Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is filled with words of warmth and appreciation for them—kind of a thanksgiving letter: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-4).
Most scholars agree that it was his favorite church. The church was the result of a night vision that Paul received from God. In the vision he heard a man from Macedonia pleading with him to “come over to Macedonia and help us.’” Luke tells us that “after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:9-10).
When they arrived at Philippi, Acts 16 records three personal encounters that spanned the socio-economic and spiritual spectrum. They met Lydia who was a seller of purple and one who already worshipped God. They met a demonically possessed slave girl who harassed them for several days. Paul finally had enough, and one day he turned and said to the spirit within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” The slave owners who had been enriched by the knowledge the demon was willing to share, brought Paul and Silas before the local magistrates who beat them and threw them in jail.
The third encounter was with their jailor and his family. Luke describes it this way:
At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”
God permitted Paul and his missionary team to experience His power and grace as He started a church in Philippi. And in later years, Paul paused to send a thank you note to them remembering how his own faithful obedience to God’s call was used by God to create a grateful and giving church. As I pause this Thanksgiving Season to thank God for permitting me to be involved in church planting and church strengthening, this story of how a church got started in Philippi reminded me of how God started a Baptist church in Kingsley, Iowa. At that time, I was serving as DoM/Church Starter Strategist in western Iowa serving two small Baptist associations through the significant help of our Home Mission Board.
The little town of Kingsley was not on my radar—that is until God shined a spotlight on it. I had three separate conversations with three different people in a period of less than a month in which the town of Kingsley was the focus. I can be slow and a bit dense at times, but I got the message!
One of those conversations was with a deacon of an SBC church in Sioux City, Les Stevens, who felt like God wanted him to be involved in planting a church in Kingsley. Pastor Leo Endel affirmed the church’s willingness to sponsor the new work, and the first “outreach” effort was to prayer walk the entire community. God put together a core of believers who began to worship in the school. God also provided a partnership network of churches from ten southern Mississippi associations in a manner that revealed Kingsley had been on God’s heart for some time.
The only other evangelical church in the community had struggled for years, and it was only after the fact that we discovered that they had actually closed the week before the new church plant had its first worship service in Kingsley—God’s timing is always perfect. One Wednesday night we had the opportunity to tour their now empty church building with the possibility of purchasing it. The next morning, a deacon from one of the southern Mississippi churches called and asked if there might be a need for funds to purchase property or a building for a new church plant. Not long after that, a check was received from Perkinston Baptist Church, Perkinston, MS which more than paid for land to build a new building.
It wasn’t long before volunteers and resources were pouring in and a new building was constructed. At the church’s tenth anniversary, the building was debt-free, and they had called a pastor who grew up in the community. Thank You Lord for the Privilege of Serving You!
We have all come through a very difficult season filled with challenges and change, but let me encourage you to take a few minutes and reflect on how the God of the universe continues to invite you to join Him in His work. Paul thanked God when he wrote a letter to a beloved church in Philippi. I thank God for inviting me to be a very small part of the Kingsley story I just shared. In fact, my mind is flooded with additional thoughts of all the other things He did to make New Life Baptist Church in Kingsley a reality that time and space do not permit me to share.
Let me simply say, God’s willingness to use a broken vessel like me in the past as He was producing fruit for the Kingdom, gives me hope that He will use me today as well. As I close this article, I encourage you to take time to fill in the following blank: Thank You Lord for the Privilege of Serving You when You ____________________! A thankful heart is a field in which God can plant new opportunities to serve Him.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Mark is in his twenty-seventh year of serving as an Associational Missions Strategist. He served in western Iowa for almost eight years, and is in his nineteenth year with HCN. He has a passion to see pastors and church leaders grow in their abilities to lead their churches. He continues to have a heart and desire to see new churches planted and God continues to use his strategic thinking skills in this area. Mark also has a wealth of experience in helping churches clarify who God has created them to be, and what they can do best to reach their community. He has had ample opportunities to help churches in times of conflict, and has seen God do exciting things to restore a spirit of harmony, returning churches to a time of fruitfulness. He also helps churches in transition by working with search committees. Mark and Phyllis who were married in November of 2018 have four children and three grandchildren. They will enjoy their combined 87th anniversary in just a few days.
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