I began writing this post on the flight back to Boston from Orlando when my mind was full from a week’s worth of meetings and training. I’ll relate two stories and five pieces of the training (briefly).
The first part of my trip was spent in Birmingham, Al networking and fundraising. I had the privilege of speaking with pastors of various churches around the city and one of the highlights was hearing from two long time pastors how God called them into ministry. One pastor recounted the story of his maternal-grandfather who, when he heard that his daughter was pregnant, began praying that she would have a son who would become a minister. This godly man in his eighties prayed each day until his death, at which point his grandson was only a year old. But in his earliest memories he recalls telling those who asked that he wanted to be a pastor when he grew up. He did not know of his grandfathers’ prayers until later in life.
Another gentleman told of his mother who became a Christian in her late teens and wanted to be a missionary. She married but due to the great depression and the responsibilities of raising a family was unable to go. So, she prayed that God would call half of her children into ministry. The pastor who told this story and two other siblings serve in ministries and at least half of the grandchildren do as well. Again, he learns of this later in life and eventually finds out that his mother desired to go to China as a missionary, which is where his son serves.
It was amazing to hear the stories of God’s answer to these prayers and his faithfulness in raising up servants for his work.
After my time in Birmingham I flew to Orlando where it was sunny and in the 70’s. Unfortunately it rained the rest of our time there… In our training through Global Church Advancement (GCA) we went through 10 modules and I’ll give a highlight from half of them.
Focus: How well do you know the community among which you live and serve? The goal, as a church planter, is to know your community better than someone who grew up there. You talk to as many people as you can, both community leaders and regular people you meet, asking who lives there and what their lives are like. What could the church do to serve the community? What are your impressions of the church? Who should the church be? What is right and wrong with our world? Who is God? These and many other questions fill out a rich of the unique place you are. You should be a student of both the culture and your own church, continually learning who you are called to serve and how this brings focus to everything else.
Purposes: There are five purposes that we see in the bible which must exist to some degree in every church: worship, teaching, fellowship, evangelism, and mercy. Each church will emphasize one or two of these due to the gifts of the leaders and needs of the people, especially in a new church. We need to find ways to round out our weaknesses and have ministries that fulfill each purpose but still build off of our strengths.
Values: Put more emphasis on “why” you do things rather than “what” so that the appropriate “whats” all continue to happen. If you put the foundation in place of who you are and people understand what you most value then the right things will flow out of this understanding. If, on the other hand you start with your programs or activities it is easy over time to forget the “whys” and eventually stop the “whats.”
Planning: Imagine the team which is working to begin the church as a group paddling across a lake in a large canoe. Unless your destination is clear and there is consensus you will spin or capsize. In a small boat you will either paddle together or you will not make it. It is so important to have a clear destination and a course to get there. Both the destination and course must be understood and embraced by everyone in the boat. Specifically this comes down to training, sacrifice, and living out your purposes and values in light of your focus group. An example of this is that in the North East it is best to start worship services (purpose) in late October or mid-February:
-September is busy and disorienting as the academic year resumes, but by October rhythms emerge and it is easier for someone to visit a church.
-You then have a month or two until Christmas at which people are open to visiting a church and this can then give you a little boost after the initial surge of excitement and newness has worn out.
-Then in the cold months of January, February, and March people are generally around and looking for some reason to get out of the house. Except for Super Blow, Blizzards, and Spring vacation there isn’t too much that will compete.
-Then you gain another boost through Easter and have the momentum to make it through summers in which so many people travel.
The main thing: This was the concluding session which had outstanding content and sought to bring it all together. One of the “main things” was to remember that you are not merely God’s “soldier” or “servant” but a son. With all the learning, planning, and pressures of this intensive training it is easy to see yourself primarily as someone who does things for God rather than belonging to him as a child. This is a pretty basic part of the Christian faith but is one of the main things we can overlook as we charge ahead with things to do.