Yesterday the ELCA came out with an article yesterday talking about the importance of Church planing in the ELCA. The article highlighted a 2007 mission start in Lake Ann, Mich. The church that started with nothing is now worshipping 160 people (mostly children) in an renovated firehouse garage. They hope to have their own worship center by 2011.
The ELCA as a whole is really trying to think intentionally about the future and is doing it with church plants:
“In 2008 the ELCA has identified 70 locations in more than 25 states to begin new congregations. Fifty-seven of those are under way — 41 as congregations under development, and 16 as synodically authorized worshiping communities. There are another 197 congregations under development that started in previous years in urban, suburban, rural and small-town settings. Of the current congregations under development, about 2 percent are American Indian/Alaska Native, 47 percent European American, 1 percent Arab/Middle Eastern, 14 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 14 percent African/African American/Black, 19 percent Hispanic/Latino and 3 percent are multicultural. There’s one prison congregation and one maritime congregation under development.”
This brought me back to my final year of seminary. I had some professors at the seminary who thought that I should be a church planter. I thought about it and prayed about it and talked with my wife about it and we decided to go through the process. I talked with my synod mission director and filled out the application. I got a phone call that I had been accepted into the program!! I thought that was great and I was ready to go! However, I was then told that I had to go through a number of interviews. The interviews were based on what I had done, not what I know. I thought that was a little strange — granted experience is important but I think that as a church we mainly do things on what we have done in the past and we stop trying to be innovative. We stop trying to think outside the box in all aspects of ministry. Instead of asking ourselves what we are doing and why we are doing it – we look back at last years newsletter and say “if it ain’t broke, why try and fix it?” Is that the way we should be running our church’s?
Back to my experience — needless to say I was not “accepted” into the mission development program of the ELCA. The reason they told me was that I did not have sufficient ministry experience to be a mission developer or church planter. Experience? I worked three years at a Lutheran Camp and two years as a youth minister before seminary, but that was not as ordained clergy. So I did not have the same experiences as someone who is ordained and now that I have been working as an ordained pastor for the last 7 months I can say that I have learned many things and I have experienced things that I never thought I would have in ministry. But does my lack of pastoral experience take away from my success as a church planter? There are needs in the church to spread Gods word to those who do not hear it – there is a need in the church to create meaningful worship for people who might be fed-up with traditional church models. Why are we hindering those who are energetic and enthusiastic to start something new, to think outside the box when it comes to ministry?
Don’t get me wrong, I do see the other side of the argument. It does take a certain skill set for someone to be a church planter. It does take someone who is willing and able to spend their days and time reaching out to the community they have been sent too, it takes a lot of motivation and accountability for someone to be a church planter and I tip my hat to those who are doing it. When I step back I do question if I could spend my ministry planting churches — but I don’t know where God is going to send me and what my call later in life will be.
At this point in my minsitry I am trying to transform the church from the inside out. I am trying to think like a missional pastor and reach out to those who might be on the fringe of the church or on the outside of the church. I want them to feel like there is a place in God’s house for them as well. I am trying to meet them where they are at and tell them to “come as you are” – I do not want people to think like they have to change to come to the church. The church should be a welcoming place, not only welcoming in a sense of feeling like they belong with the people gathered but welcomed in God’s presence as well.