SCCPP: The Vehicle

One of the hardest personal acts of discernment in the church planting process to date has been determining with which denomination for me to plant.  When I became an administrative pastor two years ago, a pastor-friend counseled me that the new position was a great strategic move.  He then grabbed a napkin and began to draw a chart to show how if I worked in that role for the next eight years, I would be able to double my salary and climb the ladder of success.

At that moment, I realized God was calling me in another direction (in fact, one which results in a paycut) as I felt little urge to strive toward that idea of success. This past Saturday, I was formally transferred from the PC(USA)–a denomination I have served for 11 years–into the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO).  A lot of people have asked me “Why ECO?”  Why leave a large denomination with an existing job, a pension, a congregation, medical coverage, substantial perks and benefits, and established ministry partnerships? 

It is because I believe ECO to be the best vehicle for me to plant a new church in Charlotte.
First, I feel theologically at home in a denomination where there is an infallible belief in Scripture, the centrality of Jesus Christ, and an accountability not only for ministers but also for congregations.  Also this is a group who takes seriously the empowerment of the local congregation…much like my Presbyterian Outlook article.  I perceive ECO to be similar to what the PC(USA) was 15-20 years ago, when I first committed to the denomination.  I’ve felt increasingly unsettled by the evolution of the PC(USA).  The timing of the emergence of ECO seems God-ordained.

While the three foundational tenets of ECO are all part of the chassis for this vehicle, ultimately my desire to join this movement was because of its fuel.

A Missional Ethos:
Several years ago, I was a finalist for a church planting position within the PC(USA).  During my final interview with the Presbytery they asked me what theologians I read.  I responded “Tim Keller.”  I heard an audible gasp from the Presbytery execs and others as they recoiled in horror…”but…but…he’s PCA, isn’t he?”  I replied, “Well yes, but if we want to be serious about church planting we have to acknowledge that the PCA is doing some of the best work in North America.”  I did not get the job, by the way.
At an ECO conference last fall, the group discussed how church planting would be an essential part of the mission of this grouping of Presbyterians.  They also said they would use Keller’s City-To-City, even though they are PCA.  Lindsay and I were ultimately assessed by the group and given access to PCA resources. It was crucial to me to be trained and supported by established and successful church planters.  The PC(USA) has not generally planted churches well, so ECO’s embrace of the premier church planting body–despite denominational affiliation–convinced me that this was the route to take.  

Finally, ECO will be requiring the Sessions of each church to annually answer the question: “How has your congregation extended itself beyond its bounds through the establishment of new communities of worship and discipleship, expanding the kingdom of God?” Church planting–and supporting church plants–is vital to ECO’s mission.  Here are three great ways to support us:  
As the first church planter for ECO in the Presbytery of the East, I feel like the startup of a startup.  I will not be able to passively sit at Starbucks all day recreating a mission plan so that dollars will flow down from headquarters. Instead, I will go where the people are to raise a launch team of disciple-makers and to share the gospel with those who are hungry for more in life.

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