Category Archives: Church Planting

Central Presbyterian Church models ‘parent, partner, patron’ in church planting efforts

 

The goal of the EPC Church Planting Team is “to cultivate a culture where church planting is embraced, encouraged, and celebrated by all EPC churches.” Central Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Ala., has embraced this goal and believes that the heart of church planting is making new disciples.

Randy Jenkins

Randy Jenkins serves as Central’s Pastor, and also leads the church planting network for the Presbytery of the Central South. What began as a committee for church planting has grown into a network of people and churches who are passionate about church planting and see it as an indicator of the future.

“When people see church planting and understand it, it is very, very exciting,” Jenkins said. “Church planters are the tip of the spear of the EPC. They are on the cutting edge of doing new ministries in a different way and helping the rest of us learn what it means and how to apply it.”

The EPC’s church planting strategy has been a combination of recruiting and leadership diagnostics. The church planting networks are trying to develop a pipeline of church planters that they then mentor, assist with fundraising, and support through the process.

“I am the guy who facilitates church planters and helps them raise money,” Jenkins said, explaining his role in the process. “Because they are our investment, we are trying hard to pick the right people.”

He recalled that when CPC joined the EPC in 2007, his new colleagues stressed the importance of church planting. Jenkins knew church planting was not his specific calling, but that did not lessen his excitement.

“I like success,” Jenkins admitted, “and if I can’t do it, then I want someone else to do it. And we’re talking about the Kingdom. I want to see them achieve for the Kingdom.”

As he began talking with the congregation about church planting, they expressed a willingness to invest. They started by partnering with existing church plants. Eventually, Central became a parent of Chelsea Presbyterian Church in suburban Birmingham, about 100 miles south of Huntsville.

Returns on investment

James and Larissa Daniels

James Daniels was a “parachute drop” into Chelsea. Daniels came from the education field and didn’t have years of experience as a pastor. Yet as CPC began to see Daniels’ vision for the community, they also began to see the realization of their investment of time and money in the process that started years earlier.

“We didn’t really understand what it means to be a parent, but that is exactly what it is,” Jenkins said. “It’s like delivering a baby who at first spends most of its time eating and sleeping. But one day it wakes up and needs lots of care and lots of time and supervision.”

While CPC continues to play an active role in the strategy of planting churches, it also provides structure that is crucial to existing church planters in a variety of ways.

Kirk Adkisson, planting pastor of All Souls Church in Nashville, Tenn., said his relationship with Jenkins and CPC has been “nothing short of amazing.”

Kirk and Deb Adkisson

“Under Randy’s leadership, CPC stepped in and provides accounting and bookkeeping services for us. I can’t overstate what a gift this is,” Adkisson said. “This gives us the freedom from some of the basic financial tasks and more time for other essential components of church planting.”

Jenkins noted that financial tasks, including fund raising, are a key factor in a plant’s success—with undercapitalization as the biggest hindrance to church planting. Without the funds in place, church planters must balance their time between fundraising and ministry. This is where the networks step in with more structure.

“We encourage our church planters to have $100,000 in the bank before doing anything else, Jenkins explained. “If your energies are spent on making sure you have enough money to exist, then that is a problem. CPC is very generous financially and always ready to be involved when it comes to giving to a church plant.”

Tom Ricks, leader of EPC Church Planting Team, ascribes CPC’s generosity to Jenkins.

“Some people are that influential with their congregation, and Randy has a great track record with his people,” Ricks said. “He has led them in a Christlike manner. When he stands in the pulpit and says that we have a great opportunity here, his people listen and follow. The relational capital that he has with his congregation has been put to use for church planting.”

Wide geographic reach

In addition to Chelsea and All Souls, CPC partners with Quest Church in New Braunfels, Texas; The Table in Little Rock, Ark.; The Table Project in Denver, Colo.; and a non-EPC plant, St. Patrick Church in Cedar Park, Texas. These church plants cover a wide range of geography and demographics—from suburban “Bible Belt” to suburban/urban transitional, to western suburban where religion does not play a prominent role in the community.

Tom Ricks

Ricks loves that CPC is willing to support church plants outside its own Presbytery.

“I love the diversity of the church plants that CPC is supporting” Ricks said. “They couldn’t be more different, and I love that. We need more of that diversity.”

CPC’s generosity and connection involves much more than finances. Each of the church planters that Central partners with highlighted the importance of the spiritual support they have received.

In Nashville, sent a mission team to assist with clean-up and distributing supplies to the neighborhood residents after a March 2020 tornado hit the largely under-resourced community that All Souls serves.

In Chelsea, CPC members routinely dropped in to attend worship services prior to the COVID-19 shutdown.

“Some from CPC stop and visit as they are passing through to lend moral support—sometimes physical support—and to see what God is doing here,” Daniels said.

Mark and Stacey Grapengater

Mark Grapengater, Pastor of The Table Project in Denver, described Central as having “a real Kingdom mindset.”

“Their ministry for church planting extends well beyond Huntsville,” he said. “That posture is key for us as church planters. Randy and the church always make sure we have everything we need.”

Investing where God is moving

Central dedicated 8 percent of its total budget to church planting in 2020—evidence that the congregation shares Jenkins’ enthusiasm.

“If your mission is only within your own four walls, you won’t be there very long,” Jenkins warned. “If you see the vision for the gospel moving forward both locally and in other areas, you want to invest where God is moving. God is moving in church planters.”

Jenkins acknowledged that church planting can be lonely and stressful, and emphasized that CPC wants to “walk alongside the planters” and remove as much of that burden as possible so they can be caring, welcoming, and opening doors to relationships.

“Church planters are taking people from that secular point, with no knowledge of Christianity, and speaking simply to them so that they will understand,” he noted. “Church planters love to see eyes open, and people begin to believe and grow in faith. If we can help make this happen, we want to help them any way we can.”

Ricks said the denomination’s goal is that every EPC congregation is involved in some aspect of church planting. He said he will “continually be shooting for every church, no matter the size, to participate in being a parent, partner, or patron.”

“Randy and CPC exemplify a congregation that gets this, and the congregation gets it because Randy gets it,” Ricks said., “If I could have a ‘poster child’ for what I believe is a great attitude for church planting, it would be Randy.”

For more information about EPC church planting, see www.epc.org/churchplanting or contact Ricks at tom@greentreechurch.com.

by Kelli Lambert Gilbreath
EPConnection correspondent

2021 Leadership Institute: Creating Church Planting Networks

 

In the 2021 Leadership Institute seminar Creating Church Planting Networks and Partnerships, Shane Sunn discussed three bottlenecks for starting a new church.

“First is having the right planter—an available, properly assessed church planter,” Sunn said. “We always want to have planters in the pipeline.”

He noted that the other two potential bottlenecks for planting a church are funding and location.

“We know where we want to go next, and it’s not always a city,” Sunn said. “We just planted a church in Kansas in a community of 2,500 people. But we always want to have a variety of options available—we don’t fully know how the Holy Spirit is working in the planter’s life.”

Sunn is Director of the Aspen Grove Church Planting Network in Denver, Colo.

The Leadership Institute is an equipping component of the annual General Assembly meeting.

#epc2021ga

Virtual Church Planting Workshop features noted author, church planter Carey Nieuwhof

 

On February 2, the EPC Church Planting Team hosted a virtual Church Planting Workshop with special guest speaker Carey Nieuwhof. A former lawyer, Nieuwhof is founding pastor of Connexus Church in Ontario, Canada. He’s the author of several best-selling books, including Didn’t See It Coming, and speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.

“Since last year our EPC national church planting team has pivoted to find new ways to encourage and stay connected to our church planters,” said Tom Ricks, Pastor of Greentree Community Church in Kirkwood, Mo., and leader of the Church Planting Team. “This was our fourth Zoom conversation in the last six months, and we were blessed to have Carey Nieuwhof spend an hour and a half with our church planters.”

The recording also is available in the “Presentations” and “Church Planting” playlists on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80.

December 2020 EPC budget report: strategic priorities spending restored amid continued strong PMA support

 

Support for Per Member Asking (PMA) over the first six months of the EPC’s fiscal year continues to be strong. As a result, the National Leadership Team (NLT) reinstated $60,000 in the Office of the General Assembly’s budget for church planting and $26,000 for church revitalization at its January 19 meeting.

PMA contributions received by the Office of the General Assembly since the July 1 start of fiscal year 2021 (FY21) total $1,234,886. While the amount is $18,863 less than the $1,253,749 received during the same period in fiscal year 2020, year-to-date contributions are 13.7 percent ($149,219) above the $1,085,667 “Bare Bones Plus” budget.

“We reduced the 2020-2021 budget by 17 percent out of an abundance of caution, since we did not know how the ongoing pandemic would affect our churches financially,” Jeremiah said. “We did not want to be in a position where we had to make cuts to an approved budget later. But I am so thankful that our churches continue to demonstrate their commitment to the EPC in such uncertain times.”

Jeremiah noted that the 40th General Assembly not only approved the reduced budget but also authorized the National Leadership Team to increase funding for strategic ministry opportunities should FY21 revenue exceed projected spending.

The 12-month rolling average for monthly PMA contributions is $197,809—within 1 percent of the rolling average as of December 31, 2020. PMA support in December 2020 was $312,238.

Of the $1,234,886 received, $246,977 (20 percent) was contributed to EPC World Outreach.

In addition to PMA contributions, $2,954,022 was received through December 30 for designated funds. This total is $218,006 (6.9 percent) lower than the $3,172,027 in designated gifts received in the same period in fiscal year 2020.

Jeremiah said if significant donations to two funds in 2019—Emergency Relief and Church Planting—are not considered, designated giving is up more than $369,000 (14.4 percent) in FY21. Nearly $320,000 was donated to the Emergency Relief Fund through December 30, 2019, in response to Hurricane Dorian. An anonymous donor gave $250,000 in December 2019, designated for church planting.

Designated gifts include support for World Outreach global workers and projects, and contributions to EPC Special Projects such as Emergency Relief, church planting and revitalization initiatives, and the EPC’s Thanksgiving and Christmas offerings.

Of the total, $2,905,521 was designated for World Outreach workers and projects, and $48,501 was designated for EPC projects. These amounts only reflect gifts received and distributed by the Office of the General Assembly, and do not reflect donations given directly to WO global workers or other projects.

November Jeremiah Journal highlights EPC church planting

 

In the November 2020 edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah offers some Thanksgiving thoughts and describes this year’s EPC Thanksgiving offering for church planting.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

For a transcript of this month’s edition in printable pdf format, click here.

Ministry paths converge in Orlando for Bahamas, Pennsylvania ordination candidates

 

FROM THERE; GOING THERE: Carrie and Barrett Hendrickson (left) greeted Jude and Keitra Vilma after a recent worship service at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. Jude grew up in Marsh Harbor and now serves as a pastoral resident at FPCO. The Hendricksons arrived in Marsh Harbor on November 4 to serve with the EPC’s Kirk of the Pines under the auspices of the Caribbean Youth Network.

What do Pittsburgh, Orlando, and Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas have in common? For two EPC ordination candidates and their families, Orlando is the middle link in a chain that stretches more than 1,000 miles across two countries.

