In its Winter 2012/2013 edition, Multiply, the quarterly print newsletter of Mission to North America, featured church planting in the Cincinnati area, focusing on the church planting network that has grown out of North Cincinnati Community Church (click here to read the Multiply article). Reasoning Together recently interviewed TE Walter Wood, founding pastor of that church, for more insight into that movement.
The article in Multiply indicates that you were mentored by Frank Barker and Randy Pope. What are some of the main things you learned and/or caught from them?
I learned from Frank more at a distance and Randy up close. Randy was my co-worker and boss for 12 years at Perimeter Church and we were college mates at the University of Alabama in the 70s. I think what I caught from them was a zeal for the Lord, a zeal for evangelism and discipleship, a zeal for reaching the world. They were broadly Reformed guys who had an appreciation for the greater Body of Christ and the contribution that others have made, the fact that we can learn from them and yet still work our Reformed distinctives. And of course I caught the zeal for planting churches from them. I was part of the church planting strategy and execution during my years at Perimeter, which was a good experience and very formative in my own growth and development as a pastor.
What drew you to Cincinnati?
I was interested in church planting and went to the Assessment Center in ’91, but didn’t know where to go. I wanted to get out of the South – my thinking was there was a lot of church planting dynamic there. I wanted to go where we could help establish a presence in some other place. So we looked at a lot of cities in the eastern half of the United States and we liked Cincinnati best. It had a nice look and feel to it, and it felt like it was a good place to raise our kids. There were only two PCA churches here when I came in 1993, and the Presbytery was welcome to our coming. The demographics showed some real needs in Cincinnati – there were some good churches here but not a lot, and there was an openness here to the kind of church I hoped to plant.
One of the things the article in Multiply underlines is the high priority you have placed on mentoring. What does that look like with the church planters you are working with?
Well, it’s both structured and informal. We have a monthly Church Planter’s Forum where we get together and discuss something we’re reading, I’ll make a presentation of some kind on a topic and we’ll interact, or some of the other guys will prepare an outline on something they’re learning. It’s a learning community. In addition, we pray together once a month.
The rest of what I do is very relational. I make myself available. I may call them for lunch occasionally, but it’s not systematic. The way I was mentored was relational – less structure, more just watching those guys and learning from them as they did what they did. So, in my case mentoring is a day to day, life on life, kind of thing, particularly with the guys on our staff. My hope is that they’ll be able to pick up things that are helpful for pastoring, but we still have intentional times together where I ask them questions and that sort of thing. A lot of it depends on where they are and what their needs are and how much mentoring they might need. Some are going to need more in the early years than others, so we want to be sensitive to that.
So we do have a regular routine of get-togethers, which is good for them and good for me – it’s supportive. It’s a regular stop in the schedule to be held accountable, to get input, to be prayed for and with. It’s a discipline of relational contact. Then there’s the informal – the emails, the phone calls, the lunches – as needed to see how things are going. The network provides regular times to meet; the individual times are sporadic, occasional, as needed. They both work together.
Who mentors the mentor? How do you get continuing help and encouragement?
I still have contact with Randy Pope. I get together with him and a few other guys we’ve been friends with for a long time once a year for a retreat. We play golf and have times of prayer and discussion. I also keep in touch with the guys who have been my mentors over the years on the phone or at a conference, that sort of thing. Locally, the prayer meeting we have once a month and things like that feed my soul and encourage me and keep me in order. I have a men’s group in the church that I’m part of. They aren’t mentoring me per se, but we’re good friends, there’s good camaraderie, a good relational dynamic.
How do you balance the dynamic of pastoring your own congregation with your involvement with these other guys?
It’s an interesting balance that’s not always easy to maintain. The good thing is that the elders at North Cincinnati are committed to church planting and committed to our role as a church planting initiator in the area, so they know that part of my job is mentoring and bringing along other guys. They’re very much behind the notion, particularly of my work with guys we’ve brought on our staff, who’ve interned with us or worked for us for several years, and then go out. They want me to keep in touch with them and keep working with them to see that they know what they’re doing and to see that they’re doing a good job.
I’m pretty sensitive to whether or not I’m spending more time with church planters than with my own church. I don’t want my own church to feel that I’m giving more attention to other churches than our own. That perception has been there in the past and I don’t like that. I want to make sure that I’m giving my own church first priority.
And the elders help keep me in balance. They know about the monthly forum and prayer times and they think that’s good. They know about the informal relational times with church planters but they also know that I’m initiating contact with others in the church and working with the leaders of the church as well, so I think they’re satisfied with that.
