News Articles

Baptists must plant churches to harvest souls, Wheeler says

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The United States is the third-largest unreached nation in the world, and a renewed emphasis on church planting is the key to reaching the nation for Christ, said Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s new professor of church planting and director of the Nehemiah Project.
“We’re not harvesting, because we’re not planting,” said David Wheeler, who began his duties at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary Aug. 1.
Citing statistics that show the U.S. growth rate of Christianity declining 10 percent each year, Wheeler said Southern Baptists need to see the direct relationship between evangelism and church planting and use church planting to solve the “crisis facing Christianity in North America.”
Evangelism and church planting are fields that Southern Baptists normally regard as distinct, he said, adding he hopes Southern Baptists begin to see evangelism and starting new churches go hand in hand.
“The real issue here is that Southern Baptists must recapture in a large way” the need for planting churches, Wheeler said. “We have got to understand the natural biblical fulfillment of evangelism is to congregationalize.”
The goal of the Nehemiah Project, a partnership between the North American Mission Board, state Baptist conventions and the six Southern Baptist seminaries, is to establish church planting as a main priority for Southern Baptists. Each seminary will have on-campus directors to recruit students for planting churches and facilitate internships and other opportunities on the field.
“We need the most qualified students to see church planting as a valid alternative,” Wheeler said. “In this generation, there’s a real hunger to do something of significance for God.”
By starting with the leadership, Wheeler believes the vision of joining evangelism and church planting will take hold.
From there, the local church “catches the vision” and ideally “plants churches that plant churches. We want to do multiplication,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler also will teach evangelism and church growth, but his main responsibility is making sure students are made aware of and understand the opportunities for building the kingdom through church planting.
He said he has not targeted a specific geographic area but will be working with the southwestern and western United States a great deal.
Wheeler said his desire for seeing new churches planted and evangelism comes from a realization that life is not guaranteed. That lesson he learned in 1989 while a doctoral student at Southwestern, which he recounted last September in a chapel service at the seminary.
Wheeler’s wife, Debbi, who had been diagnosed with Wegener’s disease, recovered after massive doses of chemotherapy that threatened the life of their unborn child. That experience, he said, broke down the walls of pride and arrogance in him and his family and helped them to surrender to God’s will.
Since then, Wheeler has served as director of evangelism and prayer in the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, with a renewed passion for reaching the lost for Christ.
“We should always see people from God’s perspective,” he said in his chapel address.
In his new position, Wheeler will be working directly with the Scarborough Institute for Church Growth and its director, Daniel Sanchez.
“Dr. Sanchez and I will work as a team for mobilizing students in church planting opportunities. Hopefully, this will be achieved through a genuine excitement in local associations and state conventions. The challenge is great, but the rewards are eternal.”

    About the Author

  • Cory J. Hailey