Sending Church Stories: Immanuel Baptist Church

image“Andy wanted us to start sending,” recalled missions pastor, Andrew. That’s it. It started with one guy.

“We said there’s no way we can do this,” executive pastor Ben Hedrick quickly interjected. “We said no, but he insisted.”

And so kicks off Immanuel Baptist Church‘s story of sending. At the time, the small church in inner-city Louisville with only a handful of staff members had neither precedent nor capacity for domestic or international church planting. Yet the relentless vision sparked by one man led the elders to put their heads together. “We decided we wanted [Andy] to be elder-qualified, so we conferred to develop a sending process. We wanted to to call ourselves and our candidates to a high commitment,” said Hedrick. 

Immanuel’s scriptural convictions and plurality of pastoral leadership gleamed throughout their story. As the leaders considered how they wanted Immanuel to send, they focused on the kind of people they wanted to send out. “There is no biblical category for a mere church planter or missionary–so we see ‘pastor’ as the primary category.”

They surmised that since people would be sent to make disciples and plant churches, the first convert would require the leader of the church planting team to serve with spiritual authority equivalent to a pastor. So they rooted their development process in shaping men who would be pastor-qualified, men whom they would welcome to have a pastoral status at Immanuel. Their goal became sending out three of these leaders per year: one locally, one domestically, and one internationally.

They also had a high bar for those sent overseas as part of the church planting team, such as single ladies, requiring them to meet the biblical character qualifications for deacons. While acknowledging that there are many ways to be on mission, at Immanuel the emphasis and vision has been focused on sending out leaders specifically to do church planting. Thirty of these leaders have been sent out (as of the original writing of this article). 

As things grew, the workload demanded a full-time missions pastor to oversee the domestic and international sending networks. There was only one problem: funds were not available for this position. “We knew this was where God was leading, so we just prayed. Then a church member came to us and said they wanted to provide a three-year salary for a missions pastor.”

Boom. 

Insert Andrew, a missionary who happened to be in town for school and was more than eager to get back overseas. With his burning convictions and faithful service, they sensed he was the man for the job. 

Now Immanuel’s development process, or sending funnel, looks something like this:

  • Membership – High-bar, committed membership is the starting point for anyone who has the desire to be sent.
  • Sunday gatherings – Sundays at Immanuel include attending a worship service, then a prayer gathering. 
  • Community Groups – All-in commitment and leadership in a small group of believers that live life together on mission.
  • Pastoral Apprenticeship Program – Since candidates for lead church planting are expected to be pastor-qualified, they must enter this three-year program. Sixty men are currently apprenticing.
  • Elder Qualification Process – The final stage includes any further assessment and development necessary for candidates to be affirmed as elders. 

Candidates who complete the entire process are given the same covenant as any Immanuel pastor and are expected to carry the same responsibilities while they’re in Louisville. When those leaders are sent out domestically or internationally, they still have a place at the table of elders when visiting Louisville, but are not held to the same local responsibilities. The expectation, however, is that they will stay deeply connected to the church. Sent ones are to be part of a monthly group call with the elders, a monthly call to their advocate teams, a monthly communication of prayer needs to the missions pastor, and at least two extended visits to the church when they return for furlough. “Our local and global pastors need each other,” said Hedrick. “We both have blind spots.”

I was perhaps most impressed by Immanuel’s commitment to weekly corporate prayer gatherings. “We used to have a Wednesday night class and prayer meeting, but we decided to change it to Sunday so that people would be called to attend a worship gathering and then a prayer gathering immediately afterward,” remarked Hedrick. They begin each prayer gathering with specific requests among the international, domestic, and local sent ones, then move to needs in the room. “It’s the way the whole church connects with our missionaries. Otherwise, the sent ones would have to take the initiative. They shouldn’t have to—it’s fundamental to the church.”

It’s a fundamental that seems to be taking root as 40% of the church attends the prayer gatherings. The effect? “One of our missionaries told us, ‘When we send in our requests, we just wait for the answers because they always come.’ That emboldens our people to pray.” 

Eager to stay and learn more, but knowing I had already pushed them past office hours, the two pastors left me with a line that sums up their sending: “This is sending in a manner worthy of God.” 

Right on!

This is a republication from The Upstream Collective. Used with permission.

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