by Laurie Oswald Robinson for Western District Conference

HESSTON, Kan. — Making pastoral calls after a long day at another job is often reality for church planters in Western District Conference (WDC). But this is the dedication that drives their dreams.

It was the storytelling of such church planters that filled their Dec. 12-13 gathering – Catalyst Retreat for Church Planting. It inspired hope that the desire to dream big in the midst of small resources is how God often works to birth new communities of faith.

Church planters and their support teams, WDC Church Planting Commission members, WDC staff, resource persons and others met at Cross Wind Conference Center to encourage each other in the fires of moving forward. The event drew about 25 persons and began with a retreat for church planters followed by an advance for all church planting dreamers. It included inspirational presentations, worship and prayer and vision-casting for the future.

On Dec. 13, main presenter Chet Miller-Eshelmen, church planter and pastor of LifeBridge Community Church in Dover, Ohio, shared his journey. It included a story about a discouraging breaking point. To deal with his stress over setbacks, he said he spent some time in prayer in the woods, and heard God say, “Chet, it is not by your intelligence or sense of humor or charisma or energy or persistence that you are going to grow this church. I am Yahweh and I am going to build my church. It’s all about me.”

In response to his testimony, Gilberto Flores, WDC’s recently retired associate conference minister in Texas, invited WDC church planters to share their stories. What emerged were similar accounts of how it is God’s faithfulness, and not their dedication – as important as it is – that brings divine fruitfulness out of human labor. They shared how the Holy Spirit transforms roadblocks into creative conduits for growing their ministries.

“In my experience as a bi-vocational pastor, there is sometimes frustration,” said Jaime Cazares, church planter and pastor for Iglesia Menonita Casa Betania, Newton. “For example, when I work at the Mennonite Central Committee Et Cetera Shop, persons come by the store to talk with me and unload.

“At first I told these folks we would have to wait until after work. But after I spoke about this with my managers, thank God, they were flexible and understanding. They told me that when that happens, I should feel free to stop and talk awhile before getting back to work. Because of their flexibility, I can make friendships and do two different jobs at once.”

Bi-vocational situations require sacrifice, as was evident in the stories shared by several other church planters in a panel discussion led by Flores. They said they crafted sermons in the car on the way to work, took pastoral calls at midnight before rising early for their second job, struggled with cross-cultural differences and sought support to avoid burn out.

“Listening to these stories gives hope that there are people crazy enough to follow Jesus in this way,” Flores said. “Likewise, it demonstrates that God is crazy enough to call us. God knows this is difficult and complex but is crazy enough to call human beings rather than angels to do this work.”

That’s why church planters need support. Two members of the support committee of Byron Pellecer, church planter for Aposento Alto Iglesia Menonita, shared their experiences.

“At our meetings, we start with worship and then share what has been happening in our lives in the past month as well as vision for future direction,” said Geneva Hershberger, Mennonite Church of the Servant. “We are developing church among us right there as we are working at building the church plant.”

Marcus Logenbill, of Hope Mennonite Church, said, “Two things I’ve learned is that one, we need capable, dedicated and compassionate leaders as church planters. And two, communication between the support group members and the church planter is very important.”

In concluding worship, Lee Suderman, a WDC Church Planting Commission member, said the Holy Spirit is the most important member of any support team. “Who knows what will be built in five years in WDC through the power of the Holy Spirit if we pick up a blueprint and hammer and start building.”