Preparing for the Launch: Interviews with NewStart Pastors

Like prenatal care directly impacts the health of newborns, so an effective ministry action plan prepares a new church for a healthy birth. And just as all the various life systems have to be functioning before a baby can experience a healthy birth to live on its own, a new church also needs various spiritual life support systems to be fully developed before its birth experience, that first public worship service.

In this interview with three new church pastors, GROW Magazine reviews how three leaders are preparing themselves and their launch teams for their big Sunday. These three NewStart pastors are Tina Pitamber, on the Canada Central District, Scott Johnson, on the Kansas City District and Brad Farnsworth, on the Northeast Oklahoma District.

Due to the length of all three interviews, only selected portions of their responses are included in this interview section. A more complete transcript of all these interviews is available on the new church website at www.NewStartUSA.org.

GROW: How were you called into a new church ministry?

Tina Pitamber: When I was eight years old my family and I attended Emmanuel Church of the Nazarene. We began attending this church because a dear lady invited my mother to this church and my mother agreed. We continued to attend Emmanuel Church for weeks.

One Sunday we watched the Jesus film that showed the life, death and resurrection of Christ. This Sunday was memorable to me because after watching the film, our Sunday School teacher asked the children if there was anyone who wanted to give their hearts to Christ. After we prayed I remember walking to my seat feeling different. Something had happened in my life and that something was I gave my heart to Jesus Christ.

Scott Johnson: God has been calling me to ministry for a long time, even in my young life. In fact, before I knew God was calling me there were saints of the church who sensed God prepping me for ministry.

I've always loved serving God and God's Church. Life is much better lived for God than for me or anyone else! My call to ministry has a lot to do with the faithfulness of the saints and leaders of my local church in Sanford, Florida where I grew up.

I'm grateful that my church sensed the urgency of presenting God's call for servant leaders. The pastor and incoming evangelists made regular mention of God's harvest and God's need for workers.

Brad Farnsworth: The vision for this new congregation we're calling Connection Church was birthed on a napkin at Panera Bread. When I felt the burden to start a new church I told God that I didn't want the vision to come from a book, person, or conference. I wanted it to come straight from His Word.

In an instant, God led me to Mark 12:30-31 "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important, love your neighbor as yourself." What I wrote on the napkin that morning has become the vision for Connection Church. Our vision is to help people "Connect with God and Connect with People."

GROW: How did you begin to sense a call for starting this new church?

Tina: When we moved to the Richmond Hill area we decided to attend another Nazarene church, Rosewood Church of the Nazarene. From age 8 to age 19, I regularly attended church. During those years I grew to learn about my faith in Jesus Christ.

After my second and third year studying at the University of Toronto it became very clear to me that a career in science was not God's plan for me. In January 2004, I began attending Tyndale Seminary, a non-denominational school. I chose to do my degree in the Masters of Divinity in Pastoral Studies. On May 7, 2007, I received my degree.

Scott: In September 2007, after an eventful summer that included a NewStart Assessment, graduating with my Masters of Divinity from NTS in the summer semester and getting married in July. After finally settling back in Kansas City, I began sending emails and making phone calls to share with everyone our vision for reaching the downtown area of Kansas City. We're seeking people to participate with us in God's mission downtown.

Over the next four months I did everything I could to tell everyone I could about the Good News of Christ and how God is working in downtown and through RiverFront Church. All of the people who partnered with us were those whom I had not known before last September.

GROW: Describe briefly your Ministry Action Plan, and how you hope your new church will impact your missional target.

Scott: Our plans include multiplying cell groups and creating a network of cell groups all over the city who can impact the city and plant seeds for the Kingdom in all kinds of households and spheres of influence. When our multiply process begins, we will seek space where all of the cell groups can gather for worship on a Sunday evening.

We've already been looking at spaces and praying for open doors in a very expensive real estate market. God has already brought us a key leader that shows promise in helping us secure a prime spot in downtown.

Brad: Our vision, values, and strategy are simple and all based on this scripture from Mark 12, to Connect with God: love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Connection Church will be a place where people far from God can find hope and reconnect with the God of the universe who cares about them intimately.

The message of redemption is the number one theme of the Bible. The second most common theme is justice and mercy. In churches today we tend to see one or the other: Churches either focus on salvation or they focus on social justice. Christ's message to the church is to do both.

GROW: Would you have an evangelism story to tell yet?

