With the conclusion of our first-ever Grace Advance Academy today, I have asked each of the nine men who attended to briefly explain how the academy has further prepared them for their future pastoral ministry. I am thrilled at what the Lord has done in giving these precious brothers additional training in how to start a local church from the ground up!
The locations of these initial Grace Advance churches are noted under each man’s name. Please take a moment to read about how they were blessed by this summer’s academy.Paul Shirley (Wilmington, Delaware)
At its core, Grace Advance is about the local church strengthening, equipping, and planting other local churches. Specifically, Grace Church prepares and provides men to developing churches throughout the country, and even the world. As one going through the process I could not think of a better or more biblical way to strengthen the church. Both the men and the local churches they are going to plant or strengthen have the support, encouragement, wisdom, and prayer of experienced pastors and elders. I have been both challenged and prepared for the ministry that lies ahead.
The motto of Grace Advance, “providing leadership for developing churches,” truly defines what this ministry is all about. As Grace Advance Academy prepares called, gifted, and trained leadership to start new churches and revitalize flagging churches, the elders of Grace Church, under the auspices of Grace Advance, provide leadership oversight to these same churches. By filling this leadership gap, the ministry helps new pastors and churches to become independent, thriving congregations as they strive to honor the Lord. As John MacArthur said, “This is a ministry of Grace Church to other churches across the country who need this kind of assistance and who desire it from us.” I thank God for allowing me to go through this training.
Amazingly practical and urgently needed, the Grace Advance Academy has helped me think through the very basics of church ministry and the importance of a philosophy of ministry that is biblically based and carefully followed. Our instructors all emphasized the eminent importance of discipling and equipping men while not being too hasty in appointing elders. All in all, the academy grew me spiritually by helping me think through not only how to accomplish certain tasks in a church plant, but also the reason why we do what we do.
Grace Advance is a highly concentrated explosion of godly, humble, pastoral discipleship jam-packed into a very short period of time. Truly, every minute has been rich. I received a flood of gospel-centered wisdom from seasoned pastors, lay elders, church administrators, church planters, seminary professors, an attorney, information technology experts, a tax expert, and more. I am now equipped for the nuts-and-bolts of church planting and further prepared to shepherd the flock of God.
For me, the greatest blessing of the academy has been in learning to clearly articulate the connections between biblical doctrines and methods of ministry. What I think about the truth will determine how I practice the truth, and I must have this relationship clearly defined—both for myself and for the people to whom I minister—if I desire to lovingly lead and equip them to do the work of the ministry.
The greatest impact of the Grace Advance Academy on me has been the influence of the godly men involved with the academy itself. That influence was evidenced through my fellow members of the cohort, namely through their prayers and encouragement; by the speakers through their experience and wisdom; and by the church staff and elders through their vision and diligence. I have been well-equipped to be launched into developing our church ministry.
Coming to the Grace Advance Academy from Australia has been the greatest experience in my life. Not only was the training invaluable, but the impact it will have on our newly-started church in Sydney will be profound. I sometimes wondered if it was God’s will that we started the church in Sydney, and through Grace Advance I have come to the realization that God was confirming, in every step, that He Himself began this good work in Australia. The reality is that Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18 hold true, "... I will build My church...."
The purpose statement of Grace Advance—“providing leadership for developing churches”—is truly coming to fruition. The training I have received at The Master’s Seminary, Grace Community Church, and now Grace Advance Academy has been priceless in equipping me and my family for this task.
Thank you, Grace Community Church, for all you’ve done to assist these men in their quest to provide leadership for nine new or revitalized churches. May there be many more new churches birthed in the months and years to come!
Pastor, Grace Advance
Upon arriving at seminary, most students have two major questions on their minds—“How is God going to see me through financially?” and “Where will God place me in ministry once I am finished?” I’m speaking from experience, because these were my greatest concerns as well. Praise to our great God, He has been faithful in both of these areas.
In a staff meeting last summer, Pastor John announced the idea of Grace Advance. The opportunity to provide leadership for a developing church caused great joy to resonate in my heart. Now, almost a year later, Grace Advance is moving ahead full force. I am privileged to be part of the inaugural group of men advancing the kingdom of God in this new and unique way.
