Family friends of ours, missionaries, were headed back to their mission country—a country not exactly “closed” but neither was it favorable to missionaries. On their way back from a break in the US, they were carrying a duffle bag full of Bibles. Knowing it would be dicey going through customs, their teenage son said, “Dad, can I carry the duffle bag through customs?” My friend understood that adults-in-training need godly risks, so he said yes.
In the customs line, this young man held onto the duffle bag, knowing he could soon be in trouble. As he waited, he looked over at his Dad in the adjacent line, smiled knowingly, and nodded. He passed customs with no problem and told his Dad how happy it made him to carry the biblical contraband.
A family on a mission is a warmly inspiring sight.
What it will take to successfully plant churches among the urban poor, is a regional “family” consisting of church planters and their families, and of church plant team members – worship leaders, youth workers, women’s ministry leaders and more. It will take more than isolated church planters, or even isolated church plant teams. The unique, exhausting challenges of inner-city ministry call for a supportive, loving community of local planting teams living within a few hours driving distance of one another.
For us at NEU Church Planting, we envision this regional family of planters and workers. They are different ethnicities and different ages. They are singles and married. Some are indigenous to the neighborhood, and others have relocated from elsewhere.
This regional family knows each others’ dreams, struggles, baggage, and blessings. They pray for one another, study, and discuss books together. They travel to conferences together and hold one another accountable for gospel growth. Those who have kids meet for playdates. This is an imperfect group of sinners, making mistakes, experiencing conflict, but all the while experiencing and granting forgiveness and living by the same gospel grace they are preaching and teaching others. This is a family on a mission.
When my wife and I would go to a shopping outlet with our young kids, I’d sometimes stay outside the stores with the kids and give them “missions.” I’d ask them to find five black stones among the white decorative stones lining the path. Or I’d ask them to count all the bushes with berries between here and there. They loved to be on mission.
This regional church planting family is on a mission together. We are brothers and sisters living with a battle mindset and a missionary heart. We are doing the hard work of ministry in hard places. We are living for the moment when we come before the throne of the Lamb—with those from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation—and from the neighborhood.
To be a Christian is to be sent into the mission of God. Our mission finds its source in the reality Paul writes about in Philippians 2:6-11.
Who, being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Christ was sent to redeem us. We go because he came.
Family and Mission are Inseparable
Jesus began his mission by calling together a group of disciples—a “family” (Mark 3:13-19). Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs (Mark 6:6-7). Among other reasons, he knew they would need one another. Paul traveled with companions (Acts 12:25 – 13:3, etc.). He planted churches led by elders (Titus 1:5). And Paul reveals often the depth of his love for those who were his companions in ministry (e.g. 1 Corinthians 4:17)
Yes, they and we need one another in the mission. But doing ministry as a family is not just a concession to human weakness, it is a reflection of the Trinity. Jesus comes to us out of the intrinsic love of the Trinity, calling us to share in it, and to draw others into that same love (John 17:20-21). In these two verses lies the ultimate ground of a family on a mission together.
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
We see here the mission: “those who will believe in me through their message.” We see believers being drawn into the love of the Trinity—the family: “that all of them may be one.” And we see the unity and love of the members of the Trinity, from which come both mission and family: “just as you are in me and I am in you.”
Here’s how Michael Reeves puts it: “Well why did the Father send the Son? Because the Father so enjoyed loving the Son that he wanted his love to be in others…. The mission comes from the overflow of love, from the uncontainable enjoyment of the fellowship” (Delighting in the Trinity, Intervarsity Press, 2012, 106).
The love of the Trinity is lived out and demonstrated in Christian unity and community. And the love of the Trinity results in the mission to include more and more in that fellowship of love.
So family-ness and missionality are inseparable and indispensable to our vision for church planting among New England’s urban neighborhoods. We seek to grow a family that laughs, prays, eats, reads, and resolves conflict together. We also seek to grow a family that plants churches: evangelizing and discipling, preaching, serving food, teaching Sunday School, visiting jail, leading worship, and taking people to the hospital. It is a family devoted to being together and serving together. And as that serving bears fruit, we bring others, from the neighborhoods, into the family that continues to multiply the family and expand the mission.
We want to invite you into this family on a mission. We have identified neighborhoods that need churches. We need all kinds of laborers: church planting pastors, women’s ministry workers, youth workers, musicians, and more.
We also need many to pray faithfully and to give sacrificially. These ravaged neighborhoods have been gutted further by the Covid-19 pandemic. God cares deeply for the poor and the vulnerable, and the best we can bring to them is gospel-rich churches that care for the whole person and the whole community.
Would you begin by receiving our newsletter and praying for NEU Church Planting? Would you also consider coming to see the work first hand? As soon as possible, we will be offering vision trips again. And would you consider a sacrificial gift of any size to further the mission of planting diverse, sustainable, gospel-centered churches in New England’s urban neighborhoods?