What We Believe

One Church Planter’s Journey

Michael J. Schout

New Horizons: May 2021

Churches Planting Churches

Also in this issue

Churches Planting Churches

The Sabbath and Christian Living

There are many different ways to plant a church, and one model isn’t necessarily better than another. But, as the church planter in a mother-daughter church-planting relationship, I’ve been blessed to enjoy the benefits of a mother church’s vision, nurture, and resources, as Grace Fellowship OPC in Zeeland, Michigan, has grown from a mere idea to a soon-to-be particularized daughter congregation of Harvest OPC in Wyoming, Michigan.

In this article, I’d like to share a little bit about my experience: what it included, how Harvest cared for me as a church planter, and where the Lord has taken Grace Fellowship since that initial seed was planted.

A Mother’s Vision

One paragraph of Harvest’s mission statement reads: “To be a vibrant, multiplying, Reformed church making a significant impact in West Michigan and the nation.”

Note that word, “multiplying.” Harvest is dedicated to being a church that plants churches. A vision statement alone, however, does not make a church-planting culture! That takes leadership, public prayers, the wise stewardship of resources, a mentality of kingdom generosity, and a willingness to be stretched, to lose members to a new plant, and to take on additional oversight. At Harvest, church planting is a priority built into the very fabric of the church’s mission and identity.

I was graciously invited to be a part of Harvest’s mission in fall 2018. My family and I came with the intention of planting a gospel-centered church in my hometown of Zeeland.

One of the ways a church like Harvest can make church planting a reality is through a financial boost from the Neilands Fund. Pastor Wayne Veenstra, an associate pastor at Harvest, observed that this fund was a helpful impetus: “The Neilands Fund served to reinforce to our leadership team and to our congregation that church planting was important. We could point to the denomination’s support of our efforts in a way that underscored the emphasis we were trying to place on church planting in West Michigan. I think that helped our efforts get momentum.”

A Daughter’s Nurture

I was installed as a church-planting pastor in October 2018. I had an office at Harvest’s church building so that I could be part of the leadership team, learn more about Harvest’s culture, and build relationships within the church. My family worshiped at Harvest every Sunday and tried to immerse ourselves in the life and activities of the congregation. It was a sweet season of learning, planning, reading, and asking questions.

I was also invited to take part in ministry at Harvest so that the congregation could get to know me better. I was able to preach, do shepherding visits, and teach a midweek high school theology class.

Although I had been a pastor for about twelve years in a previous context, I had never planted a church before. There was much to learn and discover! The beautiful thing about Harvest’s timeline was that I had time to do that. I wasn’t thrown into the deep end without a life preserver. There was a space for me to think, to tend my own heart and family, and to learn about Harvest even as I prepared to lead the planting of a daughter church.

With the help of the Harvest staff, and under the oversight of its session, ten core values for a daughter church developed that, in many ways, became the glue for our church plant. When we were ready to host our first informational meeting in Zeeland, this list was a helpful way to communicate our vision in tangible ways. Our core values are:

  • Gospel centrality
  • Culture of evangelism and hospitality
  • Reformed doctrine
  • Prayer dependency
  • Expository preaching
  • Morning and evening worship
  • Authentic fellowship
  • Multigenerational discipleship
  • Shepherd leadership
  • Place for weakness

Starting in January 2019, we held weekly core value studies in the Zeeland Public Library where we could further develop these things, give people the space to ask questions, and spend time cultivating relationships.

Then, in March 2019, we began worship services on Sunday evenings before fully launching morning and evening services on Easter Sunday.

Involvement of Officers

One of the ways Harvest continued to shepherd and nurture us during those early months was by sending an elder and a deacon to every service. The elder would pray after the offering was received, which helped our congregation put a face to a name. The officers were also available after the service to connect with their sheep, meet visitors, and minister to our needs.

As visitors turned into members, the Harvest session was involved in membership interviews, shepherding visits, and all the normal responsibilities of elders. Planting in Zeeland took work, commitment, and a willingness to expand the Harvest session’s shepherding districts for a season. Planting a daughter church takes more than the excitement of the pastor. It takes the entire session, the deacons, the staff, and the congregation.

After those early days, we were able to identify in our Zeeland group elder interns and deacon interns who were trained over the course of a year. These men attended Harvest session and deacon meetings in addition to our own meetings as a church plant.

We now have four elders and four deacons who are serving at Grace Fellowship. We are hoping, by God’s grace, to particularize this spring. God is so good.

A Gospel Harvest

The cost to the mother church in church planting is vast. But what about the benefits? Why invest in planting churches?

Pastor Dale Van Dyke, the senior pastor at Harvest OPC and a wonderful mentor to me, explained it this way: “Each time we have planted a church, we’ve seen the Lord bless us both in giving and in new visitors. Nothing is lost when we are pursuing Christ’s mission!”

No, that’s not just a nice quote for New Horizons. That’s how Pastor Van Dyke really feels, despite the fact that people he loves have left Harvest for Grace Fellowship. It’s all worth it. Why? Because of the great joy of seeing healthy, gospel-centered OP churches planted.

Pastor Wayne Veenstra agrees. “What we’ve found is that having an outward-focused orientation has been critical to our health as a congregation, and it has also tended to attract people.”

We received about ten families from Harvest, which does a couple of things. On Harvest’s side, it creates new opportunities for leadership and service. Whenever Harvest has planted churches, losing some of its members to the church plant, others step up at Harvest. Sometimes people step up who haven’t previously served. Additionally, the families we’ve received from Harvest have been able to bring Harvest’s culture along with them. They’re excited about church planting, about serving, and about the mission of Jesus Christ to make disciples.

I am so thankful that the Lord brought me and my family to an OPC church plant. Over and over again, we have seen firsthand God’s faithfulness and power in raising up a new gospel outpost in Zeeland. My experience as a church planter in a mother-daughter model has been incredible.

Now, it’s my hope and prayer that one day Grace Fellowship will become a mother of our own daughter, continuing the vision that our “grandma,” Harvest, has established. Can you imagine that? Churches planting churches who plant churches? May the Lord raise up a harvest of church-planting churches, to the praise of Christ’s glorious grace. Or, in the words of another church planter, the Apostle Paul:

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. (2 Cor. 9:10–11)

The author is a church planter in Zeeland, Michigan. New Horizons, May 2021.

New Horizons: May 2021

Churches Planting Churches

Also in this issue

Churches Planting Churches

The Sabbath and Christian Living

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