On September 3, Jude and Keitra Vilma arrived in Orlando from Nassau, where he had served as a pastoral intern for St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk. He grew up in a Haitian Creole community in Marsh Harbor, has been a youth worker with the Bahamas Youth Network, and now is a pastoral resident at First Presbyterian Church in Orlando while pursuing a Master of Divinity degree from Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS).

Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, Barrett Hendrickson was in the process of transferring his status as Candidate Under Care from the Presbytery of the Alleghenies to the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. A May 2020 RTS graduate, he and his wife, Carrie, had joined the Caribbean Youth Network (CYN) to serve with EPC Teaching Elder Gabe Swing at the Kirk of the Pines in Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas. The church is a mission of the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

The Hendricksons staged in Florida for several months while they waited for pandemic-related restrictions in the Bahamas to be lifted. On November 4, they arrived in Marsh Harbor, which was devastated by Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

“We are extremely excited to welcome the Hendrickson family to Abaco,” Swing said. “They will provide needed support for relief efforts and help us re-engage the community through outreach and worship opportunities.”

Hendrickson said that when he was young, one of the ways his youth pastor mentored him was through preforming manual labor, such as mowing the lawns of older church members.

“I wanted to be able to do that here,” he said. “Of course sharing Jesus and discipling people, but also by providing tangible, physical needs.”

Swing said conditions in Marsh Harbor continue to be “very difficult” for residents, with many still without adequate housing, electricity, and running water.

“The reconstruction moves at a snail’s pace, and many residents have to acquire drinking water from Water Mission distribution sites,” he said. “The pandemic has frustrated recovery efforts, and food security has become a major problem. Thousands of people are relying on free food distribution from the government and NGOs.”

In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, approximately $175,000 has been disbursed to Kirk of the Pines from the EPC Emergency Relief Fund.

Swing noted that “regular giving has all but vanished” since so many church members have been displaced to other islands in the Bahamas, as well as the U.S. He said the Emergency Relief Fund donations have been used to purchase a truck to distribute relief supplies; provide food and housing for several displaced families; assist with living expenses for he and his wife, Jan; and fund pastoral visits to members of the congregation.

‘Raising up the next generation of pastoral leaders’

While Orlando was a stopping point in the Hendrickson’s journey to the Bahamas, the Vilmas are adjusting to life at FPCO and RTS. He is the recipient of the Andrew Jumper Scholarship, which is named for one of the EPC’s founders and awarded by RTS to a full-time MDiv student who demonstrates “exemplary Christian character and potential for ministry.”

David Swanson, FPCO Senior Pastor, said the Vilmas are “settling into the FPCO family beautifully” as the congregation has resumed in-person worship.

“Our commitment is to take an active role in raising up the next generation of pastoral leaders with a special eye towards greater diversity,” he said. “The Vilmas are the perfect fit for a mutually beneficial partnership. Jude is already leading in worship and will be meeting with each member of the pastoral team on a regular basis as the meat of his pastoral residency program. He will be exposed to every dimension of church life, including finance and administration, with the goal of helping him be ready theologically and practically for a fruitful future pastorate.”

Vilma said that he did not expect to be awarded the Jumper Scholarship, and when he received the news he knew he and his wife would be moving to Florida.

“I knew I was coming to Orlando,” Vilma said. “First Pres was very generous to us coming here with their love and support, so it’s really great for us. I hope to continue to grow under David Swanson, Case Thorp, and the other pastors here, and eventually to serve within the EPC itself.”

FPCO has partnered with the EPC congregations in the Bahamas “in extremely meaningful ways,” said Bryn MacPhail, Senior Pastor of St. Andrew’s Kirk. “No individual congregation has contributed more to the health and progress of St. Andrew’s and Kirk of the Pines than First Pres Orlando.”

Hendrickson said Vilma is “our great success story” from CYN.

“When we came down last August before Hurricane Dorian hit to see the opportunity with Gabe and CYN, Jude walked us through Marsh Harbor and the Haitian neighborhood where he grew up,” he said. “So to connect with him and Keitra in Orlando was wonderful. To recognize how God raised him up here—and now bringing us to Abaco—it was like God was saying to us, ‘there is opportunity to raise up more.’ That’s our long-term goal: to raise Bahamian pastors.”

 

St. Louis church plant celebrates local church status with installation of pastor, elders

 

Members of the Church Development Committee from the Presbytery of Mid-America pray over Central West End Church’s newly installed Ruling Elders, Pete Brown (kneeling, left) and Kerry Cheung on October 11. (photos courtesy of Central West End Church)

In 2016, Central West End Church (CWE) in St. Louis, Mo., planted itself at a literal dividing line in the city: one block south of Del Mar Boulevard. The Del Mar Divide, as it is known, is a dividing line of wealth, prosperity, race, and perspective. Pastor Eric Stiller views this stark contrast as an opportunity to see the city made new spiritually, socially, and culturally by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

CWE marked its own new beginning on October 11 as it celebrated “local church” status with Stiller’s installation as Pastor and the ordination of Kerry Cheung and Pete Brown as elders. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the service was live-streamed.

The Central West End neighborhood was identified in 2008 as a potential site for a church plant and is an eclectic area with a vibrant art, food, and cultural scene. This dynamic is what drew Stiller to St. Louis from New York City in 2005, when he entered Covenant Theological Seminary.

Eric Stiller

“I came to St. Louis with the passion to do whatever ministry I was going to do in a city,” he said.

Tom Ricks, who leads the EPC’s Church Planting Team, said the committee considers the needs of an area when deciding where to plant a church. He noted that the residents of Central West End are primarily unchurched, and most would consider themselves secular progressives. Ricks estimated that more than 90 percent never attend religious events.

“Why we got excited at the national level is that there just isn’t much of a Christian community in the Central West End, period—much less a Reformed Christian one that matches up with our EPC foundation and worldview,” he said.

When Stiller heard that the area was being considered, he became excited and began to earnestly pray about it. As this seed of excitement and passion continued to grow, he began to fall more and more in love with the location.

“God didn’t really call me to church planting. He called me to a neighborhood,” Stiller said. “It’s the place I feel most passionate about.”

He added that he loves that Central West End is such a secular place.

“I have always had an interest in apologetics and reaching out to people who at best would be indifferent to faith and at worst hostile to faith.”

Stiller understands this indifference firsthand. He describes himself as “not being concerned about God” for the first 30 years of his life and wrestling with the same doubts and “allergies” that people have today. In addition, he recalled noticing the “glaring” racial segregation in the city when he first arrived. Having been a jazz musician for many years, he had always been surrounded by African-Americans and their music and culture.

“When I prepare my sermons or have conversations with people, I am always imagining the inner skeptic asking questions,” he explained.

Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, Central West End Church held their worship services in the historic Mahler Ballroom.

CWE’s worship services are currently live-stream only, but in-person services have been held at the Mahler Ballroom, a local event space originally built as a dance studio in 1907. In addition to their worship service, the church offers community groups focused on “building friendships and community, growing faith, learning how to follow Jesus in every area of life, and supporting each other through prayer,” Stiller said.

The church hosts Alpha, a course designed for those who are curious about God. Alpha conversations delve into topics of spirituality from a biblical perspective, with no pressure to believe and no obligation to join the church. Stiller hopes that they can develop more resources for people interested in the integration of faith and work while reaching out to secular neighbors who might be interested in faith and spirituality.

Ricks believes that Stiller is the right guy for that spot.

“The EPC wants to apply the gospel to every area of life, and Eric just exudes this,” Ricks said. “God doesn’t make mistakes in his personnel choices.”

Church members helped renovate a gardening classroom at Washington Montessori Elementary School in the Central West End neighborhood of St. Louis.

As CWE began rooting itself in the community, Stiller and his team began a partnership with a local Montessori school as a means of engaging with their neighbors. Church members helped convert an outdoor space into a classroom with raised gardening beds, began tutoring students in math and reading, and renovated a teachers’ lounge. As the coronavirus pandemic struck a financial blow in the community, CWE raised more than $18,000 to help people associated with the school with rent, food, and supplies.

More than just physical assistance, however, Stiller said CWE seeks to fulfill the social aspect of their mission by seeking intentional and ongoing relationships with the school, the students, and their families. He emphasized that their mission is “a holistic one, not a false dichotomy that embraces spiritual work and evangelizing as opposed to social action and deeds of mercy and justice. God’s mission comprises all of this.”

For their part as Ruling Elders, Cheung and Brown see themselves as “shepherds and advocates” whom God has gifted in the areas of leadership and administration. Both are just as passionate as Stiller about the mission of the church to be a part of the renewing of the city spiritually, socially, and culturally.

Above all, CWE wants to follow Jesus as He makes all things new—especially across the dividing line.

by Kelli Lambert Gilbreath
EPConnection correspondent

Small N.C. church opens new building, embraces vision for the future

 

New Covenant EPC in Burgaw, N.C., held their first worship services in their permanent facility—a renovated former dance studio—on August 3. (photos courtesy of New Covenant EPC)

For born-again believers, there is no doubt of God’s providence in every aspect and detail of His creation—and that intricately includes His Church. That truth has vividly played out over the past several years for a small, southeastern North Carolina congregation.

New Covenant Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Burgaw, N.C., began in 1998 in the public library as a church plant of Myrtle Grove Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, about 20 miles to the south.

For its first few months, about 30 people from different denominations attended. A Methodist church in Burgaw then offered its facility on Sunday evening services, which provided space for Sunday School classes and a youth group. More moves followed, with the congregation eventually settling into retail space at a main intersection in Burgaw. At the time, they called themselves Crossroads Community Church.

In 2017 the congregation moved yet again to storefront space in the center of Burgaw, across from the county courthouse. The same year, Duke Lineberry, a Ruling Elder at Myrtle Grove EPC, accepted a call as visiting evangelist.

Duke Lineberry preaches to the New Covenant congregation on October 22, 2020.

While Lineberry admits not much outreach took place the first few years of his tenure, in March 2019 the church made a decision that has placed it “directly in line with His sovereign plan,” Lineberry said.

“We became aware of a small Mexican church that had lost their lease,” he explained. “We felt led to offer them our space for their services and to use opposite our schedule. As God so often does, we began to see some fundamental changes in our church, moving from complacency to a more focused purpose.”

In November 2019, New Covenant purchased a former dance studio and began converting it for church use. On August 2, 2020, the church held its first worship service in its new facility.

Lineberry noted that for the first time in its 22-year history, “our little church has its own premises. With our new location and resources, we believe He is preparing us to be the light in Burgaw.”

Mike and Joy Thurlow, who have attended since the church’s launch in 1998, agree that after many twists and turns along its journey, New Covenant is on a renewed path.

“There is really a new zeal after the move,” said Mike, who has served as an elder since the church started. “People are more excited. While we are still a small fellowship, we are seeing more people coming now since the relocation.”

Joy and Mike Thurlow

Joy said she has seen “God working in people’s lives” over the past several months.

“Broken people are coming into our church,” she said. “People are coming for healing—physical healing, spiritual healing, emotional healing.”

The church is starting to look into ways to better reach Burgaw’s youth, such as by teaching piano, keyboard, and guitar. The “fuel” for attracting young people comes from church member Keith White. He noted that creating an environment where youth can gather and be nurtured is an outgrowth of his experience growing up in a small Baptist congregation.

