BOSTON (BP) — Basketball takes teamwork. As the freshman boys basketball coach at Medford High School, Tanner Turley strives to teach his players the importance of working together rather than relying on one or two standout players to win games.
He has the same goal as pastor of Redemption Hill Church in Medford, Mass., five miles from downtown Boston.
Turley, a Nehemiah church planter missionary with the North American Mission Board, moved to Medford last year with his wife Marsha to lead a church planting team that includes two other families — Jon and Leigh Chasteen and Josh and Jessica Miller — and US/C2 missionary Abbey Cook.
“It’s been a tremendous blessing to share the load of ministry with others who are likeminded, who have the same biblical vision for the church and who are committed to living out the Gospel together in the context of a team environment and community of faith,” Turley said of the team planting model.
The Medford team initially focused on investing in the community.
“We spent a lot of time just practicing hospitality, trying to get to know our neighbors with the intention of both displaying the Gospel to them and also sharing the Gospel,” Turley said. “About a month after we arrived, we initiated our first community group.”
The small group met for prayer, Bible study and to encourage one another in the faith. The team watched as God brought people to them who were looking for a new church, as well as nonbelievers who visited their community group and heard the Gospel for the first time.
“Community groups provide a context where we can build up our core group and seek to make disciples with intentionality,” Turley said.
That first group quickly grew to two community groups and then three. In April they started gathering for Sunday worship services.
So what brings a Kentucky native to Boston to plant a church? Turley credits his time at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and joining a church-planting church — Open Door Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C.
“God used that to open my eyes to the need for new churches, not only all around the world but especially here in North America,” Turley said, so he began to pray about the possibility of church planting.
“I felt like the Lord put a couple of desires in my heart — to get outside of the Bible Belt and to get to a major city,” Turley said.
After a trip to Boston to watch a Red Sox game — he’s a big fan — Turley began to ask the question: Why not Boston?
“It was through that trip that God started to stir my heart for this city,” Turley said.
After much prayer, research and several trips to the city, Turley was sure the Lord was leading his family to plant a church in Medford. They packed their bags and moved to Medford in June 2010.
New England in general is one of the most unreached areas of the nation, Turley said, noting that most of the people they meet in New England have no understanding of who God is or who God is in Christ.
“We’re constantly reminded of the lostness that’s all around us,” he said.
“One of the things we really love about our community is the diversity that’s represented here,” Turley noted, referring to the college students who attend Tufts University, the young professionals who commute into the city as well as the residents who’ve lived in Medford all their lives — many of them Irish- and Italian-born.
“We have people from all different backgrounds, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.
“First and foremost we want to see people come to faith in Christ, believe in Him and worship Him with their lives,” Turley said. “You have to be prepared to engage people no matter their background or worldview.”
Planting a church in this context certainly brings its own challenges, Turley said.
“We’re forced to be on our knees, to depend on the Holy Spirit, to have confidence in the Word of God and not in our own wise and persuasive words.”
After a year on the mission field, Turley can’t imagine having accomplished what they’ve accomplished without his church planting team, which includes all Southern Baptists.
“Southern Baptists are a big part of our story,” Turley said. “We’ve learned so much about partnership through prayer and support from churches all over the U.S.”
Open Door Baptist is their main sending church, but they have about 10 churches that provide prayer and financial support.
After a summer of engaging the community through service projects and sports events, Turley is excited about what God has planned.
“We cling to Christ’s promise to build His church and are trusting in His ability to grow the church and not our own ability.”
Carol Pipes is a writer for the North American Mission Board. To view a video about Tanner Turley and other NAMB missionaries, visit www.namb.net/missionaryfocus