In the book of Acts, a Holy Spirit-initiated pattern arises in the ministry of the Apostle Paul when the church in Antioch sends him to plant and strengthen churches throughout Asia Minor. In a very real way, Grace Advance is following this same pattern. And by the grace of God, my family and I are taking part in this great adventure of church development.
In the providence of God (Ephesians 2:10), we are teaming up with a group of believers in Columbia, South Carolina, where I will have the privilege of serving as pastor of this developing flock of God. The Elders’ Council Handling Advancement (ECHA) believes this to be a great opportunity to plant a church in the southern region of our nation, and my wife, Tammy, and I are thrilled at this God-given opportunity.
Columbia has all the right ingredients for a growing church. Aside from being the state capitol, there are two major universities (the University of South Carolina and Colombia International University) as well as Fort Jackson Training Center, a large military post, nearby. These great demographics are the “perfect storm” for a new church.
The purpose statement of Grace Advance—“providing leadership for developing churches”—is truly coming to fruition. The training that I have received at The Master’s Seminary, Grace Community Church, and Grace Advance Academy has been priceless in equipping me and my family for this task.
This is an exciting time in the life of Grace Community Church and for us as a family we embark on this adventure with God. We know that there will be much to learn, and we covet your prayers for us and for the new work in Columbia.
A couple days ago, attendees at this year’s Shepherds’ Conference learned details about an important new ministry: Grace Advance (GA). It was several weeks ago that our congregation was filled in; and many months ago, Pastor John first discussed this exciting venture with me.
The response to Grace Advance over the past few days has greatly encouraged me as I’ve spoken with men from all over the country about its potential. The coming weeks will be crucial as we finalize plans for this summer’s Grace Advance Academy. And, Lord willing, several months from now we’ll see men working with groups to launch new churches.
This pattern of days, weeks, and months is a good characterization of any worthwhile ministry endeavor. In a matter of days you can have a great start on a ministry plan. However, it takes weeks to refine that plan and set it in motion. And, indeed, it can be months before you see tangible progress and fruit.
By God’s grace, we’re already seeing His hand of blessing on Grace Advance. The exposure we’ve been able to have this week with so many likeminded men at the Shepherds’ Conference will allow us to extend the scope and depth of Grace Advance Fellowship (GAF).
In an article this week in the attendees’ conference guide, we presented an overview of Grace Advance. As part of that overview, seven benefits were listed as motivations to partner with Grace Advance Fellowship. To help clarify the real potential of this important aspect of Grace Advance for both our conference attendees and our congregation, a brief explanation of each of these seven benefits follows.
Mutual Encouragement with Local Pastors
Because of sermon preparation and preaching, leadership meetings, multiple shepherding responsibilities, evangelizing the lost, conducting worship services, administering the ordinances, to say nothing of weddings and funerals, plus the care for your own family, as well as countless other duties, pastors are seen as some of the busiest people around! What busy man could possibly have time for more? The answer is this: one of the things left out of this list of duties is the crucial necessity of mutual encouragement through fellowship with local pastors. Let’s face it; given all of the weighty responsibilities we unendingly carry, pastors really do need each other. Pastoral ministry can be backbreaking at times and we need the mutual encouragement from our fellow laborers to stay the course in fidelity to Christ and His body. Grace Advance Fellowship will identify regions of the country where like-minded pastors can network with each other for the purpose of encouraging one another in the fellowship of the gospel.
Assembly for Prayer and Fellowship
The foundation for any successful local church ministry is its reliance upon the Lord through prayer. That principle is no more important than in a developing church whose very life and success is based upon ardent supplication. In one letter of the late Jack Miller’s posthumously published book, The Heart of a Servant Leader (P & R Publishing, 2004, p. 47), he recounts an experience of a young man’s attempt to establish a local church in Uganda. He writes: “The beating heart of Christ’s planting of churches is found in corporate prayer. It is through corporate intercession that the leader and the team of shepherds find release from fears, misconceptions, prejudices, pride, and self-will. This release comes as Christ Himself visits them. He makes them one in heart and mind as they pray together. What are they seeking? For God to work in others, of course, but as a presupposition of His working they must be seeking a manifestation of Christ’s presence in their own hearts and lives.” Surely the success of your ministry and the ministries of your fellow pastors—especially young pastors of newly established churches—will be utterly dependent upon the mutual prayers of God’s under-shepherds. The sweet fellowship of prayer warriors, whose goals and desires are to commune with the living God for the sake of Christ’s Church, will remain the lifeblood of Grace Advance Fellowship.
