Emmanuel Church Blog

Spurgeon the Church Planter

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Charles Spurgeon (1834-92) was the "Prince of Preachers." He was without question the greatest preacher in England during the Victorian Era, and arguably the greatest preacher in the world since the Protestant Reformation. Spurgeon preached regularly to crowds of thousands of eager listeners, both in his own church in London and all over the U.K. He preached weekly to roughly 6,000 people at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and once preached to a crowd numbering nearly 25,000. It has been said that the only thing more impressive than Spurgeon’s ability to attract such massive crowds was his ability to hold them for nearly 38 years of ministry in London. Spurgeon was no flash in the pan. He was perhaps the most consistently faithful and fruitful minister England has ever seen.

Much has been said about Spurgeon the preacher, but a lesser-known man is Spurgeon the church planter. Over the course of his life Spurgeon planted over 200 new churches in Britain alone. Through his famous Pastor’s College, he oversaw the ministerial training of no less than 900 men during his lifetime. Though many of these men took up pastorates in established churches, a large number of them were sent out as church planters and missionaries all over England and around the world.

Spurgeon’s vigorous commitment to church planting was born out of strongly held convictions about the preaching of the gospel, the nature of the church’s mission, and the vast needs of the world. In an April, 1865 issue of his monthly magazine, The Sword and the Trowel, Spurgeon wrote,

“The Christian church was designed from the first to be aggressive. It was not intended to remain stationary at any period, but to advance onward until its boundaries became commensurate with those of the world. It was to spread from Jerusalem to all Judaea, from Judaea to Samaria, and from Samaria unto the uttermost parts of the earth. It was not intended to radiate from one central point only, but to form numerous centers from which its influence might spread to the surrounding parts.”

Spurgeon believed that the church is, by its very nature, an “aggressive” entity. He argued that it is never to be static, but should always be advancing. He understood the church to be not principally a maintenance project, but an energetic and dynamic force for the spread of the gospel.

This mindset formed the D.N.A. of Spurgeon’s own church. At the laying of the foundation stone of the Metropolitan Tabernacle on August 16, 1859, Spurgeon addressed the gathered crowd who had attended this historic ceremony in the life of the church,

“I look on the Tabernacle as only the beginning; within the last six months, we have started two churches—one in Wandsworth and the other Greenwich—and the Lord has prospered them; the pool of baptism has often been stirred with converts. And what we have done in two places, I am about to do in a third, and we will do it, not for the third or the fourth, but for the hundredth time, God being our Helper. I am sure I may make the strongest appeal to my brethren, because we do not mean to build this Tabernacle as our nest, and then to be idle. We must go from strength to strength, and be a missionary church, and never rest until, not only this neighborhood, but our country, of which it is said some parts are as dark as India, shall have been enlightened with the Gospel.”

The two churches that Spurgeon mentioned in this quote, Wandsworth and Greenwich, were only about five miles from Spurgeon’s own church. He planted these churches recognizing that they may very well siphon off some of his own attendance.

Yet losing some of his own members to forward the cause of church planting was never an issue for Spurgeon. In fact, his usual method of church planting involved the gathering together of small teams from among the membership of the Metropolitan Tabernacle and sending them out to plant churches. Sometimes these teams were sent to needy areas of London, and sometimes they were sent to other parts of the country that were desperately in need of healthy churches. In Arnold Dallimore’s biography of Spurgeon, he wrote,

“During his career he frequently arranged to have a group of members leave the Tabernacle to start a new church, and often one of the prominent men of the Tabernacle went with them to provide leadership.”

Spurgeon himself said in an April, 1865 sermon,

“We have never sought to hinder the uprising of other churches from our midst or in our neighborhood. It is with cheerfulness that we dismiss our twelves, our twenties, our fifties, to form other churches. We encourage our members to leave us to found other churches; nay, we seek to persuade them to do it. We ask them to scatter throughout the land to become the goodly seed which God shall bless. I believe that so long as we do this we shall prosper.”

