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[PCUSANEWS] Doing something new
PCUSA NEWS <PCUSA.NEWS@ecunet.org>
Tue, 19 Aug 2003 15:42:41 -0500
Note #7884 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:
Doing something new
August 19, 2003
Doing something new
Trailblazing NCD pastors need 'pioneer spirit,' faith, flexibility
By Jerry L. Van Marter
PORTLAND, OR - The way to grow Faithbridge Presbyterian Church, a
congregation started three years ago in Frisco, TX, seemed obvious to the
Rev. Phil Lotspeich and the leaders of Grace Presbytery: Go out into the
rapidly growing community and bring in the unchurched.
It didn't take long for Lotspeich to find out what other Presbyterian
new-church development (NCD) pastors had learned before him: It's good to
have a plan - but you've got to be flexible.
"We were thinking traditionally - go out and evangelize the unchurched,"
Lotspeich told the Presbyterian News Service during the PC(USA)'s annual
National New Church Development Conference for 2003. "But we found there
weren't very many."
Instead, the Faithbridge folk discovered that there area was heavily
populated by young parents who had grown up in the church but left as young
adults, who now had children of their own and were searching for religious
communities for their families.
"Because they were alienated by their previous experience, hospitality has
been a major focus for us," Lostspeich said. "We've tried to create a
welcoming environment where folks are free to doubt, question, explore,
struggle, grow and cheer. We accept people for who they are, as long they're
honest about seeking God's will for their lives."
That ability to adapt has produced a vibrant Presbyterian congregation in
Frisco. After less than three years, average worship attendance reached 150.
Faithbridge Church was chartered as a PC(USA) congregation just 18 months
after it was founded.
More than 300 NCD pastors and leaders - including presbytery staff with NCD
responsibility - shared their stories and ideas at the Aug. 5-Aug. 10
conference, whose theme was "New Journeys."
More than two-thirds of the participants were racial-ethnic and immigrant
pastors and leaders. "The future of the PC(USA) is in its multi-racial,
multi-ethnic, multi-cultural churches, because that's where the future of the
United States is," said Hector Rodriguez, associate for Hispanic
congregational enhancement in the National Ministries Division (NMD) in
Every story was unique, but all reflected the same pioneer spirit - because
venturing into new-church development is often a lonely, challenging,
confusing journey. But it's one that pays great rewards to the faithful - and
"You are our optimists," NMD Director Curtis Kearns told the conference
participants. "You represent our willingness to invest in the future while
others worry about our survival."
More than 150 leaders from 52 presbyteries attended an NCD training event
just before the conference, triple the number who attended last year.
That kind of interest, said Doug Wilson, NMD's associate director for
evangelism and church development, bodes well for the PC(USA) and its
intention to emphasize church start-ups.
"There's certainly more interest from presbyteries (in) finding new ways to
start churches," Wilson said. "Some are getting restarted after not doing
new-church development for some time, and what we're all feeling is that
we're allies, not adversaries competing for staff time and dollars and
Pittsburgh Presbytery Executive Jim Mead said his presbytery has budgeted
more than $1.5 million for new-church development and redevelopment of
existing churches. He conceded that the presbytery has had both successes and
failures, but said he is excited by what he sees.
"I know we Presbyterians like to play numbers games, and I hate to see us
losing members as much as the next person," Mead said, "but, really, for me
it's not about whether we're growing or not, but whether we're bearing fruit
Mead said his presbytery is "looking for leaders who are out on the streets"
because "the only way our faith in Jesus Christ really works is if both the
church and the community are transformed by the love of Christ."
He added: "Our churches are called to serve the community, not just keep the
doors open until Jesus comes again."
Changing to meet community needs is particularly urgent in racial-ethnic and
The Rev. Hameed Barkat said that, when he visited friends from his native
Pakistan in Southern California in 1995, he could not find a Christian
worship service for Urdu-speakers.