“We met every Saturday night my whole teenage years,” White said. “We would get together and have some kind of activity or play a game, have a little bit of music, and then a fellow a few years older than me preached for a little bit. I learned more in those six years than any other guidance. If it wasn’t for that six years I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. That guidance sustained me through a whole lot of life.”

He added that sees “a whole lot of young people running around Burgaw. I ask the kids what they do on weekends and they say, ‘I don’t know; nothing.’ So I say, ‘Let’s build the church up with some young people.”

Moving is an adventure

Lineberry said relocating to the new building hasn’t been without its challenges.

“The building was built in 1992 as a dance studio, and virtually every little girl in Burgaw took lessons there,” he said. “Unfortunately, the building sat unused for almost a decade before we purchased it.”

He noted that the building needed a new roof; structural repairs to the walls and floors; and a variety of upgrades to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Much of the renovation work was performed by volunteers, such as constructing interior walls to separate the entrance from the seating area.

“We purchased and installed carpet, painted the walls from its former hot pink to a warm white, and put up a temporary wall to separate the entrance from the sanctuary area,” Lineberry said, adding that they also removed some trees to make room for parking.

“All of the design, planning, and permitting was done by our leadership, and the work was done by a combination of member volunteer efforts, contract labor, and one member in particular who we paid a much-discounted rate to perform the majority of the carpentry work, rehabilitating the structure, building handicap ramps, and the like.”

As a practicing trial attorney in Wilmington, Lineberry said his time serving the Burgaw congregation as its pastor is not permanent—partially because New Covenant now has a permanent facility.

“The leadership is sincerely seeking the Lord on hiring an ordained pastor,” he said. “I’ve been asked to stand again for Session at Myrtle Grove, and the leadership at New Covenant is supportive. At this stage, I can’t see leaving New Covenant any time soon, as I know the Lord placed me there for His purposes. I plan on remaining there to support and assist the pastor the Lord has for this special little family of God in Burgaw.”

Looking back to his arrival at New Covenant in 2017, Lineberry said he was concerned then about the church’s future.

“My fear was that she would simply spend up her money and eventually close the doors,” he reflected. “Thanks be to God, a remnant handful of people have been faithful to stay, pray, and serve. Now, it seems as if New Covenant is on the cusp of something new for herself and the Burgaw community.”

Instead of being tucked in a retail space between Food Lion and Subway, the church is now on the main road into Burgaw, across from the Pender Co. Department of Social Services and down the street from many local government service offices.

Lineberry sees the church as strategically poised to minister to the sizable Spanish-speaking population in the community.

“We need only look directly across the street at DSS for innumerable mission opportunities,” Lineberry said. “The Mexican church came to us and we obeyed, and as a result God made a way for New Covenant that she’s never had before. Our prayer now is for the Lord to point us in the direction He wants us to go. With the current heart of the church, I expect we will respond rightly.”

Lineberry noted that New Covenant is not a wealthy congregation, but it is a faithful one.

“Our seniors are retirees, and our younger families struggle with hourly wages and expenses. Many others are self-employed and hurting financially from COVID. But the Lord has provided, and we anticipate that He will continue to provide for us,” Lineberry said. “We will continue to be open to any outreach the Lord will show us.”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

EPC churches set ‘The Table’ for worship, ministry, community

 

What’s in a name? For many, a story. Which is why four young EPC congregations, unbeknownst to one another, all ended up calling their churches “The Table.”

TheTable-LittleRock4LogoLittle Rock, Arkansas

Michael Gallup, pastor of The Table in Little Rock, Ark., said that he had no idea there were other congregations who shared the name until after they had chosen it for their church plant.

“What’s great about it is that we can have humility and learn from one another,” Gallup said. “While there are some common themes there are also some unique perspectives for each context that can help inform each other as we live into this more faithfully.”

TheTable-LittleRock1

Prior to suspending in-person worship due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Table in Little Rock, Ark., met at a local events venue.

Gallup’s church, the youngest of the four, is very much centered on the idea of hospitality. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting nationwide shutdown, Gallup said one of their primary ministry efforts was to “throw parties in our home and invite people over.”

“We have a lot of shared meals with an open table,” he said. “People understand that metaphor. It’s familiar and comforting, and points to what type of congregation we are and aspire to be.”

Gallup also believes that fellowship around a table reflects his own understanding of discipleship, approach to mission, and sacramental theology. Every time the church comes together for worship, they partake in a meal together and also observe the Lord’s Supper.

TheTable-LittleRock3Gallup

Michael Gallup

“I began to see the ways in which the tables that we sit at and fellowship around point to the Lord’s table,” he said. “It gives a sense of belonging, brings life and joy, speaks to the nature of what God is doing, and is a reflection of the gospel.”

Because radical hospitality is so much the core of The Table, it informs every aspect of their ministry.

“Everything we do is filtered through that lens. We do a broad swath of ministry—homeless ministry, culinary classes—but it’s all filtered through hospitality. It’s not just a transactional experience.”

Earlier this year, before shelter-in-place orders forced many churches to rethink how to reach their communities, The Table rented a Venezuelan food truck as a way to provide an enriching experience for the church and support their neighbors. The family who owned the truck shared unique food from their country and told the story of their immigration to the United States.

“Our name is a very relatable, accurate way to inform those both inside and outside the church what we’re all about,” Gallup said. “We want people to know they are welcome here.”

TheTable-Denver2LogoDenver, Colorado

Almost 1,000 miles away at the foot of the Rocky Mountains is another EPC church plant, The Table Project, led by Mark Grapengater.

Mark and his wife, Stacey, learned in September 2017 that they had been approved to plant a church. Eleven months later they packed up and moved from Atlanta, Ga., to Denver, Colo.

Both had previously worked in the hospitality industry, so they decided to name their new church “The Table Project.” The imagery of Jesus sitting and eating with people kept coming up in their personal Bible study, and that idea seemed like a natural fit.

TheTable-Denver1Grapengater

Mark Grapengater

“As Christians, we want to be known as the best party throwers out there,” Mark said. “So that’s kind of what we’ve tried to do. We have big letters on our wall that say ‘feast.’ We believe that the last image we have of the end of the story is a wedding banquet where Jesus invites everyone to the wedding banquet of the Lamb.”

However, he is quick to point out that they are not a dinner church. While they want to have a warm, welcoming atmosphere, the end goal is still to start a regular Sunday morning worship service.

“Our hope is that people will take the liturgical practices and apply them throughout the week in their everyday lives,” he noted. “When we celebrate communion, we are taking a meal with Jesus. Now go out and do that with your neighbors throughout the week. And community groups should be a place where people can go deep in relationships with one another, but also feed on the Word and get into the truth of the gospel.”

The Grapengaters have based their lives on this principle, inviting neighbors over regularly. Last fall they hosted a Labor Day party, “Friendsgiving,” and a Christmas celebration in their home.

It has not always been easy. While the Grapengaters have hosted numerous friends, few have reciprocated. Mark said people in that region tend to keep to themselves, and of course plans sometimes go awry. Prior to hosting the Thanksgiving party, their three-year-old daughter clogged the toilet, causing it to overflow. So they welcomed their guests into their home through an entryway that was being repaired due to the water damage. The renovations were still in process a few weeks later when they hosted the Christmas party.

“We’re learning to be comfortable with that,” Mark said. “We want to invite people into the mess of our lives, too, because life is just messy sometimes, right?”

One place where they have been able to make some new friends is the local elementary school that their son attends.

“We befriended some of the other parents on the auction committee, and traditionally, they give a party as the raffle prize,” Mark said. “This year they asked if we would host the party. Only God could set that up so perfectly.”

They have considered asking if their church might meet at the school. Since they will have children in there for the next ten years, it would be a perfect location for “The Table Project.”

As the calendar turned from 2019 to 2020, the Grapengaters’ hope was to continue to build relationships with neighbors with a goal of launching public worship services by February 2021.

The pandemic derailed those plans.

They held their last in-person Bible study at the end of February. The Table Project then took what was supposed to be a brief hiatus as Stacey gave birth to their third child, Joshua David, on March 12. They came home from the hospital to a stay-at-home order throughout Colorado.

Mark has transitioned to holding midday prayer times through the week on Facebook Live. They also have been connecting with their neighbors on a family-by-family basis.  On Cinco de Mayo, they delivered palomas, chips, and salsa to 16 neighboring families, and they held a baptismal service in their backyard later in May with a small gathering from the community.

The Grapengaters have come to realize that a February 2021 launch may not happen, but they are still hopeful. With changes brought about by COVID-19, they have not been able to make any concrete plans but hope to know more in September. When they do begin their Sunday services, Grapengater says that they will incorporate many of the traditional aspects of worship.

“It will be liturgical,” Mark said. “With communion, confession, assurance, and modern worship music. In the area where we live, there is only one church for every 10,000 people so this is very much needed.”

TheTable-SanFrancisco4LogoSan Francisco, California

Six years ago, Troy Wilson and his family returned to the United States from Thailand, where they had been missionaries for six years. He wanted to plant a church in a non-Christian, liberal, multicultural area, so they moved to San Francisco, Calif.

Two other families felt called to join them, so together with their friends—and with the support of their mother church, Christ Church East Bay in Berkeley, Calif.—they stepped out and launched The Table in downtown San Francisco.

“It was a bit challenging,” Wilson said. “It’s easier to find work in San Francisco than it is a place to live.”

But soon they were able to settle in and started meeting people through the course of their everyday lives. They invited neighbors over for dinner and social gatherings and grew to know and love the community around them.

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Troy Wilson

“Hospitality was something that was very important to my mother, and she passed her heart for people on to me,” Wilson said. “As a child, I remember our backyard being a place where everyone was loved and welcome and safe. It was okay to be yourself there. That’s how I wanted our church to feel.”

As this community of friends grew, so did the desire to continue doing life together. When the time came for the group to give this budding church a name, “The Table” seemed to be a natural choice.

“For one thing, it just fits with the culture here,” Wilson noted. “San Franciscans are a bunch of foodies. Everyone can relate to the imagery of the table—Christians, non-Christians, people from various cultures and backgrounds. A table is a place of intimacy, of friendship. It’s where people come together to be filled and satisfied, and then go out to fellowship with others. At the table, all are included and welcome.”

The Table meets in the Kanbar Performing Arts Center, home of the San Francisco Girls Chorus. Wilson found the location through a running buddy, and it is the church’s second location. The Table originally launched in an art gallery, but the property was sold to a buyer who did not want the church in the facility.

“This new location is perfect for us,” Wilson said. “It’s the Table we all envisioned. It sits on the corner of three or four different neighborhoods, with very diverse populations. It’s a very multicultural area, with rich and poor, believers and non-believers, and people from all walks of life.”

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Community Groups are a key avenue for ministry, discipleship, and outreach for The Table in San Francisco. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these groups currently meet virtually via video conference.

There also is a thriving community of artists in the area, and Wilson has connected with many of them.

“The San Francisco Conservatory of Music is just two blocks from where the church started,” Wilson said. “One day I was on my way to an appointment at a coffee shop, when I heard this amazing violin music and decided to follow it. The young man playing, whose name is Otis, was a graduate of the conservatory. After he finished his set and I threw the tip in, we just started chatting for a while. I asked him to consider coming to play for our church.”

Otis admitted that church had not really been “his thing,” and wondered if he might be disqualified. Wilson assured him that he was welcome, and Otis began attending regularly. Wilson said that Otis is still on the journey of discovering his faith and has not yet expressed faith in Christ.

