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New Church Plant: Theological and Strategic Statement

[This is an "in-house" statement prepared by John Mark Hicks and Gary Ealy for informing potential "core" members of a new church plant about the direction we intended as well as our theological understanding of "church". It has been widely disseminated now. Consequently, I thought it best to present the whole document for the reading public.]


Gary Ealy and John Mark Hicks
October 5, 1997

Name: The Cordova Community Church, a church of Christ.

Location: Harding Academy in Cordova, Tennessee.

Motto: "By All Possible Means..." (1 Corinthians 9:22).


(1) Evangelism of the 1955-1982 generation in the Bear Creek Basin.

(2) Contemporary, Dynamic Worship Assemblies.

(3) Cell Church Structure for Maturing Christians.

(4) Strengthening Christian Families.

(5) Use of Resources for the Poor and Disadvantaged in Memphis.

(6) Promotion of New Church Plants in Memphis/Shelby County.

Time Table:

(1) October 5: Informational Prayer Meeting.

(2) November 9: Worship/Prayer Meeting.

(3) December 14: Worship/Prayer Meeting.

(4) January 11: Worship/Prayer Meeting.

(5) February 1: 10 Weekly Training Sessions Begin with Core Group.

(6) April 12: Easter Sunday--First AM Worship Assembly.


The foundational mission of the church is to glorify God, and through glorifying God we enjoy God's presence and fellowship.

The specific mission of this new church is summarized in the words of the apostle Paul: "I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22). This statement in its context commits this church to: (1) evangelizing the lost; (2) cultural relevance; (3) appropriate and profitable change; and (4) the use of any and every scriptural means to save some.

Worship is the primary function of the church. We worship God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. We worship God through our lives and through our devotions. We worship as private individuals, families and as a community of believers. Through this worship we testify to God's gracious presence in the world through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit and we experience his gracious fellowship as we enter into his presence. Consequently, this congregation places a high premium on meaningful worship experiences as we enjoy God's presence among us and thereby encourage each other in our life with God.

Arising out of this meaningful worship, both corporate and private, both lifestyle and assembly, the church emphasizes four functions of the corporate body.

1. We believe the church is God's instrument for bearing witness to the word of God's grace in Jesus Christ. The church, then, is the means of God's mission in the world. The church has the message of reconciliation and it must proclaim it to those who do not know and have not experienced God's grace. This new church plant will place a high priority on evangelism, especially among unchurched Baby Boomers and Baby-Busters.

2. We believe the church is where believers deepen their understanding of the faith through group Bible study, instruction from trained and mature leaders as well as through mutual discussion so that they are enabled and empowered to live out their faith in the world as a witness to God's grace.

3. We believe the church is where believers gather together in fellowship with each other and accept responsibilities toward each other. It is a place for social and spiritual communion between believers as well as accountability to each other. The church is a holy fellowship which is separate from the world, but acting in love toward the world as well as toward each other.

4. We believe the church is a manifestation of God's kingdom in the world and it anticipates the new heaven and the new earth. The church, then, is the means of God's ministry to the world as the church proclaims the coming of God's heavenly kingdom. As in the ministry of Jesus, so the ministry of the church seeks out the poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, and the disenfranchised. It supports the weak and gives preference to the weak. The ministry of Jesus is the ministry of the church, and just as Jesus went about doing good, so the church must seek to do good. The church must follow Jesus Christ into the world to minister to it.


1. This new church plant will target the younger generation of Baby-Boomers (1955-61) and the whole of "Generation X" also known as the Baby-Busters (1962-82). This is the first "Post-Christian" generation. They have experienced the breakdown of their homes, corruption in government, and a materialistic society. Cordova is populated by this generation and they are mainly married couples with young children.

2. This new church plant intends to build a community of Christians who care for the poor. It will seek to use its material wealth in the service of the poor and the weak of the city. While this church planting is located miles away from the inner city, it will have a heart and passion to follow Jesus in showing mercy to the poor and to eliminate racial and social prejudice.

3. This new church plant will emphasize training, teaching and support for the Christian family. Many families of "Generation X" have concluded that they do not want their children to
experience the pain of divorce. This new church plant will support these young families in building strong Christian homes.

4. This new church plant will emphasize the equipping of Christians for ministry. Through its cell groups and other structured programs, this church will equip its members for ministry through the full use of the gifts the Holy Spirit has distributed throughout the body of Christ.

