Eschatology & Church Planting

Much like the servant who received five talents in the kingdom parable (Matthew 25:16), on numerous occasions I have found God using me far above my pay grade. At one of the early Calvary Church Planting Network conferences I was asked to be part of a panel discussion on church planting. I could see my wife praying at the back of the crowded room because she knows I get very nervous in extemporaneous settings. She knows, I know, and too many others know, I tend to ramble and repeat myself in these types of settings. To rattle me more, I was among five giants; the panel was with pastors and missionaries I highly respect and count as my mentors.

Questions for the panel were submitted digitally for the moderator to field. With each question he gave the panel a moment for one of us to respond. It seemed to work and I could simply work out a response that hopefully edified the audience and those listening online. It was way less stressful than I had predicted, and maybe I even enjoyed it. That changed about 40 minutes into the questions. That is when someone asked if the contemporary church had lost its emphasis on reaching the lost because it had lost its emphasis on eschatology. The question was just sinking in when moderator quickly turned to me for a response. It was the very definition of extemporaneous and my gut turned a bit.

Nerves hit me and I responded by rambling and misquoting Revelation 7:9, “We want to reach every nation, tribe and tongue that will come worship the Lamb that was slain. That’s eschatology, that’s our end game.” I said a few more things, but it was just variations of my first statement. That setting may help explain why I hope to clarify the response to the question because that is immensely important  in considering the completion of the mission of God.

On a few occasions I have had the honor to be with a fellowship of God’s people as they launch into a fully functioning church. I’ve told them Jesus has built them together as His community, His own special people to worship Him. I’m confident to tell the fledgling congregation that though there is great conflict among principalities and powers in the founding of a church, Jesus promises the gates of hell will not prevail against His church. Finally I tell them because of the protection Jesus offers, some version of that church should be meeting until Jesus returns for them. When I share these things it is everything I can do to not be overwhelmed with emotion. It’s emotional to me because as God gathers His people to build His church it touches eternity, and in return He allows us to touch eternity.

…as God gathers His people to build His church it touches eternity, and in return He allows us to touch eternity.

God is an excellent mission leader and we know He will excellently complete His mission. We read of the last moments of His mission in the judgments of Revelation 20. There, only a few pages before the concordance in your Bible, the whole storyline from when the Lord cried out across the separation, “Where are you?” is almost complete. All history is converging and the end is a page away. But there is one last thing.

In Revelation 21 a loud voice from haven proclaims the end of the mission of God by saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev 21:3). That’s it, the story and mission are complete, His people are gathered.

I should have responded to the question about eschatology to the panel by saying; “The questions of eschatology being the driving force in outreach is backwards. It is the mission of God that drives eschatology and will bring about the worship of the Lamb that was slain by people from every nation, tribe, peoples, and tongues.” Of course that answer came to me later that night, just before catching our flight back to Kenya, but I’m writing the book and get to say it here.

It is the mission of God that drives eschatology and will bring about the worship of the Lamb that was slain by people from every nation, tribe, peoples, and tongues.

Ed Compean is a church planting coach based in Nairobi with his wife Kelli, but soon to transition back to the States to serve as director with SSMF. You can read their blog or follow him on Twitter @Ed_Compean.

Church Growth Rules We Broke

“How to grow your church” is a huge topic these days, especially over the last decade with the increasing popularity and glamorization of church planting. There are entire volumes and series of books and magazines dedicated to the topic, citing the top “church growth experts,” current trends and popular speakers. There are lots of rules and tips about things you should do and things you shouldn’t do, many of which are great and very helpful.

However, as a church planter in the South, I’ve found that some of the church growth tips, tricks, and trends aren’t necessarily true. Although we’ve learned from plenty of mistakes along the way, we’ve seen God use many of the rules that we’ve broken…

1. “Don’t teach on Revelation.”

Whoops. I didn’t know about this rule till after I had already broken it. Revelation is too controversial, too violent, and far too judgmental and close-minded. The moment you open that book, your church will start shrinking…or so some people seem to think.

We spent 37 weeks in the book of Revelation. Awaken continued to grow and people continually got saved (almost every week). Just ask the 88 people who made decisions for Christ if it was fruitful or not!

2. “Don’t talk about hell.”

I get it. Hell is hot and forever. It makes people uncomfortable. But Jesus talked all about it, and I’m pretty sure one of His primary goals was church planting (“I will build my Church…”). If it’s a real place, why would we not warn people about it?

One thing we say often at Awaken is, “If it’s in the Bible, we’re going to talk about it.” Hell is definitely in the Bible.

3. “Don’t preach longer than 20 minutes.”

I was once told that adult brains “are programmed to sitcom-length intervals. They can’t handle much longer than 22 minutes.” How are college students sitting through 60-minute lectures on economics then? The Bible contains all we need “for life and godliness!”

I’ll admit that I’ve been to some churches that I couldn’t imagine listening to the pastor for more than 15 minutes, but that’s not the Bible’s fault! Pastors: PLEASE don’t bore people with the Word of God! It’s alive and active, preach it as such!

As one pastor put it, “Sermonettes make Christianettes.” Going deep requires some time – from the pastor and from the church.

4. “People just want to be encouraged.”

What we’ve found over the years is that people aren’t looking for 15-minute sermonettes peppered with spiritual hugs and high fives. They want meat. They want honesty. They want truth – even if it hurts. After a sermon I preached recently someone told me, “What I love about this church is that you have the guts to say it how it is and people keep coming back!”

At the end of my life and ministry, I don’t want to be guilty of editing out the things I thought were “too harsh” or “not encouraging enough.” I just want to be faithful in handling the Word of God. God wrote it and did not leave me with editing rights.