“I told him he is absolutely welcome here,’ Wilson said. “He still comes and plays and is a wonderful person in our church community.”

Otis has introduced Wilson to several other musicians, many of whom have found their way to the church. Rhonel, an artist and musician who was already a believer, is one—and he has brought a gospel sound to The Table’s worship.

“Our connection with the arts community has been this fluid and organic thing,” Wilson said. “One day I started chatting with a gentleman I met in a coffee shop, and he asked me if I liked music. I told him I had just seen an amazing band called the Afro Cuban All-Stars. It turns out he was with the band and had been on stage!”

That musician ended up coming to the church and introduced Wilson to several of his friends, including Juan Perez, who now serves as the worship leader for The Table.

Wilson also works as a real estate agent in the city, and he says that being bi-vocational gives him additional touchpoints for connection in the community. But he quickly adds that he is first and foremost a missionary.

“Psalm 81:10 is a verse I keep returning to,” Wilson said. “Scripture says, ‘Open your mouth, and I will fill it.’ San Franciscans are spiritually hungry, and I know the One who can fill them.”

The Table is small numerically, but it is dynamic in what God is doing in their midst in the dry spiritual climate that is San Francisco. The Table was one of several evangelical church plants featured in a 2015 article in The Guardian, “Hipster churches in Silicon Valley: evangelicalism’s unlikely new home.”

And while some people have shown interest in the church, hundreds walk by every day and barely seem to notice. But Wilson knows that God has called him to keep setting the table and inviting his neighbors in.

“I’ll be honest. This has not been easy,” he said. “We are praying for more partners in this work. Anyone who loves San Francisco and wants to come be a bi-vocational missionary, we could certainly use them!”

California was one of the first states to issue broad shelter-in-place orders due to COVID-19, and as result The Table held its last public gathering on March 8. But Wilson and his team have been ministering virtually through daily FaceTime, Zoom, and Google Meet connections, and weekly churchwide prayer gatherings, group Bible studies, and worship services via Zoom and the church’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.

Church members have been volunteering on Fridays to deliver food to the elderly and others in the community. They also have participated in peaceful demonstrations in small groups while wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Wilson said the immediate future looks much like the present, since San Francisco has been very cautious in plans to reopen businesses. A date to resume public worship services has not been set, but they are working with the Kanbar Performing Arts Center and hope to be able to welcome area residents back to The Table as soon as possible.

TheTable-Dallas2LogoDallas, Texas

The Table in Dallas, Texas, is the only one of the four “Tables” that did not start as an EPC church plant. Pastor Dave Wahlstedt said the congregation was originally a Pentecostal church and came into the EPC during the Willow Creek era of church growth.

“A few years ago we decided to make a missional move away from a brick and mortar church, so we sold the building and moved into a performing arts venue,” Wahlstedt said, noting that the move opened up the church to a whole new segment of the community since the building was used by artists, filmmakers, and musicians.

“We ended up needing to move from that venue, which drove us to look at what we could do with limited space. We spent weeks fasting and praying and looking at the community around us to determine what church should look like in our context,” Wahlstedt said. “We realized that there was a huge shift in the number of young professionals who had moved in from other states, and the demographic we were encountering was not interested in the established, ‘tall steeple’ kind of church. They were looking for something communal that had vitality and an inner-directed core.”

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Dave Wahlstedt

Through personality assessment tools, Wahlstedt realized that the people who were coming valued authenticity, community, self-exploration, and were comfortable with paradox. That’s when the concept of The Table began to take shape. Visitors are invited to “come hungry,” and the welcome page of their website states that “there is more to food than simply fueling our bodies. We feed our mind, body, and soul as we experience community around the table.”

The church is organized in groups of 20-25 people, each of which meets during the week or on the weekend for a shared meal and to worship, engage Scripture in an interactive way, and partake in sacraments together.

In the fourth week of each month, the entire congregation meets in a local indoor/outdoor event space called The Mill House in Lewisville, a suburb about 25 miles from downtown Dallas. The area is filled with millennials and young professionals, and they gather in the Mill House dining room, kitchen, and outdoor area in a very fluid and informal way.

As shelter-in-place orders took effect in Dallas in March, Wahlstedt transitioned to online services on March 14. The following Sunday the men’s and women’s groups and midweek service also went virtual.

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Like the other The Table congregations, The Table in Dallas, Texas, met for worship in a public event space prior to the COVID-19 shutdown forced a transition to online worship gatherings.

In-person gatherings resumed on June 7 but went back to virtual following a July 2 executive order from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that prohibits outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people.

Despite the challenges that the church has faced during the prolonged coronavirus pandemic, Wahlstedt noted that the consistency and commitment of the group have been really strong.

“I believe it’s because they have a voice and ownership in the church,” he said. “I serve as more of a facilitator, or as I like to call it, ‘a holy instigator.’”

When not suspended due to COVID-19, the church also has a “Family Waffle Table” where parents are invited to participate alongside their children.

“I wanted to equip them to learn for themselves and model how they could be spiritual leaders at home,” Wahlstedt said. “God loves the sounds of families in worship.”

One of the challenges that The Table faces is that it is located in a somewhat transient area where people move in and out frequently. Partially because of that, the church does not use a traditional method of partnership or membership. At the beginning of the year, they take a pledge together and renew their commitment to one another and the church. There are presently around 75 congregants, with a core group of middle-aged attendees and a large influx of young professionals and families.

“I have learned to be comfortable with having them for a season,” Wahlstedt said. “God is transforming lives, and it’s rewarding to witness the spiritual growth.”

Tom Ricks, who leads the EPC’s church planting efforts, said he believes each of the four pastors selected “The Table” as the name for their church because they recognize the longing for friendship and community that exists in our culture.

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Tom Ricks

“They are innovators, genuine, and they love Jesus,” Ricks said. “They appreciate our ancient traditions but also look for ways to make honest connections with people. I love their heart for the lost as well as their willingness to try a variety of approaches.”

Ricks said he has devoted his ministry to investing in church planting because he wants to walk with fellow disciples who care about their neighborhoods, schools, and local businesses.

“So much of life is on the run, and we often feel like our hair is on fire,” he said. “A community church is hopefully a place of respite and worship where we connect with God and with one another.”

Ricks added that there is always room for more at the table. Or as he put it, “more The Tables,” and anyone sensing a call to engage in church planting should contact him at tom@greentreechurch.com.

by Kiki Schleiff Cherry
EPConnection correspondent

Nebraska church planting pastor seeks city council seat

 
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Jeff Ryan (left), pastor of Three Timbers Church in Bennington, Nebr., has the support of his wife, Kristi; son, Levi (10); and daughter, Selah (15) in his bid for a seat on the Bennington city council.

For EPC Teaching Elder Jeff Ryan, who planted Three Timbers Church in Bennington, Nebr., in 2015, reaching his Omaha suburb for Christ means taking a holistic approach and embracing the church’s entire sphere of influence.

On May 12, Ryan will find out how far that influence extends when voters consider him for a four-year term in the Ward 2 seat on the Bennington City Council.

“People need to know that you care before they care what you know,” he said. “You have to be visible before you can be viable. Visibility shows people the love of Christ before having a conversation is a viable option for them.”

While Ryan wants to promote his campaign, he’s been acutely aware that the coronavirus pandemic has shifted many voters’ focus away from things like elections toward basic everyday needs.

“This is not at the top of the minds of people right now—it’s ‘How can I pay my bills? Do I have enough food? Am I safe?’” he acknowledged. “I have political signs out in the community. I’ve done two Facebook posts, and I’ll do one more, but I’m trying to be sensitive right now.”

Ryan noted that only one other member of Three Timbers actually lives in Ward 2, but he emphasized that the church’s leadership supports his decision to run.

“It’s not something that I have stood in front of the church and said, ‘I have made this decision,’” Ryan said. “Our elders gave me their blessing. Others who have found out have been very supportive. I think that’s because they know that my heart is for the gospel and to make our community as strong as it can be. I don’t talk politics, and I don’t preach politics. It’s Kingdom first.”

As a five-year-old church plant, Three Timbers meets in a local elementary school for worship, as well as at various venues in and around Bennington—which naturally extends the visibly and reach of the church.

“Our strategy since the beginning has been tangibly demonstrating to people our love for them—how are we visibly loving our community?” he noted. “We buy box lunches for the school where we meet. We buy box lunches every year for the entire school staff to welcome them back. We stuff Christmas stockings. We want people to know that we love this community, and we want to serve this community.”

Ryan understands that his status as a religious leader in the community of about 1,500 people could both help and hurt his candidacy.

“I think that anytime that you put that you’re a pastor, that’s a dividing line for people,” he said. “For some people it’s a real plus. For others it’s a real detriment. We have to be very careful because we are carrying the image the Christ. We have to handle ourselves the right way.”

He noted that as a small community, relationships are key in Bennington.

“I’ve had the privilege to interact with a lot of people from local businesses that we partner with at the church and the school that we have a great relationship with,” he said. “I hope that we have positive name recognition from just trying to serve our community.”

Ryan believes Three Timbers is well regarded in Bennington because of the way the church has worked to meet needs.

“We didn’t come in and say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do for you.’ We came in and asked, ‘How can we serve? Tell us where you have a need.’ So we really tried to be humble and submit to the local authorities and to serve them.”

Since Three Timbers lacks a permanent church building, the church has numerous partnerships in the area.

“Everything we do, we have to do somewhere else in the community,” Ryan explained. “From partnering with Anytime Fitness to do a 5K run that raises funds for the school’s foundation to help students and in the classroom, to a local bar called Nate’s Stumble Inn, where I do a Bible study weekly. We do something for the community in the summer called Friday Night Flicks, where we show movies in the park. Nobody’s getting up and preaching. It’s just to come out and have a good time. We provide snacks and drinks and watch a good movie.”

Tom Ricks, pastor of Greentree Community Church in Kirkwood, Mo., and chairman of the EPC Church Planting Team ran for a seat on the Kirkwood school board in 2019. He said understands the pressure of being a pastor and a candidate for public office.

“You live in a glass house as a pastor—people are watching you all the time,” Ricks said. “That would be doubly true as an elected official, so there’s a lot of pressure. I hope he wins. I think he’d do a lot of good. I know he’ll have good people around him, because it’s hard being a pastor and I imagine it’s hard to be an elected official. So it would be doubly hard to be both. But I’m rooting for him.”

Prior to launching Three Timbers, Ryan and his family lived in Orlando, Fla., where he served 13 years as team Chaplain for the NBA’s Orlando Magic. As he seeks public office in Nebraska, he looks to the life of Christ who demonstrated love through grace and truth without compromise.

“Being obedient to the call of Christ means loving people in a variety of contexts,” he said. “You can love somebody but say, ‘I see a different way;’ but say, ‘I love you, but more importantly, Jesus loves you.’ I think you can put Christ first and not your own agenda or your own politics and say, ‘I just want this person to know Jesus.’ And if that happens, that’s a success—everything else doesn’t matter. So it’s about how can God use this opportunity to bring the hope of Jesus to our community?”

by Tim Yarbrough
EPConnection correspondent

Nashville EPC church plant mobilizes for tornado relief

 
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All Souls Church in Nashville, Tenn., set up a portable kitchen in the front yard of a parishioner and fed nearly 2,500 people over four days in the wake of the March 3 tornado outbreak.

