|A painting by Dave Weiss illustrates the theme of the church planting conference.|
Find a photo album from the conference at www.bluemelon.com/churchofthebrethren/2014churchplantingconference. The Twitter conversation from the event is found via the hashtag #cobplant .
Speakers point to the multicultural environment
The two keynote speakers, Efrem Smith and Alejandro (Alex) Mandes, spoke from their own experience as church planters. Smith is president and CEO of World Impact, an urban missions organization committed to the empowerment of the urban poor through the facilitation of church planting movements and leadership development, and previously was superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Mandes is director of Hispanic Ministries for the Evangelical Free Church of America, and has planted three churches.
Church planting also can be compared to the slaves in another parables, whose master gave them money to care for and invest in his absence, Smith said. God is investing in us as “kingdom capital,” he told the gathering. Every time someone is saved, or helped, by the church, that “kingdom capital” is growing. Church plants need to be expanding the work of the kingdom of God, which is marked by compassion and justice, he emphasized.
“This is what will really lead to healthy church planting,” Smith said, “when the whole gospel is embraced.... When it’s about helping the hurting, blessing the broken, liberating the enslaved.”
Later, in an evening message, Smith explicitly called churches and new church plants to be about the work of “developing missional ministries of compassion.”
Mandes expressed a similar sense of urgency. Speaking out of the context of Hispanic America, and the immigrant population in the United States, he shared his concern that the church has a “spiritual blindness” to the new people populating the country.
“I have learned to love the differences in the body of Christ,” Mandes said, as he urged new church planters and pastors of existing congregations to look around them for the opportunities offered by the changing dynamics of the nation. “We have to really get this, because otherwise it will be our undoing.”
Retelling John’s story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, he pointed to her ability to bring her whole community to meet Jesus, and the disciples’ inability to see her gifts, much less to see her as a person. He compared her to the immigrants from many different parts of the world who are living in the United States. They deserve regard as individuals, and the church is called to welcome them and their gifts. “Why didn’t the disciples see?” he asked. “Why aren’t we seeing? Why aren’t our churches seeing? Why don’t we see the Samaritans around us?”
The bedrock of the biblical foundation, he reminded the conference, is “to be able to see like Jesus sees” and to see the treasure, creativity, and power that God is bringing to our shores. “We can be one church of 31 flavors.”
Worship, Bible study, workshops round out a packed schedule
Worship services, a Bible study of Revelation, and a plethora of in-depth workshops and short “Mustard Seed” presentations by a number of different presenters rounded out the packed schedule. Also a highlight was a service of blessing for church planters and prospective planters.
Annual Conference moderator Nancy Sollenberger Heishman gave the message for the opening worship. A panel of three spoke for the closing worship: Congregational Life Ministries executive Jonathan Shively, former Annual Conference moderator and Harrisburg (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren pastor Belita Mitchell, and Joel Pena, pastor of Alpha and Omega Church of the Brethren in Lancaster, Pa.
Communion was part of the opening worship, and the sharing of prayers was part of closing worship. At the end of the last worship service of the conference, participants each wrote down a prayer request on a card. The cards were then handed out to other participants to take home and pray over in coming days.
For more about the church planting movement in the Church of the Brethren, and the work of the New Church Development Advisory Committee, go to www.brethren.org/churchplanting . The movement has made a commitment to cultivate networks and infrastructure to support 250 new church starts by 2019.
Source: 5/20/2014 Newsline