When I returned to college to prepare for ministry, one of my first classes at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College was a church planting class taught by Dr. Tim Searcy. It was a class I took for convenience, just to get my hours in. Ever do that? I really had no idea what it would involve, and I had very little understanding of church planting. Little did I realize at that time a passion would be planted in my heart for God’s work of birthing new congregations of His people.
However, when we left seminary and began leading churches, we became involved in supporting church planters. We provided finances and prayers, and we also helped church plants through mission trips to Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee, and Montana, and internationally in Africa. Recently I have also mentored a young pastor in Pakistan through social media and technology, encouraging and equipping him to proclaim the gospel and to plant churches. So I have been able to satisfy that passion with some involvement.
More recently, as a pastor, I learned of the IMB’s new emphasis on church planting which encourages local churches to adopt Unreached and Unengaged People Groups. I was ecstatic and ready to move forward with something I had already been planning to do. As we planned and worked, we became convinced to adopt a UUPG in the nation with the most lost people, India. However, this attempt to build God’s Kingdom in a new place never gained the support we needed to carry it out.
Furthermore, in October of last year, due to a sudden and unexpected change of opportunity to serve, I began seeking again for God’s direction, and my heart again was drawn to church planting. First, I went to NAMB’s Send North America campaign, and we began praying about going to Cincinnati, OH to plant a new fellowship of believers. However, after 3 months of planning and traveling and speaking to those we needed to get this done, the door was closed for this opportunity as well.
Throughout this time of praying and seeking, I left the door open to return to an established church—one that might be open to be a church that intentionally and strategically plants churches.
However, I began seeking other opportunities to plant, thinking wherever He leads, I’ll go! I traveled and spoke to church planters in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Georgia, Kentucky, the TBC, and I began meeting with a group of Church Planters in Cookeville, monthly called, Churches Planting Churches Network. I read everything I could on church planting, began preparing my heart and head to plant a new church, and I began developing a vision of what I felt God wanted the new church to look like.
One day while sharing my heart with two church planters, they both independently, in different places suggested I should go home to Sweetwater to plant a new church. I must admit, at the time, I didn’t see that happening. I thought, “Sweetwater has plenty of churches. There is no need for a new one.” I had longed to see a new church in a place where the lack of Christian influence was obvious.
However, I made one phone call to TBC church planting strategist, Fred Davis as I traveled home after those meetings. As I shared my heart, I asked, “Is there a place the TBC has seen as a strategic target for a new church plant between Knoxville and Chattanooga?” I continued, “I am from East Tennessee and grew up in the Athens/Sweetwater area, and I am considering starting a new work someplace in that region.” His response sent me into a season of prayer and planning to a see if God was leading us to a new start at home. Fred said, “Every time I get off the interstate in Sweetwater and drive toward town, I always wonder why we haven’t started a new church here.”
I began to think more about that and began to pray about it. I immediately sought out one of the most influential pastor’s in Sweetwater to get his thoughts, and I contacted the local Associational leader. Later, however, one thought kept coming to my mind: In my lifetime, I have never seen Southern Baptists plant a new church in Sweetwater. That fact, and the encouragement I received from others, along with the drawing of the Holy Spirit of God convinced me; it is time.
About a month later I found myself at the TBC’s “Basic Training for Church Planters” in Brentwood, and during that week of training, my heart began to warm even more toward the idea of coming home to start a new church. In the week that followed, I laid out a basic vision that had been developing in my heart over the last 6 months, and I began sharing it with others. Each time I shared, I became more passionate about this and believed more and more this is God’s call for us.
Various possible opportunities to realize this have presented themselves, and one of them includes a possible call to an existing church in Sweetwater that may be willing to re-launch as a new church or commit to being the sponsor church for the new work.
We still aren’t exactly sure how God is going to work all this out, but eventually, we arrived at the point that we could not do anything else. I believe God’s desire is for us to plant a new church in Sweetwater—a sweet fellowship where everyone feels loved and welcome and a place where we can learn to have fellowship with God and each other as He intends.
We are excited about how God is working things out for this to happen—contacts with churches and possibilities of partnerships—and we can’t wait to share more as it develops, but for now we are thrilled that God is calling us home to serve the people we love most, and we can’t wait to see how he is going to change us and our hometown for His glory as we seek to love and obey Him!
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