All Souls Church, an EPC church plant in Nashville, Tenn., received $5,000 from the EPC Emergency Relief Fund on March 4 for its ministry to its neighbors in the wake of a devastating tornado outbreak on March 3 that took the lives of at least 25 people. The church holds its worship services in a school near the hard-hit Germantown area of North Nashville.

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Kirk Adkisson

Kirk Adkisson, Pastor of All Souls Church, said most of the congregation escaped the worst of the destruction.

“Thankfully no one in All Souls was injured, but two households are still without power and unsure when it will return,” he said. “My home didn’t have electricity for four days, but we didn’t have any damage. But six blocks south of us is a path about three-and-a-half miles long that is devastated.”

Adkisson reported that the initial relief funds were used to feed people in the area.

“We spent four days feeding about 600 people a day,” he said. “We served breakfast tacos in the morning, then from about noon until about 5:00 when we had to stop because of darkness we would cook burgers and hot dogs.”

He said their team served meals to both local residents and relief volunteers.

“Many people were just walking around because thousands have been displaced,” he explained. “We also were feeding the volunteers who were in the area—it was amazing to watch how many volunteers are helping.”

He said the feeding station was set up in the front yard of an All Souls parishioner whose home was damaged.

AllSoulsTornadoReliefB

The home next door to the feeding station set up by All Souls Church was heavily damaged.

“Although this man had no power—and still doesn’t—and had some damage to his house, he allowed hundreds of local residents and volunteers working in the area to walk into his house and use his bathroom. He invited hundreds of strangers in.”

Adkisson said that they know many of the volunteers “are going to have to leave soon, but we will continue to serve the community as it recovers. We know we want to pay attention to single moms and the elderly.”

These efforts include providing tarps and grocery store gift cards to local residents.

He also said that the mayor’s office approached him about leading a longer-term effort to stem the threat of developers seeking to take advantage of residents of the historically African-American community.

“We were working in the front yard the other day and a developer approached a guy six times whose home was destroyed about buying him out,” Adkisson said. “This is happening all over North Nashville. Developers are walking up to homes and offering lowball numbers for people to sell their property.”

He noted that in many cases, the offers are attractive because insurance deductibles can be beyond the means of the homeowners.

“That includes African-American churches here,” he said. “Many were damaged, and they also have deductible costs. Many of their parishioners are struggling.”

Adkisson emphasized that the recovery is in its early stages.

“It feels as if most the moves we make at this point are reactionary,” he said. “However, we are here and all-in for the long haul. We have begun the process of planning how to love and serve over the next month, 3 months, 6 months, and even a year.”

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, said he was thrilled to be able to disperse relief funds within 24 hours of the storm.

“Due to the amazing generosity of EPC churches and their members following a series of disasters in recent years, we had funds available to send immediately,” Jeremiah said. “I also am thankful for our churches’ faithful support of Per Member Asking, which allows us to have the infrastructure in place to help in emergency situations when they arise. I expect that we will provide additional funds as Kirk and his congregation continue to assess the needs in their community.”

Secure online donations to the EPC Emergency Relief Fund can be made at www.epc.org/donate/emergencyrelief.

Church Pivot podcast features church planting discussion with Tom Ricks

 
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Tom Ricks

The third episode of Case Thorp’s “Church Pivot” podcast features the Moderator of the 39th General Assembly talking with Tom Ricks, leader of the EPC Church Planting Team.

In their discussion, Ricks reflects on his years in church planting and explains what it takes to plant churches in a connectional denomination like the EPC in the 21st century.

Click below to listen. The 61-minute recording also is available on the EPC’s Podbean channel, or search “Evangelical Presbyterian Church” on Spotify or iTunes.


A veteran EPC church planter, Ricks serves as Lead Pastor of Greentree Community Church in Kirkwood, Mo.

Thorp is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. He serves as Senior Associate Pastor of Evangelism for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.

“Church Pivot” is a series of articles and audio podcasts in which Thorp focuses on issues of pivoting toward a robust future of ministry, spiritual growth, adult conversion, and more.

EPC receives $250,000 donation for church planting

 

An anonymous donor has gifted the EPC a quarter of a million dollars for church planting. The Office of the General Assembly received the online donation in mid-December.

EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah said the gift was unexpected.

“Obviously, it is extremely exciting—and humbling at the same time—to see this tangible evidence of God’s working in this fellow believer’s life,” Jeremiah said. “When Pat Coelho, our Director of Finance, called me to say we had received this gift through our online donation system, I was surprised and grateful for this affirmation of EPC church planting. When I called Tom Ricks to tell him about it, he had much the same reaction.”

Jeremiah said he did not know the donor, who has asked to remain anonymous.

Ricks, chair of the EPC Church Planting Team, said the group has already began prayerful discussions on how to best invest the funds in denominational church planting efforts.

“This generous gift is confirmation of several things,” Ricks noted. “First and foremost, the Holy Spirit’s leading one of our fellow disciples to give so generously to help create multiplying congregations. Secondly, it is a result of our entire denomination responding to Jeff’s vision for church planting. Thirdly, I believe it is our Father’s confirmation we’re going in the right direction.”

He added that the gift “is God’s challenge to us for even greater efforts and more generosity in sharing the gospel of our Lord Jesus through new EPC congregations all across our country. We’re just getting started!”

Interested in making a year-end gift to the EPC, even if it is less than $250,000? Go to www.epc.org/donate.

November Jeremiah Journal explains EPC budget allocation

 

In the November 2019 edition of The Jeremiah Journal, EPC Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah explains how Per Member Asking contributions are put to work in the EPC.

The Jeremiah Journal is a monthly video blog hosted on the EPC’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/EPChurch80. Each month’s update also is posted to EPConnection and the EPC’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

For a transcript of this month’s edition in printable pdf format, click here.

EPC church planter’s retreat: five takeaways

 

CaseThorpChurchPivotby Case Thorp
Moderator of the 39th General Assembly

Escaping the swamp of Florida’s heat and humidity is always a welcomed occasion. Such was just a side benefit of joining the EPC Church Planter’s Retreat in Colorado Springs in October. Little did I know how on-fire our church planting leadership and planters are! My time with them moved me and inspired me, and I’m excited to share five key insights—and their implications for our broader denomination.

1. Tom Ricks is the bomb

The retreat struck the perfect tone: rich worship, challenging content, available counselors, amazing fellowship, and one-off meetings with coaches, experts, patrons, and participants. This was made possible because of the vision and leadership of Tom Ricks, leader of the EPC’s Church Planting Team. Tom is the full-time pastor of Greentree Community Church in suburban St. Louis, and brings to this role decades of church planting and coaching experience.

The planters and their spouses enjoyed a lovely stay at a nice resort—a special blessing that church planters on lean budgets rarely experience. In addition, Tom discovered that renting a nearby (and large!) home through AirBnB was less expensive than hosting two evening dinners in the hotel banquet room, so that’s what he did. The home set a relaxing tone for fellowship, feasting, and friendship-making that sent everyone home with full hearts.

Tom balances casting of vision, setting of tone and table for engagement, and networking through the greater EPC family to see that every church takes at least one of three roles: Parent, Partner, or Patron of church planting. Which one are you?

2. Almost majority minority

It was thrilling to see about 30 percent of our church planters are either African-American or Hispanic. A diverse worship team led our worship times.

As our Revelation 7:9 Task Force calls the EPC to consider how we reach the neighborhoods immediately around our churches, our church planters are leading the way in helping the EPC reflect “every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

EPC church planters are going to communities with resources, and with no resources. Wow!

3. Socialize before you memorialize

At my home church, we are going through a significant process of realigning our ministry model for missional effectiveness. One of our consultants used a great phrase that we repeat often: “Socialize before you memorialize.” His point was this: before you launch some big marketing campaign, restructure your Session or staff organization chart, or endorse some major ministry initiative, socialize things first. See how and where people naturally congregate, lead, live, and breath. Then, as you see the healthier way a community or individual naturally lives out the kingdom of God, memorialize it in architecture, imagery, new staff design, or more.

The church planters are a society of friends, co-laborers, champions, and band of brothers (and sisters!) where the action is happening. As a non-church planter—but a huge champion—I stand on the outside but want to be on the inside where God is doing big things.

4. Networking works

Did you know we have nine church-planting networks already up and running in the EPC? Presbytery-wide church planting work has its pros and cons. In the meantime, presbyteries have endorsed these metro-area networks of mostly (but not exclusively) EPC churches to tackle the task of church replication in their city. Check out www.epc.org/churchplanting and learn more about these networks and their contributions to the EPC church planting effort.

5. More, more, more

ChurchPlantersRetreat

Mike Moses led a session for pastors of churches that want to multiply through church planting.

New to the retreat this year was a workshop solely for senior pastors who want to take their church from no action to becoming a parent, partner, or patron of church planting. I loved meeting these pastors who have a passion to bring a church-planting vision to their flock!

Mike Moses, Lead Pastor of the Lake Forest family of churches in the Charlotte, N.C., area, taught the workshop and helped these pastors consider the opportunities, costs, pitfalls, and issues with doing church planting well.

Finally, here are two statistics that are worthy of our consideration:

  1. A church that plants another church within the first five years of its founding is statistically likely to double in size themselves.
  2. Churches that plant other churches increase in their worship attendance and missions giving more than those that don’t.

The question then becomes: Why isn’t your church planting a daughter church?

Case Thorp is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. He serves as Senior Associate Pastor of Evangelism for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.

Lake Forest Church (N.C.) launches Spanish-language church through Mexico partnership

 
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Victor Leal, Pastor of El Buen Samaritano, preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan at the congregation’s launch service on September 8, 2019 (Photos courtesy of Lake Forest Church).

The EPC’s newest Spanish-speaking congregation launched in Huntersville, N.C., on Sunday, September 8. Iglesia Lake Forest: El Buen Samaritano is a plant of the Lake Forest family of churches and is led by Victor Leal and his wife, Rosmi.

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Rosmi and Victor Leal

The congregation, whose name translates to “Lake Forest Church: The Good Samaritan” is fruit of the partnership between the EPC and the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (La Iglesia Nacional Presbiteriana de México or INPM), and a financial church-planting partnership between Lake Forest Church and the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic.

“We consider El Buen Samaritano an example of the EPC’s ‘Revelation 7:9’ vision for serving every tribe and language in our own country with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Mike Moses, Lead Pastor of Lake Forest Church-Huntersville and Moderator of the EPC’s 35th General Assembly.

The Leals came to Lake Forest in 2016 from Seminario Teológico Presbiteriano de México (the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of Mexico) in Mexico City.

“They have been living in the fast-growing Latino immigrant community of north Charlotte for more than a year, building relationships and leading the ministry of the resource center that our Lake Forest opened in 2017 in the key neighborhood of this population,” Moses noted. “The resource center—Centro de Recursos—is a platform for tutoring ministries, immigration law counseling, community police meetings, and much more. Victor and Rosmi have built trust in the neighborhood by actively caring for the physical and social needs of local families, and now they are trusted to lead people spiritually.”

On Launch Sunday, Rosmi led worship and Victor preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10.

