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Some ministers leaving well-known congregations to start from scratch

Preachers jest that when contacted by a larger congregation offering a better salary, they say to their wives, “You pray while I pack.” In many cases, it really isn’t a joke. Preaching careers, if one can label them as such, are supposed to go one direction in America. A young minister is expected to start with a small congregation and climb. If he has the abilities, then at some point he will be established and serve with a large, well-known flock — with the accompanying status, paycheck and influence. Few ministers willingly move from a congregation of several hundred to one of just 25. Yet, the number who do appears to be growing: In a movement that rapidly multiplied through evangelistic church planting, more congregations — and more ministers — are creating new communities of faith in Christ. Ron Clark and Dale Jenkins are two such ministers. Both had successful careers in ministry and preached at 500-member congregations — Jenkins with the Granny White church in Nashville, Tenn., and Clark with Metro church in Gresham, Ore., outside Portland. Each had his share of offers with greater paychecks and larger congregations, but they turned them down. Then along came an opportunity to church plant.
When approached about working with the Kairos church planting ministry in the Pacific Northwest, Clark said, “My first response was, ‘No.’ The only thing I knew about church planting is it was a lone renegade out by himself.”
Jenkins had a similar reaction when a man proposed a church plant in Spring Hill, a rapidly growing bedroom community south of Nashville, and said he wanted Jenkins as the minister. “I assured him I was not his man,” Jenkins said.
Yet, in the last year, both ministers left established congregations to do exactly what they thought they never would. Like Abraham, they followed God’s call to journey to a new community and step out in faith. What is more, they have loved every minute of it, both said.
Concerns have melted away — replaced with excitement and even borderline euphoria. Each worried about his wife only to discover she is enjoying the change more than her husband, they said. Each wondered about the changes in his own routine — and even the lack of an office. But taking work to Starbucks, reaching a new audience and developing a new routine proved energizing. Jenkins laughed and said,
“The top two things preachers get in trouble for is never being in the office, or all he does is sit in his office all day. Nobody can say either … about me. I don’t have an office.”
However, the real joy both ministers expressed — without prompting — is a unity among members and the focus on the mission of God at the church plants.
“Everybody is on board,” said Clark, who planted a new congregation in Portland. “Everybody believes pretty much the same thing: Our mission is to reach the lost.”
Jenkins said there isn’t a single soul at the Spring Meadows church in Spring Hill who is there and does not wish to be. There are no rules set in stone, no traditions that impede growth or creativity.
Flavil Yeakley, director of the Harding Center for Church Growth in Searcy, Ark., said he recently attended a conference where “the majority of speakers were ordained ministers from various denominations who essentially broke with their hierarchy. They may still retain some denominational connection, but they wanted to do something different.”
He attributes this partly to a shift from modernism to postmodernism, but also summed it up succintly in gospel terminology: “It’s called the Great Commission. They have found it easier to evangelize away from our traditional structure.”
Such is the case with the Agape Church of Christ, which meets in homes with plans to move into a building next spring.
“It is a vision from the Bible and theological,” Clark said of the congregation’s name. “It’s not about how long you spend on earth. It’s not about how much doctrine you know. It’s about your practicing love. Evangelism is … one of the greatest acts of love that we can do.”
Jenkins said: “We talk about doing something different and doing something new, but this is nothing new. This is what Paul and Timothy and Silas did. They went out and planted new congregations. This is what happened back in the ’60s when the church was booming. They were going out and planting congregations. We’ve not invented some new wheel.”
Dec. 1, 2006

Filed under: National Staff Reports

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