ALPHARETTA, Ga. – One hundred sixty-five new church planters attended Send Network’s Orientation March 7-9 at the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) headquarters, setting a record for the in-person event since it was first offered in January 2016.
“The primary call on your life is not ministry. The primary call on your life is intimacy,” Vance Pitman told planters during his first orientation as president of Send Network. “Ministry is what He will do out of the overflow of intimacy.”
Pitman officially began his role as president of NAMB’s Send Network March 1.
The three-day equipping and training experience, which occurs two to three times a year, is a critical first step in the church planting journey for newly endorsed Send Network church planters.
“It was so cool to see that we’re not the only ones doing this,” said Chris Cope, who is planting in a Philadelphia suburb and attended this week’s orientation with his Sending Church pastor. “There’s a diversity of people, backgrounds, and planting contexts represented here.”
During orientation, church planting missionaries receive insight from other practitioners in Send Network, work through practical exercises in workshops alongside other planters and worship together in multiple sessions.
“Religion is not what God called you to. Religion isn’t what He called you to do to reach the people in your communities,” said Chris Phillips during one of the worship sessions. Phillips is planting Journey Point Church in the Denver area. “He called you to your communities that are far from Him so that they can have a relationship, not religion.”
Church planters from 37 states and Puerto Rico attended, including more than 60 Hispanic planters. In addition, church planters from a new partnership between Send Network and the National African American Fellowship will make their way from orientation to plant churches in underserved African American communities across North America.
New Send Network church planters from Canada were unable to attend the orientation, as they await changes in travel regulations and logistics affecting cross-border travel.
“I thought it was going to be just a class and giving information,” said Luis Rodríguez Santiago, who is planting Iglesia Bautista Raham de Aibonito in Puerto Rico. “But I felt cared for — and the bonding, the family that I found here was amazing.”
Santiago’s father, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention of Puerto Rico, was also supported by the North American Mission Board, and texted his son to reminisce about seeing the Puerto Rican flag fly at the building’s headquarters.
“He texted me and said, ‘I was there when they raised the flag.’ It was kind of an emotional thing,” Santiago said. “As NAMB served my dad, they serve me — so they can serve others.”
Planters often share how the experience at Send Network Orientation provides a spiritual benchmark and reminds them that they are not planting their church alone but that there is a family supporting them.
“It was a grace from the Lord to see a lot of workers being prepared to go into the fields,” said Roy Vidal, who is planting Iglesia Bautista Camino de Gracia, also in Puerto Rico. “I’m very excited to see there’s a family that loves church planters.”
Mark White, pastor of the church that is sending Cope and a team of planters, says he attended Send Network Orientation to spend dedicated time with his planter, but also to better equip his church as they grow.
“As we build church planting into our culture, I wanted to experience orientation firsthand,” White said.
Cope and White also connected with other church planters from the Philadelphia area they had never met before.
“That’s what this is about: a brotherhood, a family of planters — from so many backgrounds, and reaching such diverse communities with the gospel,” said Noah Oldham, who leads Send Network’s Care team that organized the orientation. “We are here to energize and equip these new church planters, and then serve and support them for the first five years of their church planting journey, in order to see them become church planting churches.”
Published March 14, 2022