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Lay church planters called key in tackling America’s ‘lostness’

CHICAGO (BP)–An army of laypeople willing to help start new churches is essential for the task of reaching North America, but the trickier issue is that many would-be church planters still think it takes a call to vocational ministry to start a church.

The perception often is that “church planting is all about some guy we pay to do it, some seminary person,” said Van Kicklighter, a lay church planting specialist for the North American Mission Board.

“Laypeople don’t hear church planting as if we’re talking to them,” he said during a workshop as part of NAMB’s May 18-21 Connection 2003 conference. “So the question becomes, how do we create a climate that makes it natural for laypeople to understand that church planting is all about them?”

The workshop allowed missionaries, pastors and other leaders who gathered in Chicago to work through ideas for tackling those issues — as well as how to identify, enlist, train and equip laypeople God has called.

One of the key issues, Kicklghter said, is that there are many church planting situations in which the only viable way of starting a work is if somebody who lives and works in the focus community leads the work.

“There are pockets of people that existing churches are not reaching, for whatever reason, and the Gospel is not being intentionally proclaimed,” he said.

One critical way of getting church members to see the need is prayer, Kicklighter said, urging churches to more spend time intentionally praying for the lost in their own community as well as elsewhere.

“If they start talking to the Father about the issue of lostness, if they’re spiritually alive at all, they’ll have to respond as the Father leads them to deal with that lostness,” he said.

He also suggested that churches spend more time recognizing individuals who have become involved in church planting as well as other ministry efforts.

“Most every church has one of those who is called, and they know that God’s got more for them, but they don’t know what it is,” he said. “Nobody has really turned them loose to do it.”

Another approach could be simply to elevate the work of God in the lives of believers having separate public invitations for believers responding to God’s call on their lives — an approach Kicklighter said once was a regular part of many church worship services.

“What would it look like in our churches if, on some regular basis, that in addition to inviting people to accept Christ as Savior we began inviting people to be involved in Kingdom work?” he asked.

On the denominational level, churches should be recognized more for the number of churches they’ve started, or the number of members they’ve sent out to work with a new church start.

Kicklighter described a number of resources developed by NAMB and others to assist in raising awareness, enlisting and training lay church planters:

— Calling Out the Called, originally developed in Chicago, is a process for helping laypeople pray through, define and live out their call to local missions – culminating in a service in which they are given the opportunity to respond. The process typically involves clusters of churches working together to start another church with core group members from the participating churches.

— Discovery Tools helps individuals determine if God is calling them to church planting. Included are a spiritual gifts inventory and other assessment tools. The process often takes the form of a one-day workshop, and it is also available online at churchplantingvillage.net/equip. Those who complete the process and feel called to church planting — whether lay or ordained — are eligible to receive additional free resources from NAMB.

— A reprint of several profiles of lay church planters previously published in On Mission could help church members realize the possibilities for involvement.

— Laypeople in Church Planting is a new resource being developed by NAMB describing a comprehensive strategy for encouraging and supporting lay church planting with a church, association or state convention.

The Connection 2003 conference for pastors, missionaries and other NAMB partners was the first of three planned for this year. Conferences also are planned in Atlanta for July 30-Aug. 2 and in Glorieta, N.M., Sept. 24-27. More information is available at www.namb.net/connection.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: TIME TO RETHINK.

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  • James Dotson