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The Ministry of the Regional Home Missionary

DeLacy A. Andrews Jr.

I was thinking it was a good day when my telephone rang in early January 2000. In the first place, the world as we know it had not come to a tragic end as many doomsday prognosticators had predicted; and second, the new Presbytery of the Southeast of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was about to be born. I was excited about the kingdom prospects that the new presbytery afforded.

When I heard the happy greeting from my dear friend Jim Heemstra, I was delighted. Jim had served for many years as Regional Home Missionary (RHM) of the Presbytery of the South and was instrumental in my coming into the OPC in 1994. I had already anticipated calling him later in the day. We had much planning to do.

In late fall 1999 the ministers and elders of the churches that would comprise the new presbytery met in Matthews, North Carolina, to adopt standing rules and to elect and organize all committees. We wanted to “hit the ground running” at our first official presbytery meeting after the New Year. I was elected to the Home Missions Committee and appointed as chairman. I eagerly accepted the position, having a zeal for church planting, but I also had an ace in the hole. I was willing to serve as chairman of the committee because it was assumed by everyone involved that Jim Heemstra would serve both presbyteries.

I was shocked when I heard his words, “Lacy, I don’t want the job.”

“What job?” I asked, not believing what I was hearing.

“It’s just too big,” he stated flatly. “I believe I need to continue to work only in the Presbytery of the South.”

“But, you live within the bounds of the new presbytery,” I countered, knowing he was residing in Maryville, Tennessee, helping in the mission work there.

“Sandy and I plan to move back to Florida shortly,” he said.

My mind was reeling. This was not what I had signed up for in the new presbytery. We were inheriting a number of mission works from both the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic and the Presbytery of the South. We had mission works in Mount Airy and New Bern, North Carolina; London, Kentucky; Marietta, Georgia; and Bristol, Cookeville, and Maryville, Tennessee. How was the newly elected committee, of which I was chairman, supposed to care for so many mission works without a Regional Home Missionary?

“Why don’t you become our Regional Home Missionary?” I blurted out, grasping for straws.

Jim was insistent that he needed to continue his labors in the Presbytery of the South and that we would be fine without him.

I made one more attempt to dissuade him, “Jim, we’re going to need a Regional Home Missionary.”

“I know you are,” he replied.

He hesitated for a moment before he continued, “Let me give you some advice.”

“Okay,” I said, looking for any reassurance I could find.

“When you call a man, don’t call a young man,” he said firmly. “I don’t care how gifted he is, RHMs need to have wisdom that is only gained over time and through experience.”

I was mentally taking notes thinking, I need to remember this advice after we hang up the telephone.

“Second, don’t go outside the presbytery. It needs to be a man the churches know and trust.”

I remember little else from that conversation. I do recall thinking of all the older men in our presbytery who might be able to serve as our Regional Home Missionary. My heart started pounding when I finished going through the potential list of names. At the end of my calculation there was only one name that remained on the list. It was my name.

Later that evening I told my wife about my conversation with Jim, and also about my conclusion.

I shrugged it off by saying to her, “It can’t be me. Our church is nowhere near ready for me to leave. We’ve got to get the church out of the rented facility we’re in and into a more permanent meeting place. That may be five years down the road. By then we will already have a Regional Home Missionary.”

As we often learn, God has his own plans. In less than two years, on January 1, 2002, I began my labors as the Regional Home Missionary of the Presbytery of the Southeast.

At my first Regional Home Missions Conference as an RHM in November 2002, I immediately realized I’d become a member of a very interesting brotherhood. I recall looking around the table at the more seasoned RHMs, such as Jim Bosgraf, Jim Heemstra, and Don Poundstone. There were also men closer to my age such as Gary Davenport and the newly installed RHM of the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic—my old friend Dick Ellis.

The thing that struck me most was how differently we conducted our ministries. Jim Bosgraf flew from mission work to mission work in two different airplanes. Jim Heemstra hauled his trailer from place to place, spending six months to a year in each location. Gary Davenport was a very efficient administrator and seemed always to be thinking of new strategies for church planting. Dick Ellis conducted his work in the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic, while continuing to pastor his congregation in Frederick, Maryland. I have to admit I thought Dick had lost his mind. We were all very different, with varying gifts, serving presbyteries that had unique needs and opportunities. It was clear to me that God had given the right men to the right presbyteries. However, these men all had certain things in common—a love for Christ, evangelism, and church planting, and a love for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

To consolidate the different approaches of our RHMs would be an impossible task, so this article will view the RHM ministry through my own spectacles.

Finding a Biblical Model

I remember an encounter I had with a charismatic Christian a few years ago.

When she asked me about my ministry, and I tried to explain it to her, she exclaimed as her eyes widened, “You’re an Apostle!”

I was startled by her reply and quickly said, “No, not really; well, only in a very broad sense.”

Some may consider our work to be like that of the Apostles. We are missionaries and church planters. Our ministries are regional, rather than confined to a single congregation. The Apostles clearly did this kind of ministry. Yet, they were commissioned directly by the risen Lord Jesus Christ and had an authority that cannot be duplicated. They were foundational to the church, and once that foundation was laid, the office ceased. Their authority continues in the inscripturated Word.

Titus has also been suggested. His work was regional, among the churches on the Island of Crete. Yet, I’m convinced his labors resemble the work of our church planters more than our Regional Home Missionaries. RHMs often serve as the initial gatherers in mission works. It is later that a church planter is called. The churches in Crete had already been founded by the Apostle Paul. Titus was commissioned to “put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). I’ve been so convinced of this view that I’ve often preached through Titus in our mission works to prepare for the calling of a church planter. We even call him “Titus” in our prayers until God reveals his actual name to us through the search process and the work of the presbytery.

However, I do believe we have a biblical example that closely mirrors the work of our Regional Home Missionaries. That man is Epaphras. He is mentioned in both Paul’s letter to the Colossians and his letter to Philemon.

The first instance is in Colossians 1:7–8, “Just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.”

He is also mentioned in Paul’s final greetings in Colossians 4:12–13, “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.”

Finally, we read of him in the concluding greetings of Paul’s letter to Philemon, verse 23, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you.”

This servant of the Lord was a resident of Colossae and must have heard the gospel from Paul while visiting Ephesus, the chief city of Asia Minor. While there, Paul preached for two years in the hall of Tyrannus. Luke tells us in Acts 19:10, “that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”

Most in Asia did not hear the Word directly from Paul’s lips, but rather from those who heard Paul in Ephesus. Epaphras appears to have been one of these evangelists who was converted under Paul’s ministry and returned to his home town with the gospel.

Many years later, we learn that Epaphras not only took the gospel to Colossae, but to the entire Lycos Valley. In fact, Paul commends him to the Colossians by saying, “For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and Hierapolis.” (Col. 4:13). Epaphras’s ministry was regional, and churches were planted in three cities due to his hard labors.

Epaphras is commended by Paul for his prayers, “always struggling on your behalf in his prayers” (Col. 4:12). RHMs recognize that church planting is a spiritual endeavor. We must trust that Christ is the one building his church (Matt 16:18). This conviction drives us to prayer and to lead the congregations in prayer. Epaphras gives us this clear example. The work of the RHM is in the trenches of spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:12). I always tell a new core group early in the process, “As soon as we put our hands to the plow to establish a new OPC church, we come into the crosshairs of the enemy.” This burden drives us to our knees, and there we latch onto Christ.

It is a joy to watch Christ build his church. I often think of how blessed I am to be able to see what God is doing throughout the presbytery. Christ is surely at work. Yet, it is the church militant where we labor, and our warfare is spiritual. It is often painful, and there are casualties.

Promising starts sometimes come to naught, destroyed by divisions within. Meager beginnings, which even discourage us overly optimistic RHMs, sometimes blossom by the hand of God and become robust congregations. It is Christ’s work and we are reminded of this again and again, both in our successes and failures.

Things We Have Learned

Over the past fifteen years, God has taught me some things about church planting. When I began in 2002, I jumped eagerly into the middle of every potential core group without much evaluation of the group or its background and motivations. They wanted to start an OPC church, and I wanted to help them do it. We learned as a Home Missions Committee to be more circumspect.

We had groups fail because we didn’t see serious issues underneath the surface. Closer scrutiny and asking hard questions in the beginning would have been wise. However, this can be a double-edged sword. We’ve had groups in the past that God has blessed richly and are now thriving congregations. If those same groups came to us today, they might be rejected. Objective criteria only go so far.

My friend Jim Heemstra also said to me, “I’ll take the right three families over the wrong ten families every time.”

I believe this is true. We don’t ignore objective analyses, but subjective criteria, such as the godliness, motives, and gifts within the group are also considered. Making the call about whether to move ahead is often ultimately a matter of the heart.

At first in my work I was seen only as the initial gatherer, until we were ready for our Titus and he was found. Then I was on to the next work. When serious problems began to develop within some mission works as they entered this new chapter, I realized that I needed to stay closely involved for a much longer period of time. By the time our Titus comes, I have the hearts and ears of the congregation. I’ve learned to stay involved in order to try to discern troubles before they grow.

I had to fight for this with my committee, who cared about me and tried to protect my time and energy. Now I routinely stay on provisional sessions until the works are organized. Sometimes that means I’m serving on five or six sessions at a time. This can be overwhelming, but the Home Missions Committee trusts me to manage that time commitment well. Some works need more attention, and others need less. I’m constantly praying for wisdom in the distribution of my energies. Still, we have learned to start better, continue better, and to end well. This approach has paid dividends.

We’ve learned to be more intentional as a committee. Several years ago we divided our Home Missions Committee into subcommittees to do demographic work. Each subcommittee examined the region of our presbytery where they lived and ministered. We looked at eastern North Carolina; central and northern North Carolina; Georgia; the Tidewater Region of Virginia; the Tri-Cities area of Tennessee and Virginia; Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee. We gathered and evaluated the data and now have a mission work in the Tidewater Region of Virginia, a Bible study in eastern North Carolina, and plans soon to investigate opportunities in Nashville, Tennessee.

More Recent Reassessment

A couple years ago, our committee reconsidered my job description. Initially, my priority was to respond to inquiries from potential mission works, but we came to believe that we needed to emphasize a more proactive approach. I still respond to these inquiries when they come. This is one benefit to a presbytery that has an RHM. He is able to respond quickly and more efficiently than a committee can.

Still, we believe we need to be more proactive in our church planting. Groups that come to us often have baggage. Sometimes we find that we have the right demographic, but the wrong group, or conversely, the right group, but the wrong demographic. Demographics do not drive our church planting, as demonstrated in our now vibrant work in the rural/small town area of Royston, Georgia. However, we do take note of them. This was true in our work in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

The Virginia Beach work began with prayer over several years. Steve Doe, Regional Home Missionary of the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic Pete Stazen, pastor of Grace OPC in Lynchburg, Virginia, and I met for prayer on a number of occasions, specifically targeting the Tidewater Region. In summer 2012 Steve and I combined our list of contacts and organized an informational meeting. That led to a Bible study in Virginia Beach, then to worship services, and now to a thriving mission work.

For our committee the biggest issue with targeting Virginia Beach was the distance. Without the aid of Steve Doe, the work would have struggled to get off the ground. I live 400 miles away, but Steve lives 160 miles from the work, even though he serves a different presbytery. The Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic graciously permitted their RHM to work with us. It has been one of my greatest joys as an RHM to partner with my brother in this endeavor.

Still, the committee wanted to focus on a mission work within a workable distance, two hundred miles, from my residence. We wanted to duplicate what we had done earlier in Gastonia, North Carolina, and call this our R-200 plan.[1]

In 2009 I met with two families in Gastonia to consider the possibility of beginning a mission work. Quickly, we had three families and began a Bible study. In God’s providence, all our other mission works had organizing pastors in place, enabling me to devote my primary attention to the work in Gastonia. That investment paid off, and God has richly blessed the work. Reformation Presbyterian Church is now an organized congregation.

Our mission work in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is our present R-200 work. I typically preach three Sundays out of each month at Harvest. God is blessing the work, and we hope to begin searching for our Titus soon.

When our committee began reassessing our ministry, we had great interest in a targeted-church-plant approach. Hoping to avoid some of the pit-falls that come with ready-made core groups, we wanted to target a good demographic and begin with the right man. The big obstacle was resources. Typically there are two sources of income for mission works: subsidies from the presbytery and general assembly, and the tithes and offerings from the mission work itself. When beginning with the man, all the initial resources would have to be supplied by the committees. Considering larger markets with higher costs and experienced ministers who need higher salaries, this task became daunting to us.

In God’s providence, I was unable to attend a meeting of our committee, which gave them an opportunity to think through our approach in my absence. Afterward I met with the chairman of our committee, Nathan Trice, to discuss their thoughts. It was another one of those defining conversations with a dear friend.

He told me that the committee remained keen on the idea of an intentional church plant and that they wanted me to consider being the man. They were essentially offering me the opportunity to go to any larger metropolitan area of my choice, within the bounds of our presbytery, with full financial support. What we all realized was that the presbytery didn’t have the resources to do this kind of church plant and also have a Regional Home Missionary program.

I weighed their offer carefully, talked it over with my wife, and prayed. I was pleased that they trusted in God to use me in such a way, but I loved my present labors. After a few weeks, neither my wife nor I had a zeal to start again in a new place. However, more than that, I was concerned about abandoning a ministry the presbytery had established a dozen years before. I wrote out my thoughts and sent them to the committee, and then we met to discuss them.

I asked them to consider what we would have in five or ten years if we did this. If God blessed our labor, we would have another strong church within our presbytery to help with our regional mission. However, how many lost opportunities would there be? I was very frank with them, telling them that a committee cannot duplicate what an RHM is able to do. He has expertise from experience that they don’t have. I was also concerned about redirecting our resources to the intentional plant and away from the RHM program. There is a reason why most presbyteries that can afford an RHM have one, and why most who can’t afford an RHM want one. God has blessed this ministry and the many men who have served in this capacity for decades in our church.

The committee heard me out and unanimously agreed to continue the RHM program and my service in it. We have not abandoned the desire to intentionally plant a church beginning with the right man in the right place, but recognize that God will make extraordinary provision when that opportunity arises.

Having said this about RHM ministry and the men who have served, I remain convinced of one thing: the ministry of the Regional Home Missionary is not the highest ministry in the church. That distinction belongs to our organizing pastors and pastors of our churches—to those men who live among the people and the communities they serve, often for many years. The role of RHMs is to help mission works get ready to receive their Titus and then to assist Titus in his ministry.

Endnotes

[1] RHM within a 200 mile radius of home.

DeLacy A. Andrews Jr. is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church serving as the regional home missionary for the Presbytery of the Southeast. Ordained Servant Online, June–July 2017.

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