By Ryan Paterson
Each of us had been involved in ministry for a number of years as pastors, worship leaders, missionaries and youth leaders, but we hadn’t experienced anything like this before.
We hadn’t witnessed how the gospel could permeate a new place in our city.
And it all started with a schoolteacher who had a burden for his students.
A PRAYER WALK AND A PARK
I was the family pastor at a traditional church and David, a volunteer in our youth ministry, expressed he felt like God wanted to do something at the school he was teaching at during the week.
He didn’t know what, but he asked us to pray with him. So, we did a “prayer walk” around his school. We didn’t know how to prayer walk, so we kind of prayed while we walked and when we paused at a corner for oncoming traffic.
Along the way we noticed an unused park a couple blocks from the school. David talked about how the students at the school typically walked further to a larger, more established park where there was gang and drug activity — instead of using this nearby park. We wondered if this park’s use could be redeemed and used to build relationships in the neighborhood.
FROM A PRAYER WALK TO A CHURCH
David began inviting students to hang out at the park, and over the next few months we brought pizza and a soccer ball once a week to the park to spend time with the students.
Our home church wasn’t excited when these kids showed up to youth group, so we invited them to go camping and hiking with us instead. As the kids began to learn more about Jesus, their parents started asking questions. Soon, we were having gatherings in homes to explain who Jesus was to their parents, cousins and neighbors.
We didn’t know what was happening, but we knew enough to realize a different kind of church was forming. We connected with others who were doing Disciple Making Movements1 work and training. Together, we quickly established more than five micro churches2 from these networks of relationships and simple practices of reading Scripture, listening to God’s voice and sharing what we’d learned with those who need Jesus.
These churches started in large part because a schoolteacher believed God wanted to do something at his school to reach teachers, students and their parents.
He was right.
We’ve spent the last 10 years leaning into this story and making it our own. It does not take a church planter or pastor to lead someone to faith or plant a church, it takes simple faith.
In The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, Rolland Allen says “the spontaneous expansion of the church reduced to its elements is a very simple thing. It asks for no elaborate organization, no large finances, no great numbers of paid missionaries. In its beginning it may be the work of one man… What is necessary is faith. What is needed is the kind of faith which, uniting a man to Christ, sets him on fire.”
In honoring David’s example, I left “paid” ministry to start a recruiting firm and eventually took a corporate recruiting job, while church planting and pastoring along the way. Those of us who had been involved in ministry as pastors, worship leaders, missionaries and youth leaders leaned into other vocations, like music teachers, HVAC technicians, therapists, audio engineers and more.
We saw where we lived, played and worked with a sense of sent-ness. We leaned into each of our spheres of life and influence with the posture of David, the schoolteacher, assuming “God wants to do something.”
It hasn’t been the same as that first viral moment, where a small group of junior high students turned into five micro churches and far more. I believe God wanted to do a miracle to show us what was possible. As C.S. Lewis points out in God in the Dock, just like Jesus was able to accelerate the turning of water to wine, he accelerated this simple obedience into multiple churches.
What God did in those first two years has been duplicated again in the next ten. We started our own micro church, which is now a small network of five more micro churches. What is richer about that experience is that it’s up-close and personal, where we see strong marriages, loving fathers and numerous children who have been added to these new church families along the way.
You don’t have to be a pastor to be part of church planting. But you do have to maintain a simple, long obedience in the same direction.
1DMM’s are characterized as being fast growing, indigenous, multiplying groups followers of Jesus.
2Groups under 50 intended to operate as a church and have self-recognized leadership.