Provide Local Support for Developing Churches
As wonderful as this conference week has been, it is short-term and it takes a significant commitment to attend. The reality is, Grace Community Church is hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from many of the churches within the fellowship of Grace Advance. This makes providing your local support for developing churches that much more critical. Your time and attention with and for these newly established works can serve us in GA as our eyes and ears around the country. You are integral to the continued success of these new churches and their pastors. We need your involvement with these churches as well as your investment in the lives of these young men. In some cases, your own church may even want to partner with Grace Advance for the purpose of strategically establishing a daughter church somewhere in your region. We are committed to helping you and your church as you serve your region and beyond.
Interaction on Current Ministry Issues of the Day
Pastors who long to become acutely aware of current ministry issues will find Grace Advance Fellowship a very useful resource. We will assist you and your colleagues with biblical input that translates into relevant, faithful application for the theological and pastoral issues you face in today’s church and world. In addition, we will connect you with the godly men and ministries of the past so that you will see the historical link with us and our spiritual forbearers who fought so valiantly in the war for truth. With these tools, you will be guided in your own pursuit of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
Wise Investment in the Lives of Young Pastors
Every young pastor needs spiritual mentors to walk with through the rough and tumble road of church life and ministry. Grace Advance Fellowship will provide you and these young men with a common vehicle by which to establish relationships of hands-on ministry instruction, sincere love for the next generation of preachers, and mutual care for their genuine spiritual welfare. As a seasoned pastor in the spirit of the apostle Paul, these young Timothys will look to you for all the help and discipleship they can possibly glean. Given the vexing nature of contemporary pastoral ministry and the churches these young men represent, can they afford not to have your valued input?
Deeper Accountability with Trusted Peers
Being able to rely on trusted brothers who know something of your joys and struggles, and who will challenge you to remain faithful to the work God has called you to, is crucial, yet all too rare. We are not asking you to commit to a host of weekly or monthly meetings that zap your time and energy. You can participate as much or as little as you want, depending on your regular ministry duties. And for those of you who are not pastoring in the same city or town of a like-minded pastor-brother, you will be linked with a regional area where this needed encouragement can take place. These relationships will help us all focus on the things that really matter in ministry. Yes it’s true that this will take some coordinated efforts, but we’re committed to helping facilitate those efforts. You will hear from us on a regular basis as we stimulate you to look to God’s Word as the sole source of strength you need for such a busy life and ministry.
Access to Helpful Materials and Resources
Through our website, we will provide a clearing house for you of helpful ministry information, probing articles in Pulpit Magazine, critical reviews of significant books, and much more. These resources are designed to enhance your discussion times, both when you’re together, as well as when you are back at your own church. We will also be regularly alerting you and your colleagues of upcoming fellowship times in your region where you’ll be built up and strengthened in the faith. At some of these fellowships, we’ll provide a pastor or leader with Grace Advance to teach from God’s Word and give you solid biblical principles in how to persevere in the spiritual battle. This mutual encouragement can be an excellent lifeline to those of us who have been commissioned as shepherds of God’s flock.
I trust the fuller explanation of these seven benefits will motivate you to become involved in Grace Advance Fellowship. If you haven’t already done so, please visit us at www.graceadvance.org for more information on how you can band together with us to advance the grace of God found only in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Pastor, Grace Advance
If you’ve been at Grace Church for any length of time, you know that this is a uniquely blessed assembly. We are blessed by the commitment of our leadership to biblical principles of ministry. We enjoy rich fellowship with other churches through events like the Shepherds’ Conference. We emphasize expository preaching, resulting in a biblically grounded congregation committed to authentic ministry. And these are just a few of the blessings that we regularly enjoy.
