by Ron Bell, Director of Congregational Development and SBC21 for Peninsula-Delaware Conference (and Path 1 Associate)
She grew up in the area, moved away several years prior to pursue a successful career in business and now returned in her mid-50’s to help her ailing mother transition. She’d forgotten how much she missed the area, and as she drove through the streets she began to weep over the difference so many years had taken on her once beautiful town. The same shops where still there, the same owners and families she’d grown up with, but now there was a pronounced presence of liquor stores, check-cashing vendors, fast-food stores and pawn shops. “This once stunning town was now hijacked by slum,” she thought as she drove “something must be done.”
He had served 10 years in jail in the mid 80’s for a crime he had since repented for. Since that time he had worked with the prison system as a counselor and minister, as a social advocate and had even written and co-authored several books on the prison industrial complex. He is known nationally as a leader in prison reformation and within five minutes of talking with him, that’s all you’ll hear. His car is littered with brochures, pamphlets and stickers about that cause.
For most of her teenage years she traveled the state as regional track and field superstar. It was widely expected that she’d become an Olympian one day, and so when she matriculated to college on a full track and field scholarship no one in her immediate circle was surprised. What they were surprised by was her decision a semester later to stop running track and focus on her college major: early childhood education, and her subsequent decision to begin substitute teaching at one of the local elementary schools.
All of these stories share some consistent elements. Each person is passionate about something, that passion is nurtured through a specific set of experiences. Each person is also connected into a network. They have a base of support and an affinity to a certain group of people. Lastly, each of these people is a self-starter or independent thinker who sees a problem and attacks it. They aren’t afraid of making grand bold and often dangerous decisions if it potentially means meeting their intended goals. But, here is the other more pressing truth. None of these people are New Church Planters.
Those skills and stories are great fodder or tools to have on hand. In fact, when looking for planters those skills and stories would be great foundational checkmarks to look for. However, the one burning element that each of those stories is missing and that is largely missing from a lot of proposed new church starts is a spiritual calling. In the Black Church we’d say it’s when you “know that you know that you know.” It’s an intensity felt, often even audible spiritual affirmation that the work you’re about to embark on is God-ordained.
There are many people who are passionate about causes and others who draw and are drawn to certain groups. There are a number of persons who are talented at marketing, speaking, finances, and business. There are even some dynamic folk who are great at worship leading, teaching, and preaching. What’s important to remember is that it is the Holy Ghost, it’s God that becomes the glue that holds all those pretty pieces together, and if that spiritual calling is missing from the deck then the second a major bump comes up (and there will be bumps in launching new ministries) that entire house of cards will come tumbling down.