By Andy Hale
Let’s say we wrote an honest and comprehensive job description of a pastor. This could include the roles of facility manager, CEO, mentor, human resource officer, counselor, consultant, public speaker, philosopher, mediator, resident theologian, coach, activities director, servant, volunteer coordinator, a 24/7 available agent of the church, janitor, handyman, trip planner, social worker, sound technician, writer, editor, publisher, babysitter, scapegoat, punching bag, messiah when you agree with him/her, the evil one when you disagree with her/him and travel agent.
Even this list would still leave at least 20 other unnamed hats, so it’s no wonder that Forbes ranked pastoring the fifth most difficult leadership job in America, only behind the U.S. President, university presidents and hospital CEOs. (Read the list here.)
You certainly don’t become a pastor for the money, to fly under the radar or to be in a profession of ease. Really no one in his or her right mind would go into this.
I once had a parishioner say, “You are either certifiably insane or God has called you to this.”
I responded, “Well, a little bit of both, actually.”
You enter this profession because you love God and love others. You become a pastor because you know that God is doing a great thing in this world. It’s something you want to be part of and encourage others to engage. This is a calling.
And the calling to start a church a church can often be even tougher. Take the job duties above and then add on a list of recruiting and equipping a core team of people, engaging a vision, raising funds, navigating the waters of bi-vocational ministry alongside all the hats previously mentioned. Then you have a clearer picture for what it’s like to be a church starter — and this ministry can be an extremely lonely journey.
Find an example of a church start closing their doors during infancy and you’ll probably find there was a lack of support around a new church starter. The health of a church starter directly affects the health of the organization he or she leads. Therefore, finding a place to belong ministerially and personally becomes crucial for church starters.
This is where CBF’s New Church Start Initiative wants to exist. We want to be a catalyst of support for those discerning and living out a call to starting new faith communities.
In our experience, building a network of support around a church starter with a creative space for discernment, professional coaching, training, leadership development, site visits and continual networking can make church starter’s more effective. The journey with CBF begins for folks in various stages. Sometimes we work with individuals who are fresh out of divinity school and simply want to learn more about church starting — others might be three years into their new church start but just discovered the Fellowship. There are also those who fall anywhere in between these two groups.
We have found that there is not one right place to begin a partnership with CBF, nor one right way of doing church. Our role is not to tell someone how or how not to start a church, but to help them custom-build their church by listening to the stories of the community and discerning a vision from there.
“CBF has come alongside us at a time when we needed someone. Church planting can be hard and lonely, even as a co-pastoral team. I think CBF does a great job of helping you find your unique context and then providing support in that context. CBF didn’t tell us we have to do this or we need to use this model. What CBF did do was give us a place where we could connect with others. They helped us to see that what we were doing or needed to be doing and that it context might be completely different than others, and that’s okay,” said recently commissioned church starter Doug McKinney.
The CBF New Church Start family has house churches and co-pastor approaches, as well as intentional community, relational and emergent models. We have starters living out the mission of the church through innovative relational approaches such as running, gathering over a meal or coffee, watching TV shows and converging for philosophical conversations. Some are living out the vision of the church through providing needy children backpacks full of food each weekend, building raised garden beds in people’s backyard, holding free music lessons and building a community around people suffering through cancer.
Recently commissioned church starter Michael Mills explained, “In my experience, at the core of CBF’s church start philosophy is an understanding that no two churches are the same, nor should they be. We have been encouraged to simply be us. There is no cookie-cutter church start plan that has been forced upon us. In its place has been a simple blessing to be the church that our context needs. We’ve found such freedom in that.” Mills pastors a relational-model church start in Spokane, Washington.
Just as church starts are not bound into a certain model, they aren’t restricted to a geographical region either. In fact, CBF new churches starts and starters are beginning to grow in numbers across the United States. There are now CBF starters from Oregon, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kansas, New York, Michigan, Alabama, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Texas. The Fellowship is on the move.
No matter where a church starter is located or where he or she is on the journey of existence, for those who want to enter into a partnership with our initiative it begins with one of our four 8-week online cohorts. This free experience offers candidates the opportunity to explore the various facets of church starting — including visioning, core group development and bi-professional ministry. The discernment experience is intended to create a space for creativity and clarity of calling with eight to twelve other candidates who also sense a call to this kind of ministry.
Michael Mills went through one such cohort. “The process helped me to rethink some things. As an up and running church start, we’re already seeing ourselves settle into the we’ve-always-done-it-this-way mentality. Throughout the process, I had the opportunity to rethink what we were doing and begin to dream again. This has allowed us to ask the question, ‘What’s next?,’” said Mills.
When a candidate finishes the discernment process, the journey can then go in a number of directions. For some, the cohort is exactly what they need to clarify a different calling than church starting. If this is the case, it is our hope to help candidates find placement in a church through our Congregational Reference and Referral initiative.
For others, he or she might be months away from moving to the location of the new church start or forming a core group, so we may enter into a consulting relationship with the candidate to help him or her along in the process.
