What We Believe

No Congregation an Island

Allison Groot

New Horizons: March 2023

A Seed Must Die to Bear Fruit

Also in this issue

A Seed Must Die to Bear Fruit

Congregations in our denomination are fortified by both the connectedness of regional churches and the cooperation of individual churches within the regional church. That is the beauty of our local, regional, and denominational structure—it creates a framework of relationships dependent on and supportive of each other. That interdependent framework is on full display the first week of November each year, when regional home missionaries and presbytery representatives from across the country gather for the Committee on Home Missions Regional Church Extension Conference (ReChEx). The conference is designed to give participants time to review the work of home missions in each presbytery, study biblical principles related to the establishment of new churches, and submit requests for the support of mission works.

When regional home missionaries and others gather, something of the work of God seems to flavor nearly every conversation. There’s a feedback loop of praise, rejoicing in the Lord, and mutual edification as burdens are shared by fellow laborers in the gospel.

However, some of the most important conversations continue long after the participants go home. There are discussions, propositions, and exchanged contacts that flow into their ministries as these pastors and elders meet with mission works, assist and advise provisional sessions, and work to bolster local bodies in their respective presbyteries. The interconnectedness benefits the local bodies to which they belong, and the churches are strengthened by it.

Regional Churches Act as One

On the East Coast, where the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic meets the Presbytery of the Southeast, regional home missionaries Charles Biggs (Mid-Atlantic) and Lacy Andrews (Southeast) work together to expand the reach of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and more importantly, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the uniquely named town of Short Pump, Virginia, a particularly intriguing story of cooperation has emerged. In March 2022, Short Pump Bible Study began as a local gathering of a few families and individuals from Knox Reformed Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Mechanicsville, Virginia, itself a church relatively new to the OPC. 

Rev. Andrew Miller, chairman of the Home Missions Committee for the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic, originally worked to connect families of like mind with Knox Reformed, hoping to eventually be able to form a “daughter” mission work in Short Pump. A group grew, plans for a Bible study materialized, and Biggs and Andrews were rallied to help direct the group in discipleship and organization. During the process, it was realized that the Short Pump Bible study was in fact within the bounds of the Presbytery of the Southeast, not the Mid-Atlantic, as previously expected. Despite this, several from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic continue to be integrally involved in this newly recognized mission work, including Biggs and Miller.

By October 2022, the Short Pump Bible study was recognized as a formal mission work of the OPC under the name of West Creek Presbyterian Church. They’ve since been enjoying evening worship together each Lord’s Day, as well as celebrating the Lord’s Supper every other week. Biggs and Andrews share the task of expounding the Word with Jeff Downs, pastor of Knox Reformed.

At first glance, the benefit of this work to the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic may be unclear. Yet, Biggs continues to preach at West Creek every other week while also devoting attention to the people of this young plant. Why would one labor so intensely in a territory that is not part of one’s presbytery? “While we seek to be faithful within certain boundaries, as Christians our boundaries have no limits,” Biggs explains. “Our Savior and King gives us the privilege of extending his kingdom to the ends of the earth.”

For Biggs, the joint endeavor can only be beneficial. “Work done together is work well done—[there is] more accountability and encouragement when you work with one another,” he said.

Andrews, like Biggs, exhibits humility and a willingness to spend and be spent for the sake of the gospel. Knox Reformed is giving of itself to a new work, even though the church itself is just getting off the ground. “The Lord loves the mother plant, too,” Andrews explained. “We shouldn’t be scared to give of our own bodies sacrificially, for the Lord blesses and the Lord brings resurrection.”

What unites these regional home missionaries is their commitment to expanding the opportunity to worship God. Biggs again says, “Everything we do is for the glory of God. So we know that missions isn’t an end in itself. We were made for worship, and the goal of our evangelism is that people would be saved from sin to the new life of worship in the church—the outpost of heaven.”

The Regional Church Is One

Biggs and Andrews believe in the benefit of inter-presbytery relations. Relationships between local churches of the same presbytery, however, are equally vital to the success and health of the regional church.

Across the country, in the Presbytery of the Southwest, regional home missionary Mark Sumpter has the privilege of seeing the regional church at work. In this presbytery, as in others, elders from existing churches often serve on provisional, temporary, or composite sessions for mission works on the journey toward particularization. This gives mission works wisdom, stability, and direction. A few Texas plants that have been blessed by a provisional session are Heritage OPC in New Braunfels, Trinity OPC in Waco, Good Shepherd OPC in Sugar Land, and Living Stone OPC in Wichita Falls. Sumpter is sure that the help those session members have brought to the young churches has been invaluable.

According to Sumpter, however, the give and take between churches and church plants extends further than merely “sharing” session members. He has seen firsthand that established churches can learn a lot from church plants. “It is encouraging to see how new mission works put outreach and evangelism on the front burner. The majority of the times I visit church plants, the pastor, others, and I go out for evangelism—distributing tracts, preaching on college campuses and parks. It is an encouragement to me and to all the other churches that see their excitement for evangelism. After all, the church’s mandate is an evangelistic one,” Sumpter explained.

The same goes for hospitality. In Sumpter’s estimation, church plants live or die by their practices of evangelism and hospitality. This is often not the case for churches who have consistent membership and attendance. It is good for existing churches to be reminded of these practices and to exercise them alongside their brothers and sisters. And yet, church plants are unable to do what they do without the support of the broader church. The prayers and support of the broader church family are what propel mission works forward.

“Pray big prayers that the public proclamation of the gospel and personal proclamation would be used by God, so that we might see people brought to Christ and folded into the local church,” Sumpter urges. Regardless of whether a church has direct involvement in the formation of a church plant, Sumpter hopes this would be the prayer of every congregation.

One for All; All for One

Our Presbyterianism, among other things, is proof that no congregation or mission work is alone. The smallest, struggling mission work is upheld by the prayers, wisdom, encouragement, and support of the broader church. Meanwhile, the most established church is emboldened by the example of the fiercely evangelistic church plant whose only way forward is direct outreach to its neighbors and encouraging fellowship among its members. Our unity allows, perhaps even enables and necessitates, a give and take among these congregations of varying size, age, and composition. No congregation is an island.

Charles Biggs aptly expresses an attitude that would serve us all well to adopt: “I am thankful to be part of a particular region as a servant, but I am grateful to be a part of the larger church and work alongside servants of the Lord from across the country.”    

The author is administrative assistant for the Committee on Home Missions. New Horizons, March 2023.

New Horizons: March 2023

A Seed Must Die to Bear Fruit

Also in this issue

A Seed Must Die to Bear Fruit

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