Southern commissions first Nehemiah church planters

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)--The City of Brotherly Love is the United States’ fifth-largest city. Philadelphia is also where America’s first Baptist association was organized in 1707. But a nearby suburb of nearly 250,000 has no Baptist church.

Church planters from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., are about to change that.

David Pearson, a master of divinity student from Kansas City, Mo., and four other students will plant this summer the first Southern Baptist Convention churches resulting from a partnership between Southern’s Center for Church Planting and the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Nehemiah Project.

"I can hardly wait to see those first people who will hear the message of God's saving love and grace and come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior," said Pearson, who will work in the Philadelphia area. "To teach them and disciple them to go and tell others -- what a joy that will be."

Pearson and 34 other Southern students represent the first crop of full- and part-time church planters deployed by a Southern Baptist seminary and the new Nehemiah Project.

"We hope to become a successful model for many other seminary students to go out and start churches that make disciples of people who are currently unchurched and lost," Pearson said.

In recent chapel services at Southern, seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. helped commission and prayed for the church planters.

"What makes us so excited and proud for you is that you are not going somewhere in order to maintain what is already there," Mohler said.

"By God’s grace, you are going to start what does not now exist. And our prayer is that the churches you start will start other churches, so that the story in the [New Testament] Book of Acts will be as real in the 21st century as it was in the first."

"I cannot begin to express my excitement with these immediate results," said Robert E. “Bob” Reccord, president of NAMB. Southern, last fall, was the first SBC seminary to establish a NAMB-related Center for Church Planting. NAMB has since partnered with each SBC seminary to establish church-planting centers on each campus.

"I applaud Dr. Mohler and Dr. Stetzer in leading Southern Seminary to flexibly and quickly respond to the launch of the Nehemiah Project," Reccord said. Stetzer is director of Southern’s Center for Church Planting.

"I praise God that in Southern, as well as the rest of our seminaries, we have presidents that are committed to evangelism and church planting to impact this North American continent in the days ahead," Reccord said.

Church planters from Southern will be sent to 15 to 20 separate congregations in six different northern states, said Stetzer. Several students will start churches among Bengali and Korean people.

"Of the students, there is the foundation of an ethnic mix we believe will significantly grow in the days ahead in all participating seminaries. Five [students] will be going to Philadelphia. Five others will be starting new churches in the wake of the Indianapolis Billy Graham Crusade," Reccord said.

These initial groups of planters are just the beginning, Stetzer said. "Our goal during the next five years is to plant more than 200 churches. The growth should be exponential."

Southern Seminary has committed to be "deeply and energetically involved in church planting," said Mohler. The reason: Church planting promises to be the principle source of church growth in the years ahead.

"The growth curve in the Southern Baptist Convention is largely going to be led by new churches. One of the most amazing things to conceive is that in the century to come, the churches experiencing the most growth do not now exist," Mohler said.

Southern students’ efforts will lead to churches planting churches, said Stetzer. "Our hope is that the students will catalyze a church planting movement -- not just a movement of seminary students and graduates, but instead a movement that impacts our nation with the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ."

Stetzer said he sees Southern and NAMB as a perfect marriage for the goal of planting churches. "It is our plan to take church planters who are experiencing the best theological education that Southern Baptists can offer and to combine them with what we believe will be the best practical training that we can provide through the North American Mission Board."

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