Conference focuses on building effective, faithful churches

by C. Walter Overman
  • Bryan Loritts, pastor of Fellowship Memphis Church in Memphis, Tenn.

  • Tyler Jones, pastor of Vintage 21 Church in Raleigh.

Monday, March 25, 2013 | 2 yrs old

The American church has more resources to help advance the Kingdom of God than any generation since the church age. Yet, the church in the United States is in steep decline.

Tyler Jones, pastor of Vintage 21 Church in Raleigh, believes the decline is the result of internal forces within the church that stem from a lack of biblical fundamentals.

“Historically, the church has been able to advance the gospel and advance the Kingdom of God and stand in the raging currents of culture like oaks of righteousness when we are what we are supposed to be and do what we are supposed to do,” he said. “The issue is not culture. The issue is us, the local church.”

Jones spoke during the recent Advance 13 Conference at Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh. In addition to Jones, plenary speakers included J.D. Greear, pastor of  Summit Church in Durham; John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn.; Matt Chandler, pastor of Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas; Bryan Loritts, pastor of Fellowship Memphis Church in Memphis, Tenn.; and David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.

Church leaders from across North America attended the three-day conference to learn how to build faithful and effective churches.

An important element to reversing declining church numbers begins with leadership. Leaders must be changed by the gospel, lead by example and empower laypeople to fulfill the calling that God has entrusted to them in their unique contexts.

Jones encouraged pastors to let go of the “superman complex,” or the belief that pastors are the only ones who can teach and lead in the church. Pastors who succumb to the superman complex tend to reduce the workforce in their church from potentially hundreds to just one.

“That’s what has greatly reduced our ability to go and be effective churches and faithful churches that make much of Jesus,” he said. “We are going to have to develop an environment in our churches that helps people strive to be in the ministry – the ministry in their neighborhoods, the ministry in their workplaces. That’s our role as leaders and pastors in the local church.”

Leaders should also empower laypeople through a discipleship process that is gospel-centered and practical. Discipleship is not primarily learned from books, Jones said, but from real-world experiences of how the gospel empowers believers to trust Jesus Christ confidently in all areas of life.

Using the illustration from the thorn in Paul’s flesh in 2 Corinthians 12:7, Jones said Christ-followers are better equipped to convey the gospel to their lost friends and coworkers when they become aware of their weaknesses, their brokenness and the power of God’s grace.

“Discipleship is living out the gospel. The way that happens most effectively is to have a continuing, deepening understanding of grace and of the gospel,” he said. “One of the primary ways that grace bores itself down into your heart is to suffer and in the midst of your suffering realize that Jesus is enough for you.”

Building a Multi-ethic Church

Loritts used Ephesians 2:11-22 to encourage pastors to build effective multi-ethnic churches that represent heaven on earth.

“We fundamentally exists to take the culture, customs and practices of a faraway place called heaven, inject it into this new place called earth, so that earth mimics heaven,” he said.

Loritts shared with attendees how he prayed for God to send him to a “difficult” urban center for the purpose of building a multi-ethnic church. God answered that prayer by sending him to Memphis, a city famous for ethnic strife.

Fellowship Church launched in 2003 and has since become a vibrant multi-ethnic church that is 65 percent Caucasian and 35 percent African-American, which Loritts said is an incredible testimony to the power of the gospel.

“The good news of the gospel does not just reconcile sinful man with a holy God,” he said. “This same good news of the gospel has reconciled Jew with Gentile, black with white. The good news of the gospel is not just vertical but it is also horizontal.”

Building a multi-ethnic church is not easy, but Loritts said it is biblical and worth the effort. If it can be accomplished in Memphis, it can happen anywhere the gospel is faithfully proclaimed and where church leaders intentionally seek to build multi-ethnic relationships professionally and privately.

Loritts told pastors to be like Paul, who intentionally brought Jews and Gentiles together in every city. The result was an ethnic blend of believers who communicated a powerful message to their unbelieving neighbors.

“One of the most powerful witnesses to the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is when people who normally would not do life together come together,” he said.

Many church leaders regularly speak about building multi-ethnic churches, but few successfully lead their congregations to achieve that goal. In some situations, it is because leaders fail to incorporate diversity personally.

“If we merely view diversity professionally but we don’t integrate it into our own lives we undo the very message we are trying to preach,” Loritts said. “Intentionality is not a church growth technique; it is a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Video from all plenary sessions will be available soon at www.advance13.com.