How have you built the vision for church planting into the DNA of North Cincinnati, both with your leaders and with the congregation as a whole?
It took a while. We didn’t plant another congregation for the first nine years. We got here in 1993, and started a Bible study in ’94, and sent our first guy out to plant a church in 2003. It was not necessarily intentional to wait that long, but it just didn’t seem like it was the right time, or the right people, and there were other things that seemed to outweigh it. Looking back, I don’t think I would have done anything differently. When the time was right, our first local church plant was a failure (we had already sent Scott Brown out to plant in Tempe, AZ). We learned a lot from that. So it got into our DNA rather gradually. I talked about planting other churches in the vision for the church, and as the core for our first local plant developed, the elders bought into that through the occasional reference to it in the session meeting, or perhaps in a sermon, or just in casual conversations. In 2004, when we turned 10 years old, we presented a new 10 year plan which had an aggressive goal – 10 new churches in 15 years – so gradually the elders embraced it and wanted to put some money in the budget to make sure we would do it. The way it unfolded was something we couldn’t have planned. We had guys come to us – Josh Reitano comes to us, wants to go out to plant a church, Marc Champaign comes to us, wants to go out, Chad Grindstaff comes to us, wants to do an internship and then go out, Lee Veazey in northern Kentucky was recruited by another guy in northern Kentucky but we take him on and bring him into the presbytery. We had a small core of Young Lifers come out of our church and plant a church in Middletown that we embraced and kind of adopted – I think all of that happened because they knew we were a church committed to church planting. It was always in our documents, but there wasn’t a huge publicity campaign or anything like that on our part. There wasn’t a whole lot in writing about it, just a little bit on our website. But as we took our first stab at it in 2003 and 2004, our elders embraced it as something they wanted us to keep doing. In the presbytery I became involved in MNA, we got one of our guys on the MNA Committee, and those kinds of influences helped as well.
I’m delighted that the DNA is in our church family. A lot of our rank in file members see church planting as just part of the deal. Just a couple of days ago I heard a little anecdote from one of our people. Someone said to her, “Oh, you’re part of that church that just gives people away. You give 10 people away, 20 people away, 40 people away to start these new works. I don’t understand why you do that. ” She asked me, “Don’t all churches do that?” I had to tell her, “No, not really.” That was great coming from a layman – a wife and mother. We’ve had our ups and downs with it – people hate to lose their friends, but they’ve gotten used to it – it’s kind of like sending missionaries to the field. You miss your friends, and there’s some weeping and wailing, but it’s all good, and we celebrate it.
To what degree do people pick that up by just “hanging around” and to what degree do you intentionally teach this in, for example, your membership class?
We talk about it in the Inquirers’ Class, but we don’t make it a big deal. You create a culture by telling stories. A lot of our stories in the Inquirers’ Class are about how this church got started, and as we give our history, we say, “We planted this church, and that church, and that church, and that church,” and the people think, “OK, that’s a lot of church planting.” And they may ask a question about that, and I’ll explain. And we talk in the Inquirers’ Class about the best method of evangelism being church planting, and I’ll explain that a little bit. And it’s part of our officer training. One of the questions on our final exam for officer training is “What’s the best method of evangelism?” We emphasize it at Missions Conferences, and make references to it in sermons. A staff member goes out to plant and he’s says he’s sorry to leave but this is what God’s calling him to do. It becomes part of the story telling, part of the narrative, and then becomes part of the culture of the church. I’ve tried to be careful not to overdo it. There have been times when my wife has said, “You need to quit talking about it so much.” So I’ll back off and “low key” it and let the natural expressions of it just happen. Sometimes we need time to replenish and recoup. There have been various seasons in our church life where I felt like I’ve underemphasized it and need to get it more on the radar, but lately we’ve had to be careful that we don’t overdo it and neglect the mother church. I’ve said to North Cincinnati (tongue in cheek), “Read my lips – no new churches” – at least for right now. We need time in the mother church to replenish our losses and strengthen our worship and discipleship. We have some new staff we’re trying to break in and that sort of thing. So there’s been some ebb and flow, some lulls of emphasis.
With church planting being so much a part of your DNA, do you find that you attract people who desire to be church planters who want to come and intern with you and be on your staff?
Yes. I’m not sure about church members, but certainly staff and pastors. Young guys who come to Cincinnati who want to plant will call us and we’ll get together and talk.
You say it was nine years before you planted your first church. Was church planting always part of your vision?
