I am setting up a new computer, and as I was transferring files, I found a document that I had not thought about in years. I had gotten word that a new missionary in one of the non-Southern states was downhearted. I don’t know this individual, and still, to this day, I have never met him – for that matter. But I had his address, and I wrote him a letter. I have removed some of the personal information that may comprise, but I thought it would be a good to make it public. While we never formally heard from Jim, we heard through the grapevine that he was encouraged through this letter. Hopefully, it will be an encouragement to you.
You guys don’t know us, but my wife, Cathy, works with xxxxxxxx, and she shared how tough things are for you.
Cathy and I were church planters in Reno, NV, a place with less than 10% churched people. We re-started one church, and then planted another church. We also sponsored 8 additional church plants from those two churches. Now, before you jump to conclusions, let me tell you that all of those churches, including ours, were less than 75 in attendance. Oh, we had some good days on Easter and Christmas, but it was slim the rest of the time. But we did it for 15 years, and it is those years in our lives that have defined our identity and our calling more than anything else we have done in ministry. In fact, our return to the established church in Little Rock, was, in many ways, a loss of identity in who we are at the core of our DNA.
Here are some of the things we learned about church planting, although in no particular order.
- It is the highest calling of ministry. There are a lot of students in the colleges and seminaries who are planning for a career in the church. Only a very small percentage of them are willing to step off the career track, risk everything, move to a foreign place for them, and believe God to provide everything. By answering the call to church planting missions, you are expressing the highest level of faith. When you place yourself in that position, you learn to be totally dependent upon God, and learn things about God and yourself that your peers will never experience.
- It is the loneliest experience ever. Picking up and moving across country taught us to rely upon each other more so than anything else in our marriage. There is no extended family, nor fellow classmates, nor “experienced” Christians nearby to share your life with. Your ministry puts you in the role of care-taker, rather than peer. I know it is difficult, but try to find someone you can do life with. I had the blessing of two, but those did not come into my life until after several years into our ministry. In the meantime, and even after God provides those people, lean on each other, and find creative ways to express your love and your life.
- The denominational support is practically non-existent. From our perspective in Nevada, while the North American Mission Board says it is about church planting, they do not put their money where their mouth is. We were intimidated by words that we had to come here or go there to receive the pittance of financial support we did get. We were also told that we were expected to be full time if we were going to get a check from NAMB filtered down through the state convention. I later learned with the guys that we supported, how to play the political game, and told them that NAMB does not care about your family as much as you do, so do what it takes to take care of your family emotionally and financially. Enjoy the status and recognition they will give you at denominational events (read SBC), but to them it is all about numbers, nothing more and nothing less. I know that there is new leadership at NAMB right now, so I pray / believe things are different now. But I do know this. If you get a check from the denomination, you will have to play some politics.
- You will see God’s transformation on people like you have never seen here in the South. I tell people all the time that I have seen people give their lives to Christ, and within six months, they will look 10 years younger. Cathy says, “Giving your life to Christ is better than Botox.” I am amazed at the number of pastors here in Arkansas who are surprised at that statement. As we watched people give their lives to Christ, we saw the harsh edges in their lives soften with joy as their character was transformed. As you witness these events in your ministry, you will be energized to continue. Never forget, if you baptize one person per year, you will have baptized more than half the churches in the SBC! I call that success.
- God’s blessings upon yourself, your family, and your ministry will come in ways you never expected. You will be amazed and surprised where you will find God’s blessings. Just a few months ago, I found a book reference on Amazon.com that mentions and quotes me in quite detail! It was written by a couple who visited our church in Reno, and then kept a journal of their experiences (which became the book). They then went back to South Carolina and talked about us and our ministry. We received gifts and cards in the mail from people we never knew (and still do not). We also marveled at God’s wonder one life at a time.
We moved from south Mississippi to Reno in October. We saw in that first year, more snow than we had seen our entire lives collectively, and it was a drought year. I will never forget our first Memorial Day grilling on a snow covered deck, with the snow still falling. However, spring did come, the weather warmed, and the hope of a world blooming to life, gave us hope that God’s hand of life is still on us.
Use the enclosed gift to do whatever you want. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can drop me a note anytime you would like. We want to be an encouragement to you. In the words of Winston Churchill, “never, never, never, never, never, never, never give up.”
While I wish I had the means to send you to Saddleback’s “Purpose Driven Church Conference” in California, I can, pay your conference fee if you would like to attend Willow Creek’s “Creative Church” Conference in May (Chicago). Maybe you can find someone who can help you with hotel / travel costs.
We are praying for you, and proud of the work you are doing.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
Arnold & Cathy Chavers