/ Nathan Eshelman

Here Come the Presbyopians!

Presbyopia is a “medical condition where the eye exhibits a progressively diminished ability to focus on near objects with age.” That sounds like a horrible condition, of course, but this is not the presbyopia of which I am speaking. I want us to have a spiritual presbyopia, diminishing our focus on small things and looking toward the Kingdom of Christ advancing throughout the nations. The word presbyopia is made up of two Greek words, “presby” comes from the word meaning elder, and “opia” comes from the Greek word for vision. So for a spiritual definition of presbyopia- we are talking about having a spiritual vision for the increase of the church, a vision which should be shared by the elders of the church, a vision of growth, multiplication, discipleship, and church planting.

When the Lord Jesus said that He would build His Church, he did not mean that every few years a new group of worshipers would organize and be added to the numbers of the Visible Church. Presbyopia requires that the Body of Christ have a big vision for Gospel ministry and a big vision for seeing the Kingdom advance into the cities, towns, and rural places across our nation and throughout our world. Do we have that vision as reformed Christians? Does the Reformed Presbyterian Church, the denomination in which I am a minister of the Gospel, have spiritual presbyopia or is her “ability to focus” diminished because of our age? (The RPCNA is older than the USA.)  It is the belief of this writer that pockets of the reformed and presbyterian family of churches have spiritual presbyopia, but that vision needs to expand into all of our presbyteries, congregations, and homes.

In the year 2000, the RPCNA's Synod adopted, what was affectionately titled, the “20/20 Vision.” This vision was cast for the purpose of growing to 100 congregations or mission churches by the year 2020. This was a manageable challenge even for such a small denomination. In 2000, we had 76 congregations. That meant that within twenty years we would have to increase by 33% in order to meet the challenge.

How is the RPCNA doing with the 20/20 Vision? In one sense we are doing very well. As of the time of writing we have 93 congregations and missions as well as at least 3 preaching stations. This is moving in the right direction. For those who know the history of the RP Church, this growth is substantial due to the fact that we had a very long season of decline beginning in the 1890s and going into the 1970s! The Lord is building among us and this is a wonderful thing.

We should be very encouraged! And how has this growth occurred? Of course, the blessing of the Holy Spirt on the preaching of the Word needs to be seen as the primary means of this growth (since this is the ordinary means of grace according to the Scriptures). Secondly, we see that there are “presbyopians” in our midst that share the biblical vision for church planting that is presented in the New Testament. These presbyopians include pastors and elders that are purposeful about church planting and working towards church planting, RPCNA members who have remembered RP Home Missions in their wills and have set up endowments for church planting, families who have given sacrificially of their resources of time and finances for the hard work involved in planting a church, as well as the prayerful saints who believe without a doubt that it’s the will of God to expand His kingdom from sea to sea as far as the east is from the west. Many things are required for churches to be planted and those that are invested in church planting are among some of the most sacrificial of presbyopians in our midst.

For these presbyopians we give thanks for their dedication, gifts, and sacrifices. The 20/20 Vision is being advanced under the blessing of God.

But just as there are times that we need to go back to the optometrist to have our vision adjusted, there are times when we need to reconsider our own kingdom vision and ask the Lord Jesus if we remain dedicated to presbyopianism. Is our vision for church planting and kingdom advancement clear? Can you say that your denomination, presbytery and/or congregation is/are dedicated to seeing the multiplication of congregations in your area? Can you say that you are dedicated to seeing reformed and presbyterian churches spread through all 50 states and 10 provinces of our denomination’s home boundary? Are you a presbyopian with 20/20 Vision? Well, here’s your vision exam...

We can look at the numbers as one way to see whether our 20/20 Vision will be able to accomplished. RP Home Missions is fully dedicated to planting churches in each presbytery as the Lord grants that vision to His Church. This is going to take presbyopians within presbyteries and congregations that are also fully committed to that work. As we look at the numbers, we see that this vision is going to have to expand tremendously in order for the 20/20 Vision to be accomplished.

Here’s some numbers:

  • Of the 33 largest cities in the United States only 8 of them have a Reformed Presbyterian witness.
  • Seven congregations and one preaching station minister within the bounds of 40 million people! Are those congregations enough to minister to 40 million people?
  • Of the 33 largest cities in the United States there are only 15 Reformed Presbyterian churches within a Lord’s Day driving distance of those cities.
  • The Home Mission Board spends $275,000 on new church plants each year.
  • A new RPCNA church plant costs $144,000 on average per year to fund.
  • The Home Mission Board spends more on church plants than what the board brings in financially. Due to this reality, the RP Home Missions board will eventually be out of spendable income unless presbyopians come forward with vision!

Why will the Home Mission Board be out of spendable cash? It’s not because resources have not been used wisely. Resources are overseen by the Board of Trustees who make sure money is managed well. The RP Home Missions president is a math whiz. All men on the board are visionaries yet realistic. So what is the issue you may think?

We will run out of money because we need more presbyopians in our denomination! We need to remember that a commitment to planting Gospel centered congregations is the primary call of the Church. Without Gospel centered congregations, we have no use for many of the other boards within our denomination. We need to take an honest look at our 20/20 Vision and say, “God has blessed this so far; let’s see this work continue.”

This can only be accomplished if men, women, boys, and girls become consumed with a desire to see the Gospel go forth in a mighty way. If this occurs, then we will see an increase in the amount of resources that the Home Mission Board has. Wouldn’t you love to see 10 works blossom in the next year? Wouldn’t you love to see seminary graduates being matched up with seasoned church planters to learn beside them in a Timothy to Paul relationship? Wouldn’t you love to see congregations daughtering congregations without the fear of a budget crisis? Wouldn’t you love to see mobilized church members seeing conversions and adult baptisms (yes, we do believe in adult baptisms) and home studies springing up in neighborhoods all across our denomination’s boarders? Jesus could make that happen. This is not beyond His ability. But is it beyond what we desire? Is it beyond our vision for the scope of the Gospel? Of course we all say that we would love to see that... and yet confessional church plants go unfunded.

How can we move forward as presbyopians? How can we have 20/20 Vision?

With the Spirit’s blessing, we can accomplish our 20/20 Vision. We have 7 years and 7 congregations to go. But is that vision big enough? Could we do more? Do we believe that this is what God wants from us? There are thousands of cities, towns, and rural places that need the Gospel. How can you help? It’s going to take spiritual presbyopia and a recommitment to funding the planting of churches. Are you a presbyopian? If so, the Home Mission Board could use your vision.

You may donate here if you would like to see confessionally reformed churches planted, watered, and growing. How have you seen presbyopians invest into church planting? Do you believe that church planting is a priority among confessionally reformed churches? Why or why not? What is your denomination or church doing to see churches planted? We'd love to hear from you.

_This article was adapted from an article that appeared in the Reformed Presbyterian Witness and is used with permission. _

Nathan Eshelman

Nathan Eshelman

Pastor in Orlando, studied at Puritan Reformed Theological & Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminaries. One of the chambermen on the podcast The Jerusalem Chamber. Married to Lydia with 5 children.

Read More