Who better to talk about the rewards and challenges of church planting than a church planter? The Rev. Brad Mathias of Four Winds Mission shares his experience planting an artistic, socially conscious community in the Anglican tradition.
Throughout the fall of 2009, I began to feel the stirrings. By January 2010, a “divine compulsion” had grown strong and steady in my heart. Its insistent heartbeat urged me to get ready, to prepare to help plant a church. In six months, what was only a distant hope had become a tangible reality. Friend and ministry partner Brian Hardin (now Fr. Brian Hardin / DAB Founder) approached me about helping him plant a new church work in our hometown of Spring Hill, Tennessee.
Prepared by the Holy Spirit, I was anticipating a move of God in which I was going to be a part of a new church plant. I didn’t have a clue it would be with Brian or that it would be an Anglican mission work. My entire Christian context was based on an evangelical construct of pseudo-independent, charismatic church movements, ever popular in the suburban buckle of the Bible Belt.
Discovering the path of ministry forward would require a profound trust in Holy Spirit’s leading from all the familiar to something old and yet altogether new. A strangely comfortable discovery was waiting for me in the Anglican tradition. It was like finding an old comfortable pair of jeans, the ones that just fit perfectly. I found that I already shared the passions and principles of the Anglican tradition and had given up hope of ever finding something that was able to blend the modern and ancient threads of our Christian expression and faith so respectfully and truthfully.
Two years later, I was formally moving through the ordination process to the deaconate and would continue on into receiving my priestly orders. Here are a couple of things I’ve learned, messed up or discovered along the way.
1. Planting an Anglican Church or Mission requires an understanding and appreciation of the differences that exist between contemporary Christian movements (evangelical) and the older, “high” church movements like the Anglican tradition.
Appreciation is key, as essential doctrine is the shared foundation of our Christianity. Understanding and embracing the uniqueness surrounding the more “structured” expressions of the Anglican way is important. Use of a clergy collar, observance of Holy days, liturgical worship and the integration of key Anglican traditions in services (reading of the Word, Prayers of the People, weekly sacraments, etc.) are significantly different expressions for those Christians in and around the Bible Belt (mid-south and south) and can be largely misunderstood if not carefully explained and implemented as you sense the need to.
For most outside of an Anglican or Catholic context, the more structured worship, along with words like “Father,” “Confession” and “liturgical,” are strange and uncomfortable concepts for many to adapt to. For church planters in predominately evangelical communities, you need to know that these terms and traditions may come with some baggage and leaders will need to be diligent to explain and encourage questions and clarifications as they go.
2. Engaging a predominately evangelical culture, church planters need to build transitional “bridges” that provide a clear path away from the loud and familiar to the older, often calmer waters of the Anglican tradition.
Patience is important. Giving time for the Holy Spirit to confirm and affirm new attendees as they choose to leave the comfortable is a significant first hurdle. Don’t give in to the temptation to just avoid the difficult issues (infant baptism, the centrality of the Eucharist, liturgical prayer), and simply move fast about your church planting business. At Four Winds, we learned to give those new to Anglicanism a chance to genuinely process deeper things like the issues above, as well as a step-by-step review of the 39 Articles and what role liturgical worship plays in an Anglican service.
Allowing parishioners and attendees to absorb and process the ancient/future style of a Mission church is an essential part of allowing their minds to catch up with their hearts.
Many emotionally empty and heart-hungry evangelicals are leaving leader-centric ministries and produced worship services in search of something deeper, something more substantive—more wonder and awe of God, and less “rah-rah.” I know I was when I engaged personally with The Mission…as were 90% of those in our Four Winds congregation.
This change or migration is a good thing for many Christians feeling dissatisfied with their faith. Anglicanism does not set us apart as superior or “above” any other movement of God, but it does give us insight into the unique role and influence we have been given. We have the privilege of helping provide stability and historical context to a Christian culture that is struggling to maintain its identity and purpose.
The process of transition is ongoing at Four Winds. Our core group of families and ministry leaders have largely shifted from those on the original team to an almost entirely new group within three-and-a-half years. Two individual parishioners have responded to a call to ministry and are now ordained. The transition of a predominately evangelical parish to a more Anglican expression is nearly complete. What once was “odd” or felt “Catholic” has become rich and meaningful, providing a strength of consistency and breadth of leadership that transcends one particular leader or priest.
The growth we’re experiencing at Four Winds is allowing for us to channel artistic creativity and passion with simple live worship. This has helped to shape and fill some of the traditional structure with a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit. Art and beauty are celebrated side by side with liturgical readings and contemplative, silent confessionals. Our unique blend of ancient/future worship is finding new avenues of expression each month as we seek to find our own balance—a Four Winds Mission rhythm to join and contribute to the beautiful story that is our Anglican heritage.
Our deepest spiritual DNA cries out for us to serve in the middle, to mediate, to reconcile! Via Media is more than a historical reference. It is part of our earliest heartbeat and provides the modern Anglican movement with a powerful clarity of purpose. As an anchor for our mission, we remind ourselves of what makes us unique. When you enter our Four Winds church you are immediately greeted with St. Augustine’s famous quote: “In Essentials Unity, in Non-Essentials Liberty and in All Things Charity.”
God is on the move in our generation, and in His sovereign will has allowed The Mission to serve a significant role in helping the cynical, worn-out and despairing among us—providing a place for the lost to find profound meaning and life in the shadow of God’s Word, the mystery of the Sacraments and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
We sit at the crossroads of the “old’ and “new.” A place where ancient expressions of truth and worship are allowed and encouraged to blend with the contemporary and modern. A space that’s ideally suited for the wounded and weary seeker to find rest, to rediscover hope and recover their heart.