Last Saturday night, we invited anyone from Sunday School who was interested to join us for coffee and a discussion about church planting. In all we had nine couples express interest! 5 1/2 of those couples were able to make it to the coffee.
A little surprised by the number of people, we started off our meeting with the question, "Why are you here?" There were many answers, including: We want to show support. You are a step ahead of us, and we want to see how you got to this point. We want to know your story. How can we better pray for you? We'd like to think about how to structure a church, and this would be a good forum for discussion.
Above all, it seemed that the Experiencing God bullet point, "Go to where God is at work," was what drew people to our home. I tried to draw them in with cake and coffee, but I have a feeling they would have come if we were standing outside in the rain. Not because of us, but because of God!
After hearing everyone's answers, Jon and I both gave our testimonies of our salvation and calling to ministry. We explained a little of our background for those who didn't know us very well, and how we ended up here.
We began to answer the questions Who, What, Where, When, Why and How as we walked through where we believe God has led us. (We didn't answer them in order, which bothers the part of me that likes that, but oh well.)
Why? There are people who have never heard the good news of Jesus--in our own country! Also, we'd like to consider if there's a better way to structure a church than the way we've always done it.
What? Our primary goal is disciple-making. The question we asked ourselves was, "What should the end product of a church be, and how do we get there?" We realized that the end product of a church is a maturing Christian, and we get there through discipleship.
How? Through books and discussion, Jon's come to the realization that a Senior Pastor is not always the best thing. A church inevitably comes to look like its pastor--both his strengths and his weaknesses. An Elder-driven church has the advantage of no single person in charge, which leads to more accountability and less likelihood of picking up the weaknesses of one person.
Also, we discussed the lack of knowledge among Christians about their own faith. We'd like to teach Biblical history, Church history, and above all, solid theology. We'd like to train families how to be responsible for their children's spiritual learning, and how to be responsible for their own, as well, so we--to use a cliché--teach them how to fish.
Regarding the nuts and bolts of church planting, we'd probably go at first bivocationally, with each couple needing to find jobs to support themselves. What it would look like later, we don't know.
In this next year (and perhaps longer), we will prepare to go. We will be preparing ourselves--growing spiritually as we read books about church planting and meet together to discuss. Preparing our marriages--recognizing that church planting is hard on marriages, we will work to strengthen ours, as well as keep our finances in order. This step is the most exciting to me at the moment, because it means that in a year or so, not only will we be stepping out to start a church, but we will be changed people. In this time of preparation, God will be molding us and readying us for battle. (He should be doing this already, but without a clear reason to do it, we seldom allow Him to.)
When? Jon graduates in December of this year, so we will be able to go after that point. Some people on the team might not be able to go for another 6 mos or a year. We will be willing to wait for them. We are not tied to the seminary housing or jobs, so we can stay here indefinitely after we graduate.
Where? We don't have a specific location, but we do have a few parameters:
- Unreached: Low ratio of evangelical churches to population. We don't know what that ratio is right now, but further research will give us an idea of what to look for. This parameter is to insure that we're not "sheep stealing" from other churches. This means that we will be most likely in the north (east, mid, or west), well away from the Bible Belt. We will still be in the states, though Canada is an option as well. (Note to self: buy wool socks. Lots of them.)
- Mid- to large-size city: Population of 100,000 or more. We're trying to find jobs for many people, so size is important. It also means we'll be able to reach more people.
- University town: We will not be a college ministry, but a university is a sign of growth and openness to new things.
Some questions that were posed (that we haven't answered) and thoughts/recommendations:
- Where does evangelism and teaching happen? Do we evangelize in the large group, and do the deep teaching in small Bible studies? Vice versa? Both or neither?
- How do we deal with theological differences among the Elders? I answered this question to a small degree by comparing it to a marriage. In a marriage, we don't have to agree on everything, but we do have to agree on the foundational theological truths. For the most part, we will agree on the foundational truths (we're all Southern Baptist, so we'll probably have similar thoughts on theology). Any differences can actually make us better. After all, what's the point of multiple leaders if they're all the same?
- Research other elder-led churches: Covenant Life Church, Bethlehem Church and Hope (in Tupelo, MS)
- In the next year (and more) of planning, do we want to include only those committed to go, or can others who want to just learn join in on meetings and discussion? Others are welcome to come at this point.
- Think about books, studies, etc. that we will want to complete before going. Jon is hoping to take a class on church finances, and any other church planting course that might be available. We would also like to go through the Crown Financial study. Books to read: Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas, Simple Church by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger, Love Your God with All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland. I'm sure other books, sermons, etc. will come up that we'll all want to read/hear and discuss.
- How do we, a bunch of southerners, move into a northern city and not look like we're a cult (a little bit of hyperbole there, but it could be an issue) or like it's an "us vs. them" scenario? We have to pray for God to work this out. We do have a couple interested in joining us who is not from the South, and we'd also hope to incorporate "the locals" quickly.
After we had discussed everything, someone asked if they could pray for us, and they did, which was neat. It's good to have so much support going into something that's so...unlike us! I have a feeling that each person's thought and discussions will be invaluable in the next year or so of preparation.
Thanks to each of you for praying for us! To parents and grandparents reading this, thanks for the spiritual impact you've had in our lives. Thanks for teaching (by word and example) that we need to live according to God's will, no matter how crazy.