Last weekend, February 20-22, I had the privilege of ministering in several different places in California’s Central Valley. For those who do not know the Central Valley is the most fertile and productive farming country in all of the United States. Both the soil and climate are perfect for growing a large number of crops that feed millions of people. I personally enjoyed a tour of a huge almond growing operation and learned more than I can begin to share in a short blog. It was a lot of fun for me and allowed me to see an agribusiness in a whole new personal light.
My primary purpose for this trip was to serve a new flock led by my dear friend, Rev. David Moorhead. David is a church planter with the Reformed Church in America in Shafter, California, a town about 20 miles north of Bakersfield. New Hope Community Church, this new congregation in Shafter, was begun just a few months ago after several years of planning and dreaming for a new church start in that area. Shafter is a community of around 15,000 people. It is primarily Mexican-American demographically, with something like 75% of the people of this background. New Hope was begun through the vision of several growers (who are Dutch) who desired to plant a missional congregation in their own local community. David previously pastored in West Michigan for many years. (Many years ago he followed me by becoming the pastor of a church I had planted in suburban Chicago. I have always said, "David picked up the pieces of all my mistakes as a very young man!")
Last year I introduced David to the former pastor of the Tulare Community Church (Tulare, California), who now works in the home office of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This pastor, Rev. Tim Vink, met David and then passed David’s name and resume along to the pastor for new church starts at Tulare Community Church, Rev. Roger Peterson. Roger then sensed God leading him to approach David to lead the new work in Shafter. David and Milinda Moorhead, and their family, then moved to Shafter in the late fall of 2008, believing God was leading them to this small town where the need for a missional church focused on Christ's kingdom was truly needed.
On Friday, February 21, I finally met Roger Peterson. He is one delightful, happy, visionary, man who just exudes warmth and passion for Christ and his kingdom. We were joined by six church planters who had been sent out by the Tulare Community Church. We had a lovely fellowship over lunch. The time was one which encouraged me very deeply. I hope I also gave encouragement to these wonderful brothers as well. Their faithfulness to follow God’s leading in planting new missional churches was quite thrilling to see.
Tulare Community Church (TCC) states that it’s local church mission: “Is to glorify God by producing hundreds of healthy followers of Christ who courageously and unselfishly start dozens of reproducing churches.” That is a truly missional statement of vision and intention.
I wish every church in America had this same vision but the truth is that few really do. Most are content to send some money to others to do their mission and to build bigger and larger local churches if they have the people and money. Few dream about investing so much in new churches. TCC puts money and human sacrifice directly into this statement of vision and actually does what it says it intends to do. Rev. Peterson is called to lead the church in locating places for new congregations and then finding and supporting new pastors to actually plant these new churches. The vision, begun while Tim Vink was the senior pastor in Tulare, is working very well. The classis has seventeen established churches in it so it is not large at all. But it has produced, and only in the last few years, eighteen church plants. That means that there is more than one new church for every existing church in the classis, a concept almost unknown in any denomination I know. (A classis is a group of churches bound together by government and mission, generally in a given region.)
I have no problem with a church growing larger in size. I have a real problem when this growth becomes an end in itself. A major way to avoid the overly satisfied, overly programmatic, and non-reproducing mega-church, is to plant new churches far and wide. TCC has this vision for this and it is working very well. I was truly thrilled to share a small part in this story and hope I can do even more of this if the Lord allows that to come about.