First Person: God, the Church Planter

More than a year ago, we invited you to praise God with us for a new church plant in Lisbon, Portugal — the blessing that came from years of prayer and ministry. Well, it’s time to celebrate again.

On Nov. 7, 2021, we had the privilege of celebrating that new church becoming fully autonomous, self-sufficient and entirely run by local pastors and believers in Lisbon.

That might be a common occurrence in North America, but in Portugal, it’s not every day that we get to celebrate a new church. The work is hard and slow, but God is good and faithful. I was asked to give a short talk at the Sunday celebration service, and in it I shared a few points that I believe are vitally important in the world of missions and church planting.

God is the Lord of the harvest

God planted the church. Full stop.

Often, we are tempted, as missionaries, to make the work all about us. “How many churches have you planted?” we often ask each other. “Who planted the church?” we question when we hear of a new work. Yet, during the three years it took to plant the church, God taught me this lesson: God plants the church by His Word, through His Spirit and for His glory.

His people get to participate

Although God is the sovereign planter, He uses all of us. When we look at who did the work for this church in Lisbon, what we found wasn’t a single individual or missionary couple that planted the church. Instead, we discovered a collection of hundreds of stories of God’s faithfulness that resulted in a new church being born. And as I reflect over these past years at the ups and downs of church planting, that affirmation describes perfectly what I want to share as we celebrate a new church and the gospel being proclaimed in a new place.

Pastors Tiago Cavaco, Diego Lopes, Mark Bustrum and Filipe Sousa pose for a picture.

I would affirm that the primary tool God used to plant the new church was our local Portuguese church. He raised up men and women from our church, Igreja da Lapa (Lapa Church) in Lisbon, Portugal, to continue the work of the gospel and start a new work where there was no evangelical church or presence. God placed a burden on our hearts to see church planting as a priority and the urgency to start, continue and remain faithful, even when we faced challenges and setbacks. God worked through my brothers and copastors, Tiago and Filipe, and God used our deacons to rally the church together in service. He called out families to step up and be part of the core group, to leave what was comfortable and help start something new. God even brought us a special family, Diego, who would later become the lead pastor, and his wife, Stella. God used His church to raise up funds as well, with 100% of the financial needs coming internally from sacrificial giving and faith.

God has an ultimate plan

Planting a new church wasn’t just the crazy idea of a missionary. The idea was at the center of God’s Word and the gathered community of faith that we call home. And the gospel advancement that God initiates and sustains is always worked out within the context of His church. Paul says in Ephesians 3:10, “…through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” We certainly echo that verse in Lisbon as we talk about the new church and the privilege we have to proclaim the name of Jesus in a country that is less than 1% evangelical. It is our conviction and hope that each new church, as it is planted, continues to reveal God’s wisdom that leads to salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone and through faith alone.

Who planted the new church? God, the church planter, of course! May that thunderous affirmation be our story as we give God glory for all that He has done, continues to do and will do in the future.