/ NEW HORIZONS / JANUARY 2020
CONFIDENT OF THE HARVEST
// JOHN S. SHAW
Two of the newest mission works of the OPC are reaching cities in the middle of apparently church-saturated communities. New Braunfels, Texas, is situated in the middle of the Bible Belt, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, rests in the heart of what you might describe as the Dutch Reformed belt. Yet both mission works see opportunities to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to many needy people in their communities.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Shane Bennett was only twelve years old when his father perceived gifts for the ministry in his young son. Through his father’s encouragement, and the prodding of the Holy Spirit, Shane eventually considered a call to the ministry and studied at Westminster Seminary in California. At Knox OPC in Silver Spring, Maryland, he grew in his gifts during an internship. He then served for four years as the pastor of Faith OPC in Fawn Grove, Pennsylvania. “I learned so much in those first four years of ministry, and I am thankful to the saints of that wonderful congregation for the opportunity to serve them,” Bennett said.
Although the Bennetts expected to serve for many years in Fawn Grove, the Holy Spirit led them in a new direction. At the end of the summer of 2019, Shane moved with his wife, Rachelle, and their four children to Grand Rapids. He now serves as the church planter at Reformation OPC, which meets on the campus of Calvin University.
As you might imagine, meeting on the campus gives the mission work special access to ministry to college students. Each week Pastor Bennett and Elder David Noe (associate professor of philosophy and classics at Calvin) meet with students over lunch.
“College-age students are at a unique point in their lives where, maybe more than any other time, they are asking hard questions: about God, about the church, about the Bible, about the meaning of life,” Bennett said.
Reformation also hosts a weekly “Pizza and Theology Night,” where they discuss questions with students over the familiar college staple of pizza. “It’s exciting to engage young people and help guide them to the truth of the gospel. They are needy people in need of the love of the church, and I think the congregation is burdened to engage and help the young people here,” Bennett explained.
Reformation OPC not only enjoys the opportunity to reach college students at various stages of spiritual interest, but they are also committed to reaching Southeast Grand Rapids with the message of the gospel. While Grand Rapids has historically enjoyed a heavy Christian influence, research published on bestplaces.net claims that only 50 percent of its residents have an affiliation with any church. The mission work is pursuing a variety of opportunities to meet and love their neighbors. “We’re hopeful just to introduce people to the church, to pray with them, and show needy sinners the love of Christ. [And we plan] to continue seeking the lost for Christ by planting other OPC churches,” as the Lord gives opportunity in the future, said Bennett.
Pray for the Bennett family as they build relationships in a new community. Pray that Pastor Bennett and the whole mission work would effectively love college students. And pray for the whole group to build deep relationships with their neighbors—relationships that lead to deep gospel conversations.
New Braunfels, Texas
Six years ago, South Austin Presbyterian Church began as a mission work of Providence Presbyterian Church in Pflugerville, a northeastern suburb of Austin, Texas. The Lord quickly grew that new work, and that growth included two families driving from New Braunfels, about forty minutes south down Interstate 35. Almost immediately, the session began to pray for another mission work. By April 2018, worship services began in New Braunfels.
The city of New Braunfels sits almost exactly in between San Antonio and Austin, right along the very busy highway that connects these growing cities. In fact, New Braunfels’s county is one of the fastest growing counties in the United States.
The Lord has quickly brought to this growing city a mission work filled with families who love to talk about Jesus and love to invite their neighbors to Sunday worship. At their second worship service, one row was filled with young people, several of them not regular churchgoers, who were invited by a young member of the core group. That pattern of invitation is found throughout the whole group.
“The members frequently tell family, friends, and people in the community about the work, and invite them to come to church. The great thing is that many of them come!” said Carl Miller.
Miller was called to serve this new mission work and began his labors in October 2019. Pastor Miller served as a pastor both in California and Texas before then moving with his family to Cornerstone OPC in northwest Houston. He served as an elder in that congregation for four years but was excited about the opportunity to return to pastoral ministry in 2019. The Lord brought together this new mission work and the Miller family—Carl, Stacey, and their six children.
“It’s exciting to see the mutual love, care, and unity that is already present in the body,” Miller said. “Another exciting thing for me is that NBOPC has many return visitors. They are settling in and desire to be part of the congregation. We plan on starting a membership class soon.”
Please pray that this mission would persevere in their willingness to invite others, and that those invitations would be received warmly. Pray for new visitors to be kindly welcomed, and that many would stay and become part of this growing work. And pray for fruitful gospel conversations with neighbors and friends.
We sometimes doubt the power of God to save sinners in the neighborhoods in which we work and live. We are reluctant to invite people to worship because we are convinced that they will refuse the invitation. Yet God has promised a plentiful harvest where the primary problem is not the lack of willing hearers, but the lack of laborers for the harvest fields (Matt. 9:37).
The Lord can build new churches in the Bible Belt of the South, and he can build new churches in the shadow of American Dutch strongholds like Calvin University. He can also build your church or even new churches where you live. What does he ask of us? He calls us to a confident faith in his promises—even the promise of a plentiful harvest—that would produce a confident witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So as you pray for new mission works in places like New Braunfels and Grand Rapids, do so with great confidence that the one to whom you pray is the Lord of the harvest. Expect him to answer those prayers with conversions and baptisms, because the Lord is powerful to save. And be challenged to follow the example of the saints in Grand Rapids and New Braunfels, joyfully inviting people to worship because in that service they will hear the voice of Christ. He is the Good Shepherd, and when the sheep hear his voice, they will follow.
The author is general secretary of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension.