In January of this year, I, along with the two other leaders of our church plant, made the decision to shut it down. This was an extraordinarily difficult decision for multiple reasons, not the least of which was that planting this church in Los Angeles was plan A and I had no plan B.
But I would say that the main reason we decided to close our church was our fixation with Postmillenialism — the eschatological view that says that the Church’s mission to evangelize and transform societies from the inside-out will actually take place before Christ’s return.
Why would eschatology cause this?
When we initially planted our church, we did so with a completely different eschatological view — it was fundamentally pessimistic. By this, I mean that while we believe the Gospel can change many lives, most people in human history will still reject it, and ultimately Christ will return to a world that is in chaos and largely unconverted. Thus, by that logic, the best we can do as the Church is to remain a faithful witness until the time of Christ’s return.
A church that is being planted under these eschatological assumptions usually thinks short-term rather than long-term. I say “usually” because these eschatological assumptions begin with the premise that the best the Church can do is win souls and disciple people in their personal holiness. Nothing beyond that. There is no real hope that the Church will successfully affect cultural and political change in towns, cities, states, or nations. Cultural transformation is not a focus.
Self-destructive church planting
I believe that many do not realize how they are unwittingly self-destructing their church-planting efforts in the evangelical world these days. My example is no different.
I and my core team spent six years trying to plant a church in one of the most difficult areas, in one of the most difficult cities, in one of the most difficult states to plant a church in. We read about Timothy Keller and his example of planting Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, and we were ready to make the same sacrifices to make our church plant last. Thus, we were sent out — three 24-year-old church planters with our little core team, with the full support of multiple churches and sending agencies. Not a single person in our church owned a home in the city, nor were there any prospects of ever owning a home where we lived.
The young singles who had committed to this struggled for years to find a godly spouse. We had young couples putting off having children for financial reasons, and other families who dreamed of starting businesses but knew they couldn’t do it in our location. These were, in our view, all necessary sacrifices that we were willing to make so that we could be in the city and for the city.
And then, in the span of about six months, all three of us pastors came to embrace Postmillenialism. To us, this realization was absolutely exhilarating! “Wow! This means Christ actually intends for us to successfully disciple the nations!”
I liken the experience to watching food coloring drop into a glass of water. At first, you’re just thinking about how cool that little droplet looks as it hits the surface of the water. But then, as it mixes in, it changes the color of everything.
After we got over our initial excitement about the theological implications of Postmillennialism, we began to realize that there are very practical missiological implications as well. If you believe that you are going to win in the here-and-now, before the end times, your evangelism tactics will change dramatically. If you believe that Christ and His Church will successfully disciple the nations, you start asking completely different questions.
Instead of, “How can I be a faithful witness right now?” You start asking “How do we advance His Kingdom for future generations and set our great-grandchildren up for even greater Kingdom success?” All of a sudden, the fact that my parishioners were putting off getting married, having children, and starting Christian businesses, all to help start this church plant in a place where virtually none of them could ever afford to live, was totally reckless and irresponsible. I was calling people to put off being fruitful and multiplying and building up families all so that we could plant a Church that, statistically, would likely not last 20 years.
I realized I was calling my people to sacrifice the dominion mandate on the altar of the Great Commission, instead of calling them to do both. I wasn’t calling them to a mission that was bound for real, historical success.
And so, ironically, it was this great Postmillennial hope that led to the destruction of our little church plant.
We must dispense with this all-or-nothing church-planting mentality, and actually be strategic in our planning. Yes, we must think generationally. Yes, we must focus on future Gospel-growth and cultural transformation. But we can’t lose balance. If we forget our obligations in the day-to-day and forget our daily calling to simply be faithful Christians in the context in which the Lord has placed us, we won’t be helpful or useful in God’s Kingdom.
I have since moved to the Nashville area to join a church with these glorious convictions. It was one of the best decisions in my life.
Joshua Haymes is the host of The Reformation Red Pill Podcast, and Co-Founder of TheForge.Press. He has a degree in Religion and Philosophy. He is currently working on a Masters In Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.
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