We are also privileged to be a part of a church planting network, Harvest Bible Fellowship. I cannot understate how incredible it has been to be a part of a network, rather than parachuting in. There are decades of experience that we can draw from.

L: What have you learned about the power of prayer?

E: I feel a bit like Job as I answer this: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;” (Job 42:5). I had a weak prayer life before embarking on this church planting journey. I prayed because I know I should; I prayed because it felt good to pour out my heart before Him; I prayed inconsistently and without much fervency. If prayers weren’t answered quickly I lost heart; if prayers were answered I felt shocked. My prayer life was a reflection of my understanding of the character of God, and what it revealed to me is that I didn’t understand His goodness, His love for His children, or His willingness to answer their cries.

A few tools that God used to break and build my prayer life: A Journey to Victorious Praying, by Bill Thrasher; James MacDonald’s Breakthrough Prayer preaching series; memorizing Psalm 34; and a 40 day prayer challenge.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32).  This verse has redefined my prayer life. If I believe that God willingly sacrificed His Son to bring me to Himself and secure my eternity in heaven—then what is $10,000 to Him? What is the growth of a core group, or a building location, or a new home, or friendships, in comparison to that? Of course He will give us the things we need!

In prayer God reshapes my heart, straightening what is bent by sin or faulty thinking or fear. In prayer God convicts me of the sin that causes a barrier in my relationship with Him. God won’t hear me if I cherish sin in my heart (Ps. 66:18). And I cannot be made more into the likeness of His Son if I am not in right relationship with Him. Everything goes back to prayer. Everything begins on your knees.

L: For those who sense a calling to be church planters, what wisdom would you share about how to prepare?

E: The primary call to pastor the church plant belongs to my husband. As a wife and helpmate, I am willing and ready to support my husband in this great work.

Is your husband a man who meets the qualifications of an elder? Have his teaching and preaching gifts been confirmed by others? Has the calling been supported by elders at his church? Is he able to leave the church that he is at “well” (in good standing, not in a lurch, with a joyful sending?)

Research church planting networks. Read solid, encouraging books regarding church planting. But mostly, pray.

If God is sending you, He will provide your every need. Pour out your heart before Him. Be brave and courageous. He will direct your steps. Rest in His leading. Reflect on His preparation and faithfulness to you in the past. Keep a prayer journal. Know the Word. Be in the Word, every day. Memorize it. Prioritize it. Be ready to share it. Learn what it means to work hard and still rest in God’s promise to build the church.

Theological Correspondence Across the Globe, Summer 2017 {Letter #4}

Over the course of this summer, two of our writers, Lianna and Amy, will be exchanging letters to each otherfrom their personal desks straight to the blog. If you have any ideas of what youd enjoy seeing them write about, feel free to send us a note. Read back through all of the letters here.

Theological correspondence over a summer. Theology blog for women.

New Zealand

Dear Lianna,

One thing New Zealand has made me realise is that I hate the smell of feijoas. They are the kiwi-fruit’s bald, green cousin, and they smell sickeningly of bubblegum. But my first and most urgent reaction to your last letter was: tell me quick, did you find the bit of your wedding ring?

It’s interesting to me that you could draw such a life lesson from such an event. But then again, we are all stewards aren’t we? I must say I’m feeling it. I suppose you can’t help it when you’re living out of a suitcase. Even if that suitcase is now the size of Everest, the acquiring of ‘things’ (even super-cool Hobbiton and Weta Workshop souvenirs) loses its charm when faced with the hassle of overweight baggage, and the weight of lugging it around from place to place. The joy of the having is not equal to the correlative responsibility.

Isn’t it funny how we could be brought to contemplate the same things for completely different reasons, and still come to the same conclusion? I’m thinking of what you said in your last letter about how identity is to be found in Christ, and nothing (and no-one) else. It’s a good reminder of where to keep your focus. I’m tempted to value myself in terms of how other people value me, and what work I do, and what I’m worth to the world. Especially now when work is in flux and I might be tempted to feel too much the value others put on me, I am comforted to know that my identity in Christ is both fixed and the most important. Created in God’s image, we don’t exist apart from Him. So we can’t sustainably find any enduring or significant sense of identity other than in Him.