“The theme was powerful,” Moses said. “Like the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable, the immigrant community in the U.S. today may feel as though they are suspect and objects of disrespect. However, Jesus emphasized that they are in fact as capable as anyone of exemplifying God’s Kingdom and God’s will by reaching out to serve others. And of course, Victor spoke the gospel—that Jesus is all of our ‘Good Samaritan’ who meets our deepest needs and pays the price for our healing through the cross and the resurrection.”

El Buen Samaritano is the fourth member of the Lake Forest family of churches, which includes congregations in Davidson, Huntersville, and Westlake, N.C. Lake Forest seeks to plant one new congregation every two to three years.

ElBuenSamaritanoC

Nine churches join EPC, three church plants become local churches in 2018–2019

 

A total of 12 churches joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church as local churches in the reporting period of May 31, 2018, through June 1, 2019. Of the nine new congregations, eight transferred from the Presbyterian Church (USA). One was previously an independent Presbyterian church. In addition, four church plants attained local church status.

These newest members of the EPC family of churches are:

Antioch Presbyterian Church (Jacksonville, N.C.)
Pastor currently vacant
www.antiochpresbyterian.weebly.com
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Church of the Redeemer (Maryville, Tenn.)
Dave Strunk, Pastor
www.churchotr.com
Presbytery of the Southeast

Deerfield EPC (Bridgeton, N.J.)
Kenneth Larter, Pastor
www.deerfieldpres.org
Presbytery of the East

First Presbyterian Church (Martinsburg, W.Va.)
Rufus Burton, Pastor
www.fpcmartinsbgwv.org
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

First Presbyterian Church of Stanton (Stanton, Ky.)
Lucas Waters, Pastor
www.fpcstanton.com
Presbytery of the Southeast

Grace Brevard EPC (Brevard, N.C.)
Brian Land, Pastor
www.gracebrevardchurch.org
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Grove Presbyterian Church EPC (Dunn, N.C.)
Michael Weaver, Pastor
www.grovechurchofdunn.com
Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic

Langhorne Presbyterian Church (Langhorne, Pa.)
Bill Teague, Pastor
www.langhornepres.org
Presbytery of the East

Nación Santa (Haines City, Fla.)
Luis Quiñones, Pastor
www.nacionsantaflorida.com
Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean

New Albany EPC (New Albany, Ohio)
David Milroy, Pastor
www.newalbanypresbyterian.org
Presbytery of the Alleghenies

Stow Presbyterian Church (Stow, Ohio)
Bob Stanley, Pastor
www.stowpres.church
Presbytery of the Alleghenies

The Table (San Francisco, Calif.)
Troy Wilson, Pastor
www.thetablesf.com
Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest

Woodlands Presbyterian Church (Hot Springs Village, Ark.)
Randy Carstens, Pastor
www.woodlandschurchhsv.org
Presbytery of the Central South

#epc2019ga

National Leadership Team holds final meeting before annual General Assembly

 

NLT201904At its April 2019 meeting, the EPC National Leadership Team (NLT) addressed a variety of topics related to its scope of overseeing the continuing work of the General Assembly between stated meetings. The spring meeting—held April 9-10 at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando—is one of four in-person gatherings each year.

Among the items finalized at the meeting were several recommendations for the 39th General Assembly to act on in June. The Assembly will be held June 19-21 at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in suburban Denver, Colo. Also approved for consideration by the Assembly were the 2019-2020 Special Projects and a preliminary FY2020 EPC operating budget.

“The NLT is proposing some revisions to the Book of Order and Rules for Assembly that should help clarify some questions that have arisen over the years,” said Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk. “These include the office of Pastor and Candidates Under Care, as well as language in the Rules that address the membership of the Nominating Committee and creating separate Church Planting and Revitalization committees to convene at our GA.”

The group also heard reports from Jeremiah on the state of the EPC; Assistant Stated Clerk Jerry Iamurri on the Candidates Educational Equivalency Program (CEEP); Phil Linton, Director of EPC World Outreach; Phil VanValkenburg, Chief Operating Officer; the Nominating Committee; and the Revelation 7:9 Task Force. The members of the NLT also expressed their appreciation to outgoing chair Dean Weaver from the Presbytery of the Alleghenies and Sabra Carman from the Presbytery of the Midwest.

In addition to Weaver and Carman, members of the National Leadership Team are Chris Danusiar, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; Nancy Duff, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; Phil Fanara, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the East; Michael Gibson, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Great Plains; Rob Liddon, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Central South; Rosemary Lukens, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest; Glenn Meyers, Ruling Elder from the Presbytery of the Alleghenies; Luder Whitlock, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; and Moderator-Elect Case Thorp, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

The next meeting of the National Leadership Team is scheduled for August 20-21.

National Leadership Team’s January meeting focuses on strategic planning

 
NLT201901

The EPC National Leadership Team prayed for Tom Ricks (second from left, standing), Chair of the EPC Church Planting Team, as well as for each EPC church planter by name. Standing with Ricks are (left to right) Moderator-elect Case Thorp, Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah, and Moderator Tom Werner.

At its January 2019 meeting, the EPC National Leadership Team (NLT) addressed a variety of topics related to its scope of overseeing the continuing work of the General Assembly between stated meetings. The winter meeting—held January 22-23 at the Office of the General Assembly in Orlando—is one of four in-person gatherings each year and largely focuses on strategic planning.

Central to the meeting agenda was a review of the EPC mission and vision statements,  and the four strategic initiatives of global movement, transformation, multiplication, and effective biblical leadership. Robust discussion of the EPC’s commitment to each of the four emphases resulted in a minor change in terminology from “strategic initiatives” to “strategic priorities.”

“The word ‘initiative’ can be thought of as ‘something we do for a season,’ but ‘priority’ better conveys how we approach these four areas,” said Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah. “The NLT wanted to make it clear that the EPC remains committed to transformation, multiplication, and the others—however they may be implemented—and they are not going away any time soon.”

As part of the review and discussion of the multiplication priority, Tom Ricks reported on denominational church planting efforts. Ricks is Chair of the EPC Church Planting Team. He described several new churches that are in the pipeline, as well as efforts to foster community and share best practices among church planters at the annual Church Planters Retreat held in Colorado Springs each October.

For more information on EPC church planting, see www.epc.org/churchplanting.

The next meeting of the National Leadership Team is scheduled for April 9-10.

Nación Santa in Haines City, Fla., celebrates particularization as state’s first Spanish-speaking EPC congregation

 
NacionSantaB

Leslee Quiñones (center) leads worship during Nación Santa’s celebration service on January 20, 2019. To her right is Pastor Luis Quiñones; to her left is Case Thorp, Senior Associate for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.

Nación Santa (Holy Nation Church) in Haines City, Fla., celebrated particularization on Sunday, January 20, as the newest congregation in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

“I want to say ‘Thank you’ to the presbytery and the EPC,” Pastor Luis Quiñones told the gathering of more than 100 members and guests. “To God be the glory; we made it!”

The multi-national congregation—the first Spanish-speaking EPC church in Florida—has members from Chile, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico. Nación Santa started as a mission church in Kissimmee in 2008, and relocated to the campus of First Presbyterian Church in Haines City in 2014. In early 2017, Quiñones approached David Swanson, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, about leaving their denomination and coming under the oversight of FPCO and the EPC’s Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

“When we remember how we started our relationship with (FPCO), we have to say that God was moving in material ways,” Quiñones said. “Thank you for your love and support. You are one of us.”

Case Thorp, FPCO Senior Associate Pastor and EPC Moderator-elect, delivered a message from Philemon in which he asked the question, “What does it mean to be evangelical?”

Referencing verse 19, in which Paul reminds Philemon that he owes Paul “his very self,” Thorp posed two questions.

“Who do you owe? Who told you about Jesus?” he asked. “But further, who owes their life in Jesus to you because of your life and ministry? Who are you teaching and bringing up in Jesus?”

He noted that the answer to the second question “is why we are evangelical.”

In addition to Thorp, other guests included FPCO Ruling Elders Chris Phillips and Chris Morgan; Mike Gillett, Moderator-elect of the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; and Juan Rivera, pastor of Iglesia Presbiteriana Westminster in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Rivera delivered the installation charge to Nación Santa’s first class of Ruling Elders— Esther Duque, Adalberto Negrón, Reinaldo Perez, and Kelvin Velez.

 

Thanksgiving offering to support church planting in under-resourced areas

 

2018ThanksgivingOfferingBulletinInsertThe 2018 EPC Thanksgiving Offering has been designated for church planting efforts in under-resourced areas. The EPC has 42 active current church plants, only seven of which are currently targeting these types of neighborhoods.

“Only one in six of our active church plants are in underserved areas,” said Tom Ricks, Chair of the EPC Church Planting Team. “Our generous gifts will help that number increase as we seek to share God’s love in areas that have been neglected for far too long.”

To help facilitate contributions from churches, a bulletin insert is available in printable pdf format on the EPC website.

The annual Thanksgiving Offering supports a project approved by the General Assembly each June, alternating between World Outreach and Church Planting/Revitalization.

Secure online donations to the Thanksgiving Offering can be made at www.epc.org/donate/thanksgivingoffering. Individuals also can utilize text-to-give by texting “epcthanksgivingoffering” to 50155 from any smart device. Donors who prefer to send a check should put “Thanksgiving Offering (041)” on the memo line and send to:

Evangelical Presbyterian Church
Attn: Finance Office
5850 T.G. Lee Blvd., Suite 510
Orlando, FL 32822

For more information about how churches can be a Parent, Partner, or Patron of EPC church planting, contact Ricks at tom@greentreechurch.com.

 

Commissioners to 38th General Assembly approve Pastoral Letter on Human Sexuality, re-elect Stated Clerk, propose Commissioned Pastor revision

 

GA2018BannerCommissioners to the EPC’s 38th General Assembly approved 26 recommendations, declined two others, and for procedural reasons took no action on an additional five. The Assembly was held June 19-22 at Hope Church in suburban Memphis, Tenn.

TomWerner

Tom Werner, 38th GA Moderator

Recommendations that were approved include a Pastoral Letter on Human Sexuality, the re-election of Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah to a new three-year term, proposed changes to the role of Commissioned Pastor, and more. Commissioners also welcomed seven new churches to the EPC since last year’s Assembly; elected Tom Werner, Ruling Elder from Greentree Community Church in St. Louis, Mo., as Moderator; and elected Case Thorp, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean, as Moderator-Elect. Thorp serves as Senior Associate Pastor for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Fla.

Pastoral Letter on Human Sexuality approved

The Pastoral Letter on Human Sexuality is a companion document to the Position Paper on Human Sexuality that was approved by the 36th General Assembly in 2016 and ratified by the 37th Assembly in 2017. The 36th General Assembly, meeting at Ward Church in Livonia, Mich., also approved the formation of an interim committee to write the Pastoral Letter. The committee held several listening sessions at the 37th General Assembly in Sacramento. The preliminary draft was released in January 2018 to Teaching Elders and Sessions for comment.

Sandy Willson, Interim Committee Chair, reported that the draft also was sent to “select outsiders who have particular expertise, training, and personal experiences that would qualify them to provide feedback. The men and women consulted included persons with personal and professional experiences with same-sex attraction, physical and sexual abuse, terminal degrees in counseling, and experience in theological education.”

The Letter was approved by unanimous vote of the Assembly.

