Back to the Future of Church Planting


Tulsa, Oklahoma-Borrowing a page from church planting on the American frontier, a new work called a "preaching station" was begun on Sunday, August 1, 1999, in the southern part of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Its name is Westminster Chapel.
While many in the PCA are familiar with the concept of mission churches, the Session of Beal Heights Presbyterian Church, in Lawton, Oklahoma, has reached into the past to help a group of believers in northeastern Oklahoma on their way to becoming a particular church. "We were approached after this year's General Assembly by several families in northeast Oklahoma about providing oversight for them in organizing a church, " says Teaching Elder John Butler, pastor of Beal Heights. "These families were of like-mind, desiring a congregation in their area which would reflect the beauty of the Biblical, reformed faith in all of its Holy Spirit-anointing. They desired to gather as a church to glorify God through submission to His Word, to worship Him through the power of His Spirit in accordance with His Word, to proclaim grace in Christ to sinners, and to build up the saints through doctrinal and applicatory preaching of the whole counsel of God," said Butler.
The Beal Heights Session was faced with a challenge in how to best serve the group: Lawton is located southwest Oklahoma, about three hours driving time from Tulsa. Theirs is not a large congregation, averaging 60 in worship on the Lord's Day. What they came up with was the old concept of a "preaching station." "In the past, groups of Christians in this part of the country might gather each Sunday for a Sabbath School, and when a traveling minister would come 'round, they would have a worship service, according to an elder emeritus of our congregation, who is now in his nineties, who worshipped that way in rural Oklahoma as a boy," related Butler. "Sometimes, circuit riders would make an appointed stop at a certain place, and gather those of a particular denomination for administration of the sacraments and preaching. The circuit riders, utilizing the powers of an evangelist under the Book of Church Order might regularly visit the 'preaching stations' on a monthly basis. These preaching stations formed the nucleus for many churches in this part of the country. Our plan adapts that method to modern usage, and also brings the members under the oversight of an existing Session. We also have utilized the principles of mission work developed by Presbyterian missionary John L. Nevius in the last century in China, and used with great blessing by God in Korea, that the work be as soon as possible one that is self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing. We know that this all flies in the face of the modern church planting philosophy of pouring large amounts of capital and campaigns into a work. Frankly, the approach of having 125 people and a business plan before being considered for constitution as a mission church by a presbytery as practiced by some is hardly a New Testament model of church growth, let alone practical for this part of the country. Being a 'small' congregation ourselves, we've learned to 'not despise the day of small beginnings,' and utilize the resources the sovereign Lord of the Church has given us in obedience to the Great Commission."
Westminster Chapel, named for D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' London congregation, has six constituent families who have been received as members of Beal Heights. They are scattered from Tulsa southward to Muskogee, about an hour away. Several other families, as well as individuals, also regularly attend the preaching station. The group has come from a mix of PCA and non-PCA churches. It started several years ago as a Bible study. Christ Presbyterian Church, Tulsa, has assisted the group by providing copies of the older edition of the Trinity Hymnal. The preaching station now meets each Sabbath Day at rented facilities in a shopping center at 11035 S. Memorial in south Tulsa, near the community of Bixby. They have Sunday school each Lord's Day, study G. I. Williamson's material on the Confession of Faith, provide catechism rehearsals for the children, and listen to taped sermons by Teaching Elder Steve Wilkins of Auburn Avenue PCA in Monroe, Louisiana. On the first Sunday evenings of the month, Mr. Butler drives to Tulsa, and conducts worship, utilizing the Trinity Hymnal and the RPCNA Book of Psalms for Singing, along with administration of the Lord's Supper. "In God's providence, we hope in time to have more regular preaching of the Word, and to have presbytery organize the work as a mission church. We also have been approached by people in the greater Oklahoma City area to be organized along the same lines," adds Pastor Butler. The Beal Heights congregation planted Westminster Presbyterian Church in Lawton in the 1940s (now a PCUSA congregation), and conducted a WCF study in Wichita Falls, Texas, fifty miles south, in the mid-1990s. The latter group is now Westminster Presbyterian Church, a mission of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Point of contact for Westminster Chapel, Tulsa, is Mr. J. Michael Brown, at (918) 495-1771, or it can be reached via its website at www.westminsterchapel.org.