So it reminds me of something I was reading the other day about relationships. On the one hand, we have been taught to expect of them some sort of redemptive quality (which cannot actually be found in another—flawed—human). We expect reconciliation with parents, fulfilment in the role of wife, mother, friend, to give us a sense of worth and purpose. And it can, to some extent, but never fully. On the other hand, anything we have now is the grace of the Giver. I may have my wonderful family today, and my precious niece/nephew in two months, but who knows for how long? Recently there was a death in our church. It was entirely unexpected. We have no idea what the future holds. That’s why this author was talking about holding on (and cherishing) the things we have now, sure, but ‘holding them loosely’.

You held to your wedding ring as a tender symbol of the covenant it stands for, but when it was gone, your marriage doesn’t crumble. Similarly, I hope my relationship with God doesn’t disassemble as soon as things get difficult, or I lose something (or someone) I love. My identity and relationship are not dependent on those.

They are rather (or should be) dependent on Him. And He is faithful.

Jennifer wrote a really lovely article about it not so long ago, I remember—“The Cure for Bitterness”. We take the having for granted, and we assume it is a right rather than a privilege. Having a family is a privilege, having an income is a grace. Having special people that you can see every day is a blessing. While I’ve been here, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how the sweet simple pleasures of today might be the objects of the deepest longings the moment they are (or I am) gone. But I can’t be consumed about how much I will miss, or how I will cope with future loss. What I have today is a grace and a blessing, to be received with gratefulness. I have an all-sufficient Saviour who will equip us to the days of abundance and the days of want (Philippians 4), and that is the secret of contentment. As Thomas Chalmers famously said in his essay ‘The Expulsive Power of a New Affection’, “the most effectual way of withdrawing the mind from one object, is not by turning it away on desolate and unpeopled vacancy—but by presenting to its regards another object even more alluring”. We aren’t turning our thoughts away from the wonderful and many happinesses He gives, as if they mean nothing, not at all. The only way to break the hold of even a beautiful object upon the soul is to show it something even more beautiful.

To return to your letter, speaking of running the race, a friend has just entered me for a 10km (6 mile??) ‘fun’ run. I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to exercise, I react badly and get all sorts of drastic symptoms: I get short of breath, I break out in sweats, and I feel weak, I have heart palpitations. I guess I’ll really be needing your reminder: strain for what’s ahead and keep running.

Jokes aside, as any serious runner will tell you (not including myself in that category), as you push yourself to greater heights, it also helps to look back to see what is already accomplished. There was a time where a run of 1.7km was asking a lot. A month ago, I took a route in a forest that was 12. Many times the psalmists advise us to meditate on what the Lord has done. Psalm 143:5 demonstrates how even while lamenting we actively seek solace in reminding ourselves: “I remember the days of long ago, I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done”. But most of the time my thoughts spring to ancient events like the Exodus, and I forget to look specifically into my own little prayer life and the mighty ways God has already answered many of my greatest prayers from mere weeks ago, let alone months and years: I pray for this situation to be resolved, and it is. Then I forget, because that little struggle has me on my knees pleading for strength and trust. If only I remembered to look back on the way God has upheld me throughout, not necessarily provided exactly how I would have things, but His constant, very involved, presence throughout. If I made a better habit of praising Him for the things He has done—very specific things not just the generic, thoughtless prayers I can so often be guilty of—I would be so much less prone to fits of doubt or wordless anxiety about His involvement in my life.

Strain for what’s ahead and keep running. I know what’s ahead, because I know who was behind all the things that brought me this far. God has sustained me throughout, in miniscule and in miraculous ways. I need no further reason to lean on Him. And I need no one else, no status (employed or not) to prop me up. I am His, and that’s why I run.

Well, to Him. Metaphorically speaking. It’s raining here, so I’m not running today. I have my laptop on my knee and my back to the fireplace. Life is good.

Sending you pretty panoramas of pretty Autumnal gloom, peopled with sheep and the smell of apples.

God bless.