Commissioned Pastor expansion proposed

The recommendation to expand the role of Commissioned Pastor was presented by the EPC’s Interim Committee on Ministerial Education (ICME), with the affirmation of both the permanent Ministerial Vocation Committee (MVC) and the Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC). If ratified by the EPC’s presbyteries, the recommendation will allow a Commissioned Pastor to serve on a church staff that has an ordained Teaching Elder serving as Pastor.

A Commissioned Pastor is a Ruling Elder who has been temporarily authorized by a presbytery and given the authority of a Teaching Elder. The role was previously reserved only for a congregation without a Pastor, mission churches, church plants, or chaplaincy roles in hospitals, hospices, prisons, or other institutions.

Michael Flake, MVC Chair reported approximately 40 Commissioned Pastors currently serve in the EPC.

“Almost all of these serve in their home church,” he said. “These are churches that do not have a Pastor, and one of their Ruling Elders will agree to be examined by the presbytery and become a Commissioned Pastor.”

He said one of the benefits of a Commissioned Pastor is that a church with this type of stable leadership is more likely to not only stabilize but also become healthy and grow to the extent that they can then call a Teaching Elder.

“Unfortunately,” Flake said, “in our current way of doing things when that happens the Commissioned Pastor is out of a job because we have no provision for having a Commissioned Pastor in a church with a Teaching Elder.”

Allowing a church to have both a Teaching Elder and a Commissioned Pastor “would continue to recognize the calling that God has placed in certain Ruling Elders’ lives—acknowledging what God is already doing,” Flake said, adding that it also could help with pastoral burnout by giving a Teaching Elder an opportunity to have a Ruling Elder step in and help with certain pastoral duties. He emphasized that a Commissioned Pastor would still be subject to the approval of the presbytery.

ICME Chair Fred Lian noted that the recommendation allows the presbytery—which can mandate theological continuing education for the Commissioned Pastor—to “invest in our Ruling Elders who have been called to a more fuller role of ministry to their churches and their communities.”

Because the Assembly-approved recommendation proposes changes to the EPC’s Book of Government, it is now Descending Overture 18A. Each of the EPC’s 14 presbyteries will vote on the Overture at their winter 2018 meeting, having discussed it at their fall meeting. Presbyteries may debate its substance, but the Overture may not be amended. To be presented for adoption at the 39th General Assembly, 11 of the 14 presbyteries must approve the Overture.

Stated Clerk re-elected

JeffJeremiah

Jeff Jeremiah

Jeremiah was elected to a fifth term as Stated Clerk. He has served as the EPC’s Chief Executive Officer since 2006.

“I am so very grateful to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving me this ministry that you have just confirmed for three more years,” Jeremiah said following his unanimous re-election. “This will be my last term as the Stated Clerk. In the next three years, I will do all that I can to help prepare for the future of the EPC. I love you, and want God’s very best for you—and for us—when I lay this ministry down.”

He challenged the “Boomers” in attendance—those born between the early 1940s through the mid-1960s—to support, mentor, encourage, and champion the younger men and women in the EPC.

“We must do this if we are going to secure the future of the EPC as a mighty instrument used by God for the expansion of His Kingdom in this place and around the world,” Jeremiah said.

He said his other goal in his last term was to continue to work on behalf on Andrew Brunson. He referenced Luke 18—where Jesus addresses the issue of counting the cost—reflecting on the nearly two years since the EPC Teaching Elder was imprisoned in Turkey.

“How could we have counted the cost then, when we had no idea what was ultimately going to happen and how long this would take?” he asked. “The only answer I have is that there some tasks that our Lord calls us to, and we do them. I will admit that this task has been costly, but I bear that cost knowing that it is what God has called me to.”

Jeremiah described his relationships with numerous U.S. Government officials that he has developed over the 20 months since Brunson’s incarceration.

“I have been amazed by the doors the Lord has opened for us in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “But we know the only open door that matters is the door of the plane through which Andrew and Norine come back to the United States. Until that day comes, we will not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time will reap a harvest if we will not give up. I have spoken for all of us when I have repeatedly assured Andrew and Norine that we will never give up. Never.”

New interim committee to be appointed

Commissioners authorized Moderator Tom Werner to appoint an interim committee “to study how the EPC can better become a denomination that faithfully embraces and serves our neighbors from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Revelation 7:9).”

The recommendation came from the National Leadership Team (NLT), which explained the rationale for the committee in its report to the Assembly:

“At its January 2018 meeting, the NLT spent considerable time discussing where God is calling the EPC in the next decade. One of the areas in which the NLT believes we can improve as a denomination is in our efforts to minister to the diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural communities that surround many of our churches and that the Lord calls us to serve.”

Scott Griffin, NLT Chair, said the goal is to “make our denomination look more like the neighborhoods where God has planted us.”

The recommendation was unanimously approved by the Standing Committee on Administration, and added to an omnibus consent motion.

Budget, special projects approved

The total approved Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19—July 2018 through June 2019) budget for EPC operating expenses is $2,669,231. This amount includes $438,199 in direct funding of the four strategic initiatives—$92,690 for Church Revitalization; $182,680 for Church Planting; $121,290 for Effective Biblical Leadership; and $41,539 for Global Movement. In addition, 20 percent of Per Member Asking (PMA) contributions to the EPC support Global Movement in the form of funding the overall ministry of World Outreach. Funding for the strategic initiatives was added to the EPC operating budget in the FY2018 budget; they previously were funded through undesignated cash reserves since their 2014 inception.

The Assembly also approved a variety of Special Projects for FY19, which are supported outside of per-member-asking (PMA) but would be fully funded if each EPC church contributed an additional $5.62 per member above the PMA target of $23 per member.

In other administration-related business, commissioners approved:

  • A recommendation that shifts approval of applications to the EPC Church Loan Fund from the EPC Foundation to the NLT Finance Committee.
  • The EPC Restated Articles of Incorporation and Corporate Bylaws. These documents stem from a liability study undertaken in 2014. That study led to a corporate restructure of the EPC in which World Outreach and Benefit Resources, Inc., were separated as legal entities from the EPC ecclesiastical body, but remained under the oversight of the General Assembly.
  • A recommendation that ordained ministers drawing retirement income from the EPC 403(b)(9) Defined Contribution Retirement Plan be allowed to designate up to 100 percent of their retirement income for housing allowance.

New committee and board members elected

In addition to the election of Werner as Moderator and Thorp as Moderator-elect, the Assembly elected the following individuals to fill vacancies on the EPC’s permanent committees and boards as others complete their terms of service (TE denotes Teaching Elder. RE denotes Ruling Elder. * denotes second term.):

Benefit Resources, Inc., Board of Directors: RE Robert Draughon*, Presbytery of the Central South; Michael Moore, Presbytery of the Central South; TE Bill Reisenweaver, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean.

Committee on Chaplains Work and Care: TE Greg Holman, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; TE Jennifer Prechter, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; TE David Snyder*, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; RE Richard Swedberg*, Presbytery of the West; TE Brad Yorton, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest.

Committee on Church Planting and Revitalization: RE Franklin Carter*, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic. (Carter was not seated due to Assembly approval of Recommendation GA38-14 to disband the Committee on Church Planting and Revitalization.)

EPC Foundation Board: RE Ben Borsay, Presbytery of the Midwest; Mark Eibel, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest; RE John Graham, Presbytery of the Southeast.

Committee on Fraternal Relations: RE Carol Culbertson, Presbytery of the West; TE Don Fortson, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic.

Committee on Ministerial Vocation: RE Neal McAtee*, Presbytery of the Central South; RE Caroline Tromble*, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes.

National Leadership Team: RE Phil Fanara*, Presbytery of the East; RE Michael Gibson*, Presbytery of the Great Plains; RE Rob Liddon*, Presbytery of the Central South; RE Rosemary Lukens*, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest.

Next Generation Ministries Council: Greg Aydt, Presbytery of the West; Meg DeHaven, Presbytery of the East; TE Andrew Mills, Presbytery of the Gulf South; RE Becky Shultz, Presbytery of the West; Ryan Suzuki, Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest.

Nominating Committee: RE Marion Bradshaw, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Larry Carlson, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest; RE Susan Humphreys, Presbytery of Mid-America; RE Joe McCoy, Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic; TE David Ricketts, Presbytery of the Pacific Southwest; TE Wayne Hardy, Presbytery of the Great Plains.

Permanent Judicial Commission: RE Amanda Cowan, Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean; RE Don Flater*, Presbytery of the Rivers and Lakes; TE Dana Opp*, Presbytery of the Alleghenies.

Presbytery Review Committee: RE Cecil Matthews*, Presbytery of the West.

Committee on Theology: TE Ron DiNunzio, Presbytery of the East; TE Ryan Mowen, Presbytery of the Alleghenies.

Women’s Resource Council: TE Sharon Beekman*, Presbytery of the West; TE Mary Brown*, Presbytery of the Great Plains; RE Lynn Burdge, Presbytery of the Central South; Anita Campbell, Presbytery of the Alleghenies.

World Outreach Committee: TE Chris Bear, Presbytery of the East; TE Rick Dietzman, Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest; RE Patrick Tucker*, Presbytery of the Central South.

Other business items

Several other items of business were unanimously approved without discussion. Those items were:

  • Ratifying Descending Overtures 17-A, 17-B, 17-C, and 17-D. Overture 17-A amended the Book of Government sections 9-6A and 10-8B.2a, bringing consistency to the wording of the two sections by specifying the term of service for an out-of-bounds call as a renewable term of up to three years. Overture 17-B amended the Book of Government sections 21-2D.2e and f, expanding areas of ongoing authority that may be given to the Ministerial Committee at the discretion of the presbytery. Overture 17-C amended the Book of Government section 10-7 by creating and defining the called position of Transitional Pastor. Overture 17-D amended the Book of Government section 9-5A.1 for consistency with section 10-7 to clarify that all calls to Teaching Elders must be approved by the presbytery. Each of these overtures were approved by the 38th General Assembly, and subsequently approved by the presbyteries at their winter 2017-18 meetings.
  • Giving the permanent Fraternal Relations Committee the authority to develop a fraternal relationship with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, as well as the authority to appoint EPC representatives to engage with groups where participation of the Stated Clerk is not necessary.
  • Disbanding the permanent Church Planting and Revitalization Committee (CPRC). The CPRC stated in its report to the Assembly that the successful implementation of the Church Planting Team under the leadership of Tom Ricks and the Church Revitalization Task Force (now known as the GO Center led by Ken Priddy) since 2012 and 2013, respectively, made the CPRC “superfluous and no longer necessary.”
  • Re-assigning Benton, Washington, Crawford, and Sebastian counties in northwest Arkansas from the Presbytery of the Central South to the Presbytery of the Great Plains.
  • Approving Operation Mobilization as an approved Cooperative Mission Agency, Timothy Two as an approved Mission Agency, and Equip International as an approved Mission Agency of EPC’s World Outreach.
  • Supplementing the EPC Foundation Board with at least one volunteer representative from each presbytery. These volunteers would help expand awareness of the Foundation’s services as they speak to churches and individuals in their presbyteries.
  • Approving the minutes of the National Leadership Team, Next Generation Ministries Council, Women’s Resource Council, and permanent committees on Church Planting and Revitalization, Fraternal Relations, Ministerial Vocation, and World Outreach.
  • Approving the minutes of the 14 EPC presbyteries (with some minor exceptions requiring response to the permanent Presbytery Review Committee by December 31, 2018).
  • Accepting the invitation from Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, Colo., to host the 39th General Assembly in June 2019.

