Christopher Columbus’ house is only five minutes from mine (or at least the place they charge you five euros to see is). If you had asked me five years ago where he was from, I doubt I would have said Genoa even if given a hundred guesses. Columbus’ Genovese heritage was only one of many things that I didn’t know before coming to plant a church here ( Many of the other unknowns revolved around a rather pressing ministerial question: “How does one go about planting a church in an unknown city with no core group and no contacts?” Couched in these terms it all sounds rather dramatic. However, ours wasn’t just an adventure into the unknown, because when we arrived here nearly four years ago, we showed up with clear convictions about what we’d set out to do. Clear conviction fleshed out in the midst of the unknown rather handily describes our first four years of church planting ministry.

Once when asked how I knew I was cut out to be a church planter, I simply responded that I didn’t, and that we would have to wait to find out. A few of the unknown variables one encounters while planting a church in a foreign country are worth mentioning: I had tasted my own ministerial limitations but wasn’t yet aware of how deep they ran; I had been on the pastoral staff of a church with vibrant body life but knew next to nothing first-hand about seeing it created from scratch; I had tried to be committed to evangelism before but was unsure about what it would look like as a large part of my job description. Nevertheless, I didn’t drown in the unknown because I was armed with a well-defined philosophy of ministry. In other words, even though there was a lot I didn’t know, I showed up with a clear idea about what I was praying Christ would build and the ordinary means He uses to that end.

The onslaught a missionary faces in the early days of transition to the field grinds him down in such a way that he defaults to what he knows best (his core convictions). My “default mode” was fashioned and refined in the classroom at The Expositors Seminary and body life at Grace Immanuel Bible Church. If forced to try to encapsulate it in just a few words, I’d offer something like this: a robust ecclesiology pursued with pastoral nuance, undergirded by an unwavering confidence in the power of God’s Word. This foundation has been invaluable as I’ve waded through a steady stream of unknowns.
We are four years in, and we are still at the very beginning of watching Christ work through, and in spite of, our weakness as we build on this foundation. A group of a few people who met in our living room for a weekly Bible study became a group of a few more people who meet weekly at a building the Lord graciously provided in the heart of the city center (think store front). A handful of these people are becoming members, and we fellowship together around the Lord’s Table. The first fruits of exposure to the weekly exposition of God’s Word are budding as people’s discernment is growing in many tangible ways. Lord willing, we will celebrate our first baptism before the year’s end. The Lord has also been pleased to fill our lives with unbelieving friends who are open to hearing about our Savior and interacting with a biblical worldview. We are praying that the Lord might add them to our number.

This summer I did something I said I never would. I prepared one sermon and then preached it in every church we visited (my wife nearly has it memorized). Missionary stereotypes aside, I picked Mark 4:21–32 for a reason: it gets at the heart of how the Lord builds His kingdom. We sow, sleep and then see what the Lord does. Lord willing, not far from Christopher Columbus’ house, Christ will continue to build a local church with a robust ecclesiology pursued with pastoral nuance, undergirded by an unwavering confidence in the power of God’s Word and sustain it until He comes back.
Finding Grace in Your Fears and Failures (Part 1)
Jerry Wragg (Selected Texts)

A First Lesson on True Greatness

Rick Holland (Mark 9:30–41)
Alumnus Rusty Duckworth installed as Associate Pastor
at Living Hope Community Church, Bartonville, IL
Finals week  December 10–12
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