5. This new church plant will become a church-planting body. It will seek to reproduce itself through additional church plantings in Shelby County and in surrounding areas.


The church is a body of people gathered together by a common salvation in Christ. The church plant should begin with people, not property and buildings. This church plant will focus on ministry first and buildings/property only as a means to that end.

Cell Church Strategy

The leadership team of this church planting has decided to use the "cell church" strategy of church life. This envisions congregational life on three levels.

The first level is the celebration level. Here the church gathers weekly as a whole body to worship. It celebrates the work of God in Christ and it laments the fallenness of the world. The church gathers to enter God's presence and join the angelic worship around God's throne. The church gathers to worship God the Redeemer and leaves that assembly empowered to minister to the fallen world.

The second level is the fellowship level. This is a middle size group of 20-100 adults who gather for the purposes of fellowship, ministries or recreational activities. These gatherings may be as diverse as Bible studies or recreational teams, leadership training sessions or special "game" nights, family seminars or special craft workshops, group projects for the poor or group vacations, weekend spiritual retreats or fun family outings. Their purpose is to minister to each other by building relationships as well as to serve the community through ministry opportunities.

The third level is the cell. This is the heart of the "cell church" structure, and it is where the intimate ministry of the church is conducted. This is a small group of 8-16 adults who gather weekly to share, pray and study the Bible. The group serves both the relational and spiritual needs of its members, and it seeks to evangelize friends and acquaintances through their group meetings. This would serve as the primary point of entrance into the body, and it would be the primary environment in which Christians would care for each other.

The church plant will begin with a set of trained core members who will lead various home cell groups. These cell groups will provide the context for and means by which new members will be assimilated and equipped for ministry.

Concrete Structure:

The whole church will meet every Sunday morning for worship and mutual encouragement. The Sunday morning time will include child, youth and adult education as well as structured fellowship time.

09:00-10:00 -- Sunday School
10:00-10:20 -- Fellowship Time
10:20-11:35 -- Worship Time

Every member of the church is expected to participate in a cell group for evangelism, developing relationships and maturing in their faith. These groups may meet at any time during the week, but most will probably meet on Sunday evenings in various homes.

The church will offer various activities for middle-size group fellowship through ministry, recreational and activity programs. Many of these may meet on Wednesday evenings or at other times (for example, weekend retreats, recreational teams, ministry teams, etc.).

The initial church staff will include the following part-time personnel, but the church will seek to fully fund some of these positions as soon as possible. The church intends to be staff-heavy in order to minister and grow into a permanent location.

Pulpit Minister: Gary Ealy
Teaching Minister: John Mark Hicks
Youth Minister: Jonathan Camp
Children's Minister: Searching for Suitable Person
Worship Leader: Matt Brent

The church will immediately involve itself in the concerns of the city through funding and involvement in various city ministries such as Agape, MACS, the Hispanic church plant and the Downtown church (inner city of Memphis).


The Basic Message of the Bible

The foundational principle of congregational life is the authority of Scripture. The church is born out of the Word of God, derives its life from it and must stand upon it.

The Bible is the Word of God. It is God's only written witness of himself to humanity. It speaks authoritatively, truthfully, clearly and sufficiently. Its purpose is to reveal God so that we might be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and share the fellowship of his love and communion.

God has revealed his pattern for his people in Scripture. This pattern is theological and christological in character. It is not a blueprint of specific details but a call to image God in this world through imitating the life and ministry of Jesus Christ as the people of God. The church is called to live out the life of Jesus as he lived out the life of God. The church is the community of God founded on the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Its self-understanding derives from reading Scripture in the light of Scripture's own story and its theological/ christological principles.

Jesus Christ is the center and heart of the gospel. His person (God in the flesh) and work (atoning sacrifice for our sins and his resurrection) are the foundation of the church. It is through him, and him only, that we are reconciled to God. The proclamation of the cross and resurrection is the good news in summation (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

It is through his death that his love was manifested, the wrath of God propitiated, and the power of God triumphed over the Evil One. It is through his resurrection that the power of the Spirit was manifested, the triumph of his righteous life declared, and the victory over death won.

Through faith God graciously puts to death the old person of sin, and makes us alive in the power of the Spirit when we are immersed in water. Through faith God renews his gracious gift to us and communes with us in the Lord's Supper. Through faith we live in the hope of his second appearing when we will inherit the new heaven and the new earth. The goal of our life in Christ is to approximate his life in submission to his Lordship, and the goal of the church is to embody the life and ministry of Jesus in this present world.

