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10/14/97 His aim: new churches growing toward maturity

DALLAS (BP)–Infancy is an exciting time of exploration. Adulthood is a rewarding period of independence. But adolescence can be lonely and confusing. If it’s true individually, it’s equally true for a church, according to Greg Oppenhuis.
Oppenhuis wants to help fellow new work pastors deal with the personal issues they will face in the “in-between” time: after the thrill of seeing a new church born and before the satisfaction of seeing it become a mature body of believers.
As the new church resource coordinator for the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ bivocational/smaller church development department, Oppenhuis hopes to build a network linking pastors of smaller new churches with other churches to “provide the caring hands needed to help a pastor guide his people toward becoming the kind of church God wants them to be.”
Oppenhuis understands the challenges the pastor of a new church faces. Three years ago, he started Oak Tree Baptist Church in a rapidly growing and largely unchurched residential area near Town East Mall in eastern Dallas County. The congregation constituted as a self-supporting church Sept. 28.
“It has been the most exciting, yet challenging, three years of my life,” he said.
Believing God was calling him to new work, Oppenhuis left a large church in Tennessee where he served as minister of education, moved to north Texas and enrolled in seminary to prepare for ministry as a church planter.
While Oak Tree received financial help from its sponsor, Orchard Hills Baptist Church, Garland, Texas, as well as support from Dallas Baptist Association and the BGCT, Oppenhuis discovered a new work pastor also has personal needs that may go unmet.
“These pastors need encouragement, and we’re barely scratching the surface in what we could be doing as Texas Baptists,” he said.
That’s why Oppenhuis agreed to serve on a volunteer basis as statewide new church resource coordinator.
In addition to encouraging pastors of smaller new works and seeking to link them with their peers around the state, he also works with leaders around the state in conducting “Heartbeat Check-up” events in churches, helping them to evaluate their own health and discover their purpose.
“There is a point where the congregation has to move from the vision of the pastor, which is essential in starting a new work, to a church vision that is shared by all of the members. That’s a critical time in a church’s life,” Oppenhuis said.
Discovering the church’s vision for the future, determining its immediate goals and developing a leadership team are issues that a new work pastor faces, he added.
Oppenhuis said he believes new work pastors are crucial to Texas Baptists fulfilling the Texas 2000 vision of sharing the gospel with everyone in Texas by the year 2000 and developing “Great Commission churches for all persons.
“God has pastors who can help other pastors and churches that can help other churches,” Oppenhuis said. “We’re all part of the body of Christ, and God has a total plan for all of Texas. We just need to help each other.”

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  • Ken Camp