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Congregation sees ‘divine approval’ of commitment to church planting

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (BP)–Planting churches drives Chip Roberson, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Va. But it didn’t always have such prominence in his life.

“The first time I heard about church planting was at one of our first state conventions a few years ago,” said Roberson, whose church is aligned with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.

“The truth of the matter is that if you want to reach your community for the Lord, then plant new churches,” he said.

In July 1999, Bethel planted Sonlight Church. A year later, Sonlight constituted independently from Bethel, and in December surpassed the 200 mark in attendance.

Sonlight, led by Hershel Adams, baptized almost 50 people in its first year. “That’s 50 more folks that otherwise might not have been added to God’s kingdom had we not decided to trust him when we started this venture,” Roberson said.

There are a number of factors that Roberson cites as ingredients for church planting, and trusting God is a major one. “A lot of things happened here last year. We started off the year believing God wanted us to plant a church, as well as to buy nearby property, build new facilities, pave our parking lot and hire a staff member. Many of our folks asked me, ‘Pastor, are you sure you want to do all of this in one year?’

“As I looked at it all, I realized we had approached something that only God could do. And it was intimidating to step back and say, ‘Yes, this is what God wants us to do — all of it,'” Roberson said. “Of course, it also helps to be a little crazy.”

The pastor also was encouraged for the venture based on his “seeing God work miracles, incredible numbers of miracles.” And the miracles came this time as well.

Despite a budget crunch, Bethel members plunged ahead, committing about 40 people — some of its best families — as the core group for the new church.

“In less than a month God sent Bethel more than 40 new members. Plus, we went from being a little under budget to exceeding it by about $4,000 every week,” Roberson said. “People ask how we can afford to plant churches. Well, if what happened here last year is indicative of God’s blessing on a church that’ll plant churches, then Bethel can’t afford not to plant churches.”

Bethel not only planted Sonlight, the parent church also bought the property and spent about $250,000 paving the parking lot — paying cash for both — hired the staff member and also built new facilities.

The multiplied miracles and blessings from God were “divine approval” that Bethel had engaged itself in true New Testament church growth, Roberson said.

“Let’s make no bones about it,” he said, noting the huge amounts of human commitment needed to make church planting succeed, “Hershel and his core group have done a phenomenal job in accomplishing the hard work of planting a church.”

Roberson said raising money for all of Bethel’s projects wasn’t really his concern. “When I see God at work in one place, and I see him fostering receptivity to that work in another place — and the only thing left to bring those two together is the money — then I don’t have to worry about that. That’s God’s business to build the financial bridge between the two of them.”

For those pastors who may worry about how such a venture might impact their current ministry, Roberson advised, “Someone has said that there is no end to what can get done if you don’t care who gets the credit. And for me, it came down to this question: ‘Whose kingdom is it anyway?’ God wouldn’t have led Bethel to do this kind of work if fleshly issues were in the mix.

“My biggest struggle through it all was how to understand exactly what God wanted me to do. I realized it ultimately had to come down to his will, not mine.

“I know God wants to reach this large community, and I know he wants to reach the world,” said Roberson, who noted that Chesapeake’s geographical land mass makes the city the ninth largest in the United States.

“I believe that God is looking for churches that love him and his Word, and believe him, and are willing to be used no matter what the cost. That’s the kind of church I want Bethel to be.”

Roberson believes Bethel has such potential. He wants the church to plant 20 others in the next five years.

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  • Norm Miller