Church planter D.A. Horton describes evangelism in a pre-Christian_x009d_ age

IRVING—Church planter D. A. Horton spoke to a full house at the mission luncheon of the SBTC’s 2019 Empower conference Mon., Feb. 25, challenging the audience to embrace generosity, diversity and partnerships in spreading the gospel among rising generations increasingly unaware of Scripture.

Horton, 38, is pastor of Reach Fellowship, a church plant in North Long Beach, Ca. He formerly served as a national coordinator of urban student ministries at the North American Mission Board.

Horton spoke from Philippians 4:14, where the apostle Paul commends the Philippians church for its generosity.

Calling the passage “a thank you note” from the apostle Paul to the Philippians for their “faithful, constant support,” not only in the city itself but in sponsoring Paul’s ministry, Horton stressed that not all were called to accompany the apostle on the field. Some were called to support the work while staying behind and experiencing the “reciprocal blessing” of involvement in spreading the gospel.

“God blesses both the gift and giver,” Horton said. A “culture of generosity” results in “flourishing” churches and Christian homes that will “turn the world on its head,” he added.

Horton summarized his experiences as a church planter with the acronym ABC: attitude, Bible, context.

Regarding a church planter’s attitude, Horton recalled doing evangelistic outreaches in his native Kansas City, where the question, “Where do I go to church?” often arose from new believers.

Horton said he often saw “red flags” regarding churches typically within walking distance of new urban converts to Christianity who could seldom distinguish between orthodox, Bible-teaching churches and Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim or even Nation of Islam congregations.

The Kansas City experiences also made Horton realize that many urban dwellers had never heard of Jesus, that they were not “post-Christian,” but “pre-Christian” in theological awareness and knowledge.

“They don’t know the Sunday school narratives,” Horton said. Even fifth and sixth generation Americans have not been taught Scripture.

“There has not been the passing down of God’s Word from generation to generation,” Horton said, admitting that his wife and he began realizing the need to start churches.

Horton confessed his initial arrogance as a church planter in Kansas City until he began to engage with other pastors and God “began to break me.” The result was a “flourishing” revitalization work in the inner city.

Called to plant a church in Long Beach, Horton said he entered that work in a more humble manner, recognizing the need to depend upon the wisdom of others and seek supportive partnerships with other churches.

Today’s church planter probably cannot expect to be “full time with benefits and a retirement plan,” he said, noting that planters must “learn to be co-vocational, learn to integrate our faith with our passion, our talents, our gifts and the jobs that God provides us with.” Contemporary church planting must be team effort, since the pastor cannot “do all that and fundraise” while costs of living rise.

Planting must also include an emphasis on the Bible as the inerrant Word of God.

“In this new generation rising up that is pre-Christian in America, speaking to them in a way that is introducing Scripture for what it is, God’s love letter and God’s story, allows us to naturally explain the gospel,” Horton said, calling the gospel “the bridge that connects our personal stories to God’s story.”

It is also essential to remember context, Horton added, challenging partnering churches to allow church plants the “freedom” to minister with a view to local culture.

Among his closing challenges, Horton called for reliance on the authority of God’s Word , awareness of the business or economic realities of a community, and the development of biblical responses for movements now “snatching people of color out of the church.”

Horton also urged institutional engagement–evangelizing in schools, prisons and elder care facilities. Lastly, he called for the development of a “biblical theology of beauty” amid human brokenness.

In a Q & A with SBTC Director of Missions Doug Hixson that followed, Horton discussed the changing demographics of California and, by extension, of the U.S., cautioning that “an American philosophy of ecclesiology is not going to go very far in a majority world context” and calling for the engagement of majority world scholarship, pastors and missiologists to see what is working.

Audience member Patrick Knowlton, director of missions for the F.I.R.M. Baptist area in Central Texas, concurred with Horton’s emphasis on cultural context.

“Cultural context is important,” Knowlton told the TEXAN. “We are right in the middle of a dying part of the state…the rural area… there are still cultures in our area that haven’t been reached.”

Travis Leamon, pastor of Eleventh Street Baptist in Shamrock, Tx., echoed Horton’s encouragement to minister to the elderly. Leamon’s church conducts monthly services in two area nursing homes and only last week, a patient accepted Christ.

“It’s easy to assume older folks are saved. The gospel is relevant to all people,” Leamon said.

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