Being a regional home missionary is, to say the least, the most unusual position I’ve ever held, in ministry or otherwise. Training for the job was particularly difficult because it is so unique. Even people who have done or are doing the job are doing it under very different circumstances (and, I must note, I will remain forever grateful to Mark Sumpter, regional home missionary in the Presbytery of the Southwest, for allowing me to tag along with him for a week to watch him work). I was certainly given a job description prior to the call, but serving as a regional home missionary with a call to further the church planting efforts within the bounds of a particular presbytery simply cannot be summarized as a series of “how to’s.”

A Church Planter Training Conference

Providentially, a month after I began my labors, there was an event that jump-started my work: the Church Planter Training Conference, which in 2021 was held in Portland, Maine. For those who are not familiar with it, the conference is an annual event developed for church planters currently on the support program of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. It simultaneously equips and refreshes the church planters and their wives, who are all expected to attend this free conference. However, as a new regional home missionary (RHM), how was such a conference a help to me? To badly quote Paul in Romans 3, “much in every way.”

To begin with, what benefits church planters benefits me as an RHM as well. My position requires me to scout and develop new fields for church planting, and I must always have in mind what will bring success to that potential plant even as I’m looking at things in a preliminary or embryonic way. Like church planters, I have to look at a church plant and see what it might be at all stages.

The structure of the conference supports church planters in multiple ways. Certainly, it reminds (and, in some cases, introduces) the church planter to the current best practices within our denomination. The feedback loop that is established, largely via general secretary John Shaw and associate general secretary Al Tricarico, helps take things that are working well and integrate them more broadly with our Reformed Presbyterian values and practices. The conference itself is part of that feedback loop as peer-to-peer problem solving and networking is facilitated. As a new RHM, it was an extremely helpful way to catch up to best practices in a short period of time. Throw in networking time with the other RHMs who were present, and it was a great jump-start.

Beyond the sharing and discussion of best church-planting practices, the conference serves as a showcase for the ministry of the OPC as a whole. The general secretaries from Christian Education and Foreign Missions both presented and brought updates on what is happening through their respective committees. Christian Education in particular plays a strong role in church planting because the materials they produce give those who have no background with the OPC an orientation to our history and distinctives.

As an RHM, I meet such people frequently; it was helpful to become familiar with these materials. One of the phrases I heard repeatedly at the conference and afterward was that we are the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, not Churches. This distinguishes us from other denominations. Our shared identity is reinforced by keeping the whole of the church’s ministry before those who are establishing new congregations.

Aside from the core competencies and practices associated with church planting, there was also some important skill building. Among the most valuable resources to any church plant (or any church, for that matter) is their website. Kerri Ann Cruse, video and social media coordinator for the OPC, reviewed the website of each church planter present—a helpful (if, at times, painful) exercise that underscored the important functions of a church website. She also presented principles and strategies for beneficial use of various social media platforms in church planting. As social media campaigns are likely to be crucial components of reaching areas of our presbytery where we have few or no contacts (like Nashville), this was important training for me.

Refreshing Sessions

While gaining competency was a key part of the conference, the conference also provided refreshment for the church planters.

One key aspect of that is the inclusion of wives of church planters and regional home missionaries. My wife, Wendy, was able to network with other women and gain an understanding of our denomination that she had never had before. It established a foundation for us to minister as a team and be on the same page going forward. Beyond that, the schedule allowed for plenty of free and discretionary time to interact with other couples in a relaxed way.

Hearing from Dale and Joanne Van Dyke on “The Church Planter and His Family” on the first evening set the tone for being refreshed in ministry. Subsequent sessions on “Self-Care in Ministry” by host pastor Danny Patterson and, particularly, a session on the effects of stress by John Fikkert in his presentation from the Committee on Ministerial Care set a foundation for church planters to chart a course that avoids burnout and produces fruit for years to come. That foundation applies equally to my own work as RHM.

Building churches with a distinctively Reformed and Presbyterian character demands doing things differently than other denominations do. OPC church planters enjoy a level of support that is virtually unmatched, combined with a measure of patience appropriate to the difficult task at hand. The Church Planter Training Conference is a key portion of that support for them.

However, it proved to be key job training and support for me as well.

I certainly do not have all the answers when it comes to the task of seeing new congregations established within our presbytery. Given that, I know far more and am much better equipped for the task because of this conference. I look forward to 2022’s conference eagerly.    

The author is regional home missionary for the Presbytery of the South. New Horizons, March 2022.

New Horizons: March 2022

Self-Care in the Ministry

Also in this issue

Self-Care in the Ministry: An Address to the Church Planter Training Conference

Using OPC Tracts in Evangelism

Resting and Worshiping in the OPC

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