By now word has probably reached most readers of this magazine that the worldwide economic downturn has impacted the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). Reserves have dwindled for the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. Giving to Worldwide Outreach has picked up in recent months, but so much of that money is needed by the churches that were started in 2007 and 2008. Is church planting in the OPC finished?
Before you conclude that no more churches will be started in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for the next two or three years because of the present difficulty, remember that this is not the first time the OPC has faced severe financial shortages. As a matter of fact, she was formed in the midst of the Great Depression and its aftermath. And in the historical record of those early days and throughout times when funds for ministry were tight two things are never found.
First, there is never mention of the suffering or even of the shortages. Moving stories can be found of early OP home missionaries living in tents and holding worship services in funeral homes and abandoned church buildings. But these were merely factual accounts presented in the pages of the Presbyterian Guardian, the functioning mouthpiece for the OPC at the time. They described what was normal and expected—no stories of hard times here. It takes some digging in the Home Missions records of those days to find that the average monthly salary for those early church planters was $35.00. And those salaries were almost always paid directly from the Home Missions office because local churches could not afford to help and presbyteries had no money. There are even some quiet accounts of mission pastors and their families living on pancakes or oatmeal for a week or more while awaiting the arrival of the next Home Missions check. But no one ever attached the words “hard times” or “suffering” to what was going on.
Second, there is no record of new churches ceasing to be established. In fact, new churches continued to be planted regularly during the aftermath of the Great Depression and the early years of World War II. Some of those early church-planting projects failed miserably, like the one attempted in New York City. But its young organizing pastor, Ed Kellogg, went on to distinguish himself by planting thriving new churches across the country. Others of these early church plants became some of the most solid and continuing congregations in the OPC, like Knox OPC in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Emmanuel OPC in Wilmington, Delaware.
In tough economic times as well as good, there seems to be a constant resolve to see the kingdom of Christ extended by the establishment of new OP churches. Money does not seem to be the issue. While financial resources certainly help to pay the bills and meet the needs of organizing pastors, the decline of such resources does not stop the work. Consider this. In 2008, while Wall Street was crumbling, the OPC began the support of twenty new church planters—the largest number in any one year of her seventy-three-year history. And already in 2009, with scarce funds and difficult-to-swallow financial restrictions in place, the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension will still be helping nine new churches with their calls of organizing pastors.
So it would be wrong to conclude that because of the current economic downturn the OPC has stopped growing and won’t be planting any new churches for a while. Our congregations, sessions, presbyteries, and RHMs just can’t stop getting new groups going—it’s in our blood now! Just watch what God does as economic times are tough and we get to observe firsthand what the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension has contended for a long time: that church planting is not the result of a smart plan or of the dollars allocated. Rather, it is the result of the sovereign hand of God blessing a group of churches that don’t deserve it, but seem to be enjoying his favor because they are telling the truth and taking care of his sheep.
Reprinted from New Horizons, August 2009.