Unfortunately, many churches do not enjoy these same benefits. In fact, many individuals do not even enjoy the benefit of a local assembly, much less a solid, Bible-teaching church. Recognizing and meeting this need has always been a defining emphasis at Grace Church. To help fulfill this mission of providing and equipping pastors for churches, The Master’s Seminary began 25 years ago. Since that time, more than 1,000 graduates have been sent all over the globe. We take this stewardship seriously—to provide leadership for existing churches in need of a shepherd.
In recent years, however, the Christian landscape has changed, and the current trend has become the establishment of new churches. In more than forty years of ministry, this activity stands unparalleled. As we’ve watched this unfold, the only conclusion to draw is that the sudden surge is a response to the deteriorating condition of many established churches. Every week, our offices receive calls from struggling congregations who need a pastor and from unaffiliated groups of believers eager to establish new churches. Clearly there is an exploding interest on the part of true Christians who are committed to Scripture to develop biblically sound churches.
In response to this groundswell, we are expanding our effort to meet the need for qualified pastors with a new initiative called Grace Advance. This new ministry of Grace Church seeks to reflect the desire expressed by our Lord in Jeremiah 3:15, "Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.” As we have seen in our own ministry, the establishment of leaders who feel the burden to equip their flocks with biblical knowledge and understanding is the foundational bedrock of a healthy church.
Many of these new churches are already looking to us for resources—things like Sunday School curriculum, evangelistic material, church distinctives, and music, to name just a few. Grace Advance takes this ministry to the next level. It is our desire to provide these young assemblies with godly leadership committed to biblical principles of ministry (Titus 1:5) using a two-pronged approach—Grace Advance Academy and Grace Advance Fellowship.
Grace Advance Academy
The explosion of developing churches has created a demand for a new level of preparation and training for men to shepherd these new congregations. Identifying and training these men will be the role of Grace Advance Academy. Drawing from the pool of graduates of The Master’s Seminary—choice men already ministering in our midst—Grace Advance Academy is designed to serve as a practice and proving ground for the development of faithful men through instructive interaction, active mentoring, and additional hands-on ministry at Grace Church. During this intensive, three-month summer training program, the skills acquired during seminary are enhanced through the provision of the specific training necessary for men to successfully lead and develop churches. These pillars will assist the men in laying crucial solid foundation stones for a vibrant local church.
While a candidate is going through the academy, seasoned elders and lay leaders from Grace Church will also work with interested groups who are seeking a pastor. These opportunities could include other churches who are seeking to begin daughter churches in their area, struggling churches that need revitalization, or committed groups of believers who are looking to establish a church for their own edification. Grace Church will then confirms the candidate’s ordination to gospel ministry, and commission him to begin ministering in this newly formed local church.
Grace Advance Fellowship
The second arm of this new ministry initiative is Grace Advance Fellowship. Over the years, many men have gone out from us to minister throughout the country and around the world. We are reunited with many of these men as we minister to them each year at the Shepherds’ Conference. We have sent them, and they are serving as an extension of our ministry to numerous churches. It is our goal to strengthen our relationships with these men by partnering together with them in this ministry.
We need the support and partnership of faithful pastors and churches who are willing to stand by our side in this endeavor. We are not seeking to start a denomination, but rather to provide a framework by which strategic opportunities for the establishment of new churches or the revitalization of struggling churches are proposed, assessed, and overseen.
It is our goal to see every geographic region in the country supported by a network of like-minded pastors who are able to provide developing churches with direction, encouragement, and accountability within their immediate area. This network will serve as the eyes and ears for Grace Advance to aid us in firmly establishing young or struggling churches.
As the weeks ahead bring further development in the life of Grace Advance, please remember to keep this important ministry in your prayers. Be actively referring people you know in needy places to contact us. The ministry of Grace Advance will be fueled as you continue your faithful support and ministry involvement here at Grace Church. This unique opportunity is a privilege that the Lord has entrusted to our congregation. We are enthusiastically anticipating the work of the Lord as He uses our efforts to continue building His church.