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Evangelist turned pastor advises seminarians on church planting

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–After 20 years in evangelistic ministry, Jerry Johnston believed God was calling him to start a church in south Johnson County, Kansas.

When he started First Family Church in 1996, Johnston said he didn’t know he was supposed to start with a core group, and instead, rented a 1,000-seat auditorium in Overland Park. “I just looked at it like it was a crusade that wouldn’t end after a week,” he said at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary April 13.

Although aware of a variety of church growth ideas and models for starting a ministry, Johnston forged his own way. Though affirming the ministries of well-known church planters who offer advice through conferences, Johnston spoke of a well-known church where he was kept from giving a public invitation.

“I told them, ‘I’m your guest and I’ll do what you want me to do,'” while questioning their concern that a public invitation to receive Jesus Christ as Savior would turn off some people. “I said, ‘If the gospel doesn’t turn some people off, it’s not the gospel.’ Let us never forget that.'” Johnston added that 18 people received Christ that morning, filling out cards to schedule appointments to discuss the decisions.

His own church is located in a region with quarter-million- and half-million-dollar homes where 21,000 households spent $1.9 billion last year.

“I’ve been told you can’t build a church in an area like that and preach on hell. You can’t give public invitations. You can’t stand up and say that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God or take a stand on an issue like creationism which we did last week.”

By offering a creationist perspective, Johnston said the church responded to the Kansas Board of Education’s decision to make creationism an optional model at the discretion of local school districts. “Everybody came out like we’re a bunch of Dorothys and Totos,” Johnston said, although 1,750 people attended the message by creationist Duane Gish.

“I didn’t start a church to try to win a popularity contest and I know that someday I have to give an account to the person that’s the most important,” Johnston said. “I’ve got to tell him whether I told the people the truth or just tried to fit into the vein. Or was I so conscious of my peers to the right or the left that I forgot the biblical paradigm of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ?”

Johnston said if there were one thing he would change about the way his church was planted it would be to include Baptist in the name.

“A neuter name is a calling card for anybody,” he explained, adding, “There are a lot of alien theologies out there.” Of the 4,000 families that have visited, Johnston said some assumed from the name Family Church that “we were a hybrid that wanted to do our own thing.”

Drawing a parallel from the movie “Schindler’s List,” Johnston said God has his own list of men and women for whom the blood of Jesus Christ was shed.

By looking beyond petty issues often present in church planting, Johnston challenged his Midwestern audience in Kansas City, Mo., to view the world from God’s perspective as “humanity lost and dying without Christ.”

“Some live in big houses driving Lexuses and some live in little rundown shacks. It makes no difference because from uttermost to guttermost, the blood of Jesus Christ was shed for this crowd.”

In order to reach people with the gospel, Johnston said Christians must:

— See the need and get “collectively synergized and focused on building the kingdom of God.”

— Recognize Jesus’ commission to share the gospel.

— Develop compassion for the lost.

— Become convinced that there is a hell and only one way to heaven.

Recognizing Jesus Christ as the means by which lost men are saved, Johnston reminded seminary students that God’s method is to work through men. “Satan doesn’t care who we are or what we do until we get eternity-focused. He’ll let us play games all day long every day as long as we will not be the winner of souls,” Johnston said.

“We’re fighting battles that a lost and dying world could care less about,” he said. “It’s time to get in the ditch, look around you and see those who are lost. It will keep every day of your life more busy than you’ll ever imagine.”

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter