In the church planting world, you need to understand, the word “support” can mean anything from money, to partners in ministry, to prayer groups, to church mission groups, and to family and friends all along the way. You should know church planters talk about these various avenues of support a lot, at least among themselves. Sometimes, it’s tough talking to other planters about these various means of support, especially with church planters outside the Southern BaptistConvention and outside the North American Mission Board.
Usually, when church planters talk among themselves about support, the conversation includes elements of difficulty, challenges or flat out failures that we’ve encountered. Like young soldiers recounting the fears and failures of battle, church planters will share with one another about struggles and disappointments, about serving in new communities and tough communities, about giving leadership when clarity and direction is hard to explain and circumstances are up in the air, and mostly we talk about trusting God to meet our needs, especially needs we have not yet discovered. And, in these moments, we talk about our support system. When it is my turn to talk, I just feel bad talking with planters outside our tribe about my support, because there is no way around a simple fact – church planting in the SBC, fueled by the Cooperative Program with guidance and leadership from NAMB, provides the most holistically supportive church planting support I have seen out here in the field.
So, when I talk about the support I receive from the SBC family, I hit the same high points every time.
I am cared for personally. You may not know it, but the North American Mission Board has a team of people whose sole job is to care for the church planters of the SBC. This team prays for planters regularly. They send emails to encourage us. They send books with letters from the author, encouraging planters to continue the good work to which God called us. On my birthday, I was given a gift card to go out for a date with Ali. Recently, NAMB asked me to attend an orientation and training meeting in Atlanta, and while I was there, I received a text from my wife with pictures of a new journal, a new book, and a letter sent to her from NAMB, thanking her for supporting me while I was in Atlanta. Every church planter and every church planter’s wife and family have their own fair share of battle wounds and horror stories, but, due in large part to personal support through the SBC and NAMB, my wife – my family has a different story to tell.
I am well equipped, well trained, and well resourced. I was equipped for ministry beginning with my growing up years and my young adult years by attending, serving, and learning to lead in great Southern Baptist churches. My formal training for the pastorate began at Boyce College, Louisville, KY, and upon graduation furthered at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Next year I will continue my education at Gateway Seminary Extension Center here in my city of Phoenix, Arizona. I can tell you firsthand, the SBC, through the funding of the Cooperative Program, enables better pastoral training than any other denomination I have seen. When God called Ali and me to Phoenix, a six hour plane ride away from our friends and family and all other support networks, we arrived to find a local association waiting to embrace us, and a state convention there to help us. Whether we need sound equipment, sports equipment, bouncy houses for a block party, transportation for visiting missions teams, evangelism training for my core team led by a seasoned leader, it is the overall “family – like” partnership of SBC churches across Arizona, my sponsoring church back home, my local Baptist association, my state convention team, and a few partnering churches that provide the resources which help my church gain ground in my community, Eastmark (Mesa), AZ.
I have financial partners standing with me, doing God’s kingdom work together through my new church plant. Every church that gives missions dollars through the Cooperative Program is partnering with Living Stone Community Church. We receive monthly support from NAMB. We receive monthly support from the AZ state convention. We receive “one time” missions gifts, specific donations of equipment and services, and we receive consistent ongoing financial support from SBC churches across the convention who want to play a part in what God is doing through us and through Send Phoenix. Recently, when finances fell short for a community outreach event our church was doing, it was our local Baptist association who stepped up to cover the cost. The Cooperative Program creates a shared mission and vision among churches committed to the cause of Christ, and, as a church planter, I benefit constantly from those commitments.
In short, when a planter outside of the Southern Baptist Convention asks me about my support, I simply feel bad. I feel bad because I struggle in the same way he struggles. I have the same disappointments that come from working and serving Christ in a new church plant, seeking to reach a lost community and a lost world. I know how brutally difficult church planting can be, and I feel bad for him. What I hate most is that he does not know or understand the joy and sheer relief that comes from a cooperative commitment of 46,000 plus churches – partnering together for the gospel! I recently heard Dr Frank Page and Dr Kevin Ezell, two of our SBC entity presidents say this, “Wherever God calls you, wherever you find yourself in ministry, as a part of the SBC family, you are not alone!” I am living testimony to this fact! And, I hate it for the other guys.