Church planting: MBC cooperating with Holy Spirit
By Allen Palmeri
June 28, 2005
COLUMBIA – When a 26-foot moving van, a Jeep and a minivan loaded with goods turned right onto Parklawn Court June 5, Grace Church of Columbia suddenly had the breath of life after a seven-month gestation period marked by the dreaming and preparation of church planter Kevin Larson and his wife, Amy, from Louisville, Ky.
“There’s no guarantee that anything’s going to happen,” Larson said moments after praying over the first meal in his new home, which consisted of four delivered pizzas. “I think God led us here, and I pray that He’d be pleased to build His church here through us, but everything’s up in the air.
“I love it here. I think it’s a perfect fit. There’s a huge need here, and I really do think that the church up in my head right now needs to be here. I think that’s part of the calling.”
Jerry Field, church planting director for the Missouri Baptist Convention, emphasized that the process that brings church planters like Larson to Missouri from places like The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is Holy Spirit-driven. By that Field means there is no blueprint in Jefferson City on how and where to plant a church. No one at MBC headquarters is telling church planters like Larson where to go.
“We do not sit down and develop a strategy where we say, ‘We ought to put a church planter in Columbia,’” Field said. “We work with young men like Kevin Larson who, first and foremost, have a definite call from God to plant a church. As we work with them, typically God has a way of calling them to a place and to a people. So we work with them to find that.
“We’re trying to find where is it that God’s at work and then adjust ourselves and adapt in order to join Him in His work. That’s the very process with these guys. We are responding to a call they have on their lives to go plant a church in a place.”
Field has deployed members of the MBC church planting staff to recruit church planters at each of the Southern Baptist Convention’s six seminaries. St. Louis Church Planting Strategist Ben Hess is responsible for Southern Seminary, and when Hess went to Louisville last November he met with Larson, who was finishing up his master of divinity degree in theology and thinking about planting a church in New England.
Larson, who spent 1990-1994 in Columbia at the University of Missouri and graduated with honors with a bachelor’s degree in communications, was not sure about God’s will for him as a church planter, so he made an appointment with Hess to ask about possibilities in St. Louis.
“We basically realized we needed to look at some other things, so we were kind of re-opening the whole process,” Larson said.
When Hess explained that Columbia was also an option, Larson suddenly became very interested. Two months later, he and Amy toured Columbia with Field, praying about a potential church plant. Larson recalled how Field on those January days never put any pressure on him in terms of location. Finally, over lunch, Larson said he wanted to plant downtown.
“That need coupled with my heart for the downtown and the university, just the fact that there are all of the mainline churches, some of them Baptist churches, where the Gospel left a long time ago,” Larson said.
Larson then shifted into preparation mode. He made four trips to Missouri to raise funds, making appointments and traveling separately to Kansas City, Springfield, St. Louis and Columbia/Jefferson City. Field noted that a church planter who invests heavily like this on the front end of his work statistically has a better chance to succeed.
“There has already been an enormous amount of work and time and effort played out before he ever arrives on the field,” Field said. “Before the crop starts growing in the field, the farmer has done an enormous amount of work that nobody even notices.”
Larson felt like it was his only option.
“I just knew I had to raise a lot of money,” he said. “It’s kind of a telemarketing-saturated age, and I just knew that calling people or sending letters wasn’t going to do anything. I just knew I needed to do it face to face. Then I talked to Doug Walker who is the vice president of institutional advancement at Southern. He’s the fundraiser, raising millions of dollars. He said you’ve got to go see them.”
After one more trip to Missouri to find a house, the Larsons and their toddler son Hadley were ready to move on the first Sunday in June. That was when Kevin Price Larson, a native of Drexel and a diehard Missouri Tigers fan, rejoiced to see the Arch and pumped his fist in excitement out of the window as he crossed the Interstate 70 bridge from Illinois.
“I love this place,” he said.
“My vision is that the church would be God-centered and missional. Everything that the church does and talks about, not just in the pulpit or on Sunday morning, should be centered on God. Missional would mean people who are on a mission to go into the culture, mingle with people and evangelize. We would keep those two, which are often seen as contrary, together. Theology is important. How we present the Gospel is critical. But evangelism means we are sent on mission. Jesus said, ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you.’”
Field said the process of successful church planting through the MBC, from the first recruiting contact made by a staff member to the actual move of a church planter and his family to the city where they will plant, is directed by the Holy Spirit in such a way as to place prayer front and center.
“As you pray for church planting, you need to be praying for these guys who are in the very process of just beginning to explore it,” Field said. “There’s an enormous amount of detail and many hours of work on the part of this potential church planter and on the part of the church planting team before they’re ever actually moved to the field and start their first day of work on site.”