PORTLAND, Maine (BP) — It’s clear from how he speaks with the harbormaster at a dock in Scarborough that Aaron Werner, church planter and pastor of Cross Church, is well-suited for reaching Maine’s largest city.
Even after 17 years away Werner still knows how to handle himself among southern Maine’s lobstermen. They’re a burly bunch, and they carry knives (for cutting the trawl-ropes of other lobstermen that cross their ropes).
Werner is the son of an affluent lobsterman and his brother is Portland’s high-liner (top lobsterman). When he steps into Becky’s Diner for haddock chowder near the dock in downtown Portland, the waitresses know the Werner name.
Though lobstermen are only a small sliver of who Werner is trying to reach, having this connection has been critical to success.
For a church planter to be this ingratiated into local culture is a gift few experience as quickly as Werner has. It doesn’t hurt that he has a lobster boat hoisted in his front yard, lobster traps stacked neatly by the road and a well-known family from the area.
Werner’s continued entree into the local maritime scene is no accident. Even if he doesn’t need to work on a lobster boat out of necessity, he plans to spend a couple of days at sea per week just for the connections and Gospel conversations it allows at the dock.
“Lobster season never really ends,” Werner said. This means he has an ongoing opportunity for his trade and his Gospel ministry to intersect with people who need to know Jesus.
This sort of bivocational ministry makes sense both financially and missiologically in places like Maine where many people might be slower to attend or give their hard-earned money to an evangelical church plant.
In a small town like Winthrop, Maine, in the suburbs of the state’s capital, Augusta, church planter Scot Story, pastor of Cornerstone Community Church, said the average income is $40,000, often for a two-income household.
This is why Story, from Alabama and a manufacturing engineer by trade, works part-time as vice president of sales and marketing for a local manufacturing plant. It’s a flexible job that allows him to support his family, contribute to his local business community and uncover Gospel opportunities among his bosses, colleagues and others in the industry.
“My job gives me a type of credibility here that I wouldn’t have if I were a full-time pastor,” Story said. “It also encourages members of our church not to be spectators. If something’s going to happen, we all have to make it happen. We all have jobs, we all are busy and we’re all called to Gospel ministry.”
It’s the same in northern Maine.
Joshua Presley, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Caribou, in the far reaches of northern Maine’s Aroostook County, works part time as a banker in nearby Presque Isle while building a ministry to reach the Caribou community. The result of his professional connection has been the slow development of ministries in both towns.
“Working at the bank opens up conversations I probably would never have if I weren’t employed in a local business,” Presley said.
Of course Presley needs his job to support his family, but it also provides him with an integral foot in the local culture — a footing that is hard to gain any other way.
“A typical Mainer is very independent, hardworking and friendly, but there are also many challenges and barriers we’ve experienced in trying to reach the amazing people in this beautiful region,” said Barry Murry, North American Mission Board Lead Church Planting Catalyst and planter and pastor of Lakeside Community Church in North Waterboro Maine.
These barriers are slowly crumbling as careers, real life and Gospel meet through the work of Maine’s bivocational church planters.
Adam Miller writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).