Some are simply looking to better define goals, as was the case with recently commissioned church starters Josh James and Doug McKinney. “The process was less about discernment and more about verbalizing our mission and vision for our existing plant,” they shared.
Still for others, who are living in the location and have made significant progress in forming others around the vision, we look to bring them to the next stage of the partnership: a semi-annual exploratory conference.
Since the church start initiative has developed rapidly in recent years, it has led to the production of two exploratory conferences per year, both in Decatur, Georgia. Invited candidates participate in a three-day experience of teaching, leadership development, core group and fundraising training, financial planning and coaching. During the conference, candidates become more accustomed to the church start family and networking with their state/regional leadership. This is an opportunity to figure out whether individuals fit well with CBF and if the Fellowship fits well with them.
Salisbury church starter Josh James reflected on the conference and process, sharing, “The exploratory process was great. I can’t tell you how much the encouragement of other church starters and leaders at CBF has meant. I say this a lot, but they have been and continue to be a true-life line for us on the Eastern Shore, where there is not much of a CBF presence. At times, we have felt alone, but our regional coordinator and others (even when at a distance geographically) have been ever-present.”
“The people that I’ve been blessed to meet through the process have become very dear partners in this Kingdom work,” said Mills, adding, “Knowing that there are other people and churches that are asking the same questions and wrestling through the same difficulties, all the while doing it in a loving and compassionate way, has been so encouraging to me.”
For some, the exploratory conference might lead to a coaching relationship and a reexamination of the partnership over the next 9-12 months. The goal is to continue to clarify vision, enhance the core group and to work towards attainable goals. For others, the exploratory experience will lead to commissioning. What that process looks like has been reforming over the last few years as this initiative has grown, but in years past, commissioning leads to one year of coaching, $12,000 of support over three years and public affirmation at the annual General Assembly.
With the current commissioning model, we covenant with a commissioned church start with two years of professional coaching, site visits on year one and three of the partnership, leadership development with the church leadership during the site visit and at a Dawnings retreat, website and financial systems assistance, a retreat for the church starter(s) in year two and three of the partnership, $15,000 of support over three years and public affirmation at General Assembly.
This is an exciting enhancement to the catalyst of support we bring around our church starters. One of the little known facts about the new church starts initiative is that it is supported solely by the residuals of an endowment. Yet the work of consulting, training, commissioning, financially supporting, networking, and developing new church starts is emerging dynamically. As the initiative continues to grow, augmenting the support we provide will be pertinent.
Our goal is to not just invest financially in a church start, but to invest in the church starters. This transpires not only from CBF Global, but also from our state and regional leadership.
“CBF is excited about what we are doing and (perhaps more importantly) about us as real people with real families and, at times, real problems. I can’t say enough good things about our CBF Mid-Atlantic coordinator, Trisha Miller Manarin. She has been relentless in connecting us, championing us, investing in us, praying for us, believing in us,” shared James.
Beyond the formalities of our partnerships with new church starters, the formation of solid and mutually shared relationships is the ultimate catalyst we both give and receive. As much wisdom as we impart upon those that journey with us, we too are learning from our new church starters.
“I think we bring perspective. We are not your typical Southern CBF church. Our location is quite rural. To put that into context, I grew up on a pig farm just 15 miles from our church plant,” said James. “But we are an east coast city, ministering in a college context with many students from Baltimore, Annapolis, and D.C. Many of the issues that seem constant in CBF are not our issues. We hope to contribute to the broadening of CBF’s presence and to provide an important voice of the theological, ecclesiastical, and contextual issues that may be foreign to other parts of the Fellowship.”
Experience and new locations are two other contributions made by our church starters. “I hope that we can be a bridge to people and churches that have no framework for something like CBF,” said Mills.
Through CBF’s strategic approach, along with the mutually sharing relationships, we hope to build credibility and sustainability to this emerging paradigm of being and doing church.
Mills put it best, “I don’t intend for this to sound trite but it feels like we’ve come home. Partnering with CBF, the feeling of acceptance, embrace, support and care is something that I cherish and sadly, know how rare it is. From day one we’ve had people in our corner, excited about what we’re doing in our context and ready to help in whatever ways they can.”
As church starters begin to put on and take off the endless hats of a pastor, adding on the hats of bi-vocational life, entrepreneurialism, fundraising and many more, we want to help the hats fit a little more snugly and uniquely. We want the fifth most difficult leadership job in America (though we think it may be No. 1) to be tasked to people with a catalyst of support around them.
Is the church starter hat one you are wanting to try on? Are you sensing a call to starting something new? Do you need a safe space to work through that calling? Have you found a network to provide organic and personalized support? Maybe your conversation needs to begin with CBF.
Andy Hale is a CBF church starter who serves as pastor of Mosaic of Clayton in Clayton, N.C., and leads CBF’s Church Starts Initiative. For those who wish to learn more about CBF’s Church Starts Initiative or want to contribute to the initiative to help fund new church starts and coaches for church starters, click here, or contact Andy Hale at firstname.lastname@example.org.