Commissioned pastor training leads to church plants in Iowa
In September 2007, Marty Schmidt planted a new church called thebridge in Ottumwa, Iowa, a town that would be hit hard by the Great Recession that began just a few months later. Now, Sundays see more than 600 people gathering for worship and biblical teaching at Bridge View Center, a huge new events center on the banks of the Des Moines River.
In 2011, Schmidt reports, 65 people were baptized, 77 responded to the gospel, and 1,003 attended on Easter Sunday. About 150 students attend Elevate, their student ministry, each week and 170 adults participate in small groups.
Training leaders to start churches
"It has been a humbling experience to be a part of everything that is going on here in Ottumwa, and I can honestly say that none of this would be possible without Third Church's commitment to send out leaders," says Schmidt. "Their financial backing and administrative oversight has freed our team to be highly engaged and active in sharing the gospel."
Third Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa, identified and trained Schmidt and fellow church planter Steve Herrema as commissioned pastors, and it continues to support the new church plants.
Commissioned pastors are elders who have been individually commissioned for a specific ministry need in a classis (in this case, the Classis of Central Iowa); rather than pursuing a seminary degree, commissioned pastors complete a training and study program approved by the classis. Pastor Keith Korver, Third Reformed's director of leadership development, provides spiritual and organizational leadership training for Third Reformed, including oversight of the training of commissioned pastors.
"Senior pastor Kevin Korver planted the seeds of starting a learning center out of Third Church Pella over 15 years ago," says Keith. "Key leaders who caught the vision partnered with Kevin to make decisions and take actions to move in this direction. I was hired 10 years ago to implement that vision."
Identifying and equipping leaders
The VantagePoint3 (VP3) process is key to that vision of leadership development. Keith Korver says the process helps a church develop leaders from within the congregation, including those few people who are capable of becoming commissioned pastors. He says the VP3 process focuses on character development, leadership skill development, and how people develop as Christians over time. The process includes three intensive steps over three years.
"It takes lots of time to develop people, especially top organizational leadership," says Korver. "To see who the Holy Spirit is choosing to invite into the commissioned pastor training process, we go through a spiritual and leadership distillation process. Third Church has seen over 500 of its people go through the VP3 emerging journey process. Of those, 220 have participated in the VP3 equipping journey, and out of those, 100 have made it through the VP3 enriching leader process. Out of this group, 17 individuals have gone through or are in commissioned pastor training.
"Most commissioned pastor candidates get tagged for staff positions in Third Church or other Central Iowa Classis churches; a few are identified for church planting based upon their qualifications."
In addition to three years of leadership training through VP3, commissioned pastor candidates have two years of commissioned pastor training.
"In addition we have all of our staff and commissioned pastor candidates take the MMPI2 [Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, a personality and mental health evaluation tool] through certified counseling agencies before they are accepted into training. We also run many commissioned pastor candidates through the Ridley Church Planters Assessment with [Synod of Mid-America visionary leader] Wayne Van Regenmorter out of Chicago. This has been invaluable at identifying those with the behavioral and historical attributes necessary to move into church planting.
"Our commissioned pastor training is focused around the 10 standards that General Synod prescribes, and each candidate designs a training plan with classis oversight as well as performing actual ministry.
"I wish I could say the training process was smooth but it is usually herky-jerky for candidates due to life stage issues, career issues, church plant funding issues, and classis oversight realities. However, the process is effective. So far, by God's grace we are two for two with church plants, and we are attempting a third plant while spooling up for a fourth in 2013." Korver says Marty Schmidt and Steve Heerema, the two new church planters, went through the VP3 process and commissioned pastor training in four and six years respectively.
Supporting new church plants
In addition to guiding the training of the two commissioned pastors who have planted new churches, Third Church has designated 25 percent of its 2013 budget to provide management and administrative services to the new churches. By supplying these services, Third Church frees the new churches to focus all of their efforts on ministry activities.
Management services include support and oversight in the areas of prayer, spiritual guidance, coaching, mentoring, finances, and strategic planning. It includes providing a safe place to plan, dream, and process.
Administrative services include support related to accounting (check writing, financial statement preparation, budgeting, and payroll), offerings (counting, tracking donations, and issuing donor receipts), human resources (benefit plans and plan administration, payroll, and personnel policies), printing and design (the bulletin and other large print jobs), and financial oversight (the church plants are part of Third Church's annual audit). In fiscal year 2012, thebridge and The Way were both self-sufficient for the first time—the offerings they took in covered the expenses they paid out.
The Way, a "fresh start" congregation in Newton, Iowa, was planted in 2008. (Five thousand people in Newton lost their jobs in 2007 when the main employer, Maytag, was bought out and many jobs went to Mexico.) In RCA church multiplication lingo, a fresh start congregation is a new congregation that emerges from a church reaching the end of its life cycle.
The Way now holds three Sunday morning services, with a total of 400 to 450 people attending. They are considering adding a Saturday evening service. More than 700 people came to last year's Christmas and Easter services. The Sunday morning children's ministry is overflowing, with 40 to 60 kids attending each week.