Adventures In Church Planting
Late one summer afternoon three of our four teenagers were sitting on the front porch swing having fun. As car after car drove by, they would laugh and holler to each car, “Hey! We have no friends! Would you be our friend?”
The roar of their laughter covered the deep hurt each was feeling after being plucked from their home and taken away from dearly loved friends. We had just moved from the Midwest to the “wild” West; from a robust established church to pioneering a brand new church; from the Bible Belt to a valley where 95 percent of the inhabitants are unchurched.
My husband, Steve, four teenagers, and I had been called by God to plant a new church in Reno, Nevada. The first four months were a season of anxious preparation. Among other things, we prayer-walked around 4,000 homes, arranged to hold church at the local YMCA, and held each other up through the myriad of transitions we were experiencing.
Sometimes I would look around at the brown, high-desert landscape and wonder what in the world we were doing. “Did we hear you right, Lord?” And each time I recounted the sign posts, the confirmations, and God’s faithfulness in leading us to our new ministry assignment. I remember walking the streets, praying for each home and hanging information packets on each doorknob. I had a startling sense of my own inadequacy. The challenge of reaching the people in our community was overwhelming. There was absolutely no way I could get these people to come to our new church. Only God’s Spirit could draw them.
Once we began public ministry, every hand was needed. Everyone in our family worked hard together. Twenty-five people showed up at our first service – including the borrowed worship team, the borrowed Sunday school teachers, the borrowed ushers, and our family. The following month at another service, fifty people attended, and almost 100 were at our third service. It was beginning to feel like church. Summit Christian Church in Sparks, Nevada, was officially launched in March 1999. The church is now more than two years old. It is a robust new fellowship with dozens of ministries, solid leadership, financial stability, and an exciting record of life change.
By God’s grace I have learned several lessons along the way:
GOD’S PURPOSES PREVAIL
God is on the throne and His purposes and plans are always good (Jer. 29:11). If you would have told me a few years ago that I would be planting a new church in northern Nevada, I would never have believed it. Isaiah said that God’s ways are not our ways. This is a good thing! God’s ways are bigger and better than our ways! He takes all of our experiences and uses them. Nothing is wasted. I can look back on 20-some years of full-time ministry and see, with thanksgiving, how all along God was lovingly preparing us to plant a new church.
GOD CALLS ENTIRE FAMILIES
We heard God’s family call during a decade of service on the mission field in South America. We saw it in an established church in the Midwest. And now, we’ve seen it in a pioneering, church-planting ministry. God calls whole families, not just dad and mom. In all of our ministry assignments, the Lord has also called each one of our children to be meaningfully involved. The ministry God calls us to is not just my ministry, or my husband’s ministry… it’s our children’s ministry, too.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” As we launched the new church in Nevada, I saw the Lord prepare good works for each family member to invest in. Our teenagers have had ministry opportunities in our infant church that never would have been possible in an established church. I have seen our children’s faith stretched, their spiritual gifts honed and their love for ministry grow.
GOD IS OUR PROVIDER
The Lord met our every need: physical, emotional and spiritual. He provided everything: funds to move cross-country, resources to purchase a new home, friends for our children at school, and a job for me to help pay for our children’s college tuition. At every turn, God has provided abundantly for us.
With two children heading into college, it was clear I would need to work full-time outside the home for the first time since our kids were born. My biggest concern was how the church was going to get along without me. Working forced me to be selective regarding my ministry involvement, and now my ministry is sandwiched between family responsibilities and a full-time job. Yet, God has raised up people to take care of the areas in the church I am not able to tend to. What I thought would be a loss has actually turned out to be a gain. Now many others are effectively using their gifts and talents to serve the body of Christ.
But what about the first lonely months in Reno? That was also His provision. God wanted to show us that He alone was our sufficiency. Our family left behind wonderful friends in our previous home and ministry, and we had to grieve those losses. In due time, however, God provided wonderful new friends for all of us; but before that happened, He wanted us all to learn to trust Him more fully. Personally, the months alone gave me time to nourish a deeper friendship with my loving Lord.
IT IS GOD’S CHURCH
God is never late, but He is rarely early. As needs have arisen in our new church, we have prayed and then watched over and over again as the Lord met those needs. How refreshing it has been to see God handpick those He wanted to be at the church. Some people have recently moved here from other states, some felt called to help start a new work, some have not known why they felt drawn to visit a YMCA gym for church, and a great many had no church background whatsoever. Through it all, I have been reminded that God is building His church. He is forming its leadership.
THERE IS JOY IN RELEASING OUR RIGHTS
There is great freedom, contentment and joy in releasing our wants and our rights. A few years ago I would not have chosen the path I am on today. An established church was much more secure, and provided many amenities for our family. The surrendering came after I realized that the One who is in control knows best.
Contentment came from seeing the spiritual development of our children. As we planted the church, our children served faithfully; and along the way, they fell more in love with Jesus and with ministry.
Joy has come from seeing my husband revel in ministry and get excited about God’s wonderful plan for our lives. Joy has also come from seeing the fruit of healed marriages and changed lives in our new church. Looking around the YMCA each Sunday, I see face after face and story after story of how God has worked in people’s lives. Freedom has come as I have realized God can use others as well as me. God has shown me that it doesn’t matter where I live or what ministry He calls me to, He wants me to respond to His love and take joy in His presence.
What an adventure it is walking with Christ. I will never forget the day when the brown hills around us were bright from the sunshine – when I didn’t see them as being a drab brown anymore. Instead, they were golden. They were beautiful. Reno, Nevada, had become my home!