Bryan Barley is a contributor to Baptist21 and the lead pastor of The Summit Church Denver, a new church plant in urban Denver, CO. He and his wife, Megan, have lived in the city now for two months.
Almost two months ago my wife and I, along with several other individuals from the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC, were commissioned to plant a church in urban Denver, CO. And while two months on the ground makes me anything but an expert, one of the invaluable lessons I’ve learned is that being planted out of a healthy, supportive local church is indispensible in the planting process.
At the heart of the Summit’s vision for church planting is the conviction that planting happens best through the local church – it’s in the local church that the best assessment, training, and support can happen. With this conviction, and a vision to plant 1,000 churches in the next 40 years, they launched SendRDU to mobilize and equip people to plant churches in cities around the world.
SendRDU facilitates both international and North American church planting, and offers training ranging from the informal to a full-time, 9 month residency to prepare lead planters for church planting.
I was fortunate to go through the entirety of the SendRDU process. It began with mentorship and assessment where pastors looked into my life and evaluated everything from my ability to lead to my ability to love my wife. It culminated with coming on staff at the Summit as an intern and then a church planting resident, providing the opportunity to be trained in everything from preaching to leading an elders meeting.
Now on the ground in Denver and fully immersed in the church planting journey, I think almost daily how frightening it would have been to plant apart from this training. My time at the Summit not only confirmed and refined our calling, it gave us the confidence and support of a local church to move forward in the face of discouragement, and provided the practical training and skills we needed to know where we’re headed.
For my brothers reading this who are considering the call to church planting, I offer you some of the best advice I received in our church planting journey: the best way to prepare to plant is to serve in a local church with a vision for planting churches. While it’s certainly possible to take other routes to planting, my time at the Summit was priceless in mobilizing, equipping, and now planting us to start a new church in the city.
For more information about SendRDU, go to www.SendRDU.com.
Before I begin this post I’d like to continue the habit of recommending a few resources that are related to church planting:
Mark Driscoll, Seven Views of Culture
After working through the call to church plant, the question naturally arises: where am I supposed to go?
The question I get most often is “Why plant in Denver?” As we worked through the call to a location, we didn’t know where to start. Anywhere on the map was fair game. In the end, we decided on Denver for three major reasons: Need, Influence, and Community. The first two are self-explanatory, but the third is a less-discussed component of calling.
My wife and I wanted to think long term about where we would plant, taking the advice of Tim Keller that the best way to reach the cities is to have Christians plant their lives there for multiple generations. Therefore, we were asking practical questions such as: “what does it look to do life here?,” “what does it look like to raise children here?,” and “how well do I naturally fit into the already-established culture?” I don’t mean to overemphasize this to the point that if you don’t immediately gush at the thought of your grandkids playing in the city’s parks then you need to look elsewhere, but I do think it’s important to actually like where you live. My guess is your effectiveness is limited when you view the city as some dark, horrible, crowded place that you would avoid unless God had “called” you to it.
Below is an elaboration of our own calling to the city of Denver. This was written and reserached by another member of our team, Andy Metzger.
When answering the question, “Why Denver?” we like to focus on three categories: need, influence, and community.
Over the past 10 years, cities across our country have continued to experience a significant return—a return of people. Urban environments are being revitalized, residential life is booming, and all generations have shown interest in being a part of this movement. Young professionals, empty nesters, and retirees alike are migrating toward urban centers, and we can’t afford to ignore this.
Denver is no different:
After decades of decline (~1970–1990), the population of the Denver Metro Area has steadily grown to reach a record high of 2.8 million residents.
Studies show that anywhere from 90-97% of these Denver residents are unchurched
Denver is quickly emerging as a distinguished and prominent city within the western United States
So as Denver continues to grow—as people continue to come—we believe the need for gospel-centered churches rises tremendously. Because the number of churches being planted has not paralleled the growing population, there are millions of Denver residents that have not heard and been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Fundamentally, we see a tremendous need for more gospel-centered churches in Denver because there are so many people who do not know Jesus as Savior.
Cities like Denver, however, are not merely homes to millions—they are centers of influence for the world. These urban centers continue to be the primary location where culture develops. Economics, commerce, arts, politics, philosophy, and technology are fundamentally shaped in the city and then flow into all other sectors of the world.
Where the cities lead, the world follows. What the cities love, the world loves. What the cities value, the world values. To evangelize the entire world, then, we see the cities as the strategic starting point and launching pad of our mission.
We look at Denver as a strategic city—one that influences culture and shapes the lives of millions of people. It is an energetic and welcoming metropolitan area—one of the most important cities of the Mountain West region—and serves as a gateway to West Coast life. Denver also boasts these amazing qualities:
12 four-year public and private colleges and universities with enrollments totaling more than 140,700
The latest U.S. census shows that over 70 nationalities and languages are represented in Denver
Denver is one of only two cities in America with ten professional sports teams
Denver is emerging as the leader in renewable energy research and “green-friendly” practices
Denver held the Democratic National Convention in August 2008 demonstrating the nation’s recognition of Denver as a leading city
The third primary reason we look to Denver as a strategic city is because of its amazing culture that we know we could quickly grow to love. Recognized by the Pew Research Center in 2008 as the “Best City to Call Home,” Denver has long been revered as the perfect place to live, learn, work and play. Mixing an urban sophistication, educated population, and dynamic culture with an adventurous outdoors, sunny climate, and affordable living provides just a glimpse of why Denver attracts individuals and families from all over the globe.
