In March of 2017 I will have been a part of the Acts 29 Network for ten years. By “part of,” I mean that back in March, 2007, I was first assessed by a group of pastors in A29 while attending an Acts 29 Boot Camp at Mars Hill Church, Seattle. The assessment was used by God to help me focus on two things: first, a reminder that church planting required that I place a high priority on close fellowship with my wife; and second, an exhortation to have a clear plan of where I was going and what I was called to do.
Because of the work which God was leading me to do–plant a church in southern New Jersey, as part of the New Jersey Presbytery of the PCA–this input proved to be critical, and so I pursued a relationship with Acts 29 for a few different reasons.
First, a relationship with A29 was important in the beginning of Mercy Hill because the New Jersey Presbytery was new to church planting–new, since 1992, when they worked together to plant a Brazilian congregation in Newark, NJ. Since new, it was also not rich with many financial, people, or experience resources.
Second, Acts 29 provided Mercy Hill and me, and my family, some early support in the area of keeping a mission- and kingdom-focus on the Gospel and church planting, as well as some of the razor-sharp attention that must be paid to the pragmatics of organizing a new church. As one brother explained to me at one point: to use the analogy of a human body, our relationship to the PCA was like “white blood cells” (largely defensive and used to ward off error); the connection to Acts 29 was like “red blood cells” (largely productive and used to deliver life-giving “oxygen” to the body).
Since then, things have been changing–for the better. The New Jersey Presbytery has helped to start two other congregations in the area (one in Camden and one in Atlantic City), and looks ahead to 2017 to start at least two or three more churches. The culture of multiplication has been developing among us. In other words, the denominational structure of “presbytery” is closer now than it has been in a long time to fulfilling a basic task of the regional church: adding new works by gathering new believers into congregations in strategic areas for Gospel impact. More red-blood cells, in other words.
Acts 29 hasn’t stayed the same, either. It has steadily moved from being a network of churches planting churches to more of what would traditionally be considered a denomination–an organized community of churches with doctrinal, theological, and practical (financial) shared commitments. In fact, the tag-line describing what was “the network” intentionally drops the word “network”–now its “a diverse global family of church planting churches.” I think this is largely movement in a good direction.
However, there are aspects which I would have liked to see develop differently, such as the approach taken to preparing men for ministry and the manner of establishing regional and national leadership. Yet, from a recent conversation with a board member, even these areas are continuing to develop in a positive way.
Yet, not only am I more content to focus on developing healthy kingdom systems and emphases within the NJ Presbytery, the newly ordained elders of Mercy Hill feel the same. Since God has raised up under-shepherds for the flock of Mercy Hill, I owe them, in honor of their office, an equal voice to speak to such outside church commitments. Acts 29 recognizes this as well; churches (via their elders), not just church planters, are now required to sign an annual covenant of commitment. They have for these reasons prayerfully decided to leave the Network.
All differences aside, however, I am generally encouraged by the direction of the Acts 29 Network, and regardless of how much the remaining member churches continue to move towards a more denominational identity or not, I am supportive of their desire to plant reformed, Gospel-centered congregations.
Leaving the network doesn’t mean my relationships with other A29 pastors will end; nor does it mean the end of my efforts to bring together men and churches from different denominational backgrounds to talk and cooperate both in our common cultural war against unbelief in society, our common theological commitment to the truth of Scripture, and passionately pursuing its implications for Christ’s Bride, the Church.
In short, by focusing on our core convictions and identity as a reformed and presbyterian congregation in South Jersey, I think I’ll be of more service and bring more value to other relationships outside my own theological circle, such as those of my brothers who choose to remain in A29.
While we won’t remain a member of Acts 29 in 2017, I do have the desire to continue to partner with like-minded congregations for the expansion of Christ’s kingdom.And for all such churches, our prayer and battle cry will continue to be:
Soli Deo Gloria.