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I Went to Church Planting School

By Rachel Davies

Rachel Davies, pastor for youth and children’s ministries at Ohio Conference’s Toledo First church, journaled her experience last month at Adventist Fresh Expressions, a first-time field school for 17 clergy and laity who want to start or expand their involvement in innovative church plants and community-based ministries. Presenters included Monte Sahlin, director of research and special projects for the Ohio Conference, Peter Roennfeldt, a church plant mentor and pastor in Australia and Andrew Clark, director of Pennsylvania Conference’s Greater Pittsburgh Metro Ministry. The weeklong school was sponsored by the Ohio and Pennsylvania conferences.

HEAR PODCAST INTERVIEW WITH RACHEL DAVIES

WATCH VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH MONTE SAHLIN

DAY 1: Ten participants from Kansas; Iowa; Washington state; Ohio; and Vancouver, British Columbia, gathered to hear presentations by Andrew Clark, director of Pennsylvania Conference’s Greater Pittsburgh Metro Ministry, and Peter Roennfeldt, a church plant mentor and pastor in Australia. We spent considerable time exploring what it looks like when a church operates with a community. Andrew and his wife, Mayda, gave us a tour of their three-story building, which serves as the headquarters for Adventist Community Services of Greater Pittsburgh and our home this week. Peter finished the evening by sharing stories of other creative church plants around the world, particularly in Europe, where “traditional” church attendance is in steady decline.

DAY 2: A warm camaraderie has already developed within our group. Peter got us off on the right foot at 8 a.m. by guiding us through conversational prayer, where we learned to talk with God and one another at the same time. It felt awkward at first, but by evening we had shared and laughed enough to feel comfortable praying more vulnerably. The bulk of the day was spent studying the book of Acts and the mission of Christ as reflected in both Matthew 28 and Luke 4. We also spent time crafting our church plant mission statements.

DAY 3: Three more pastors joined us from Pennsylvania, adding diversity to our discussions. In the morning, we spent time defining the core values of our various ministries while also reflecting on the practical implications of our theology as Seventh-day Adventists. In the afternoon, Monte Sahlin, director of research and special projects for the Ohio Conference, helped us understand the dynamics of urban ministry, while Andrew taught us how to best identify appropriate target groups within our unique communities at home (i.e., building a chic youth ministry program to attract new generations may not make sense in a retirement neighborhood).

DAY 4: This afternoon Andrew equipped us each with a simple questionnaire before matching us with community leaders so that we could practice conducting community assessments, the first step toward identifying what ministries should be initiated by new church plants. I met with the pastoral assistant of a local Catholic Church who shared valuable insights about the needs of her town. When we later discussed our interviewing experiences as a group, I was astonished to realize how much we’d learned about the local community in only one hour.

DAY 5: Although we said goodbye to Steve Mirkovich, a young church planter from British Columbia, his ministry visions challenged and moved us during the afternoon small group brainstorming session. Lester R. Collins Jr. from Iowa also deepened our sense of mission with his dream to open a math and English tutoring center for at-risk children, an important project in light of Monte’s presentation on the church and social justice.

DAY 6: In our small groups we synthesized what we’ve learned this week about church planting and discussed what a community really needs before it can be called a church. Buildings don’t make churches; hymns and a preaching pastor don’t make a church. A church exists when the Spirit is active among people, growing their hearts and multiplying their fellowship. Special attention was given to the body lifecycle of Christ and how it is replicated in the life of effective church plants. Conception occurs by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the prenatal phase is a time of prayer, planning and preparation. Next there is birth, growth, cruciformity, resurrection, and finally, multiplication.

DAY 7: What a day of celebration! This morning we gathered for worship with Carnegie, Pa., community members who have discovered Jesus through the ministry of Andrew and Mayda and Conscious Cafe. Monte led us through a discussion of Matthew 24 and 25, highlighting the need to shape church plants that are models of compassion and champions of social justice. Deb Britenbaker and I, from the Toledo First church, are eager to start our own “Adventist fresh expression.” As we leave Pittsburgh, our toolbox is full and our courage is high!