“The local church is God’s plan A, and there is no Plan B. When Jesus says, ‘Upon this rock I will build my church,’ we often begin to debate what all that first part means,” said Thom Rainer, CEO and founder of ChurchAnswers. “But he says he will build his church. In all its messiness and sinfulness, it’s still God’s plan.”
Rainer addressed attendees of the 2021 Texas Baptists Annual Meeting in a Monday afternoon worship session kicked off with music from the Houston Baptist University choir and following a sermon by Samuel Tolbert, president of the National Baptist Convention of America and pastor of the Greater Saint Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Lake Charles, LA.
The testimony of the benediction
Tolbert used the final verses of the book of Jude to illustrate the testimony of the benediction.
“God is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless,” he quoted from Jude 24. “While we’re going through a test, we need to be writing our testimony. The God you trusted before this challenge is still the same God.
“Jude declares the ability of God in this benediction. God is able – not getting ready to become able and not having a strategic plan to be able but He is able.”
Tolbert said Jude begins to share the attributes of God in his benediction, noting His wisdom – “he is a wise God, in a class all by himself.” He noted that God is the Savior and the only way to redemption is through Jesus.
“He talks about God’s greatness and majesty, dominion and control, His capacity to direct our lives. He declares the ability of God but closes with the alliance formed in the benediction,” said Tolbert. “God is constantly working in concert with creation to carry out His will. It’s a partnership that has been forged, present and future.”
Following Tolbert’s sermon, Cecile Dagahoy and the praise team from First Philippine Baptist Church led a time of congregational worship.
The importance of the local church
In his sermon, Rainer referenced Acts 2:41-42 about the growth of the early church through preaching, prayer and regular gatherings. While today’s society is ever-changing and this post-quarantine world brings many questions, he said there is still much to learn from the church in Acts.
“The plan is to be totally consumed. They devoted themselves – they were consumed, passionate. The meals and teachings were important. But prayer is the pinnacle of verse 42,” he said. “If prayer is a ‘p.s.’ in your church and not the heartbeat of what your church is doing, it’s time to get a blank slate and start all over.”
Rainer detailed a time in his pastorate in Birmingham, Al., when he was low and vulnerably asked the church to lift him in prayer. A lady named Francis took up the charge and enlisted others to help, and every day at noon more than 100 members were praying for their pastor, a moving experience for Rainer.
“Imagine if every church had people who were so consumed with prayer that they couldn’t help but be prayer warriors,” he said. “From the pastor who was ready to throw in the towel, I became a pastor who saw that church transformed. It did not begin with the giftings of Thom Rainer; It began with the power of prayer.”
Rainer returned to the text in closing, noting its simplicity.
“The local church is not to be minimalized or trivialized. It is Plan A,” he repeated. “The local church is worth saving and worth making a difference in our community. It’s where we should give our devotion unashamedly and expect it of others. God has used the church from Pentecost until now and upon this rock he will build it. It’s time for a fresh perspective on God’s church.”