Why a residency? In one way or another, that question has been posed to me several times over the last month.
“So, what is it you’re doing?”
“Why don’t you just get there and get to work?”
“We’ve never heard of anything like that in the church world!”
I have become more aware of the sentiment behind these questions and I am understanding more and more why they are being asked. Honestly, I came into this with some of the same questions in my own mind. I am also growing more and more convinced of the benefits and what I acknowledge as the importance of church planting residencies.
Let’s start with an explanation of what a church planting residency is:
In my context, I am called to start a church. I want to lead and start a church that infiltrates the culture of Oklahoma City and equips people to live, work and play everyday convinced that they are part of something bigger than themselves. I want to see people live lives that are fulfilled. I want to see people so captivated by Jesus that their jobs, their homes and their lives are gripped by joy and purpose. I also have lots of questions and lots of needs. In my residency, I am being assessed on a variety of levels: marriage, sanity(bombed it), competence, calling and other areas vital to success. Historically what has happened in these situations is a planter is assessed and then they are sent away- sent with a primary focus on the fact that nothing too shocking appeared on the assessment. Unfortunately, there are often subtle things that appear on these assessment results that are dismissed but later become a bigger issue. Granted, sometimes these are addressed but are also often issues that may need more long term attention. Simply addressing the presence of these issues isn’t sufficient and they do deserve some elaboration.
My reason for belief in the value of residencies covers two sides of ministry: personal and organizational. I reached out to my friend Andy Comer who will be planting Antioch Georgetown in Georgetown, TX in 2017-2018 and asked him to offer some of the positives of a residency. He currently serves as a resident church planter at the church I formerly served with in Conway, Arkansas. Assuming most residencies have an assessment portion to them, I believe residencies accomplish and assist in these 4 areas:
1. Self-awareness. I am one of my own worst critics but I also have blind spots. What I have found beneficial in a residency is the opportunity to identify these spots and then the opportunity to address them in a constructive way. In a residency, you are assessed. Once you are assessed, you then have several months with that organization to deal directly with blindspots. Addressing issues in a way that affirms the host organization is FOR you is life-giving and beneficial.
2. Community. I have to be honest, I went into my current residency with the end in mind. Knowing that I would benefit from it, but knowing that it was a stepping stone. It has become much more than that. It has become a season of life-giving community and friendships that we are already dreading having to part with(I know, “it’s not goodbye”). It’s a season of life that, though we are planning and preparing, we are forming deep life long relationships. That’s not the only community being formed. In a residency, we are also connecting with a variety of other leaders through the flexibility that a residency offers. My goal is to meet with 8 different types of leaders in the OKC area over the next 8 months. I am excited to meet this week with a friend who is the director of an incredible non-profit organization in the Oklahoma City area to discuss how a non-profit views the local church and how healthy partnerships can form between the two. I am able to set these meetings up thanks to the encouragement I have from my host church to form these relationships. These were things that were a bit harder to accomplish while working as a full time pastor in an established church. Day-to-day demands and responsibilities didn’t create as much space for these. The opportunity to step out of that role into a residency for year before planting may make for some antsy moments, but the benefits far outweigh any negatives.
3. Credibility. I have been blessed in my ministry. I joined the staff of Antioch Conway in 2012 and stepped out of that role in August. Antioch is an amazing church and I am convinced that my connection with such a reputable church is important. The same goes for the church I am serving with in residency. Grace Hills Church is doing amazing things to reach Northwest Arkansas and their work is being noticed and their impact is far reaching. Not only is it a benefit to connect with healthy organizations but there is also an aspect of credibility when people hear I am doing all that I can to grow and learn. There is absolutely nothing wrong with stepping out of youth ministry straight into church planting. In fact, I have heard that student pastors make the best church planters! But there is also a value in being able to let people know that I am in a season of learning and growth before taking the plunge into planting- especially to those who you reach out to for support. Indeed, there are amazing churches doing amazing things that do not offer a residency. I will also say that you can be assured that a church who sees the value in residencies and has an avenue that encourages and supports it IS a church doing great things!
4. Broadens our view of ministry. One of the most common questions I have asked in my ministry(and have been asked by others) is, “how does your church handle/do _____?”. There’s a great chance that a church offering a residency is a church that is healthy and is worth emulating. Being in a residency allows you to see how a great church handles/does things. Before I came to Grace Hills, there were certain areas of ministry I was afraid of and was often overwhelmed with feelings of insecurity. I often found myself dreading having to take time to discover areas of weakness and the potential of it delaying progress in a church plant. Being part of a residency allows me to identify those things in a relatively safe environment and will allow me in the future to focus on what is important based on what I have learned in residence. It is teaching me about the kinds of leaders I need around me that will compliment the areas of weakness I have. I am able to sit in and experience all aspects of ministry. As Andy Comer said: “A residency enables me to be hands on in the church without the pressure of leading the church.”
I’m only a month into this. These are the lessons I have learned so far and they are lessons that I have personally encountered and experienced. I expect to be able to add to the list of benefits as my time in residency continues. I would love to hear about other experiences with church planting residencies- feel free to share!
(photo above by Michael Weidemann: Scissortail Stories)