SBC Life Articles

A Harvest of Souls

Two "Nehemiah Project" church planting professors were appointed in August at Southern Baptist seminaries in California and Canada, completing the initial implementation of the North American Mission Board's seminary-based plan for training and mentoring church starters.

Colorado church planter D. Allan Karr was named Nehemiah Project professor at Golden Gate Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., while Ian Buntain will direct the program at Canadian Baptist Theological Seminary in Cochrane, Alberta. They joined Nehemiah Project professors at the other five Southern Baptist seminaries already appointed as both seminary faculty and NAMB missionaries.

The Nehemiah Project is a partnership between NAMB, the seminaries, and state conventions designed to train and mentor church planters through a combination of classroom instruction and extended internships. Two groups of church planter interns already have been appointed as NAMB missionaries through the program, which was announced in the summer of 1998.

"The early signals are that this is going to be even bigger than we anticipated, because of the interest students are bringing and the affirmation we are receiving," said Richard Harris, vice president of NAMB's church planting group. "… I would say we are at least a year to a year and a half ahead of where we thought we would be in placing the professors and getting the curriculum into the seminaries."

Karr, based at Golden Gate's Rocky Mountain Campus in suburban Denver, will direct Nehemiah Project training programs throughout the seminary's regional campuses. He founded Castle Valley Community Church in Castle Rock, Colo., with just his family in 1995. Designed as a reproducing congregation from its inception, the church has already started one new church and core groups are being formed for two others. Karr also has been a leader in the various church-planting training programs of the Colorado Baptist General Convention.

At the Canadian Baptist Theological Seminary, which is funded through the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists, President Richard Blackaby said the appointment of Buntain is especially critical because of the convention's ambitious goal of planting 1,000 new churches over the next twenty years.

The entire Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists currently has only 138 churches – most of them small – in a nation with a population of 30 million. The North American Mission Board shares the convention's vision, making the evangelization of Canada a top strategic priority.

Buntain went to the seminary after serving with the International Mission Board missionary as a church planter and church planter strategist in Southeast Asia since 1991.

NAMB officials intend the Nehemiah Project to help reverse the growing number of unchurched people in North America. According to researcher George Barna, the United States is the world's third-largest unchurched nation, whose unchurched population exceeds 195 million. Only 3 to 5 percent of Canada's population claims affiliation with evangelical Christianity and there is only one Southern Baptist church for every 225,000 people.

Complicating the issue, 10 to 30 percent of new Southern Baptist church plants in North America fail every year. David Putman, recruitment development associate for NAMB and the agency's coordinator for the Nehemiah Project, attributes the failure rate to "church planters who are ill-prepared for the task."

"Each center will prepare church planters to start healthy churches among people who don't know Christ," Putman said. "In addition to seminary education, church planters will have practical, hands-on training and mentoring they need to be successful."

By partnering with Southern Baptist seminaries and churches, students can be sent out as Nehemiah church planters into strategic church planting opportunities, Putman added. There are different internships available depending on the ability and educational level of the church planter. Interns can serve in positions that range from simple exposure to new church settings to being the lead planter with staff members that might also be interns.

The overall goal of the project is to equip students to "plant churches that plant churches that plant churches," Putman said.

In October 1998, the North American Mission Board and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary jointly named Edward J. "Ed" Stetzer to head the nation's first seminary center for church planting as part of the Nehemiah Project.

Stetzer helped start three of the largest and most successful churches for Southern Baptists in the northeastern United States.

The trustees of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in December elected Kenneth B. Weathersby to head up New Orleans Seminary's Nehemiah Project.

Prior to joining NOBTS, Weathersby was an evangelism specialist and team leader for evangelism strategies for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, where he had worked since 1993. He was also director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention black church extension and multihousing office for four years. Before moving to Tennessee, Weathersby was a church planter and pastor.

The North American Mission Board and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in January jointly named William E. "Bill" Brown to head the seminary's church-planting center in conjunction with the Nehemiah Project.

Brown went to Southeastern from Bay Leaf Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., where he had been assistant pastor since 1997. He had also been an adjunct professor and a teaching fellow at Southeastern since 1996.

In April, the trustees of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary named Carrol D. Fowler to serve as director of its Nehemiah Project.

Fowler, a 1973 Midwestern graduate and former director of missions for the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, has been recognized for his work in both Anglo and ethnic church planting, having started an average of fifty-five new works each of the nine years he served in Indiana.

In May, David Wheeler, was named to head Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's church-planting center as part of the Nehemiah Project.

Wheeler had been director of evangelism and prayer for the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana since 1993.

"The single most significant milestone has been the placement of Nehemiah Project Church Planting Directors on all seven of our seminary campuses. God has always used His people to accomplish his will," observed Putnam. "I believe we have seven very unique called and gifted guys who are committed to raising up a generation of apostolic leaders.

"We have been extremely blessed by our Lord," he continued. "The student response has far exceeded our earlier expectations. I believe we are on the verge of a major movement."

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