Church planting was part of our vision from the get-go. There were a few other things in the vision concerning worship and discipleship, we even talked about a Christian school in the beginning because that’s what we had at Perimeter. It later became evident that was not part of God’s will, so we didn’t end up doing everything I came to do. But planting other churches was in my heart and mind from the beginning and part of our long range plan. We quantified it more with the new ten year plan in 2004, and began to gather some momentum after that.
That phrase “gathering mementum” suggests that you took your time.
We really did. Until those first plants, it never “felt right” to me with all the other things going on in the church. I’m kind of an intuitive sort – I often lead by hunches – the situation, the mood, the “vibes.” With our first church plant, there was a ready made core of good people from the community, which is 40 miles away. It looked like a great opportunity and a great fit, but as it turned out, that plant was not meant to be.
What are some of the most common issues that the church planters you work with have to deal with, and how do they compare with the issues the pastor of an established church must deal with?
The initial pressure points on the church planter are raising enough money, finding a good core group to start with, when to launch, where to meet – those are all big deals in the beginning. They’re all exciting, but they’re stressors. Then there’s the growth thing – will we get beyond 20 people, 30 people, 40 people? There’s always pressure there to go to the next level, to reach a few more people, to get self-sustaining. Except for the financial piece, those are all pretty much important to planters and less so for the established church pastor. The established church pastor has issues with finances depending on what kind of church he’s in – is it healthy, is it not, is it large, is it small – he has to try to develop a budget for what he believes the Lord is calling him to do. That’s more or less stressful depending on how many people he has in his established church.
Also church planters have issues related to their wives being supported, feeling like they’re getting connected and spiritually fed, that they have some good relationships, that they don’t have to do everything – a church planter has to protect his wife to make sure she’s not doing too much. That can be an issue in any church, but there is a little more pressure, a little more expectation on the church planter’s wife. I’ve always let my wife, Becky, do what she wanted to do. I wanted her to be a good wife and mom first, and if she wanted to be involved she could. She ended up doing a lot, but I always tried to protect that.
What about the children of church planters?
We came from a large church, so our kids were used to a youth group. That wasn’t going to happen here. By the second year we had enough families with a handful of teenagers to start a boys’ Bible study and a girls’ Bible study led by a couple of the Athletes in Action staff, so they had something. It was very small, but I wanted to provide some kind of youth Bible growth experience for them so they had some good memories of being in a church plant while giving up what they’d had in the established church to come do that. I think you have to find things for your kids to plug into that are fun and enjoyable though they may not be with your church. That’s OK. I’ve encouraged one of the church planters I’ve been working with over the last couple of years to get his daughter to go to another church youth group because he didn’t have one and she needed to plug in somewhere.
As is reflected in the Multiply article, you’ve not just planted a church, you’ve planted a church planting movement. How much of this is a function of your particular gifts, and how much of it is a skill that someone can learn?
I don’t see myself as a classic Type-A leader – I’m kind of an introvert, and I have some people pleasing foibles – there are some down sides to my particular leadership style. I think what I did have was a vision and some initiative. The notion of a church planting movement and a church planting network is very attractive to a lot of guys, and so when you just initiate – “Hey, let’s get together and talk about it” – things just end up happening. So for me it’s been initiating and finding guys who’ve been willing to come along and be a part of it. You initiate with your elders, you initiate with your staff.
We praise God for what He’s done. We pitched the vision, and He’s brought people to us. It wasn’t a lot of extra effort on my part to find guys who wanted to be church planters. It’s just exciting to see what God is doing. You look at the big picture – we weren’t ready to do anything our first eight years. Now we’ve got momentum, and there’s more happening than we know what to do with. We praise God for His initiative in bringing us to this place and we want to be cooperative with Him. We do have the heart and desire to keep it going.
What are some things you hope to see in the future in church planting in Cincinnati?
I look forward to the movement to plant churches to continue. A part of that would be an influence on the city. I’m not a visionary like Tim Keller, I don’t have that kind of picture of Cincinnati being transformed. Maybe someone else will or I will later. Right now we’re just happy to plant churches and hope they’re salt and light and make an impact. I look forward to, not just PCA church planting, but a greater emphasis on church planting in the city by other denominations and other traditions, that we’d be drawn together to see some really good things happen in the city. That would be cool. But I think the primary driver for me is planting a lot of churches as long as I’m around. Eventually, I’ve got to turn it over to somebody else, so I’m already on the lookout for somebody who’ll step in and do my job – lead the movement and lead the network in the years to come. I’m in no hurry for that day to come, but I’m thinking about it.
MNA’s Church Planter Recruiting ministry is seeking PCA pastors to launch new church plants around the country.Read the article at byFaith