January 16, 2018

Dr. Ed Nelson On Church Planting

In my conversation with Dr. Nelson, one of the topics I wanted to cover was church planting. Dr. Nelson’s ministry has been closely connected with church planting in every aspect – as a church planter, as a pastor supporting church planting ministries, and as a member of the board of Baptist World Mission, a mission committed to local church planting on the foreign field and at home. Dr. Nelson served as a church planter in his eighties. He is very well qualified to share his wisdom with us concerning the subject.

P&D: On the subject of church planting, what kind of advice would you give to somebody who was asking today how they should go about it?

Dr. N: This is my conclusion that came about after I’d already started some churches. My recommendation is that the best way to start a church is to have a “mother church.” Have that mother church locate a place, and the church planter be that person who goes out under that mother church. You make that new church a mission of the mother church. The mother church has to understand what its all about. The deacons of the mother church are the deacons of the mission.

For example, when I went to Tucson, in … whatever year that was, 1996, I guess… I went to Tucson after leaving South Sheridan. I had started a couple of churches out of South Sheridan using the mother church principle. I had seen it work. You may know Jeff Musgrave. I had him come on our staff and put him out at Highland Park church. Our deacons were his deacons and I was his pastor, he was a member of our staff as the mission pastor of that church. The idea behind that is, well, I started a church in the Denver area called the Hoffman Heights Baptist Church. That was the church I mentioned earlier when I said I was wanting to know something about being a pastor. When I started that church, I had nobody behind me, nobody sponsoring me… I didn’t have support, really. But I went out and God did it, God moved to build it. But we had problems in that church. The deacons didn’t agree with me sometimes. I began to realize that my deacons aren’t thinking straight. Now that doesn’t mean I did everything right! Eventually I decided I had to go from there, and it was through that experience I saw the value of the mother church and providing leadership for the new church where the deacons of the mother church led the mission church.

Now I started to tell you how I went to Tucson. The reason I went to Tucson after resigning South Sheridan and being in revival meetings again… well, I was in some meetings up in Michigan and they had a Baptist World Mission meeting there in Michigan and I went over to that meeting as I was on the board. Dr. Frank Bumpus was there and he asked me, “Have you ever thought about starting a new church?” Well, I told him that I thought about it quite often. He said, “There are some folks in our church that have some property in Tucson. They sent me down there quite often for some vacation. I go down about four times a year and I’ve not found a church that is of our orientation. Would you be willing to consider it?” I won’t go through the details of all of that, its an interesting story all by itself, but I know our time already has gone pretty fast.

Anyway, I went down there in our motor home and preached in another church in the area. There was a family there who lived in Tucson five months of the year and in Schaumburg the rest of the year. They said to me after that service, “We want you to go out with us, we’re about to buy a building.” So I went out with them and sure enough, there was a church building that had been abandoned. We met with the deacons and they just bought that building that day, bought and paid for it. I think they paid $260,000 or something like that for that building. And they said, “Now, we’ve got a building, how about you being the pastor?”

Well, I was scheduled in evangelistic meetings for another year, but I thought about it and decided to cancel my meetings and the group called me in March of 1996 and started that church. I told Frank Bumpus that I wouldn’t do it unless [his church] would be the mother church. He didn’t understand what I was talking about, but he agreed to that. I went down there as a mission, and when he came down – every four months or so – I’d say, “Our pastor’s here today, I’m on his staff.” I would then have him come up and preach for us. That was our relationship. That went on for a year until I thought we were ready to start on our own. So we organized the church on April the 6th, 1997. Then we were no longer a mission but we were a local church on our own.

And it worked! If there was any problem, I’d just bring it up to the deacons [of Bethel, Schaumburg] who I knew took a right stand. Then they put in deacons that we knew would stand properly, after having had them there a year.

So I’m very much for that principle. You can raise support, but have the money go through the local church. I believe it works. That would be my recommendation.

P&D: Very interesting. Your mentioning deacons there brings this question, when you are starting a church, how do you “raise up” good deacons?

Dr. N: Well, that is quite a challenge, in any church. In Bethel Baptist Church, and even in South Sheridan Baptist Church, we put into the constitution that no man could become a deacon until he’d been a member of the church for one full year, and preferably we’d like it to be more than that. We didn’t want a man to become a deacon until he’d been a member one full year no matter how qualified he was, we wanted to watch him.

[At Bethel] by the time the year was up I had two men that I believer were … well there were three men, but one of them didn’t work out, and we had to ask the one to resign because he was an evangelical. So we started with two deacons that I knew would stand right.

I’m a man that believes you should have deacons. I know of churches that say “We just didn’t have anybody qualified so we don’t have any deacons.” Now I don’t believe you should have unqualified deacons. But I’ve known churches, particularly in the BBF, that didn’t have deacons because they caused problems. The Bible says “pastors and deacons” in the book of [Timothy] and we ought to have deacons. The deacons should be able to stand where the pastor stands. I believe in working with your deacons and having them – not rule the church – but having them as counselors. There were times at South Sheridan where, well I remember one time where we were building a building and I wanted to do something and the majority of the deacons wanted it too but one man among the deacons stood up and said, “You know, I think it’s a mistake.” The question was whether to put in opera chairs or pews. I said, “Well I want us to be in agreement, so maybe we need to think this over.” After thinking it over, I decided that the man was probably right. So I went back to the deacons and said, “I think our brother has it right, so let’s go with pews instead.” Well they all agreed and that’s what we did, and we were glad we did.

I don’t want the deacons to be “Yes” men but I don’t want them to be cantankerous men either. We had wonderful, wonderful harmony in South Sheridan Baptist Church with our deacons. I used them, but I didn’t force them to be “Yes” men. I do think you need to work with them, help them, train them… I especially think that they need to be soul-winners. Deacons that aren’t going to do soul-winning work, or won’t come to visitation, should not be deacons. We need win souls, we need to go out there leading souls to Christ and deacons ought to be part of that, leading the church that way.

P&D: If you met a young preacher today who asked you, ‘What is the most important thing I should know in entering the ministry?’ what would you say?

Dr. N: I hear that question a lot. I’ve decided that the answer to that is, Trust the Holy Spirit to do the work and not the flesh. Don’t endeavour to do the work in the energy of the flesh, rely on the Holy Spirit, not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord. We need to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to see the work of the Lord done. Too often we let the flesh get in and follow the flesh rather than the power of the Spirit. It is easy to do.

Not by might… one of those words is referring to organizational might … nor by power… or fleshly energy. We can do a lot with the flesh, but it’s going to end up with the flesh too, it won’t be a work done for God. It’s entirely relying on the Holy Spirit and resting in His power to do the ministry and we’ll see it done.

Part One ♦ This is Part Two ♦ Part Three

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