Last Tuesday through Thursday I was blessed to attend the first National Church Planters Gathering in Orlando Florida. Created by Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church, NCPG gave church planters from around the nation time to learn from each other, grow together, trade stories, worship and play together.
The blessings were immediate and plentiful. Opening worship was filled with inspiring music, preaching and liturgy reminding us of our calling and inviting us to be renewed through the waters of baptism. Water images prevailed throughout the event as leaders encouraged us to address our thirst by being submerged in God’s grace. Trying to take in a plethora of information, wisdom, insights, and processes sometimes felt like drinking from a fire hose. At other times, I found myself praising God for the blessing of time apart to simply worship and be in the presence of kindred spirits who have been gifted and called as I am—with entrepreneurial spirits and hearts on fire to share God’s love and build the kin-dom. Two of those kindred spirits are pictured with me are Kyle Toomire of the Journey UMC in Kyle and Eric Vogt of Servant Church Austin.
Another unexpected blessing was the gift of my roommate. I was a little anxious at the prospect of sharing a room with someone I do not know, but what a blessing Annette turned out to be! Before we actually met, Annette took a photo of me renewing my baptismal vow at the opening worship service. Once we began to talk that first night, I knew I had met a friend in Christ for life. Annette is a worship leader from North Carolina. Because of her, I felt compelled to show up on time for each worship service, which were wonderful but sparsely attended (entrepreneurial church planters tend to have our own ideas about how to spend our time!). I had not realized how thirsty I was for deeply engaging worship. The music and preaching connected on all cylinders for me, filling me and renewing me in significant ways.
One of the most helpful breakout sessions for me was on Small Group Multiplication. Iosmar Alvarez, pastor of a congregation with 100 small groups gave a powerful presentation on both the process and spiritual principles for multiplying the congregation’s DNA through prayer, spiritual formation leadership development, and a systematic approach to reaching the community with God’s love in Christ. I came out of his session with a renewed vision for reaching new people through our Life Groups. Most importantly, I now have a concrete approach for transitioning Life in the City’s pastor-centric approach to assimilating new people into new places toward a more lay-led assimilation and growth process.
It was encouraging to network with other church planters. I was particularly blessed by the presence of my coach Beth Escott, who introduced me to several pastors who have developed multi-site congregations. I will be following up and in conversation with these new friends. At the end of the day, it was gratifying to break bread with colleagues in Christ and then return to my room, only to find myself drawn both nights to the beautiful hotel pool. Swimming luxurious lap after lap in the drizzling rain one night and under the full moon the next was good for my body and soul.
One of the holiest and most precious moments of the conference was time spent with Bob Allen, Director of Congregational & New Faith Community Vitality for the Rio Conference. I am so grateful that he took the time to affirm my gifting, calling, visioning and persevering at Life in the City. The words he spoke over me descended into the depths of my spirit, providing encouragement and renewed confidence in the dreams and visions God has planted in the hearts and minds of Life in the City. This encounter continued to bless me as I prepared my All Saints message, reminding me of the great cloud of witnesses that surround us and goes before us, cheering us on and encouraging us to persevere.
The last speaker of the gathering was one of the most impactful, challenging us to innovate and to be constantly vigilant against being a Gutenberg church relying on old paradigms. The ability to create new ways of reaching people living in our Google world is the gift of planting a new church. I return to Austin refreshed, restored, renewed and grateful from this experience. I am recharged and ready for the next stage of this adventure!
Written by Rev. Pastor Valerie Sansing