By Rev. Betsy Hall
When I went to seminary in 1985 I had no intention of going into local church ministry.
I had become a Christian three years earlier through a campus para-church organization and was convinced God had left the church. Imagine my surprise while in a field education placement in a church I felt God say, “Yeah and you thought I’d left church.” It was then that I changed directions and explored church ministry.
The first call was to full-time ministry in a suburban megachurch. After eight years and burn out I quit. I found myself working in an agency in a new town, attending a small membership church. Our little church merged with another church. Over the years I found myself doing what deacons do—bridging the world with the church and the church to the world.
An opportunity to help with a new church plant came up and I jumped at the chance. What I didn’t realize at the time was this was the first of two new churches I’d help plant!
Why a deacon?
I think deacons can thrive in new church planting because many of us are used to jumping in and getting ministry done. Many of us have had to work with what we had and make it work, with limited resources. We can be a colleague for an appointed elder—a safe, listening ear and a fellow clergyperson “who gets it.” I personally like being part of a team but not having to be the pastor-in-charge.
Three things I’ve learned
1. What I know became what I had to relearn or unlearn.
I have been challenged to think in new ways—what works in one setting may have to be tweaked in the other or changed completely. However, compassion and love are timeless.
2. What I did is not necessarily what I do.
I found you do what needs to be done. That phrase I learned in seminary, “servant leader,” got practiced in new ways—at times cleaning bathrooms, mopping, and taking out the trash.
3. What I thought was needed to ‘do church’ became less cumbersome.
The new-church-start where I currently have my secondary appointment, Providence United Methodist in Mount Juliet, Tenn., has a plastic tote box with “Worship” written on the top. It contains everything we need to set the table for communion. A church that was closing gave us their altar table—a simple table that holds the essentials of bread, juice, a cross, candles, and a bowl and pitcher. At East Bank Church the table is a recycled packing skid. We used something we had to create something new.
Rewards of working with a church plant
I’ve gotten to see what “church” is becoming and serve alongside younger clergy who give me great hope for our denomination! Their love of God and for the people in their communities drives them outside the walls, leading us along with them.
I’ve felt great joy in seeing new people come to believe in Jesus Christ and find healing and wholeness. I’ve gotten to see what God can do through a small group of committed Christians using spiritual gifts with love and compassion.
It’s hard work, it’s hectic, messy, at times even chaotic but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s as if God says new everyday “Yeah, I’m here—watch what happens next!”
Betsy Hall is project manager for Congregational Resource Development at Upper Room Ministries, Nashville, Tenn. Her secondary appointments are to Providence United Methodist Church in Mount Juliet and East Bank Church in East Nashville.