Church Planting in Southeast Minneapolis

One consistent realization that I’ve had these past few months as I’ve prepared for church planting in Minneapolis is that if you talk to ten different people about church planting, you get nearly ten different ideas of what church planting is and why we should engage in it. So I thought it would be appropriate and timely to kick off the Gospel Life Church blog by describing in a bit more detail why we desire to plant a church in Southeast Minneapolis.

Eleven years ago this month, my wife Amy and I moved from Chicago (Crystal Lake, IL) to Minneapolis (New Hope, MN). I had just finished seminary at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois and had accepted my first ministry position, which I also strongly believed would be my last. I had received a call to New Hope Church as the Pastor of Student Ministries. This is why I went to school to receive training—I strongly sensed a calling into youth ministry. I had received an undergraduate degree in youth ministry before my time at Trinity, and the only reason I decided to pursue seminary after graduating (other than my rather odd fondness for studying) was because I genuinely believed that I needed to do that in order to minister well to students. I thought that if I was going to be able to bring the depths of the gospel into a world of junior high and high school students, I should have more theological training—not less. After ten years of ministering to students, I can say without hesitation that I still believe that to be the case.

In addition, I should say that throughout my time in my undergraduate program/seminary, as I sought to prepare for student ministry, I increasingly believed that church planting was more than just unnecessary—I thought it was a bizarre ministry during a time in which (at least in the Midwest) I was seeing established churches on most street corners, or so it seemed. Church planting, I reasoned, is for the birds. I understood the need for it “somewhere over there,” across the ocean in places where there were no churches. But in the US, where there are so many churches already, shouldn’t we focus our efforts on filling those communities with people instead of planting new ones?

I remember sitting across from Pastor Steve Goold and the Elder Leadership Team at New Hope Church in the summer of 2006 and telling them, “listen, you’re offering me my dream ministry position at the age of 25. This is what I’ve felt called toward since I was in high school, and I’m planning on being here until you all decide that I’m just too old to handle it. But I’ll never make that decision, because this is my calling.” And I meant every word of it. And I still believe strongly that as it related to my calling, it was absolutely true. I was called to pastor students, and the Lord gave me such a gracious and joy-filled ministry season with a church that has truly been our family these last eleven years.

Yet as is so often the case, our perceived plans are not his plans, and our perceived ways are not his ways. About three years into my ministry to students, I became restless, not with youth ministry itself, but with the types of books/resources that primarily looked to equip student pastors. By and large, these resources seemed to be far more interested in a student’s behavior than her heart. Moralism was rampant in the large majority of resources that had come across my desk, and very few mainstream resources reflected the gospel-centered focus of my training.

Frustrated and looking for better tools, I stumbled upon the writings of a guy by the name of Ed Stetzer. I devoured his book, Breaking the Missional Code in 2008. I read everything from him that I could get my hands on, as I found so much of what he was saying to be extremely applicable to the world of student ministry. As I read Stetzer, I came across the writings of a pastor in New York City named Timothy Keller, and after reading a short article that he had written on “The Centrality of the Gospel,” I came to grasp and understand the gospel and its implications in new and fresh ways for ministry to students. I also became increasingly aware of a network of gospel-centered churches known as The Gospel Coalition, and I left their 2009 conference feeling encouraged and recharged in my calling to reach students.

But there was a problem. All of these voices seemed to believe that church planting was not only healthy, but extremely significant. Ed Stetzer’s book on Planting Missional Churches hit me like a ton of bricks as I began to open myself to the idea that maybe our youth ministry should do more to support church planting efforts. I actually remember running on the treadmill at Lifetime Fitness while listening to the sermon by Tim Keller entitled, “Why Plant Churches?”. I was convicted. If even half of what Keller was saying here was accurate, along with what I had already read from Stetzer, the local church needed to give far more resources to church planting--especially in urban settings. And I should be open to doing what I once thought was incredibly strange (and still kind of do, but in a much different way)—planting a new church.

I wasn’t too worried about that possibility, though, because I knew that for this to become a reality in my life, the Lord would have to prepare the hearts of my wife and my senior pastor, as I had no intention to move our family into this season if we weren’t unified on this calling and wholeheartedly sent by our local church family. And since Amy had just recently given birth to our first child, and since I had just started this ministry job three years earlier, I didn’t think I needed to worry. But the Lord had other plans. Both my wife and my pastor affirmed this calling. And while it was a process of waiting for the Lord’s timing (which ended up being seven years later), we are now getting ready to launch this fall in the Marcy Holmes neighborhood of Minneapolis.