The Theological Center of the Church

The basic message of the gospel is a message about God in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. Immersion is the visible and normative means by which we are united with Christ in a concrete, historical moment. It is our entrance into the body of Christ. The Lord's supper is a communion with Christ in a particular historical moment. It is our communion with God and his people. Both immersion and the Lord's supper bear witness to the gospel itself--the death and resurrection of Jesus. These particular historical forms are grounded in what Christ did for us in his cross and resurrection. They are gospel rituals. They identify us with Christ, mediate the grace of God in Christ to us, and commit us to the path of discipleship. The ministry of the church is to follow Jesus Christ as his ministry revealed the heart of God toward the lost, the poor, the disenfranchised, and the friendless. The church is committed to the way of the cross in the hope of the resurrection. The church is a visible expression of the gospel itself. The church must live a life worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27). Paul offers the following seven-fold summary of the church's foundation in Ephesians 4:4-6.

There is one God, the Creator of heaven and earth and the Father of the redeemed, who predestined us in Christ Jesus to be holy and blameless, and adopted us through his Son to enjoy communion with himself.

There is one Lord, Jesus the Christ, who is both divine from eternity and human through his incarnational act, the mediator of our redemption and Lord of our life into whose image we are transformed by the power of God.

There is one Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us as a deposit of our inheritance, empowers our ministry, and transforms our character by producing his fruit within us.

There is one faith which is our common trust in the work of Jesus Christ for our salvation according to the riches of God's grace.

There is one immersion by which we yield ourselves in obedience to the command of God as his servants, and by which he gives us new life in his Son as we are washed according to the promise of the Word of God in the gospel.

There is one body which includes all who have trusted in God's grace and submitted to God's will even though that body has existed and continues to exist in different locales, cultures and times as visible, concrete communities of God's people.

There is one hope by which we are saved from the eschatological wrath of God's judgment and redeemed in both body and soul through the resurrection as we are gathered as God's people in a new heaven and a new earth.

The Doctrine and Practice of this New Church Planting

We derive our historical and theological roots from the Churches of Christ. We have a critical, but appreciative, stance toward the Churches of Christ. We value the historical traditions and biblical theology of the Churches of Christ, but we are not slaves to that historical tradition nor do we accept their theology without criticism. Nevertheless, we recognize our debt to the Churches of Christ, and we intend to continue within that historical tradition as far as we see it consistent with biblical theology.

We believe:

1. Fallen humanity is oriented to evil through a sinful nature which gives rise to human sin by the exercise of human freedom. Sin is a free human decision, not a determined necessity. However, without the power of the Spirit in their lives fallen humanity would miserably fail to please God.

2. Baptism is the immersion of believers in water for the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is an initiatory rite for entrance into the body of Christ. It is God's pledge to us of his grace and our pledge of commitment to God.

3. The Lord's Supper is celebrated every first day of the week as a covenant meal when the saints gather to worship God every Lord's Day. It is a time of dynamic, spiritual communion between God and his people. It is a communal event in which Jesus sits at the table with his people and God's people celebrate their common bond through eating and drinking together.

4. The whole body of Christ is engaged in the work of ministry. The local body is led by spiritual shepherds (elders or bishops), taught by appointed evangelists (the public proclaimers of the Word of God to the assembled church), served by ministry leaders in various specific ministries, and staffed by men and women who have been called and equipped for ministries that require special training and gifts (as in Children's ministries, Youth Ministries, Worship Leaders, Medical Ministries, Benevolent Ministries, etc.).

5. The Holy Spirit works powerfully in the lives of believers to produce his fruit, and, while he no longer distributes miraculous gifts to believers in the post-apostolic period (e.g., investing the gift of healing in specific individuals), he is not thereby limited from acting in miraculous ways according to God's good pleasure.

6. God is active in this world as he moves nations and individuals to accomplish his will. He has a special care for his people as they seek him in prayer. God is sovereign over his world, and prayer is an effective means for engaging God's presence in this world. God is at work in the lives of his people to effect his ultimate (eschatological) good.

