After much prayerful labor by many people, on July 25, 2015, as God allows, San Diego Fellowship of the Bible (SDF, for short) will launch. But why and with what distinctives?
One characteristic shared by many areas in the United States is the number of local churches within close proximity. It is not uncommon in these areas to see more than even a few churches at any given intersection. There are churches all over the place, and people in such communities have many options regarding where to plug in, worship, and serve. Southern California is no different – especially in the San Diego area. Is there really another church needed? What could possibly be gained by yet another local church in San Diego, when there are already some very good ones working hard in this community?
Of course, there are some sobering numbers that are worth noting: San Diego County has a population of over 3.2 million people, with less than 10% of these even involved in “protestant” congregations (nearly the same percentage as are Muslim, and roughly a third of the number of Catholics in San Diego County). There is certainly much work to be done both in sharing His good news with those who don’t know Him, and with helping those who already know Him to get to know Him better. But how does SDF plan to help?
Teaching the Word
There is much to be done in teaching people how to understand the Bible for themselves. If God’s word is authoritative and sufficient (2 Tim 3:16-17), then every person needs to understand it for themselves, walk in it, and share it with others (Col 3:16). Knowing the Bible isn’t just the duty of seminary or Bible college students, it is every Christian’s responsibility – being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:1-2). We must all be students of the Bible. Churches should be fostering Biblical literacy so that people can be equipped for the work of service (Eph 4:11-12), and for every good work (2 Tim 3:17). To be Biblically literate does not mean that someone has heard a thousand sermons, but rather it means that person is capable of understanding the word, being a doer of it, and capable of teaching others also (Ezra 7:10, 2 Tim 2:2).
Shaping the Church Culture
Our generation is very self-oriented. Like the church at Ephesus, we have left our first love (Eph 2:4). From many of the songs we sing, to the messages we allow – the church has become so self centered, that if a song or message isn’t directly relative to our own personal situation, we place little if any value on it. There is a need for us to shift our focus from ourselves, to the mighty God who created and saved us (Heb 12:1-3). Through God’s word we come face to face with the wonder and majesty of who God is and what He has done (Rom 11:33-36). We have much work to do in encouraging one another to have a theocentric (God centered) and doxological (for the glory of God) focus.
The Leadership Model
There is an elegant simplicity and efficiency in the Biblical model for pastoral leadership: plurality. I am so thankful for the other godly men who I have served with in the past, and for those I am able to serve with me in this present pastoral ministry. I hope and pray that we can together be an encouragement both in the immediate community which we are serving – and more broadly, that we might be an encouragement to other churches, near and far, that leadership can be effectively shared and is actually designed for this kind of collaboration. After all, it is never about the messenger. It is about the message, because of the One who wrote it.
Independent Doesn’t Mean Disconnected
While historically there have been many benefits provided by denominations, there is also some significant benefit in having no direct denominational connections. In my estimation, the elegance of Biblical simplicity is in view here. To be able to function organically as a local expression of the universal body of Christ is a sweet thing. It is my prayer that our present efforts will be an encouragement – again, not only to those in our immediate context, but to those distant as well – that the ministry of the local church need not necessarily be bound to denominational constructs, and can be successfully engaged with the simplest of tools and philosophies.
Further, a church must be on guard against the pride that can come with or without identifications (1 Cor 1:11-12). In so doing, it is vital that churches (even with different denominational identifications) be able to labor together in likemindedness (1 Cor 1:10). The local church is never greater than the universal body, and to engage in collaborative efforts with those of other local churches remains an important part of effective service and ministry. While our present efforts are independent in a sense, they are not disconnected.
Faithfulness is Success
Finally, the ultimate goal is to glorify God by being faithful with the stewardships with which He has entrusted us. Whether God chooses to use this church plant to touch many or only a few – that is His business. It is our job to be faithful with the task. It is my prayer that this is also an encouragement to others: that they might see in us a commitment to faithfulness, and that they might see success measured in terms of faithfulness rather than by such irrelevant things as numbers and dollars. It is Christ’s church, and while we must be diligent, He will bring those He wills, and He will provide as He wills.
Just as Paul said “woe is me if I don’t proclaim the gospel” (1 Cor 9:16), I seek to labor faithfully, as one who takes joy in his obligation. I am deeply thankful for the opportunity to serve with two godly men who have committed also to pastoring in this church plant, and I appeal for your keeping us in prayer that we might be faithful in every way – in the teaching of His word, in the Biblical shaping of the ministry culture, in leading Biblically, in connecting well, and in measuring and achieving success as He measures it.
If you would like to have a part in the ministry of SDF, please don’t hesitate to contact me (or us) – we could use all the help we can get. It is all for Him – that many might come to know Him, and that those who know Him will continue to grow in their knowledge of and walk with Him, and that by these things – as He builds His church – He will be glorified.
“So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Cor 3:7).