Spurgeon holds out to Christians today the vision of “a missionary church.” With intense zeal for the lost and a robust confidence in Christ’s promise to build His church, Spurgeon stepped out in faith and led one of the greatest church planting campaigns England has ever known. To this day, there are scores of churches in London and all over the U.K. that can trace their origins back to the church planting efforts of C.H Spurgeon. His call to churches today is to “advance onward” in the vital and necessary work of church planting.

Posted by Alex DiPrima with

4 Dos When it Comes to Small Group Ministry

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This blog is the second part of two blog posts related to small group ministry at Emmanuel Church. To read part one click here.

4 Dos when it comes to small group ministry

 1. Use the small group

In my experience, you get out of small group what you put into it. Avail yourself of all that a good small group can offer. Use your small group as a platform for community, fellowship, Bible study, and prayer in the church. Develop intentional relationships with the people in your small group. As most small groups meet mid-week, seek to view small group as a special gift from Christ to your needy soul as you labor through a busy week. I have often found small group to be like an oasis in which I get to focus my thoughts and affections on Christ and his body. This is so necessary especially when you find yourself in the middle of a difficult week.

The Bible does not require that the church organize a small group program. However, if your church offers small groups, make them part of your weekly/monthly rhythm. Use these opportunities to lean in to life among the church body.

2. PRAY!

Small groups can serve many good purposes, but I think one of the very best uses of the small group time is for prayer. The small group environment is a context in which more intimate personal prayer needs can be shared. If a small group is limited to 10-15 people, it’s quite possible that every individual can share prayer requests. Not only that, depending on how the time is structured, it’s possible that almost every individual in the group can pray for someone else. Small groups also accommodate a natural environment for pursuing continuity in our prayers. It makes it easy to follow up on previous prayer requests that have been shared and to bring the same issues before the Lord on a consistent basis.

If your small group makes prayer a part of your regular meetings together, let me encourage you to consider designating someone to keep track of prayers that have been shared in the group that God has answered. As a general rule, we do not thank God for answered prayer as much as we should,

3. Open up

Most small groups are designed to provide some opportunities that corporate gatherings simply can’t provide. It is unlikely that every member of the church will get to speak in a worship service. It’s unlikely that every member will get to pray or share a prayer request at a corporate prayer meeting. In small group however, everyone can voice a prayer request, an edifying comment, or a thoughtful question.

Since facilitating intimacy among the group is one of the goals of small group ministry, don’t be afraid to be intimate. Open up with your brothers and sisters. Talk about what Christ is teaching you in your Christian walk. Talk about things in your life that are difficult or challenging. Share encouragements from God’s Word. Avail yourself of the opportunity to open up to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

4. Don’t lose sight of the goal

A church I used to be a member of summarized the goal of their small group ministry as pursuing growth together. I think that’s an excellent summary of how small groups ought to be utilized in the life of the church. It should be recognized that this mission is not exclusive to small group ministry, but would apply also to corporate gatherings, Sunday school classes, one-on-one discipleship, etc. However, it ought to be stated nonetheless that this is indeed the goal of our small groups. We are seeking to grow together in our knowledge of God and His Word. We are seeking to grow alongside one another as followers of Christ. An effective and healthy small group ministry will never lose sight of this goal.

4 Don'ts When it Comes to Small Group Ministry

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As of this week our small group ministry is fully underway. We currently have groups meeting regionally every other week. The groups are broadly organized around sermon discussion, prayer, and fellowship. They meet midweek either on Wednesday or Thursday and usually run from 7-8:30pm. Groups also occasionally share a meal together in which case they may begin their meeting a little earlier.

This is the first of two posts on what I’m calling “4 dos and don’ts when it comes to small group.” Today, I’ll take a look a 4 don’ts when it comes to small group ministry.

