Church planting’s gospel impact takes time, graduate says
The Rev. Brooks Pipher is a Church Planting Explorer with the Florida Presbytery of the ARP Church. He graduated from Erskine Theological Seminary in 2014 with a Master of Divinity degree. He previously interned at Christ Community Church in Ruskin, Fla. At the time of this interview, Pipher and his wife Amanda resided in downtown Boca Raton, Fla. The interview, conducted by Heath Milford (a 2011 graduate of Erskine Seminary and a staff member at the ETS Columbia Campus Library), was sent to the ARP Magazine and appeared in the July/August 2017 issue. In January 2018, Erskine Theological Seminary will be presenting a one-week intensive course on Church Planting taught by Dr. Michael A. Milton, who holds the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at the seminary. The course will be offered Jan. 15-19 (note that dates have been changed). For more information, call 1-800-770-6936 or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell us about your ministry in South Florida.
I am presently involved in what Outreach North America calls an “Explorer Year.” You could call it the first year of church planting, but it’s more like a pre-church planting year. During this time I’ve had the opportunity to “explore” a potential geographical area, getting to know the culture and the heart of the people who live there. This Explorer Year has helped me to narrow my focus. Now I am able to spend the months ahead developing a vision for sharing the gospel in order to reach people who live and work in downtown Boca Raton, Florida.
Why did you choose that particular location?
Boca Raton needs more churches actively pursuing downtown residents with the gospel. This area has experienced a recent period of growth in the form of apartments, condos, and townhomes. And it’s not slowing down. Many of the residents of these new buildings are young professionals. Amanda and I live in downtown Boca Raton and very rarely do we meet Christians. It seems that somehow many of these new residents have slipped under the radar of established churches, so we feel called to reach the downtown area. Additionally, in choosing this location it was encouraging to know that there is an ARP church 25 minutes away. That congregation has been a wonderful support to us.
What unique challenges and opportunities present themselves while planting a church?
Well, the challenge and the opportunity seem to go hand-in-hand. In the ARP we plant churches in order to have a gospel impact on lost people. But making a true impact often takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. It requires spending more time in one-on-one discipling than anything else since most people here do not have much of a gospel foundation. Working in ministry with unbelievers can be difficult. As a pastor in a very secular area, [I find that my] calls and texts are sometimes ignored. People can be rude and are not always excited to hear God’s Word preached each week.
Yet with this challenge comes great opportunity to share the gospel with many who have never heard it before. As a pastor I am meeting and speaking with people every day who are not believers. What joy! Our hope and prayer is that the downtown Boca Raton of the future is a downtown filled with people who have been brought from darkness to light by the Holy Spirit.
How did your time at Erskine Seminary prepare you for this type of ministry?
My studies at ETS have proved invaluable for ministry. There are the obvious reasons, such as the fantastic course that I took called “Church Planting & Revitalization.” But I think Erskine Seminary’s hidden value for church planting has been in reforming my understanding of the Church and the people of God. First, my professors at ETS encouraged me to fall in love with the Church of Christ. It’s beautiful to know that the churches we work to plant are looked upon as the body of Christ. And because of the preaching of the Gospel, many from different social circles and backgrounds are added to the body of Christ day by day. Second, at ETS I was taught to understand how the Bible presents the people of God. Knowing that there are many in our cities who have been particularly loved by God before the foundation of the world yet who do not belong to a local body of believers – that’s a great motivator for church planting! At ETS I was taught that it is God who opens hearts for faith in Christ. My job is to remain faithful to the ministry and not to give glory to myself for any successes or blame myself for any discouragements. My ETS education gave me a fuller understanding of the Triune God who works to His own glory.
What words of wisdom would you like to share with others considering church planting?
Come to South Florida! We need churches now more than ever. So if you are considering church planting, I encourage you to spend a great amount of time in prayer. While ministering in a beautiful city like Boca Raton might appear glamorous, church planting is anything but glamorous. Yet our hope is to faithfully share the gospel with very lost people and slowly grow into a worshipping church. It may not be pretty, but it is very exciting and the joy we have experienced in ministering to the lost is tremendous. If you feel called to this sort of slow ministry where you will be [doing] face-to-face evangelizing [of] an inordinate number of unbelievers, then please pick up the phone and call the church extension chairman of your Presbytery and ask him to pray with you and for you.