Discerning a Vision

by New Church Starts

by Jacob Armstrong, Pastor of Providence UMC, Mt. Juliet, Tennessee

When Pastor Freddie began his presentation to my Pastoral Theology class I was still wiping the sleep out of my eyes. I was in my second year of seminary and usually woke up some time after my second cup of coffee. 

We were told that a church “planter” would be sharing his story with us and I figured it must have something to do with cultivating a church garden. I had never thought about starting a church. To be honest, I had never even thought that churches were started at some point. The churches I had been a part of had always just seemed to be there.

Pastor Freddie began sharing his story. For 45 minutes he laid out the painful details of finding a place to meet, gathering a group of people, and trying to figure out who they would be as a worshipping community of Jesus followers. I don’t remember breathing during his presentation. God grabbed my heart and everything inside of me said “this is what you are supposed to do”. I spent the afternoon walking around the seminary campus dreaming about what “my” new church would be like, wrote down in specific detail what it would look like, who it would reach, and where it would be. Years later I would hear another church planter talk about “getting drunk on the vision” and that is precisely what I did that afternoon. I was sufficiently inebriated when I returned back to class and asked my classmates, “What is your new church going to be like?” Without exception each of my friends responded with some version of, “I would never start a new church. That sounded terrible.” This was my first indication that church planting was a calling. It would be for some, but not for all. 

It was a long process that led me from dreaming about “my” new church to starting a new church that would be “ours”. It led from one person being excited about something that God could do, to living into a shared vision with a community of people. I will offer a few things that were instrumental for me in sobering up a bit while still holding onto the Spirit-inspired thing that God had called me to.

  • Meet with Trusted Spiritual Mentors: As my wife and I began to share our vision with our trusted mentors, we found they had some important things to say. While affirming and confirming this call and even the gifts for this venture in us, they also brought the vision out of fantasy land into the real world. These pastors and friends helped us talk through what would have to happen to move from two people with a fire inside of them to actually living into the vision. This discernment process took several years for us.

  • Understand that Your Vision Must Fit Your Mission Field: At one point in our discernment journey we felt that God was calling us to be overseas missionaries. We even traveled to another country and considered a ministry setting there. We never would have dreamed of forcing our preconceived notions of how church should look, how people should worship, or even small details like how we should dress and speak upon those we were trying to reach in this foreign land. I found that these same principles could be applied to starting a new church in an American community. The time that you spend learning your community, listening to your community, and praying about how your vision “fits” there will be time well spent. I often see church planters who have drunk deep from their vision then force that vision into a setting where it clearly does not fit. 

  • What is Non-Negotiable For You: With my last comments about the vision fitting the mission field being said, you also have to know what it is about your vision that you can’t let go of. You may be able to relax on the style of worship that the new church will have, but you may not be able to compromise on your vision to reach those who are not already in church. If you feel the “core” of your vision slipping away in the casting and sharing phase, then as the leader you have to speak up. 

These are some of most important tasks that you will have as a church planter. I hope God is waking some of you up to what God made you to do, that you drink deep from the bottle of vision that God has given you, and that in community and conversation this vision can become reality. If you think God might be calling you to be planter, I invite you to attend the Innovation Forum October 19-21 in Nashville, Tennessee where we can begin discerning your vision together.