4 Don’ts when it comes to small group ministry

 1. Don’t allow your small group to become a church within the church.

We’ve all either seen it happen, or heard of it happening…a small group can so easily become a functional church in and of itself. The members of the small group look to the group exclusively to fulfill the “one another” passages of Scripture. They look exclusively to the small group for community. They look exclusively to the small group for personal help, encouragement, and hospitality. The small group can almost become a sacred sphere of people within the church, and it’s only within that sacred sphere that we allow ourselves to live out church life in its fullness.

Small groups can certainly embody a more intimate sphere of fellowship within the church. However, they must never be seen as embodying the totality of church life. Every member of the church needs every other member of the church, and that means people in the church who are outside of our small groups. We owe our covenant commitments to each member of the body.

This is one of the reasons we at Emmanuel are committed to rotating small groups every couple of years or so. This allows the long-term member at Emmanuel Church to experience a smaller more intimate fellowship group with every single member of the church over the course of several years.

2. Don’t allow your small group to displace corporate gatherings.

The church in its fullness is the church gathered. The term most often used for the church is the ekklesia or the assembly. Gathered worship services of the church represent the fulcrum and climax of church life.

However, in this day and age, small groups can often displace corporate gatherings. Many feel more comfortable in small group environments than they do in the corporate gatherings of the church. Pastors and leaders must labor to promote the glories of the public gatherings of the church. It is to these corporate gatherings of Christ’s people that the Lord directs some of His most wonderful promises. It should be noted that a detailed study of the relevant passages would lead one to conclude that many of these promises pertain only to the gathered church body, and not to small groups within the church that may choose to meet throughout the week.

Small groups can represent a vital aspect of the church’s ministry, but they cannot replace gathered worship.

3. Don’t allow your small group to become a substitute for the personal intentional pursuit of community among God’s people.

Having participated in a number of different small groups over the last 10 years or so, I’ve become a big fan of small group ministry. Over the last 10 years, I’ve found myself regularly looking forward to meeting with my small group. Part of the reason I love small groups so much is because they provide a more intimate time of fellowship, prayer, and Bible study with a limited number of people in the church.

However, one danger to be avoided is allowing your small group to become the end all be all of your experience of community in the church. An every other week small group cannot replace showing regular hospitality in the home. A small group cannot replace pursuing a needy brother or sister in the church for one-on-one coffee or breakfast. A small group cannot replace spontaneous opportunities to spend time with other Christians within the body of Christ for mutual fellowship and encouragement.

The Bible would seem to advocate a daily experience of community within the body of Christ (Acts 2:46-47; Heb. 3:13). This does not mean we need to physically see our brothers and sisters in the church every day. Praise God for the ability we have in this day and age to text, email, call, and skype one another. But the fact is, gathering intentionally with others in the church for an hour every other week will not cut it. As Rosaria Butterfield has often put it, the church in America is on “a starvation diet of community.” An every other week small group is no substitute for engaging in regular Christian community throughout the week.

Small groups are best utilized as a help toward fostering community in the church, but not the end all be all of the church’s practice of community. 

4. Don’t allow your small group leader to replace your pastor.

This “don’t” applies to those churches who choose to have non-pastors lead their small groups (which I personally recommend if you have the horses).

A lot of small groups nowadays designate their small group leaders as “shepherds.” I think this is a big mistake for a number of reasons, not least because, biblically speaking, they’re not shepherds. Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us that Christ gives pastors to His church for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry. These pastors, according to 1 Tim. 3, Titus 1, and 1 Pet. 5 have unique qualifications and roles within the body of Christ. Small group leaders ought to be mature individuals who can organize and lead a small group time effectively, but they should not be viewed as those having official pastoral responsibility over those within the small group.

Because of the intimacy that small groups typically engender, it is possible for one to think that his or her small group leader is the best person to go to with a serious pastoral concern. However, it’s best if the distinction between a small group leader and a pastor remains intact. There are certain shepherding gifts and responsibilities that are unique to a church’s eldership. A good small group ministry should reinforce this idea, and not confuse the issue by treating small group leaders like pastors.

Check back in tomorrow as I share 4 dos when it comes to small group ministry…

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