So what was it about Stetzer and Keller’s arguments for church planting that resonated so deeply in my heart? Well, first of all, let me just say that I genuinely believe that it wasn’t really Stetzer or Keller who did that—it was the Holy Spirit—and it wasn’t through their arguments, but rather through the Scriptures that I became centrally convinced of the significance of church planting. But as the Scriptures convinced me, there were two basic points that became the great motivators for church planting in my life. Those two points continue to surface as we cast vision for planting in SE Minneapolis.

1.     Love for People

Now, on the face of it, this might sound pretty cliché. But the more we read on the pages of Scripture, the more we see the good news of Jesus. And the more we see the good news of Jesus, the more we see God’s love for people to the extent that he stepped into their place and took on their punishment at the cross so that they can be reconciled with him (see “What Is The Gospel” in our FAQ section). This is the love of God for people like me, who even when I had set myself against God as his enemy and was deserving of judgment, he took my judgment so that I could receive life with him forever. And now we as the people of God are loved by Jesus to the point that we desire to love others—to put them first—to welcome them as Christ has welcomes us—even the most skeptical people in our neighborhood—so that they can know God and be reconciled to him.

Do we want to meet tangible needs in the community? Yes. Do we want to come alongside of the poor and the outcast? Yes, without equivocation. Should we be giving our money, time, and resources to those hurting in our neighborhood? Absolutely. Is being rescued from his/her sin and being reconciled to God through Christ the most tangible and real need that a person in this world has? Yes, we believe it is. And so because we care for people, we desire to plant a church that proclaims the good news of Jesus in the city.

In a sermon on John 6, New Testament scholar D.A. Carson says the following:

“There’s a great deal in the Bible that just doesn’t make sense anymore unless you have an expectation of life to come. The whole call of suffering in this life, unless there’s vindication in the end, is basically a call to masochism… It may be true that in America 50 years ago, we were fighting too much over eschatological details. But nowadays we’ve got a brand of Christianity rife in the land which doesn’t deny that there is life to come but it’s not very significant. What is significant is how Christianity affects your life now. That’s a vast distortion from the emphases of Scripture. Of course Christ affects your life now. Of course you have eternal life now. But the great anticipation in Scripture constantly is the life to come. Laying up treasure in heaven. And there’s very little in Scripture that makes sense without seeing that. Very little. Very little of Christian ethics. Very little of Christian doctrine. Very little of Christian value systems. Very little of Christian worldview. ‘Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.’”

We wholeheartedly agree that while the gospel brings life to the world right now, the great news of the gospel is that now, because of Jesus, we receive eternal life with him forever—the life that is to come.

What does church planting have to do with proclaiming that message? Church planting is the most effective way to reach non-believing, unchurched people with the good news of Jesus. Study after study shows us (as outlined in arguments made by both Stetzer and Keller) that new churches reach vastly larger percentages of unchurched people than established churches—and not because established churches are doing anything wrong—please don’t hear that. This isn’t heaping any kind of criticism on established churches. Rather, just by nature of what an established church is, and just by nature of what a new church brings into a neighborhood, new churches will always reach unchurched people with this good news most effectively.

So we plant churches out of love for people. And we want to meaningfully and relationally engage even the most skeptical people in Minneapolis with the good news of Jesus because we love people. Additionally, if we are planting churches out of love for people, we should be willing to plant churches where lots of people live. In Minneapolis right now, the population in the downtown and surround neighborhoods is growing at an historic pace. The Marcy Holmes neighborhood has grown 50% in the last five years (from 10,000 to 15,000). This is a crucial time to be engaged in church planting. Motivated by the gospel, this is one of the primary reasons for church planting in Minneapolis.

2.     Passion for God’s Glory

Okay, so again, this might sound pretty cliché or even like the kind of Christian jargon that gets repeated constantly but lacks meaning. However, it is far from empty language. This is ultimately what drives everything we do as a church. In the introduction to the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul begins sharing about this gospel of Jesus Christ, “through whom,” he writes, “we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations…” Why does Paul engage in a ministry that seeks to transform lives with the gospel of grace? “For the sake of his name.” That’s why. And that stands behind our motivation at Gospel Life Church to “root all of life in the good news of Jesus for his glory and the city’s good.”

Commenting on Romans 1, the late, great, John Stott writes this:

"The highest of missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is, especially when we contemplate the wrath of God…), but rather zeal—burning and passionate zeal—for the glory of Jesus Christ.”

We desire to see people (both believers and non-believers) move from their unbelief to belief in the gospel of Jesus in every sphere of life for the fame of the name of Jesus—that he might receive all glory and that his name might be proclaimed here.

So thankful for this community of believers at Gospel Life Church and how the Lord continues to shape us with the gospel of grace to point people to the cross of Christ here in Minneapolis, for his glory.