Saturday, February 28, 2015

My church planting experience: Planting of the church planter.

I graduated from Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary (Northeast Campus) in the spring of 2005 and hit the ground running, with an itch to plant a church. But God had other plans which started out as I thought it would, but within three years, took a downward turn that I did not anticipate. We came to an old, dying (dead but didn't know it) independent Baptist church, at first with the intention of restarting the church. I was invited in spring 2006 to attend the Exponential Church Planting Conference in Orlando, Fla. There I met some of the leading church planters on the planet and heard some amazing church planting stories. I returned to NY capital region with a fire that was quickly extinguished (almost completely) by the reality of living in my community. I had not yet "broken the missional code" or applied any of the strategies I had learned from conferences and books; although I tried.

After three years of trying my best, our financial resources had completely dried up; both for the church and our personal support. My wife and I were fighting constantly. Our old, cold building was racked in debt, and we began to battle with our city over code and tax exempt issues; mostly due to misunderstanding and a lack of knowledge over church law, IRS and related issues on my part as well as our city comptroller and code enforcement personnel. All of this contributed to mental and spiritual breakdown of myself, my wife and our family life. Our two sons were adopting some of the behaviors of the inner-city kids we were reaching out to. We wanted to give up more times than I can count, but compelled by the Holy Spirit, to endure patiently, and to dig in deeper, we stood our ground, even leaving our church building briefly and exploring other, more manageable options. Another local ministry used the building under a usage agreement and had even attempted to purchase the building from us, with failed results...which led to the city's questioning over usage of facilities and tax exempt status.

Forward to summer, 2014. That other ministry that had used our Baptist church building, established in 19th century, closed down and moved to South Carolina, leaving the building empty once again, and still in the possession of Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. Several ideas surfaced from a half dozen other ministries that wanted to take over the building, which we listened to and remained open to. but none of them came to be. So we entered the building once again, with an overwhelming level of support from our community, and we were immediately met with God's provision; both from the people and with God supplying our every need. He had been supplying our every need all along, but my perspective was different. God brought me through this wilderness; including a period of being "sifted like wheat." almost ending in financial ruin and divorce court. But God led us through all of this; on our "promised land." Like Abraham, we remained faithful and obedient in the midst of what we eventually saw as hopeless. I now see all of this as a part of God's plan for us, and for church planters in general; the church planter must first be planted in the community before seeds can be planted and eventually harvested. But now we are seeing fruit. I've officiated many weddings, funerals, baby dedications, visited many neighbors in the hospital, started a small group/bible study at a nearby senior high rise, and maintained a vibrant youth ministry though all of this. Many of them were in elementary school with our kids when we first arrived here and are now in high school or have graduated...a few of them have been baptized.

But God had to plant us first, and I would say to every new church planter to spend some time living and working in your community...get involved board and PTA; neighborhood association and community projects; community sports and clubs...your wife and kids will love it and it will take your mind off of "church planting" and get you where you need to be...loving and serving your neighbors!