Ultimately, we desire to love the place where we live and its people. Denver has the progressive culture of a west coast town, tremendous diversity, natural beauty, and a hint of Midwestern hospitality that we can thrive in. We are excited about calling Denver home, raising families in Denver, building community in Denver, and restoring true joy and hope to Denver through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Make sure to check out the other posts in this series on Preparing2Plant Churches
Church planters, especially those who “parachute” from the outside, have a reputation for disrespecting the already-established churches in the area. We can easily view ourselves as the enlightened saviors of the city who finally “get” how to do church, and if people would just do ministry like us (never mind that we’re not actually practicing, and this is all theory) then this city would be 95% evangelical, not 95% lost…
Such thinking reflects a myopic kingdom mindset, but this has sadly been the legacy of many planters who have gone before us. Such thinking typically leads to these churches shutting their doors before really having a chance to open them.
Our team didn’t want to be oblivious to the work that has gone before us in the city. It’s not like we’ll be the first good church in Denver, and it is exciting rather than discouraging to know that there are good, gospel-centered churches in the city already. I guess there’s something seemingly-courageous about going to a city and saying you’re the only evangelical church. But for me, when we’re trying to reach millions of people, I’d sure like to have some brothers in the trenches with me. I think there will be plenty of lost people to go around.
These other churches are not our competition, but rather our partners in fulfilling the Great Commission in a city that desperately needs Jesus. I love cooperating for the cause of the gospel since it is “the great unifier.” Territorialism in light of this is utterly ridiculous.
We have experienced a wonderful spirit of cooperation in Denver, as pastors recognize both the need in the city and that no one church is going to reach a city on its own. We’ve seen partnerships develop with churches like High View Church, which is only a year old, running around eighty people, yet planting a church in Colorado Springs as well as helping with our planting process in the next year.
If you don’t love the other gospel-centered local churches in the city in which you’re planting, I’d strongly encourage you to evaluate your own calling. More than anything, I’d ask you whether you’re planting a church for God’s glory, or your own.
3. A Team
The thought of my wife and I being a couple of lone rangers and moving to a city to start a church was less than appealing to me. I know there are plenty of guys who have been successful using this model, but when I examined the multitude of responsibilities involved in church planting, I recognized that I didn’t want to do this alone.
Planting as a team presents unique challenges and potential dangers, but the advantages are tremendous: you are engaging the city with an already-established support system in place. You have a community of missionaries ready to reach the city and capable of entering spheres of influence that a lone planter could never reach on his own. You are able to immediately invite non-believers into a gospel community where they can witness what a counter-cultural, gospel-centered life looks like. And when this team comes out of the same church, you already have a clearly defined DNA in place that makes vision casting for the lead planter much easier. I don’t have to introduce my team to concepts such as missional living, gospel-centeredness, expository preaching, and community engagement because my church already has.
In conclusion to this section on calling and the local church, my plea is that you would love the church and see the call to church planting in a less-individualistic light. Strive to see the call in the context of community, namely that local body in which God has placed you to love and serve before you plant.
Planning2Plant (P2P) is a series by Bryan Barley following his year of preparation for church planting.
While the first post dealt with the individual call, this post examines my calling to a particular “method.” My team’s methodology is to do everything we possibly can through the local church.
I struggled whether to make this the first post in the calling series. Which comes first – your own sense of calling or the church’s recognition of that call? In an ideal world, we would see churches and their pastors so consumed with the thought of planting other churches that their passion is to see men raised up within the congregation to be sent out to plant. Therefore, pastors would be intimately involved in the calling process, perpetually assessing and raising up leaders.
But I also recognize that it’s not the norm for most guys who may be reading this.* From a pragmatic point of view, such a heavy investment in church planting can appear unwise to local churches because it encompasses giving away money, resources, and your best people to a cause that doesn’t “directly” benefit your own local church. With the increased interest in church planting in SBC life, this attitude is slowly changing, but the reality is that many who read this are probably at churches where church planting isn’t on the radar. Hence, it’s tough for me to say you’re not called to church plant if you don’t have the local church behind you.
However, I would encourage you as much as possible to have the local church be the vehicle through which you plant your church. Before I felt entirely comfortable about planting, there were three major pieces I wanted in place to remain consistent with a methodology that emphasized the local church. The first is in this post, and the other two will be in tomorrow’s post:
1. A Sending Church
I am blessed to be at a place (The Summit Church, Durham, NC) that believes in churches planting churches (for example, see our church planting center, SendRDU). My pastor, J.D. Greear, regularly communicates that we measure success not by our “seating capacity” but rather our “sending capacity.” Therefore, we’re committed to planting 1,000 churches over the next forty years. Our “method” for doing this is the local church.
