My thinking went like this. We had made great progress in activating a large number of our people, and it was very gratifying. But in the larger community of the diocese, the region, and the country, there seemed to me to be a great shortage of similar work. Perhaps the parish should take up the work of planting new congregations as well?
I had first helped plant a new Anglican congregation as a young Curate, and had repeatedly spoken of that need and encouraged it through diocesan machinery. Now I started to speak of new work in our own city, and our own Metro Region with our parish as the initiator. The idea was almost universally unwelcome. No one could imagine themselves leaving the Ascension for a new work. I was discouraged, but had no thought of going anywhere. I would continue my work as Rector and build on the foundation we had pioneered. Then I was sent out. I still had much to learn.
For twenty years I had carried a “word” spoken into my spirit in 1973. “There needs to be an Anglican Order of Church Planters.” Every attempt I had made to discuss or act on it had faltered. Now I began to pray for the Lord to help me find the man who could do it. I was imagining hiring him onto my staff, and making the parish the center of the work. In the midst of this season events swept over me that made it clear that I was to do the work, and that remaining Rector would be impossible. The North American Missionary Society (NAMS) was born. I sincerely believed that I could hand the work of the parish off to another, and begin the work from Knoxville, but it was not to be.
Nonetheless, the work began in 1993 with the stated purpose of planting new Great Commission Congregations in the Episcopal/Anglican tradition. I brought all that I had learned about church growth and disciple-making to the effort, and soon NAMS was involved in helping to plant new churches all over North America. Everything I said or wrote emphasized “disciple-making discipleship” and “churches planting churches,“ but once again I did not understand the power of culture. What bishops and diocese wanted, and their people, was one more parish like they already knew. We taught multiplication, but what we got was serial church planting, one by one, with great effort and only by raising large resources.
Anglicans teach that where the gospel is preached and the sacraments duly administered the church is present. But I was determined that passing the Lord’s life along to others was also necessary. The number of new congregations we were able to assist grew and grew, until by 2006 we could number over 200 new works NAMS had assisted. But were they multiplying? Then I took a much needed sabbatical.
I prayed over our data, while away, and it was clear that we had managed to assist only a tiny handful of churches that had themselves helped to start another. Painfully I realized that once again I had taught the principle of replication. As I should have known by then, teaching it does not make it happen. But I still did fully understand.
Next Week: On to Disciple-making University