7. The ministries of the church are open to women except for offices and functions which involve "headship" responsibilities in the church (e.g., elders, evangelists, etc.). We perceive no reason for restricting the ministry of women other than (1) the theological principle of male "headship" that rests upon God's intention in creation (1 Corinthians 11:3, 7-9; Ephesians 5:22-31; cf. 1 Timothy 2:11-14) and (2) cultural appropriateness (e.g., the "veils" of 1 Corinthians 11:4-5). We encourage a wider participation of women in the life and ministry of the church.

8. The musical worship of this new church plant is a cappella (without instrumental music), not because we believe it should divide the body of Christ as a matter of salvation or because it is a fundamental gospel issue (as in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ), but because we believe it is more consistent with the historic practice of the early church and it more appropriately embodies the theological principle of worshipping God in the Spirit out of a renewed heart (Ephesians 5:18-19).

9. The heart of the church is the local community of believers. It is in and through a local congregation of God's people that God is glorified, people are served, and the kingdom of God is clearly revealed. Though each local community is self-governing and autonomous, its larger concern is for the kingdom of God around the world. It must prioritize the kingdom of God over its own specific, local interests just as individual Christians must prioritize the community's interests over their own specific preferences, and the community must prioritize the interest's of the unevangelized over their own particular preferences.

10. Believers ought to share whatever they have in common with other believers, and what we fundamentally have in common is the good news of God's saving work in Christ. The most important thing we believe about the church, far from distancing us from others, is actually something we share with others. We may have many differences with other believers, but we share a faith in the death of Jesus for our sins and his resurrection for our justification. Together, we proclaim that salvation is in the name of Jesus, and that our proper response to God's work is to confess that "Jesus is Lord." We will share what we have in common, dialogue about our differences for the purpose of unity and serve God according to our own understanding in our particular local congregations.


Summary Of Mission

This church planting intends to provide the Cordova community with four emphases.

First, the church will emphasize evangelism through cell groups (a small group ministry). The church will target the unchurched Baby-Boomer and Buster generations while open to every door that God may open to it.

Second, the church will highlight a dynamic, but biblical, contemporary corporate worship which is God-oriented, theologically informed and experientially open to culturally diverse expressions of worship.

Third, the church will emphasize a ministry to the poor and disenfranchised within American culture, particularly in the inner city of Memphis and in the city's growing Hispanic community.

Fourth, the church will emphasize a ministry of study and understanding whereby members are matured in their faith and enabled through the power of the Holy Spirit to live as God's representatives in the world.

Summary Of Strategic Plan

First, interested persons will meet monthly to dialogue and pray about the potential of this church plant.

Second, the ministry team will develop a core of interested persons and equip them to lead cell groups. This training will begin February 1. The full ministry team should be in place at that time.

Third, the ministry team will equip itself through seminars, church visitations, and consultations with church growth experts for the church plant.

Fourth, the first meeting of the newly planted church will be Easter, April 12.


1. commitment to evangelism (e.g., inviting unchurched people to cell and celebration meetings).

2. commitment to fellow-members of your cell group through attendance and ministry (e.g., cells are where real evangelism and ministry to each other will take place).

3. commitment to relevance, appropriate change and biblical worship (e.g., celebration times will seek to be both biblical and relevant).

4. commitment to the poor and racial reconciliation in the city of Memphis (e.g., the use of resources for ministry to the poor and an openness to all ethnic groups).

5. commitment to financial sacrifice for the kingdom of God (e.g., sharing our wealth for the sake of the kingdom).

6. commitment to mutual appreciation, peace and unity in the body of Christ (e.g., permission for and appreciation of diversity within the body).

Our Prayer

Lord God, we confess that you are the only true God. We thank you for the grace you have given us in Jesus Christ. We thank you for the power by which you transform us through your Holy Spirit. Lord, we seek to be your people in this world. We want to represent your presence by our life and service. We have a burden for your people in Cordova and for those whom you know to be your people there. Use us, O God, as your instruments to gather your people as a church so that your glory might be revealed in Cordova. Use us, O God, to reach the hurting and lost so that they might know the wealth of your grace. Use us, O God, to gather a church whose heart will prefer the poor and seek to overcome the prejudices of this racially divided city. O Father, we confess our inadequacy and we confess our sinfulness, and so we ask you to bless us in our efforts for we know that without your power and grace our feeble efforts will amount to nothing. Glorify your name, O God, through us, and for the sake of your kingdom, raise up a church in Cordova that will bear witness to your name. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, we offer this prayer of petition and praise.


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