By Andy Hale
The call to ministry is quite astonishing and can often be intimidating. Nurturing and fostering a sense of call is a vital component in the journey of a minister. For many young adults, college and graduate level studies is a difficult time to explore and find reassurance in a call. The internal and external pressure to choose a “significant” or “practical” major to fall back on (if ministry does not work out) can be a frustrating obstacle to overcome. So creating the space to work through and refine a call must be affirming, inspiring and formidable.
So what if you sensed a call from God to start a new church a few years out from finishing your Master of Divinity degree? Where do you even begin? How would you start to discern and envision what that would look like, the practical ins and out, and how to build a solid core team around this vision? These are just some of the questions Jeremy Richards has been wrestling with over the last year.
Recognizing the need for solid theological education, Jeremy and his wife, Brie, ventured from Portland, Ore., to Durham, N.C. It was during his second year at Duke Divinity School, in conversation with Dr. Curtis Freeman (Research Professor of Theology and Baptist Studies; Director, Baptist House of Studies) that Jeremy truly embraced his calling to church starting. To help nurture Richards’ calling, Freeman introduced him to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, George Linney (Tobacco Trail Church of Durham, N.C.) and to me.
From our first conversation, it was clear that Jeremy had found a natural tribe for his ecclesiology, missiology and church start philosophy. What was also evident was that the typical route of engaging the new church starts discernment cohort (the 8-week online space for discerning and refining a call to church starting) was not going to be adequate for Jeremy. He was ready to learn, to dream and to be challenged in a new way.
We began to explore the idea of an incubator experience. What better way to accelerate Jeremy’s knowledge and skills of how to start a church than by partnering with two CBF new church starts near Duke?
The Tobacco Trail and Mosaic Church are CBF-commissioned new church starts, set 45 minutes apart in the communities of Durham and Clayton, North Carolina. Each church community offers an innovative and emergent expression of the church and a dynamic learning environment for students living into a call of ministry.
As the incubator experience was being formed, we knew that partnerships were going to be key for success. The idea was first pitched to Harry Rowland, CBF’s Director of Missional Congregations.
“Little growth or forming takes place in a vacuum. Ministry at its core is lived out within “community.” This is healthy for the church and for the minister. Alone, both will wither and die,” said Rowland. “So CBF is committed to being a fellowship of individuals, ministers, churches, and partners journeying together in our follow-ship of Christ. CBF has a rich history of providing intentional learning environments for those interested in cross cultural missions or congregational ministry.”
With Rowland on board, we began to explore a partnership with Wanda Kidd. As the project specialist for Student.Church, Kidd places young adults in churches to experience a variety of congregational ministries.
“The landscape of congregational life continues to evolve and we need to be equipping ministers to met the realities of those changes,” noted Kidd. “I appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with CBF Church Starts to offer a more out-of-the-box challenge for someone contemplating what the church of the future is going to look like.”
This will be an incubator fueled by partnerships. In addition to the work of both congregations, CBF Missional Congregations and Student.Church, Duke Divinity School has also provided significant resources.
An internship will center on several intentional learning goals, including to:
- Learn the practice of contextual ministry within two diverse and emerging contexts
- Learn applicable incarnational and relational ministry
- Learn the delicate balance of bi-professional ministry
- Gain insight into the strength-based approach of leadership, as well as church start leadership development.
We want to provide the space for Jeremy to learn what it looks like to discern a shared vision, develop a leadership team around that shared vision, be a pastoral presence, create a culture of innovation and explore relational ministry.
“I’m ready for the chance to invest in the life of these church communities and become more comfortable with the day-in-day-out roles of the church starter,” said Richards. “I’m most excited about the opportunity to learn from church starters who have experience and who will continue to be a resource beyond the internship.”
Rowland is excited about the opportunity to learn and grow from Jeremy.
“As Mosaic, Tobacco Trail, Duke, CBF NC and CBF Global combine resources and create space for Jeremy not only will he be more formed in his call to church planting, but also all involved will experience the blessings and learnings of being in community together. Our hope is that this is the first of a number of Church Start Interns,” he said.
Of course these learning focuses will center on a few primary responsibilities between the two congregations, including to:
- Lead relational-based ministry group
- Lead “Church Planting in the Round,” a gathering of students at Duke
- Develop new ministry opportunities
- Teach and preach on a bi-monthly basis
- Plan and lead worship
- Engage in the congregations’ leadership team development.
“While this internship is a season of laboratory-like question-asking and discernment,” said George Linney, “I hope that Jeremy will be able to add real value to the Tobacco Trail Church by inviting people near and far to participate in our athletic and outdoor vision for ministry.”
In addition to his work with the summer discernment cohort, Richards will also attend CBF’s ChurchWorks conference in February, participate in the New Church Starts Exploratory Conference in March and contribute to the CBFblog about the incubator experience.
Beyond the obvious returns to Jeremy and both congregations, CBF will benefit greatly from the experience.
Jeremy will help CBF reach into an area we have thus far been limited to, The Great Northwest. His primary focus area is Portland, Oregon, where he attended college and has several core group members ready to form. He is also strongly considering Boise, Idaho, where he grew up. Jeremy’s work could build a northwest network with this year’s commissioned starter Michael Mills and Inland Church of Spokane, Washington. As Linney noted, “Jeremy’s leadership development is essential to the growth of the Fellowship.”
The new church starts initiative aims to be a catalyst of support for people living out a call to church starting. So we provide a discernment experience that includes training in specific aspects of contextual starting, group dynamics, leadership development and healthy self-care practices through exploratory, coaching and extended education. At times this experience can be limited in how and what it conveys to starters about the day-to-day aspects of the role. This is something that most church starters have to learn in their context and based on their giftedness. However, the incubator will provide the space to better equip Jeremy for the task before him, which in turn will teach us how to more accurately, effectively, and authentically train our church starters.
Partnerships matter. The handful of parties involved in making this venture a reality is proof. This experience will teach us the ins and outs of future incubator opportunities for our church starters, commissioned church starts, established congregations, supporting organizations and discerning students.
In the end, this is a very small financial investment to a profound experience. How many more Jeremy Richards are nearing the completion of their divinity school experience and need a safe space to wrestle through difficult questions, to see contextual ministry discerned and put into action, and to learn from the new paradigm of starting churches? A deeper and more diverse pool of partnerships will be needed to provide similar experiences.
Please join us in prayer for Jeremy Richards, Tobacco Trail Church, Mosaic Church of Clayton, and all of the partners. Pray that the success of this incubator model will spread among the Fellowship.
Andy Hale leads CBF”s Church Start Initiative, and is a CBF church starter who serves pastor of Mosaic of Clayton in Clayton, N.C. 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.