Sunday, January 25, 2009

Am I a mission planter? Intense opportunity at CPAC, Church Planter Assessment Center.

Serving God’s people is not something you figure out

on a mountain-top experience, stirring the cosmic flow, while reading a fortune cookie of your own making.  God pulls the verbs, does the action, and often through those around you in ways much more reliable and clearer than any feeling.

imageI don’t know if I’m a future church planter, a missionary, seeking the unchurched, to provide them true rest everlasting from our toils and fake comforts.  I don’t know… until such an outside call taps me on the shoulder and says, “Green light, Vince.  Go you are ready, go now!”   Perhaps tomorrow, instead, I’ll hear “Yellow light, Vince.  You have many talents that make a successful planter, but you could use more experience / time / etc.”  I might even be told, “Red light, Vince.  You have many talents as a pastor of a traditional church, but based on our assessment and board of experienced highly successful church planters… planting a church would prove to be very difficult for you.”  No sour grapes.

imageGod can work through the most difficult and untalented.  Yet, no matter how talented any of us can be, we’d still be way over our head.  Ultimately it’s God who does the growing.  Some planters may water wiser than others; maybe even cast seed in some “better” way.  But God does the pushing up, else we do the pulling out of His precious garden.

These past few days have been intense.  We started easy with a fun orientation that helped get us comfortable with our new table friends.  But now it was time to show your stuff, preacher man.  We each presented a five-minute message to seekers, and another five-minute message to share our vision to a church regarding seeking out the lost.  Let’s put that in perspective: 19 candidates for the church assessment, which is a record twice more they’ve ever had at this assessment.  That’s 19 candidates times 5 minutes, times 2 different messages… equals a lot of preaching!  It’s a blessing to hear so many different styles to my ears, different ways and different perspectives in a short time, to a seminarian that is.  Our poor wives, God bless their patience.  They were hanging on our words, cheering us on, even if they just got off a nurse’s night shift!

Vincent at the St Louis ArchAdditionally we had two team projects.  We gathered in 4 designated groups, with 4 candidates a set, and rapidly put together our heads to present a proposition to the assessor board. We examined what to do with a “Church Plant gone stale.”  Next, we proposed for a real “Metro Church Plant.”  There was plenty of room for self-assessment, but the board gave us a ton to think about on how we did, because they’ve been there before.  On that, the highlight for me was the Questions and Answers session with the assessors, the successful church planters themselves, in “Highs and Lows of Church Planting.”

For a change of pace, it was interesting to break out and do some more intimate one-on-one evangelism assessment, via role-play, to see how we handled ourselves in a variety of circumstances.  After all, that’ll be our primary job, evangelism.  Theodore “Ted” Torreson channeled “Kevin”, a highly successful international business man, very smart, intellectual, and engaged.  Skeptical, open to spiritual things, but tired of Christianity and jaded against all the know-it-alls.  Even after throwing down the gauntlet, Ted’s “Kevin” was lonely and was open to hearing about a love that’d stick around, here and here after. Erica at the St Louis Arch It did help me think on things.  Christians ought to be aware of talking "Christianese” that build walls and recall negative feelings; penetrate through the intellectual layers to hear issues, to show the genuine concern we have for others.  A sensitive, caring observation can work, as questions do, to transition to spiritual things, which is far more effective than statements.  We don’t need a sermon from some spiritual gun-slinger trying to claim us.  We don’t need mere institution nor humanly attempts.  We need LOVE with SKIN on.

While it’s only the 3rd time they’ve had this opportunity, I can see how this will help us handle our resources in a very effective way.  So to the church at large, know that your gift returned to the Lord’s hand is indeed handled with respect.  As a Fort Wayne seminarian, I was excited to end early so I can spoil Erica with a St. Louis tour to the Arch, visited the St. Louis Concordia Theological Seminary, laughed it up with some of the seminarians, ate out with our presentation team, and am ready to crash.  Tomorrow I’ll know what the assessors will recommend.  I will trust it.  Soon I’ll post some notes from the CPAC that I had been blessed to hear.  Thank you Christ Memorial Lutheran Church being a great place to meet.  To learn more about the Church Planter Assessment Center, visit the Center for United States Missions.