The benefits of having a local church behind you are countless. It is on the front lines of God’s mission. Training and discipleship can happen over the course of years from those actually “in the trenches” of local church ministry. For the planter, ministry experience is obtained, successes are celebrated, and failures happen in a context where it doesn’t mean the downfall of your newly-established and highly-fragile church plant.
Assessment as to whether you’re qualified to plant comes from men who actually know who you and are able to discern whether you meet the biblical qualifications of a pastor. While it’s easy to convince someone you’re qualified to plant when they’ve only met you once, a deeper relationship will expose your true strengths and weaknesses. It’s tough for someone other than the local church to really see whether you love your wife, regularly share the gospel, and disciple others.
What is a better training ground for church planting than the church on the front lines of the missio Dei ? The church knows you well enough to tell you when you’re ready to plant, and can prepare you to do it with excellence.
I can’t imagine a better place to be equipped than on the frontline, and I encourage you to think in the same way.
*Note: A natural question raised in this post is “what should I do if I feel called to plant a church, but the church I currently attend has no passion for church planting/ will not equip me for church planting?” This issue is a complicated one that is not intended to be answered in this post. However, my conviction is that the local church is the best place to prepare for church planting. Consequently, potential planters must think in this light, and established pastors must see their churches as training centers and launching pads for new church plants and planters. Ideally, every church would view itself as a church planting center in some way. However, this is not a reality at this time. This leaves some difficult questions to be answered when it comes to how one should best prepare to plant, as well as how to discern the call to plant when there are not pastors in your life who are eager to help you in this process. Churches still must be planted, but when the local church is not as involved I would recommend proceeding with greater caution.
My guess is there are a number reading this right now who are attempting to discern the call to plant. Especially for you who may be in seminary, where anything from a PhD to being a missionary to an unreached people group are viable options, the question is naturally, “what is God calling me to do?”
There are varying views within the church as to how to understand “God’s will for my life.” The most prevalent I’ve found within churches, yet the one that I tend to disagree with the most, is that God’s will is “like a corn maze, or a tight-rope, or a bull’s-eye, or a choose-your-own-adventure novel.” Gerald Sittser articulates this conventional view as a “specific pathway we should follow into the future… Our responsibility is to discover this pathway-God’s plan for our lives. We must discover which of the many pathways we could follow is the one we should follow, the one God has planned for us…if we choose rightly, we will experience his blessing and achieve success and happiness. If we choose wrongly, we may lose our way, miss God’s will for our lives, and remain lost forever in an incomprehensible maze.” I’ve found this view to not only lack Scriptural evidence but also encourage paralysis when it comes to taking a risk for God. We have churches full of people who are waiting on goosebumps to confirm that they’re supposed to go and do something great for Jesus.
My wife and I chose to take a different approach as we worked through the call to plant – my central question was not what will God tell me to do?, but rather what has God already told me to do? To put it another way, my decision was based little on a feeling and more on what God has already said through the Bible.
When I looked at the Bible, I found God’s will for my life: to live out the Great Commission the best I can with the time, talents, and desires that God has given me. God’s will for my life is to figure out how to best take part in the Great Commission.
With this in mind, my wife and I decided it was our responsibility to either go to the nations or a great urban center where the nations have come. This came from examining the status of global Christianity (where are we needed?), as well as evaluating our experiences (my unchurched background and success starting new ministries, my wife’s time helping with North American church plants), gifts (I work best in a predominantly non-Christian context), and desires (we think there is no more amazing way to give our lives to Jesus than to plant a “sending” church that plants more churches in areas of tremendous need). With this in mind, we decided that we would plant a church in a great U.S. city.
But a word of caution: you tend to tell stories about your own life in a way that makes things seem better than they actually were. For us, there were months of agonizingly trying to decide between two or three options, all of which could have been used to God’s glory. There were countless conversations with already established church planters, lots of reading, much time in prayer, and many, many days where my wife gave me that dazed, frustrated look that communicated, “can you at least narrow it down to the continent we’ll live on following seminary?!” Our story is much more complex than what you’ve read above, but this provides the basic logic that we worked through when we decided to move toward church planting.
So are you called to church planting? In one way or another, you absolutely are called. Some of you will stay in the South while others plant your life in a city or go abroad. Some will be pastors while others professors or businessmen. However, all are called to obey the Great Commission, which necessitates all Christians giving themselves to the establishment of local churches throughout the world.
A few resources that may help as you try to discern your own calling:
A talk by my pastor, J.D. Greear, about discerning the will of God.
Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung
The Missionary Call by M. David Sills
Part 2 of “Discerning the Call” will deal with our calling to a basic methodology/framework for how we would move forward in the church planting process. Part 3 will speak to how we chose to plant in Denver.
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