Scott: Our first visitor was a 20 something, with no religious family background and no church attendance experience. This first visitor, whom we'll call Ana, could count on one or two hands all of the times she had been to church. Her family was not at all religious, except for her grandmother who went on major holidays. Ana came simply because she had been befriended by one of our core members. She was impressed by the great friend she had made, different from all of her other friends.

Ana kept us in check. With hardly any knowledge of Christianity or the Bible, she challenged us to really think about what we say and believe. Ana's story is God's answer to planting seeds for the Kingdom. It took months of persistent "seed planting" with Ana before she visited our cell group.

Brad: After the first sneak preview service, I talked to a young man who told me that he had no church background. He grew up Hindu and believes in God. He's very open minded and told me he would be back and wanted to learn more. He didn't make a radical change or commitment to Christ. But, he took a step. That's what we are trying to do at Connection Church—help people take the next step in their spiritual journey.

GROW: How have you been helped in following this call to start a new church?

Tina: The first resource to answer my call to ministry was Seminary. At Seminary I discovered that God and the Bible is my area of comfort, passion and expertise. I naturally like to talk about God and the Bible.

The second resource has been my professors. There have been occasions where professors have commented on the questions I have asked in class and the work produced in my assignments. They've been a great encouragement.

The third resource has been my family. Although my parents were not sure why I switched my careers from science to theology, they never discouraged me. They have encouraged me to seek what God wants of my life.

While I am on staff at Rosewood Church, I have received more training from both Pastor Nick and Pastor Trudy about ministry. This has been very useful as I apply this experience in ministry as the new Richmond Hill Church opens.

Scott: The local church has been the first and most lasting resource and encouragement for me, as well as my instructors. But there is hardly any other influence that compares to the effect of the local community of Christ where one belongs.

New leaders and resources are still emerging for us in this very different style of church planting. The Kansas City District has been probably the major leader and resource to date. Jeren Rowell and the Kansas City district has opened their doors to RiverFront Church and this new way of doing church, as a grass-roots emerging of house groups that leads into adding a large group gathering. We are excited to serve on a district that has intentionally decided to enable and encourage innovators in new ways of reaching our culture through new ways of doing church.

GROW: What are you learning in this faith adventure of starting a new church?

Tina: One area is understanding the importance of being proactive rather than reactive. Everything about starting a new church is proactive. Different areas and ministries have to be considered. Such as how are we going to communicate to the public? What is this new church going to look like? Who is going to be there? What kind of sermons is the pastor going to preach? Who is going to lead the outreach ministry or children's ministry?

Another lesson I've been learning is I cannot do everything myself. It takes a team to fulfill a dream. Pastors should not feel they must lead everything, but realize the talent, gifts, and potential found in lay people. Lay people are ministers too. Lay individuals have the ability to run ministries in the church which contribute to the purposes of a church. Once you find the right person for a particular ministry, a pastor learns to trust the leadership of the lay person.

Scott: For me personally, there have been at least three key things: (1) Dealing with the unknown. We all wish we could see things from the end result. A great challenge is trusting God to build His church and not get in the way but instead be His builders. (2) Starting with nothing. Indeed God does not need a pile of money or a mass of people to start a church. Starting with nothing doesn't make it easy either. It takes dependence on God and hard work; and (3) Being free to be used by God. Responsibilities and finances can easily get in the way of being free to be used by God. Godly stewardship takes continual work and is most often counter-cultural. It's important that we are freed up to be used by God!

Brad: One big miss I think many new starts overlook is the spiritual warfare that takes place. My coach gave me a great insight. He told me that the enemy would first attack me, then my wife, then my kids, and if he couldn't make me quit, he would move to our leaders and finally the launch team. He was right on the money.

Since February we have seen an onslaught. First I had to have surgery, then my wife had to have surgery, then one of my children was admitted to the hospital, another came under a strong attack, and then my car blew an engine. Two of my leaders have been hit hard. One had a premature baby (she's doing great now) and another has had some serious health issues. And, my Dad is part of my staff and during all of this my mom had to have surgery.

That's just a brief overview of what has been happening. However, I have a very strong prayer team surrounding me and I spend a lot of focused time on my knees before God. That would be my one piece of advice to pastors of NewStarts. Pray and then when you think you've prayed enough, pray some more. You get so busy with all the little things that have to get done that you can neglect the very source that will give you strength and carry you through.