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April 21, 2018

Everything is a Residency

By Ben Connelly

Church planters with ministry experience are more ready than church planters without any. At first glance, that seems like one of the most obvious statements in the ministry world. But here’s a “church planting prep” secret: while seminaries offer something irreplaceable and while specific church planter training can be invaluable, any ministry opportunity can serve as a piece of a church planter’s preparation. In other words, everything is a residency. 

Every year, Soma Sending opens up about 12 spots for a two-year church planting residency. Every year, applicants come from varied backgrounds, different settings, and all regions of the US (and beyond!). But after working with dozens of applicants, residents, and planters (through Soma, Acts29, and other organizations our church is affiliated with), one of the consistent themes is that ministry experience prepares church planters.

Are you in college and have the chance to serve with, say, high school students, elementary kids, or the music team in your current church? That can be part of an informal church planting residency: you’re learning to listen to people who are unsure of their faith, make complex theological truths simple enough to be understood by young minds, and/or see the craft that goes into making a Sunday gathering unified and thoughtful.

Are you on staff at a church but not in the “lead pastor” role? That can be part of an informal church planting residency: book some regular time with your current lead pastor, express your interest, and ask him everything you can. “What’s hard about your role, that no one ever realizes?” “What’s amazing about it, that no one gets to see?” “What does a typical week look like?” “What do you remember about your first [fill in the blank: sermon, wedding, funeral, firing, baptism, or a thousand other things]?” “What mistakes did you make that I should avoid?” “What recommendations would you give?” You have an invaluable resource in the office next door: even if you’re confident enough to think you have all the answers and would do it so much better than your current pastor does, don’t neglect the years of wisdom there and the actual experience in already doing what you dream of doing.

Are you in a staff role and currently serving a specific ministry within the church? That can be part of an informal church planting residency: involve yourself in a budget-planning process, and consider how your one area of ministry fits with the other areas in the church, and realize the hard decisions someone has to make now, that you’ll have to help make one day. Disciple people, develop leaders, and discipline members. Plan out a year’s worth of ministry events. Teach. Pray. Shepherd. And do it all while you have a safety net of someone over you, who can correct you when (not if) you err and catch you when (not if) you fall. You’ll thank them one day, when the net’s pulled and you feel alone in the spotlight that used to shine on them.

Are you a volunteer in a church, leading a group, teaching a class, or serving in some ministry? That can be part of an informal church planting residency: if you’re faithful with the areas of ministry you’ve been delegated and are humble, teachable, and eager, more areas of ministry will head your way. You don’t have to have a paid role to be trained. You merely have to express your desires, serve well, step up when asked, do behind-the-scenes things when not asked, and “own” your role. Serve on teams, support your staff, and be available. Every journey starts somewhere; start your church planting journey where you currently serve. 

Are you someone who has a love for God, a heart for people both in and outside the church, and an aspiration to plant a church one day? Everything can be an informal church planting residency. Devote some time each week to reading theology and understanding the Bible: more resources exist now than at any point in history; many are free and online. Shadow your church’s leaders as often as they’ll let you: ask them questions after a meeting or counseling session you observe. Care for people well: point them toward the gospel and grow in your pastoral experience. Guard your life and your doctrine: these two broad areas seem consistently under attack and temptation. And pray: learn to abide in Christ and wait upon the Lord. Seek Him first in good and bad times, easy and stressful times, highs and lows, joys, and pains. Because church planting will involve all those extremes and everything between.  

Should you pursue a Bible degree or a church planting residency? Maybe. (I’m biased!) But whether you do or not, if you have a desire to plant a church, don’t waste your current situation. Live in the present. “Bloom where you’re planted.” Make use of the time, season, and church God has you in. Because if you want to plant a church one day, your training starts today. Look around you: everything is a residency.

But if you are interested in a church planting residency, Soma Sending applications are open until May 1st. Click here for more info. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ben Connelly

Ben Connelly (@connellyben), his wife Jess, and their kiddos Charlotte, Maggie, and Travis live in Fort Worth, TX. He started and now co-leads The City Church, part of the Acts29 network and Soma family of churches. Ben also directs church planting for Soma churches across North America, has taught university classes, and has published a few books. With degrees from Baylor University and Dallas Theological Seminary, he writes for various publications, trains folks across the country, and blogs occasionally at benconnelly.net.

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