by Laurie Oswald Robinson

What church planters Byron Pellecer, Karen Mascho and Moises Romero shared at Western District Conference’s (WDC) annual assembly July 4-6 in Waxahachie, Texas, served as an “appetizer” of what’s to come.

Their storytelling was meant to inspire hope among 180 assembly participants that WDC – through its new Church Planting Commission — will become more creative and daring in inviting people to the banquet of God’s kingdom. The WDC Leadership Commission and Executive Board proposed that the new commission replace the current Church Planting Task Force to give greater focus to new initiatives, and delegates approved the proposal.

Gilberto Flores, WDC associate conference minister in Texas, led the three pastors in a panel discussion during evening worship July 5 at the Lakeview Camp and Retreat Center. The discussion focused on Acts 10-11. It drew parallels between their experiences and the biblical story of how God forged unlikely connections through dreams and prayers between unbeliever Cornelius and disciple Peter.

For example, Romero, pastor of Iglesia Camino de Santidad, Liberal, Kan., shared how the dreams and prayers of him and Lou Gomez, former pastor of Calvary Mennonite Church in Liberal, intersected several years ago. That intersection led Romero’s congregation to begin sharing worship space in Calvary’s sanctuary. His tiny congregation overflowed his living room and they needed more space.

“Every time I went to work, I passed by Calvary,” Romero said. “One day I dreamt that I would someday walk into that church. The dream grew so big inside of me that one day I actually knocked on Calvary’s door. … Pastor Lou opened the door and told me that he had dreamt that someone new would come knocking on the church door. He began praying for that to occur, and then I appeared.”

Mascho, who with her husband, Steve, helped to plant Grace Mennonite Fellowship in Gladewater, Texas, shared about the unlikely connection she made between being female and being a pastor. “As God led us to expand the scope of our ministry from motorcyclists to an underserved population, God also enlarged my understanding of the possibilities of my serving as a woman in pastoral ministry,” she said.

In another vein, Pellecer, pastor of Aposento Alto Iglesia Menonita, a church plant in Wichita, Kan., shared how God helped make him more flexible as a pastoral leader called to serve a multiplicity of Latino cultures within one congregation in south Florida.

“As a Guatemalan, I had been in my own little monocultural bubble,” he said. “I needed to stop seeing people through my own biases and empty myself so I could embrace others. … So I began pastoral visitations and invited people to tell their stories from their country of origin and I shared mine. As a result, we began to cry with each other and to listen to each other.”

“God’s patience and persistence shaped these three church planters and can also help shape WDC’s church-planting journey,” said Clarence Rempel, WDC conference minister. He tied WDC’s historic and present church planting to the assembly theme – “God with Us – Patient and Persistent.”

“Jesus described for us God’s heart for distressed humanity with the story in Luke 14 of a man preparing a grand banquet for the town, but all invited gave last minute, rude excuses for not coming,” Rempel said. “The man says, ‘Go, invite the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Go to the broken. Invite the suffering.’ God is persistent, but there is still room. The man says, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.’ God is persistent.”

“God’s redemptive mission is deeply personal and profoundly sociological — new churches for new believers and new churches for new shalom restoration opportunities. This is God’s heart for the redemption of the world, and it has shaped my heart for church multiplication.”

The commission will provide leadership and resources for church planting initiatives and foster relationships with emerging Anabaptist/Mennonite groups. It will also help emerging groups and their leaders connect with congregations, resources, staff and WDC structure.

The commission hopes to craft a new approach to church planting that is rooted in a biblical context and yet spreads wings into 21st-century North America, new commission member Lee Suderman said. “In the old paradigm, church planters looked for people to match the core group,” he said. “But in the new paradigm, we want to go out into the highways and byways and look for anyone who feels a need for faith.

“This will require a much more incarnational witness – living our lives in front of them and being open to their testing what we are sharing. This will likely lead us to evangelize unbelievers more than recruiting existing believers from other churches. It will mean we find a whole different kind of people and raise them up from Christianity 101. It’s a whole new world out there.”