It's been said that life is a journey, and the older I get the more I understand that truth. Over the past few years, God has been leading me and our church to be more intentional and strategic when it comes to expanding the Kingdom of God through church planting. This is interesting because. . . well, I'm not a church planter. I've never had that designation.
I answered God's call into ministry over twenty-three years ago. My calling, at the time, was clearly to work with students in the venue of the local church. Being a typical, Baptist church kid, missions was something we gave money to. . .not something we did. I went to seminary and served as the part-time youth minister at my home church of about 120. It was a learning experience, and I'm not too sure I really did the church much good. I was literally two years older than my seniors. Not much "wisdom of the ages" to offer.
I completed seminary and was called here to First Baptist Church of Orange Park - an established church with a history of strong student ministry. I was content. I believed I would be serving as the Student Pastor here for decades. Well, it's been decades (two in December) but God had other plans for me. Eight years ago I was called to be the Lead Pastor here at First. It felt just like those first few months as youth minister back in Texas. I was in over my head. I think most everyone knew it, too.
Still, God had a plan.
He solidly confirmed some strategic moves for us as a church. This resulted in a clarity of mission. We were drawn to engage in orphan care, church planting and global missions. These became our "Big 3."
Why church planting?
I had no experience in planting. I had never been a part of a plant. I had no idea why I was being led this way. I wasn't being led to plant a church. Rather, God was confirming my calling and our church's role as advocates for planters and eventually, to be a "planting, or multiplying, church."
This strategy didn't fit well into the "church as usual" mode where many established fellowships land. Still, I was never very good at status quo anyway.
In the Fall of 2010, I received a phone call from a church planter in Tucson, Arizona. This call was literally "out of the blue." This planter, Chase Delperdang, was told by an Arizona Baptist leader that Florida Baptist churches were strong missionally and would be good partners in planting. So, apparently, he randomly picked our church and number and called me. We talked and it became evident that we were to partner to reach the people of a city far away from Orange Park, in a state I had never been, where our church had absolutely NO connection.
Our partnership began with a monthly donation and communication with Chase.
So, now I'm involved in church planting, even if just barely.
The following summer our Southern Baptist Convention was being held in Phoenix. God was clearly telling me to go to the convention and take some time to drive to Tucson to see Chase and the Legacy Church plant. One of our church members, a member of our worship band heard me talking about it and said, "Hey, I'll go with you."
"I've never been to Arizona. I'd like to go."
So, at the next business meeting, the church voted Neil Jimenez and I to be messengers to the SBC and we planned our trip to Phoenix.
It was at that convention the North American Mission Board, under the new leadership of Kevin Ezell, revealed the "SEND>>NORTH AMERICA" strategy to reach the cities of our nation and Canada.
There are many reasons why city-reaching is vital and it became clear that day that we would be actively involved in this.
The years went by and Neil became my traveling partner on vision trips and mission engagement visits. We traveled to Portland twice and to Toronto.
Rather than go through the details of each trip and how God was working in me and especially Neil and his wife Kaytee, click here to read Kaytee's blog about this journey.
Seriously. Go read her blog before you continue mine. Otherwise, it won't make sense.
So, as you have read. . .
Neil and Kaytee Jimenez are going to be moving to Toronto.
We saw this coming for months, but God's timing is perfect and we continue to praise Him for how He is working this out.
Here's something that God did last summer in regards to this move. I was asked by the SEND>>Toronto team to travel to Dallas for the SEND>>NORTH AMERICA Conference. There were breakout sessions scheduled and they wanted me to give a brief statement to pastors of established churches regarding the need and reasoning for partnering with Toronto church planters.
As I stood before the group, I spoke of the great need in the city and said some things that only a pastor can say to other pastors. I was clear, concise and challenging. Then, I said this, "We as Baptists are all about missions. We'll come to conferences and 'Amen' the messages. We'll collect offerings and send them to the mission boards. We'll even get together teams of church members for short-term trips. However, until we come to the place where we're willing to send our best leaders into the field as church planters, for life, we are not really fully engaged in the mission."
WHAT? Where did that come from?
I left thinking maybe I had been too harsh. What about those small churches who cannot send people out? (Which, by the way, is a lie. Any size church can do this. That's the joy of cooperative missions. Still, that came to mind.) What about us? What about First Orange Park? We're engaged. I've been asked to serve as the JAX-TORONTO liaison for our network. We were sending money. We had partnered with a planter there, just like we did with Chase from Arizona. We were fully engaged. Right?
Neil and Kaytee Jimenez are incredible leaders here at First. Neil is a deacon, small group leader, committee chairman, worship team member and an incredible behind the scenes servant. Not to mention, he's my mission trip traveling partner.
Kaytee grew up here in this church. She was in my youth group. I've known her for twenty years. I've seen her grow up, get married. I even recorded their wedding (though I forgot to turn on the microphone - sorry about that.) I have seen God bless her and Neil with two wonderful boys. She serves on our staff. She's our Missional Expressions and Orphan Care Coordinator. She's a small group leader. She's a children's choir and drama director.
These are two of our best (I know that embarrasses them, but it's true.)
So, in God's divine wisdom, it is becoming clear how He has been at work in this part of our story. Coming to First all those years ago so I could serve as Student Pastor. Having the privilege of discipling and watching the spiriritual growth of students into godly leaders (Kaytee and a host of others who are serving full-time in ministry as well as in the local church as leaders, deacons, etc. is overwhelming. God alone gets the glory.) The phone call from Chase. The trip to Phoenix. The connection with church planters throughout the nation. Our partnership in Portland, Oregon. Our partnership in Toronto.
God is up to something BIG.
And. . .He's invited us into it.
That shakes me to my core.
Pray for Neil, Kaytee, Eli and Owen as they continue along this journey. Most likely, they'll be in Toronto next summer.
What does this mean for our church? Well, we are now a "Multiplying Church" as far as NAMB is concerned. As far as I'm concerned, following God's lead, the Jimenez's are just the first to step into this area of church planting. I believe we will be sending more families into the field. We will support them through our regular Cooperative Program gifts as well as other gifts along the way.
Remember that "3 Day Weekend Missionary" concept I blogged about previously? Hmmm. Seems things are falling into place for that as well.
Yes, it's a journey. Not easy. Not always drawn out like a map, but always planned by the Father. May we continue to be obedient to hear and obey. May we continue to "send" and "go."