Bart Hess Award for church growth and revitalization

The annual Bart Hess Award for church growth and revitalization was presented to Restoration Church in Munford, Tenn. for their revitalization efforts. Mike Gibson is the Pastor, and the congregation joined the EPC in 2010.

Limited by a sanctuary built in 1911 and now landlocked with no parking or expansion room, the church was experiencing only incremental, transfer growth and not reaching the unchurched in its community.

“We weren’t expanding the Kingdom, we were just rearranging the sheep,” Gibson said, noting that he and his leadership team undertook a study of its community to address the issue. “We wanted to know what kind of needs they had and what we could do to minister to them, and what were we doing or not doing to attract them or be a total disinterest to them.”

In response to what the study revealed about the church and the community, the congregation changed its name to Restoration Church, adopted a contemporary worship style, and developed a ministry to families.

“A lot of the people around us had been through a divorce but were very family-oriented,” he said. “They were very concerned about not repeating what had happened in their homes that resulted in divorce. And they were very interested in receiving help.”

Jeff Jeremiah affirmed the church’s willingness to not only ask hard questions about its health and ministry to its community, but also its effort to make changes in response to the answers they received.

“Under Mike’s leadership, lives are being redeemed, revived, and restored through the ministry of Restoration Church and I am thrilled that their hard work has been recognized by the entire EPC,” he said.

Church Planting Team highlights growth in plants, networks

In addition to business recommendations voted on by commissioners, the EPC’s interim and permanent committees and boards presented reports to the Assembly on their work over the past year.

TomRicks

Tom Ricks

Tom Ricks, Chair of the Church Planting Team (CPT), reported 43 active EPC church plants in 16 states. He also reported at least three churches “went from being a church plant to being a localized congregation, which is the ultimate goal—getting them to stand on their own two feet and then multiply themselves by planting other new churches.”

Ricks reported two church planting networks currently, with two more in development. Ricks noted that one of these networks, in St. Louis, Mo., was formed by five EPC churches in the Presbytery of Mid-America. “We have bound together and have committed our resources and energies for the sole purpose of planting churches in the city of St. Louis—not in the county or in the surrounding area but in the urban part of the community.”

He also noted seven active church plants in underserved neighborhoods around the country. Ricks emphasizing that the CPT is looking at not only underserved neighborhoods, but also unreached areas—particularly in the northeast and on the West Coast.

“These are a couple of areas in our country where there is tremendous opportunity in a post-Christian era to plant churches and share the gospel.”

Additional church planting activities described in the Church Planting and Revitalization Committee’s printed report to the Assembly included:

  • A new church plant in an area of Nashville, Tenn., with an 80-percent minority population.
  • An Hispanic church plant in Charlotte, N.C., launched by Lake Forest Church in Hendersonville, N.C., in partnership with the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (INPM). The EPC signed a church-planting partnership with the INPM in 2016, and the Charlotte congregation will be led by a church planter from Mexico.
  • Church of the Resurrection in New Orleans, La., launched in 2017 by the Gulf Coast Church Planting Network.
  • The inaugural “church planting cohort” designed to encourage and equip EPC church planters, and led by Bart Garrett, Lead Pastor of Christ Church East Bay in Berkeley, Calif.

Ricks, Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Mid-America, is Pastor of Greentree Community Church in St. Louis, Mo.

GO Center describes revitalization tools, new funding model

KenPriddy

Ken Priddy

Ken Priddy, Teaching Elder from the Presbytery of the Mid-Atlantic and Director of the EPC GO Center, provided the report for the GO Center, the primary EPC vehicle for church revitalization. He explained that the GO Center is an equipping ministry “that engages and empowers pastors, church leaders, and congregations to move forward into greater health and vitality—to revitalize—through training, consulting, coaching, and assessing.”

He said each of the EPC’s 600-plus churches “is at the epicenter of a domestic mission field,” noting that the people in these missions fields are not simply lost; they are missing from the family of God. “They are waiting for the gospel to get to them,” he said. “The question is, ‘How and when will our churches take the gospel out?’ That is the question that the GO Center seeks to answer.”

Priddy reported that 12 of the EPC’s 14 presbyteries now has a volunteer GO Center Coordinator, who serves as a link between the GO Center and the needs and interests of the presbyteries. Priddy also said that more than 30 volunteers have been trained to serve as GO Center Vision Team Coaches. Coaches work with a local church Vision Team to encourage and assist those teams through implementation of the GO Center training in their local context. He also said new training materials have been created and implemented.

A further area of emphasis over the past year has been the development of relevant metric tools to assess the health of participating churches and their progress through the GO Center’s revitalization process.

Finally, Priddy reported a shift in the ministry’s funding structure for the future. He said the GO Center has been incorporated as its own 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and effective July 1, 2018, will receive funding from three streams. The first is continued, though reduced, support from the EPC administrative budget. The second is a fee structure  attached to the ministry services provided, Third will be donor funding solicited by the GO Center through the EPC Foundation.

World Outreach reports progress, sets goals

PhilLinton

Phil Linton

Phil Linton, Director of World Outreach (WO), noted four major accomplishments since the 2017 Assembly in Sacramento:

  • The WO global worker assessment and approval process was completely revised.
  • A thorough mid-term evaluation of Engage 2025 was completed, and Engage 2025 Team Leaders (and their families) were brought together and given new tools, resources, and training to carry out their task.
  • A manual for International Business as Mission (IBAM) was developed and approved.
  • Multi-year Ministry Plans were developed to deliver specific goods and services to our International Theological Education Network partners.

Linton said IBAM will be a major focus for the coming year.

“This past year has seen the maturation of a process in laying the groundwork, and this is the year we want to see that implemented,” he said. “Our goal is to have six hubs for business professionals across the country to incubate and take advantage of the business acumen, counsel, and energy of business people in the EPC.”

He shared a second goal for IBAM of having two entrepreneurial business professionals joining the World Outreach team in the next year.

Linton also reported that the goal he shared at the 2017 General Assembly in Sacramento—11 new global workers commissioned at this year’s Assembly—was nearly met. Seven families and one single candidate were appointed by World Outreach Committee in the last 12 months.

“We still need to provide reinforcements for our Engage 2025 pioneer church planting teams,” Linton told the 2018 Assembly. He said World Outreach will be praying and working to have six new global workers commissioned next year to join existing Engage 2025 teams serving in the Muslim world.

#epc2018ga

Memphis church planter closes Friday morning with brief report

 

GA2018LI-TimJohnsonTheAvenueTim Johnson, Commissioned Pastor for The Avenue, an EPC church plant in the Summer Avenue area of Memphis, brought a brief report at the close of the Friday morning business session of the 38th General Assembly at Hope Church in Cordova, Tenn.

He noted that the church plant, which hopes to launch later in 2018, is “not trying to do anything unique or special, but is seeking to plant the flag of Jesus” in an under-resourced part of Memphis.

“What we want to see is that in 20 years, people would come to Summer Avenue and ask ‘what happened here?'” Johnson said. “And we want to hear someone else answer, ’20 years ago, some people who loved Jesus came here.’”

#epc2018ga

EPC Home Missionary John Bueno releases Spring 2018 newsletter

 

LatinsUnitedSpring2018John Bueno, EPC Home Missionary serving with Latins United Christian Ministries (LUCM), invites you to read his Spring 2018 newsletter. In this edition, he discusses progress on an EPC church plant in the Hispanic community of Bellevue, Neb., in partnership with Avery Presbyterian Church.

Click here to download the Spring 2018 edition in pdf format.

For more information about LUCM, contact Bueno at johnbknox@yahoo.com or 402-350-3815.

Church Planters Retreat offers refresh and recharge

 
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Attendees of the EPC Church Planters Retreat enjoyed breakout sessions on a variety of topics, including fundraising, self-care, worship, and more.

As one of the EPC’s four strategic initiatives, church planting is a priority in the EPC. A significant aspect of supporting church planting is supporting and ministering to church planters. A key strategy in supporting EPC church planters is the annual Church Planters Retreat.

This year’s retreat was held October 25-27 at Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs, Colo. Nearly 50 EPC church planters, their spouses, and members of the Church Planting Team (CPT) joined presbytery leaders and others for three days of training and renewal that included peer networking, breakout and mentoring sessions, fellowship, prayer, and more.

Tom Ricks, CPT chair, explained that “church planting nuts-and-bolts” training sessions focused on topics such as fundraising, worship, self-care, and preaching in a start-up situation.

“Church planting is one of the hardest and loneliest endeavors of which I have ever been a part,” said James Daniels, pastor of Chelsea Presbyterian Church in suburban Birmingham, Ala. The church plant is not yet holding formal worship services, but is in the formation stage of hosting social events such as prayer breakfasts to build a local core group.

“The retreat came at a critical time in the process, and offered a beautiful balance of information and transformation,” Daniels added. “I’m entering back into my local community renewed and inspired for the days ahead.”

“This retreat was absolutely necessary,” said Brian Roskin, pastor of River City Church in St. Charles, Mo. “The topics were thoughtful and relevant for my current situation. I was able to connect with others doing the same thing, creating a network for me.”

Breakout sessions for spouses were led by Patty Robinson, wife of Shawn Robinson, founding pastor of Clayton Community Church in Clayton, Calif., and a CPT member. Her topic, “Engaging, Equipping, and Encouraging,” addressed how to navigate the call to be a church planter’s wife—including managing expectations and boundaries.

“Taking care of your relationship with God, knowing how and when to invest in the (church) plant, and protecting your marriage and family is what make the journey unique,” she said.

Another component of support for EPC church planters is a Church Planters’ Cohort, now in the planning phase with a launch goal of January 2018.

“The cohort will meet bi-monthly via FaceTime,” Ricks noted, “and cover topics essential to the first two years of church planting.” He added that “covenant triads” will provide opportunity for church planters to check in, support, and pray for each other.

Cohort leader Bart Garrett, pastor of Christ Church East Bay in Berkeley, Calif., reported that eleven church planters expressed interest during the retreat in this continuing training/support effort.

Jeff Jeremiah, EPC Stated Clerk, noted that the retreat could not happen without local church giving to Per Member Asking, since food and lodging are funded in the EPC budget.

“Commissioners to the 2017 General Assembly in Sacramento approved funding church planting—as well as the other strategic initiatives of church revitalization, effective biblical leadership, and global movement—in the EPC budget, so every church that participates in Per Member Asking is investing in EPC church planting.”

Ricks noted that many EPC presbyteries pay travel expenses for church planters and their spouses, “so they can attend virtually cost-free.”

“The Church Planting Team and I are grateful for the opportunity to help invest in and grow the next generation of EPC church planters,” Ricks said. “We’ve seen many churches come along side us as ‘Parents, Partners, and Patrons’ of church planting. Thank you to everyone who supports church planting. If you’re not yet involved but interested in learning more, let me know!”

Ricks can be contacted at tom@greentreechurch.com or 314-909-9197, ext. 1007.

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EPC church planters and their spouses at the 2017 Church Planters Retreat in Colorado Springs, Colo.