Dirt Roads Network Attends Exponential Conference
For church planters, Exponential in Orlando is the one conference you must attend. Each year well over 5,000 church planters and leaders from around the country join together to be inspired and listen to the leading experts share what they are learning.
Recognizing the importance of Exponential, The Wesleyan Church sponsors a preconference to spearhead the denomination’s church planting efforts. More than 400 Wesleyan Church planters attended this year. The preconference includes an evening of various panel discussions and an extensive rally the next day. The rally features several “Ted Talks” by denominational leaders and church planters.
Dirt Roads Network played a significant role in the Wesleyan preconference. I was on a panel discussion about starting church planting networks in the evening session. I used this platform to champion rural church planting and ministry. Right now there is a major move to plant churches in urban and suburban settings. I value that, and we need to do that well. The panel discussion enabled me to share our vision that rural church planting is also vital to the mission of The Wesleyan Church.
The next day at the preconference rally, I was given the honor of being the anchor speaker. My intention was to share the shift that took place at Lamont Wesleyan Church as we transitioned from a lake model to a river model of ministry. Before the morning rally started, I was approached by Nic Beidel and his ministry team. Nic is the lead pastor of an urban church plant in downtown Atlanta called The Fringe. He and I were in an Exponential group together in 2017 and have become good friends. His team prayed that God would give me a prophetic word for The Wesleyan Church. The imagery of this was a perfect illustration of what I believe God wants for The Wesleyan Church. It was a team of urban planters surrounding a rural planter in prayer. We are on the same team. We have the same mission. We are co-laborers.
As the rally unfolded, it became clear that we were facing a time crunch. Some speakers and panels went longer than expected. In the end I was given three minutes to wrap up the rally. Needless to say, I did not share what I had planned. However, what I did share was that I believe The Wesleyan Church is on the brink of a transformation and is approaching a tipping point. I shared that I believe we are close to the day when being a sending church is valued more than simply being a growing church. Ultimately, I conveyed that we are becoming a denomination of rivers rather than lakes—discipling people, equipping them and sending them to answer their call wherever that might lead.
In the weeks that followed, I received several emails from people at The Wesleyan Church headquarters and from other pastors affirming what was shared. A note I received from Anita Eastlack, executive director of church multiplication and discipleship for the The Wesleyan Church, was especially encouraging. It said, “Thanks a million for all your love for The Lord and His Church! I have been thrilled as I watch you lead the way for encouraging the rural church to multiply. Thanks for all your involvement at Exponential and fanning the flame for we Wesleyans. I loved, especially, your words on Tuesday morning…that we are at a tipping point for a movement of God. May it be so. I have been praying your words for a week now, trusting God to turn our great time at Exponential with 430 Wesleyans into implementation. Keep leading. Keep speaking us forward.”
While the main Exponential Conference was very encouraging, the DRN crew also enjoyed our time together at our rented Air B&B house. It gave us a great chance to work through all that we were learning together at the conference. The team included Dave and Shaunna Sturgeon who are planting The Watershed in Iola, Mark Adams who is planting Embrace Church in Emporia, Andrew and Kara Hurlburt who are pastors here in Lamont, James and Jenny Thompson who pastor in Colby, Kansas and Jimmy and Amy Vuncannon from North Carolina. We were also joined by some other Kansas Wesleyan pastors including Andrew Smidt, the lead pastor of First Wesleyan Church in Wichita, and Josh and Sarah Siders from The Well in Manhattan, Kansas. Josh also happens to be the director of church planting for the Kansas District.
While the conference was encouraging, I was continually reminded of the need to promote the calling of rural church planting. There were several large halls where various vendors would promote their ministry. These halls also included places to eat and visit. On Wednesday, I was at a table talking to some church planters from Bloomington, Indiana. A young man that we did not know was sitting at the table as well. He joined the conversation and asked about Dirt Roads Network.
His story is one I have heard on many occasions. He feels called by God to plant a church in a small town in North Carolina. It is his hometown and to the best of his knowledge there are only a few Bible-believing churches in the area. God has broken his heart over this small town and he believes he should spend the rest of his life planting and leading a life-giving church there. I loved that part of his story. It is what we believe God wants for rural America. The rest of the story was challenging to hear. As he began preparing to plant—which involves things like finding a coach, raising money and developing a plan—he was repeatedly told that he should plant in a large city forty miles away from where God was calling him to plant. After all, he was told, that is where the people are.
He said that there were very few resources to guide him as he planted a rural church and he had not come across a single person at the entire conference who specialized in rural planting. I was the first person at the conference that he had talked to that understood his vision. You could tell that we were like a breath of fresh air to him. He was encouraged. I left feeling that God had arranged for him to be at that table.
This is why we need DRN! Someone has to champion rural ministry and rural church planting. There are times that I do not feel adequate for the job, but the vision has captured me. God is putting together a team of rural pastors who have this same passion. I believe that God will use us to champion this cause as we follow Him together.