"I was asked to stay and begin worship and Bible study in Urdu," Barkat said,
"but it was very difficult, because my wife and five children were still in
Pakistan. My wife and I talked and prayed, and after one month we agreed that
God was calling me to do this ministry."
Barkat's family rejoined him in 2000. The New Life Urdu Church is now an NCD
sponsored by Riverside Presbytery, with cooperation from San Gabriel and Los
Silvana Franca, a former seminary teacher in Brazil, came to the United
States with her husband a year ago to work among Portuguese-speaking
immigrants, who number 300,000 in south Florida. "So great is (the
immigrants') hunger for the gospel," she said, "that we now have 18
Portuguese-speaking fellowships, in nine states."
Immigrant churches often have a shortage of trained leaders, Franca said. "We
have leaders, but they are very busy; and another big problem is, they come
from different churches in Brazil, and so don't know our Presbyterian ways."
Last year, Columbia Theological Seminary and its Center for New Church
Development addressed that problem by launching a Portuguese-language
leadership-training course. The first class numbered 22. This year, with
classes on the Columbia campuses in Decatur, GA, and Orlando, FL, attendance
has more than doubled.
Leadership development is a huge need, even among more established ethnic
groups. Shun Chi Whang, NMD's associate for Asian congregational enhancement,
said leadership is a critical need of Chinese Presbyterians, even though the
first Chinese Presbyterian church in the United States - Chinatown Church in
San Francisco - was established 150 years ago.
"Most first-generation Chinese pastors were imported," he said. "We didn't
train them, we just assumed they knew; which gave some of them the impression
we didn't care about them. Now we are lacking second-generation pastors."
As a result, Shun Chi said, "there are more than 1,000 Chinese Christian
churches in the United States, but only 14 of them are PC(USA)."
Flexibility and creative thinking especially crucial in racial-ethnic and
minority immigrant congregations, said Angel Suarez-Valera, associate for
immigrant group ministries. "An immigrant NCD is a process, not a structure,"
he said. "It's an organic, living, developing organism - it's not static or
Leadership in such congregations, Suarez-Valera continued, "is defined by the
indigenous cultural background of the community, and not by some Presbyterian
'leadership profile.' They are the leaders, even if they don't fit the
The Rev. Stan Wood, director of Columbia Seminary's new-church development
center, outlined a number of programs the seminary has created to meet the
PC(USA)'s needs. Two of the most promising, he said, are conferences for
potential NCD pastors and NCD internships for seminary students.
Jane Stewart, a Princeton Theological Seminary student, called her internship
at The Cove NCD in Santa Rosa, CA, a "priceless" opportunity "to get the
experience I need for NCD ministry."
The Rev. Jose Carlos Pezini, a Brazilian pastor who has started seven new
churches in Brazil and five in the Atlanta area, agreed, saying, "The NCD
Center at Columbia has made me more effective in discerning mission and
ministry beyond maintenance and administration."
Wilson said the denomination's NCD efforts have also been enhanced by the
growth of the NCD Pastor/Spouse Association, which networks NCD pastors and
their spouses, helps plan the annual conference and has developed support
programs of its own.
Perhaps the association's most effective effort is a cadre of "NCD coaches" -
experienced NCD pastors who have been trained to help less-experienced NCD
pastors. About a dozen are deployed around the country.
"The association has been a lifeline for me," said Lotspeich, its current
moderator. "It's one place where I realize that I'm not alone, that my
problems are not just mine."
The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, pastor of Mission Bay Community Church in San
Francisco, said that kind of support is crucial.
"The 'new model' that works without fail does not exist," he said, confessing
that his own first NCD attempt was a failure.
"Everyone wants to give up sometimes," he said, recalling a conversation he
had with a struggling NCD pastor: "I found myself telling him, 'Dude, no
one's coming! We've got to get real jobs.'"
Mindful of God's improbable, sometimes indecipherable, calls to Abraham and
Moses, Reyes-Chow said, "We have to keep the faith - even when there's no
proof or evidence - that God is working through all of it."
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