To Highways and Hedges: A Vigor for Church Planting


And the master said to the servant, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” —Luke 14:23

Christ has committed himself to the advance of the gospel through building his church. The foundation upon which Christ builds the church is the apostolic testimony of the gospel, namely, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). Thus, what we see in the book of Acts is that as the gospel spreads and people believe in Christ, they are gathered into churches led by qualified elders. Thus, Christ builds his church through church planting.

In my role as Associate Professor for Church Planting, and in my pastoral role, it has been my privilege for several years to assist and oversee the planting of churches led by graduates of Bethlehem College and Seminary, through Bethlehem Baptist Church. The seminary has been irreplaceable in helping to prepare ‘faithful men’ (2 Timothy 2:2), who have the character, training, and biblical convictions to plant and pastor healthy churches by the grace and power of Christ.

Pastoring any church has its challenges, and all the more, the prospect of pastoring a new church entails its own additional challenges and threats. Yet, we venture into church planting, believing the promise and protection of Christ: “…I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18b). No other Christian venture or enterprise or campaign or institution can claim this direct commitment of Christ, but the church.

Christ’s commitment to build his church is seen over and over again in the history of the early church. In Acts, what looks to be a setback for the gospel and the church is turned, by the power of Christ to build the church. Here is a sampling:

In Acts 4, Peter and John were arrested for proclaiming Christ in the temple. Setback? No. Christ is building his church. Acts 4:4, “But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” And after they were released, the Spirit granted all the church boldness to speak the word of God (Acts 4:34).

Satanic Conspiracy
In Acts 5, a Satanic conspiracy is exposed. A married couple, Annias and Sapphira, agreed to lie about their offerings to the church. They wanted to be seen as more generous than they really were. Upon being confronted by the Apostle Peter, Ananias dropped dead. Peter, likewise confronted Sapphira, and she too immediately dropped dead. Acts 5:11 tells us, “And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” Setback? No. Christ is building his church. The account closes with this, “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women…” (Acts 5:14).

Ethnic Tensions
In Acts 6, ethnic tensions arise between the Greek and Jewish believers. The Greek widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food. Hearing the complaint, the Apostles prayerfully appointed seven presumably Greek men (judging from their names) to oversee the distribution for the Greek widows. Setback? No. Christ is building his church. The account concludes, “And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).

Great Persecution
Then in Acts 7, after a long, provocative, fiery sermon, Stephen is stoned to death, while Saul, the Pharisee, looks on with approval (Acts 8:1). That incident sparks a great persecution against the church and the believers scatter. Setback? No.
Christ is building his church. Acts 8:4, “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” For instance, the Apostle Philip then proclaimed Christ in Samaria and then to an Ethiopian court official, who presumably took the gospel back to Ethiopia. And as for Saul the great persecutor of Christians, he was savingly confronted by Christ himself who changed his name to Paul (Acts 9). And he becomes the greatest church planting missionary who ever lived.

Jesus said, “…I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The gates of hell will not prevent Christ from saving his people and gathering them into his church. Not sin. Not the devil. Not arrest, nor persecution. Not ethnic division. Not the schemes of Satan inside or outside the church.

As Jesus declared, and has demonstrated for over 2,000 years, “…I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Please pray that God would continue to prepare and train biblically qualified church planters, to plant new churches for the advance of the gospel.

By Kenny Stokes, M.Div.
Associate Professor of Church Planting
Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church


Prayer Requests:

  1. Praise God for all he has done through our graduates as they plant churches throughout the world.
  2. Pray that God would continue to raise up church planters to reach the nation and the world for his glory.
  3. Pray for our students and faculty as they enter the final stretch before finals and commencement.
  4. Pray that God would guide the students attending our Preview Day next Friday and would bring students to Bethlehem.
  5. Pray for Dr. Brian Tabb as he takes on the mantle of Interim President.
  6. Praise the Lord with us for his faithfulness and pray that he would provide the remaining funds for our On The Double match.