Northwest Hosts National Church-Planting Conference

More than 100 church planters from North America and beyond gathered for SPROUT 2002 meetings at the Seattle Center, Sept. 25-28.

Coordinated by Ron Gladden and Lavelle Whitehouse of the North Pacific Union Conference church planting department, SPROUT is designed annually for individuals already actively involved in church planting leadership.

A “SEEDS” convocation, held each year at Andrews University, targets those not yet active in church planting.

Among veterans attending SPROUT, those used to working on the front lines, the camaraderie was unmistakable. They came from different communities, different projects, and different states, where they often feel very alone. So the huge smiles, heartfelt hugs, and earnest small-group conversations were strong evidence that the session was more than just education or entertainment.

For a few short days, they were reminded that they are part of a larger team, working toward the same goal.

For some, the meetings began with a bit of uncertainty. Just a few weeks before, the AnchorPointe group in Seattle had lost its pastoral team, a reminder of the fragile nature of spiritual leadership on the front lines. But right from the start, the focus was set on recommitment to the gospel commission.

Jere Patzer, North Pacific Union Conference president, presented a devotional message that pointed listeners to a God Who is able to keep and direct that which is committed to Him.

Gladden then took the group through a focused time of rededication, inviting each person to recommit to three basic areas: 1) I am in this for the long haul; 2) I will seek God daily; and 3) Through the empowering of God, I will remain pure.

After a session of prayer groups, Gladden summarized the group’s recommitment: “We’re going to be fine. We’ll refocus, be more cautious in our own strength and more bold in drawing the armor of God around us. We have a world to win.”

Gladden and Whitehouse selected Big Tree as the motif for the session: “We wanted to emphasize how God honors faith to do great things for Him,” said Gladden. “Why should we be stunted, small shrubs when He is empowering us to become large, flourishing trees?”

Ken Hall of the SonRise Outreach group in Medford, Ore., echoed this theme: “We don’t just want to be a survivor church or even a successful church. We believe God wants us to be a significant church.”

The four days of meetings supported that theme with a lineup that included sessions with nationally-known church planting consultants Doug Murren, Gary McIntosh, and Wayne Cordeiro, as well as Northwest pastors Cleveland Hobdy and Brant Berglin.

To provide perspective, the church planters contracted with four individuals from the streets of Seattle to be interviewed on Thursday afternoon. They represented differing backgrounds. One had not been to church since being baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church.

On Friday morning, Gerald Haeger, Upper Columbia Conference ministerial director, went out for his regular morning walk, and, as is his habit, he did some prayer-walking—praying for the city.

“This time it was different,” he said. “Because of those four interviews, I had four faces in mind for whom to pray.”

Other highlights included a Friday-evening cruise on Puget Sound, combined with foot-washing and a renewal communion service, and Sabbath services with the AnchorPointe group, where Doug Bing, now Washington Conference vice-president administration, shared the main message.

To cap off the meetings, Gladden recalled the two times where Scripture records that Jesus was amazed—once when He saw the unbelief in His hometown and, again, when He witnessed the great belief of the centurion.

Gladden reviewed how 10,000 churches planted in North America in the past 30 years have grown beyond 1,000 attending members, but not one of these is an Adventist church.

“We’ve got a clear mission before us,” he said. “Let’s pray that our Lord will be amazed, not by our unbelief, but at our great faith in what He will do through us in the months ahead.”

Doug Venn, leader of the Pullman, Wash., Community group, echoed the sentiments of many: “It’s so good to come here and share with people who know what it’s like to be in the trenches,” he said. “We’re all spending a lot of time outside the regular fold, trying to find new sheep. We feel like soldiers on the front lines.”

So they came, they shared, and they left, encouraged and empowered to continue a unique and sometimes lonely mission. It’s a mission Gladden hopes many more will join with in coming months, as they catch the vision of growing their small churches into “Big Tree” churches. •

Steven Vistaunet serves as assistant to the North Pacific Union Conference president for communication and writes from Vancouver, Wash.

First Award

During the first day of SPROUT meetings, Ron Gladden, right, North Pacific Union Conference church planting director, presented Max Torkelsen II, Upper Columbia Conference president, with the first-ever “Courageous Administrator Award.”

Torkelsen, Conference president since 1997, has led the Conference’s recent push to include church planting in its strategic plan for project fundraising development.

“Max continues to be a careful, yet unmistakable force, who has encouraged his team of workers to support the principles of church planting,” says Gladden. “We are encouraged by his leadership and privileged to give him the first such award.” •

November 01, 2002 / World Church
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Steven Vistaunet