April 30, 2013

MacArthur’s vision for Grace…40 years later

by Josh Thiessen

Young pastors and young churches (I belong to both categories) can be short sighted and lack patience. We want results next week, or we think God isn’t working. But as I have learned and know from Scripture, God’s ways are not our ways. One encouragement to this end for me has been reading and (thanks to technology) listening to church history.800px-Grace_Community_Church_sign

I am currently preaching through Acts in the church plant that I pastor, which is roughly 7 months old. Preparing for Acts 11, I listened to a sermon by John MacArthur from May 6, 1973. There is one section in which he addresses Grace Community Church, explains where they are at spiritually and where he is praying that they will go. Here is an excerpt (it’s lengthy but worth every second):  

“I want to translate that [Acts 11] for just a minute into our church situation here. If the people who are listening at some unrelated time in some unrelated place to this tape will excuse me, I want to personalize the text for just a moment. I believe in Grace Church that this is what we’re seeing here, I pray God it’s so. For four years, plus, I have endeavored basically to do one thing and that is to teach doctrine. Now we teach through the Bible verse after verse after verse, but really what we’re doing is taking Scripture and framing a doctrine, framing a principle. Doctrine is just principles. And we’ve endeavored for four plus years to build a strong doctrinal base.

I believe in my heart for all the time I’ve been here this has been my goal, my one single desire. And I really think that God in His wonderful providence has blessed His Word here. It’s not me. I’m the first one to know that. It’s the Word of God. But as you teach the Word of God strength is built, doctrine becomes firm and strong. That’s the very basis. The Word is established and my commitment has been to do just that, to spend the time establishing with the Word.

During that same time I feel God has prepared instruments and I prayed this would happen. I prayed that we wouldn’t just have a good theology on paper, but that we’d have a lot of people who had grown up with that theology and who were a part of it, and who lived it, and who would mature, and I prayed that this would happen. And I’ll tell you something. The thing that I feared most, and the thing that would make me leave Grace Church and go somewhere else would be to see people get spiritually fat, become what I call the rather crudely doctrinal slobs, people who are overdosed and in an orthodox stupor. That would drive me away. I would say I had failed in my ministry because I had not been able to translate doctrine into life, and that’s the one thing that I must do.

And so all along for the four years it has been my prayer and my hope and my desire, even though in the back of my mind there’s always the fear that it might not happen, but at some point in time somebody here would get excited about taking this stuff on this basis that we’ve built and taking it somewhere else and beginning to move out. And I’ve prayed for it, and some of you have too.

In the last two months I have been deluged with people who are at that very point. I think the last two months have been one of the most exciting times in my life. I couldn’t begin to remember the names or even count the people who come to me and say, “John, I’ve had enough. I’m full. I’ve learned. I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to take it somewhere. What can I do?” You wouldn’t believe how many people have been coming and telling me this. Everyday I hear this.

I Sat down last night playing basketball, a guy on the basketball team says to me, “God wants me to go on the mission field. I never dreamed this could even happen. I just feel in my heart I have to go on the mission field. I got to share. I got to get out.” That’s just one in a long chain. A lady came in my office the other day and she says, “Is there a place for me in this church? I just want to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to evangelize women.” I can count on my hand five people I can think of who told me they’ve got to go to the mission field soon. God’s just leading them. God’s calling.

People come to me and say, “I got to start a work of evangelism. I want to do this. Can I work here?” We trust God by the time fall comes around we’re going to have a campus evangelist on almost every high school campus in the Valley, people establishing Bible studies and winning people to Christ and nurturing Christians. We’re going to do the same thing on every college campus and I haven’t generated any of it, haven’t invented a program, haven’t done one single thing, just teaching and praying that God will raise some people up. You know what they do, they knock my door down and finally I just tell them, “Go ahead and do it.” Shows you what kind of an administrator I am. But anyway, that’s the way everything works around here. Just wait till people get excited about it. They’ll do it. Get them praying about it. A guy prays long enough the Lord will shoot him out and that’s the supreme joy for me I’m telling you.

