Church planting 'a significant priority,' seminary leader says

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)--Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, believes he has heard God's call on his life five times during his 52 years, but the call 20 years ago to plant a church was the ultimate.

Iorg remembers the summer of 1989 when he moved with his wife Ann and three small children to Gresham, Ore., near Portland, to plant Greater Gresham Baptist Church.

In his 30s at the time, Iorg joined four other couples to launch the congregation which now draws 700 people on an average Sunday. Iorg was pastor of the church for more than five years and remained a member there even after assuming the position of executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention.

"I still consider planting that church to be the most significant thing I've ever done in the ministry," Iorg said in an interview.

He cites two main reasons for that claim.

"First, the center of God's work and His Kingdom in the world today is the church, inaugurated after the resurrection and to be consummated at the second coming of Christ," Iorg said. "Planting churches is at the core of what God is doing in the world. Also, in planting the church, I was able to launch what has been a 20-plus-year movement of reaching people, starting churches, sending missionaries and calling out ministry leaders. Starting that church really put into motion a movement that is still going on today.

"I'm very pleased to have had a hand in starting a really healthy, rock-solid church that 20 years later is still doing all the right things -- bringing people to Christ, planting new churches, sending missionaries and giving money."

Iorg said planting a church is a unique experience in leadership.

When he reminisces, Iorg said he has trouble remembering the challenges and hardships of starting the new church.

"When we went there, we just had a profound sense of God's call. We had a rock-solid commitment to be there. It was difficult in the early days because, in the Portland area, we were trying to reach lost people, many of whom had no reference or background with the Gospel or the Bible. The biggest challenge was the overwhelming lostness in the area, and the absence of a biblical worldview. But once we started seeing results, it turned into a movement."

Iorg lists several reasons he believes church planting is an essential part of the Southern Baptist Convention's strategy for reaching the 280 million lost people in North America.

"First, church planting is important because the church is so vital to God's plan for the universe, so starting a church is so significant. Second, new churches have proven overwhelmingly to be more aggressive and oftentimes more effective at reaching the people with the Gospel.

"Next, the church has to continue to reinvent its form -- in terms of structure, strategy and locations. Churches must keep doing that to keep connecting with the cultures in which they're doing their work. New churches can do that more rapidly. Communities are ever-changing, so new churches are needed to reach new people coming into those communities. Existing churches sometimes have a problem in adjusting to those changes," Iorg said.

Iorg believes church planting and evangelism have to work hand in hand.

"If you go into a community and you win lost people to a faith in Jesus Christ, you don't transplant Christians from one church to another. That's not church planting."

Iorg, author of a book titled "Is God Calling Me?" advises today's church planters to be certain they have been called by God to be a founding church pastor.

"There are many good people in ministry who do not have the skill set for church planting," he said. "They should not feel demeaned or left out. We need leaders in all ministry contexts, including existing churches that need capable pastors. But church planters should make sure they are clearly called. If they are, they must develop a resolute determination they're going to do it whatever the cost, because church planting is an extremely challenging and difficult responsibility.

"The emphasis on church planting by the North American Mission Board is vital and an accurate expression of what our priorities should be," Iorg said. "Planting new churches is a significant priority, and I'm glad to see it made such by NAMB."


Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.

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