At the 27th General Assembly in June, 1999, the Committee on Mission to North America will nominate Dr. James Bland as the next MNA Coordinator. Dr. Cortez Cooper has served as coordinator since the 1995 General Assembly, and plans to conclude his service next year. Dr. Bland, who has been senior pastor of Bay Area Presbyterian in Webster, TX, since 1987, joined the MNA staff as associate coordinator in October, 1998.
In this issue of Multiply, we asked these two leaders to share their observations, plans, and vision for MNA in its work to advance the PCA and God’s Kingdom.
• Dr. Cooper, as you look back over your tenure at MNA, what stands out?
Cooper: When the General Assembly elected me to serve as coordinator, I stated that my strong intention would be that the single most characteristic word describing MNA would be "servant" — that we would serve the Lord Jesus Christ by serving His Church in its labors to reach North America with the Gospel of His love. I believe many people have sensed and experienced MNA’s servant heart in a real partnership in ministry.
• Are you satisfied with the progress?
Cooper: Over the years, as MNA has striven to fulfill its responsibility, the Lord has blessed the PCA tremendously. A total of 505 PCA congregations (40 percent of our churches) have been organized since the PCA was established 25 years ago, and MNA has assisted with many of them. What’s more, multicultural work has intensified so that, now, one-third of all PCA church plants are ethnic or multicultural in nature. Campus ministries have proliferated. Chaplain ministries are strong. The much needed work of bringing established PCA churches to spiritual vitality has deepened and widened, and the network of presbyteries and churches engaged in ministries of mercy has escalated amazingly.
• What do you see ahead as the chief responsibility of MNA?
Bland: Looking ahead to the next 25 years, MNA must be at the forefront in obedience to the mandate of our Lord to reach the world with the Gospel, by reaching Canada and the United States — planting new churches that serve, not only predominant cultures, but also the ever growing ethnic populations.
Cooper: MNA must lead the PCA in hammering out and pursuing a clear theological vision and definition of the healthy reformed church and demonstrate how it builds God’s Kingdom through worship, fellowship, discipleship, and ministries of outreach into the world.
• What strategies do you see as most important?
Bland: I want the PCA to be known as a zealous church-planting denomination. In order to realize this objective, we must commit to regionalization and decentralization by focusing the majority of activity at presbytery and local-church levels. The role of MNA, in furthering this effort, will be to facilitate and enable others to plant healthy, reproducing, reformed churches. At the same time, we will maintain a biblical philosophy of ministry and vision to advance the Kingdom throughout the continent and beyond. While only the Lord can bring the harvest increase, I believe we can trust Him for significant increases in the numbers of men who, with their families, are committed to church planting. There is every reason to expect the Lord to bless the PCA with growing numbers of new churches.
Multicultural church planting must become even more intentional. If we are committed to changing the face of the PCA to make it consistent with the changing population of North America, then we must develop more effective strategies to identify and prepare church planters for ministry to the diverse people groups living among us.
• What is the most critical factor in church planting?
Bland: Evangelism should be at the core of every church planting endeavor. If the heart of the church planter is not on fire for the glory of God in calling men and women to the Savior, how can it be expected that the people he pastors will be obedient to the Lord’s mandate? If evangelism is not the centerpiece of a church plant, the new work will begin to plateau, atrophy, and die. New men and women in Christ bring vitality and growth to churches. We must plant Gospel-driven churches.
• How do other MNA ministries fit in?
Bland: An aggressive church planting agenda helps further the work of MNA’s other ministries: Reformed University Ministries, Church Vitality, Urban & Mercy Ministries, and Chaplain Ministries. Each is an important component in fulfilling our mandate to "enable PCA churches and presbyteries to start and develop healthy, reproducing churches." New churches will, by God’s grace, generate the necessary financial resources and manpower to do the works of ministry we have been called to do. An aggressive church planting agenda will also broaden the base of the PCA which will, in turn, fund MTW church plants and mercy ministries around the world.
• What are your chief concerns for the church?
Cooper: I’m pleased to say we’ve seen an obvious increase in prayer support in recent years — this has been one of our greatest blessings — but more prayer is needed. We need it especially because of the widening spiritual crisis in North America. Each day in the US, ten churches close and only three are planted, while in Latin America a church is planted every eight minutes! Next Sunday, less than 40 percent of the US population will be in a church service. In Canada, the percentage is far lower. Our culture is collapsing morally, and evangelical Christian influence has notably diminished. The good news is that we can make a significant difference as God leads us in planting strong churches across the continent that clearly demonstrate Christ’s love to others.
Bland: The future of MNA is bright. The fields are "white unto harvest" throughout North America. We know that all the necessary manpower and resources are available, if we will but ask our gracious Father whose heart yearns for the lost to be found. Prayer is the key and, too often, the missing link.
• Learning and Fellowship in the Midwest: At the 1998 Midwest Conference for Church Planting and Revitalization, held in July at Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, IL, attendance was 20 percent larger than last year.
"Our goal," said Regional Coordinator Ted Powers, "was to provide a place for learning and fellowship for pastors and their wives. We also included significant time for prayer and worship." A number of participants took advantage of the invitation to come a day early for a golf outing.
MNA Church Planting Coordinator John Smed gave the keynote address in which he presented the PCA’s national vision, while several midwestern pastors led seminars covering various topics.
• Southeastern Pastors Meet at Simpsonwood: The 1998 Southeast Regional Church Planting Conference for pastors and their wives was held last July at Simpsonwood Conference Center in suburban Atlanta, GA. The theme was "Building a Great Commission Church." The main speaker was Bill Barton, senior pastor at St. Andrews Presbyterian in Columbia, SC. Kenny Crosswhite, pastor at Grace Fellowship in Columbia, SC, who is known for his work with youth ministry, was a key speaker, while other southeastern pastors conducted sessions on a range of issues. Scott Roley and David Hamilton of Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN, led worship and music.
Tom Wood, pastor of Metro North Presbyterian in Goose Creek, SC, who organized the conference, said, "Participants were really enthusiastic — they rated the three-day conference one of the top training events ever conducted by MNA."
During his freshman year at Auburn, he made Christian friends who influenced him, and got involved with a campus ministry. He had never been a believer. "It was one of those hound of heaven experiences," he explains. "For several months, I could hardly sleep because I became so aware of my need for Christ." Then he accepted the Lord.
That’s the way it was for Steve Malone who has led Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) at Auburn for the past five years. Another major influence in his life was Peter Doyle, PCA pastor of Covenant Presbyterian in Auburn where Steve went to church as a student. "He shaped my beliefs and my view of the Christian life — I was locked into the PCA from then on."
The Auburn RUF started in 1981 with Bill Gresham as campus minister. Paul Hahn came in 1990 and later went on to plant Redeemer Presbyterian in Austin, TX, which was instrumental in establishing an RUF at the University of Texas in Austin. The Auburn ministry was going strong when Steve arrived and it has grown steadily since. Attendance at large group Bible study on Monday nights is excellent, and a number of small groups meet during the week. "We put a lot of effort into our Bible study for freshmen. Our goal is to provoke students to think seriously about the Gospel and how it touches everything they face."
Also emphasized is relationship building. Upper-classmen are encouraged to share their lives with others. Steve believes most students are lonely and struggling with the meaning of life. "We try to convey that the church addresses both areas — it explains the big issues of life and provides a sense of community."
Conversions occur on a regular basis, and Steve gives a lot of credit to the emphasis on relationships. "God has blessed us with particularly strong student leaders…they’re dedicated to sharing the Gospel with others."
• Serving Desert Thunder Duty: When PCA Chaplain Bobby Gardner was deployed to Kuwait last April for Operation Desert Thunder, he kept company with thousands of other military personnel from all the US Armed Services as well as from Australia and New Zealand.
"We spent a lot of time visiting the service men and women, conducting worship services, counseling, and leading Bible studies," Bobby explains. "We saw a lot of people come to trust Christ and did crisis counseling that resolved many family and other personal problems."
It was rough duty. Living out in the desert, in tents, they endured temperatures of 120 degrees in the daytime. Nonetheless, Bobby was grateful for the opportunity to minister to military personnel at a time when they’re especially open to the Gospel. While there, he worked with PCA Army chaplain John Routzahn who was also ministering to the troops.
Stationed at Hurlburt Field in Ft. Walton Beach, FL, Bobby is a Lt. Col. and has served as a PCA chaplain in the Air Force for 18 years. He is currently Wing Chaplain with the 16th Special Operations Wing and supervises six other chaplains who represent a variety of Christian denominations.