Somebody told me the other day that by next semester we have 24 young men at seminary, Calvin Seminary. You don’t know what a joy that is. That’s reproduction. See that’s reproduction. Those men are going to affect thousands of people in their lifetime. And that’s what I hoped would happen, and I praise God that we’re beginning to see the little murmurings of it beginning to happen. People are coming to me and say I feel God’s calling me to begin a work over here and over there. Will you help support us?

I think our church is going to have to catch a vision, people, because we’ve come to the place now where we’ve got prepared people and they’re going to demand, by the Spirit of God, that we turn them loose on this world, and we’re going to have to be ready to handle it and it’s going to mean sacrifice to do it financially. But oh the dividends are eternal, amen? We got to be ready. It’s coming. Believe you me if I come up here in the next month and tell you there’s ten new staff members. You’d better be ready to handle that. Don’t laugh, it might be. The way God’s working right now I’m just drowning in them. You don’t know what a joy this is.

I think it’s a similar thing right here in this situation in this text. The groundwork was laid and it took seven years. For us it’s been four years of teaching and teaching and teaching and teaching and we’ll keep doing that because there’s new people coming all the time and we’ll just keep flip flopping them over and someone says, “Do you want more people in your church?” I want more people in here for a little while so I can send more people out of here. That’s what I want. I don’t people want to just come here and stay. I want people to come here and leave. Now some of you can stay because we need some of you here to train the people to leave. Don’t everybody go so next Sunday I’m here alone, right?

Where were you? I was at the park sharing. Well anyway. But we need some of you here. We’re going to be here involved in teaching. I see myself in that ministry. We got to produce disciples at all levels and there’s just as many unsaved people in Panorama City as anywhere else and in our Valley. But I think God is doing a wonderful thing. I’m so excited about it.

Some people have talked to me about beginning pastors; about outreach on campuses, about adult evangelism mobilizing people for reaching out, all kinds of things. I’m just thrilled and I think we’re seeing a phase like we see here in the 11th Chapter of Acts. As a church, when the groundwork is laid, begins to move out. And you know it’s not something you have to generate. Amazingly the Spirit of God does it. He does it.”

This was fascinating to listen to because of where the church was at the time and knowing what God has done over the past forty years. This was just year four in Pastor MacArthur’s ministry at Grace. It was encouraging because I am a direct product of those people God used in the 1970’s to lay the groundwork for the clear preaching and doctrine I sat under as a member there. I was part of the vision to have campus ministries at all the colleges, I worked in the outreach department that worked with local evangelism, Grace Ministries International and The Master’s Academy International, which have hundreds of missionaries, and I graduated from the Master’s Seminary.

What I loved the most about listening to this is that Pastor MacArthur’s vision was not a personal vision but was simply the vision of Scripture, the vision of Acts 11. He was just trying to preach the word, evangelize, pray and repeat the process.  So if I may translate this for a moment in my context, it is a reminder to stay faithful, preach the Word and know that God will bless His Word. I don’t expect Providence Bible Church to be Grace Community Church, but I am reminded that even at Grace, God worked over decades to bring about what He was doing there. We are simply another link in the long, unbroken chain of God’s faithfulness. And that is very encouraging for a young pastor and young church.

Josh Thiessen

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Josh is the teaching pastor of Providence Bible Church in southwest Omaha, NE.
  • Melissa Collins

    Thoroughly enjoyed this posting! It was such a reminder of two things to me: one, our biggest goal is to spread the Gospel of Jesus as far and wide as we can. And two, it doesn’t happen overnight. We must patiently, diligently, let the seeds be planted through our witness (whether verbal or through our actions) and then, praying, keep moving forward and trust that over time, the seeds will sprout and produce followers of Christ in the path the seeds have been sown…………Thank you for sharing this!

  • Mark Applegate

    If every church had a warrior like MacArthur??? Excellent piece.

  • Excellent testimony to the truth of God’s word, and a minister who has simply preached just that. Love listening to the early years of JMac! It’s easy to forget you’re listening to an “old” message because no matter what was/is going on in the world around he’s always kept the focus squarely on the Text.

  • Tom Barnes

    Josh, Thank you for sharing this! Fantastic!

  • Carl Cunningham

    Thank you for sharing this. It is refreshing to hear echoes of the same faithfulness we know from Pastor MacArthur from the very beginning. I also appreciate your personal reflections; may God bless your church.