A Celebration of God's Faithfulness
“When are you going to plant a church in Charleston?” The question came to me out of the blue in January 2012 from a good friend and fellow PCA minister from Greenville, Rev. Dr. Richard Phillips. He knew that Marla and I had a heart for Charleston, and that with the explosive population growth in the lowcountry there was no better time than the present to plant a new church— a church committed to God-centered worship, serious discipleship, biblical shepherding care, warm fellowship, courageous evangelism, and the Reformed Confession.
I wasn’t sure how to answer the question, however. I had served for over nine years as senior pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church in Douglasville, GA, and was content to continue shepherding that wonderful flock. Moreover, I didn’t really view myself as the church planter type— whatever that means! Nevertheless, the possibility intrigued me. So I put the matter to prayer and sought godly counsel.
Over the next few months I took time to study the nature and task of church planting. I learned that Christian mission in its essence is church planting. Indeed, the planting and strengthening of biblical churches around the world is the chief application of our Lord’s Commission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:19-20). Preaching the gospel, administering the sacraments, training and ordaining leaders, shepherding the flock, and teaching the whole counsel of God at home and around the world is the mission of the church (Acts 1:8; 2:42). It’s what the apostles were busy doing all throughout the book of Acts (Acts 14:22-23; Titus 1:5). The establishing and strengthening of biblical churches was their mission, and it must be ours as well. After studying the subject of church planting in the pages of Scripture, I began to see myself as a potential missionary church planter.
During this period of seeking God’s will I also received overwhelming encouragement and financial support from churches and friends. Many were excited about the idea of establishing a new PCA church in the old beloved city of Charleston. It seemed clear that the Lord’s hand was moving, and that we should begin taking the proper steps to go forward. We reached out to the Palmetto Presbytery’s missions and church planting committee and shared our vision. Rev. Rhett Sanders, sub-committee chairman and organizing pastor of Blythewood PCA, graciously led us through the long and detailed process. Later our church plant / mission was unanimously approved by the Palmetto Presbytery.
Another confirmation that God’s hand was upon this work from the beginning is the fact that Rev. Ross Hodges and his dear wife Joanna committed to join us in the adventure. The Hodges both graduated from Westminster Seminary California and moved to Charleston the following week. They have been a treasured and invaluable part of Christ Church from the very start. I thank God for their friendship, piety, and steadfast devotion to the work of Christ’s Kingdom in Charleston.
In the spring of 2013 I drove from Douglasville for a couple of small group meetings at Dr. Brodie and Kendall McKoy’s home on John’s Island. In addition, with the help of Bill and Elizabeth Barnhill and others we hosted an informational meeting at the historic South Carolina Society Hall. Many of the families who attended these early meetings remain committed members to this day. During this period, having recently conducted research at Christ Church Oxford, UK, the historic Oxford College where one of my heroes John Owen served in the 1650’s, I thought the name Christ Church Presbyterian would convey a strong sense of tradition, gravitas, permanence, and most of all, gospel-centeredness.
The Paynes and the Hodges moved to downtown Charleston in late spring, and Christ Church officially launched on Lord’s Day, June 9, 2013 with our first worship service. It was a glorious occasion. We met at First Scots Presbyterian’s beautiful historic chapel in downtown Charleston (53 Meeting Street). We gathered there on Lord’s Day evenings during that first summer with an average attendance of 85. When summer ended we left First Scots and met for evening worship at St. Johannes Lutheran Church on Hassel Street. After two months at St. Johannes, however, it became clear that we needed to begin Lord’s Day morning and evening worship services, establishing a healthy biblical pattern of congregational worship and discipleship.
Since we could not successfully secure morning worship space downtown, we entered into a lease agreement with Moultrie Middle School in the Old Village of Mount Pleasant–– a well-situated, strategic, and attractive location on Coleman Blvd just minutes from the Cooper River Bridge. We’ve been at Moultrie for two-and-a-half-years now. Our current membership is approximately 160, and we thank God for the way He is growing our church with young families, students, and mature believers–– a wonderful blend of youthful zeal and godly wisdom. God is bringing people from every conceivable background to Christ Church. There are so many interesting and amazing stories of God’s grace in the lives of our people!
Now, after three years, the Lord has raised up two godly and gifted men to serve as ruling elders. These two men, Dr. Scott Buchanan and Mr. Keith Hester, have been thoroughly trained, examined, and approved by the Christ Church leadership as well as the MNA committee of Lowcountry Presbytery. Moreover, our congregation voted overwhelmingly to have them serve as ruling elders. Today they will be ordained and installed as ruling elders, and Ross and I will be installed as the minsters. In addition, the congregation will vote to be an organized and fully constituted church of the Presbyterian Church in America. The Lord is faithful. He has done it! To Him alone be the glory!
Today we celebrate God’s faithfulness. We’ll celebrate His faithfulness with joyful singing, faithful preaching, and earnest praying. We’ll also celebrate His faithfulness with warm fellowship, good food, and fun games and music at Alhambra Hall. We are so glad you could join us for this special and historic Lord’s Day in the life of Christ Church Presbyterian.
A special thank you needs to be mentioned for the profoundly generous financial support and encouragement from churches and individuals around the PCA. Many thanks to Second Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC, where Rev. Richard Phillips, Mr. Mel Duncan, Mrs. Jane Warner, as well as their godly elders and deacons, have served us so faithfully. Indeed, they have provided unyielding support and encouragement for over three years by overseeing and administering our finances, staffing issues, and numerous other areas of ministry. Mel Duncan, especially, has been a faithful friend and constant encouragement to me, my family, and to Christ Church.
In addition, I thank God for my dear friend Rev. David Strain and the support of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS. David graciously invited me to preach his installation service at First Pres Jackson, and I’m grateful that he returned the favor by coming to minister to us on this special day. I also want to thank Independent Presbyterian Church, Savannah, GA; Covenant Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN; Woodruff Road PCA, Simpsonville, SC; Carriage Lane Presbyterian Church, Peachtree City, GA; Briarwood PCA, Birmingham, AL; Sovereign Grace PCA, Charlotte, NC; and several other churches who gave to the work of Christ Church. Moreover, I thank God for the individuals and families that have given so generously to our work these past three years. And many have given of their lives— serving in the nursery, serving on the Lord’s Day set up crew (many thanks to Rick Montoney for organizing this!), serving in women’s leadership (many thanks to Kristin Gee and Kelly Hester), serving on our foreign missions team, and I could go on and on.
Finally, ten thousand thanks must go to Marla Payne and Joanna Hodges. No one will ever fully realize what church planters’ wives do behind the scenes to help foster a healthy, God-Centered, and loving church. I am confident that Christ Church would not be what it is today apart from their faithfulness to serve their unworthy husbands, and their faithfulness to love our precious congregation well. They are gems, and I thank God for them.
Please pray for Christ Church as we begin this new chapter. Pray for our new session of elders who will begin meeting in September. Pray for our deacon candidates. Pray for God’s wisdom and guidance as we search for a permanent home for Christ Church Presbyterian. And pray that we will be a grateful, humble, and Christ-Proclaiming church for generations to come.
One of the verses that has greatly encouraged me over the last three years is Matthew 16:18. Jesus boldly declares, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Today’s particularization is a beautiful testimony to the faithfulness of Christ to do what He said He would do. May God receive all the glory. He is faithful. He has done it!
Your Pastor, Servant, and Friend,