- There are more assessments involved for the seminary student (Nick, in our family's case), but there are several for me, the spouse.
- There is a psychological interview with a licensed counselor and pastor, for 1.5h. It goes over our pasts and how our worldview has been shaped.
- There is a behavioral interview to draw out reactions in various ministry and life situations, for 3h.
- 6h of group church plant proposal planning is required for all participants and spouses. The plant proposal is to be presented as a group on the intensive day.
- Then there is an intensive participation day, from 9am - 5:30pm. The men preach for 5 min to a non-Christian/seeker audience, to encourage them to seek God. They preach for 5min to a Christ-follower audience, to spur them to Jesus' mission. All groups present their church plant proposals and take questions from 13 experienced church planters. At the end of the day, there is a 30-60min exit interview, where participants get a "green light" or yellow or red to church plant in the future.
If you hadn't noticed, the process involves a lot relationally and emotionally. It goes over how God has shaped us, and for what he might be preparing us.
Some Surprising ResultsAll three groups had all of Saint Louis county as a church plant target. From there, we could narrow down to a site of our choosing. Resources like Mission Insite helped us glean statistics, and a numeric perspective on the people and culture(s) in our target area.
This is right on my and Nick's doorstep. Our apartment is located on the south boundary, and we've done ordinary, daily life here, like grocery shopped and gotten flu shots at a YMCA within these boundaries. We've driven to Home Depot, and Nick has done a morning service project for a ministry non-profit whose staff live in the neighborhoods. Our current neighborhood is mixed, and does have more whites and grad students than the mapped area.
But honestly? This area has a poor reputation. It's 87% African American. There are sharp discrepancies between those in poverty and those who are middle class. The population declined over the past 10 years, but is projected to remain stable until 2020. There are many abandoned buildings, graffiti, and a large school district just announced that it's closing three schools. Poor academic performance. Underfunding. Most family units are not married, and most are headed by single women: moms, aunts, and grandmothers. There are many industrial areas, and fenced lots.
What surprised me about our project was that all of our group members were willing to do the following:
- Work other jobs, preferably in the target community, for salary and benefits as we gather the church community.
- Live in the target community, despite being the minority, despite the abandoned houses and surrounding poverty.
- Send our children to the local, public schools.
- Use our gifting and skills to volunteer and support the people in the neighborhood(s), even before we are a large group for corporate worship outside of small group Bible study.
- We would run an After-School Care program for K-12, including homework completion assistance
- Help with job finding, resumes, interviews for teens and their parents
- Help with ACT/SAT and college application essays
- Connect with area health and social services, to help further healthy behaviors
But was it all just for the simulation? Would we really do this? These are important questions to us, because our group's proposal was given a lot of encouragement by the experienced church planters! They thought it was viable.
What now?For me personally, all though I wasn't looking forward to giving up so much time or to finding so many babysitters, ultimately the CPAC cohort experience was worth it.
It confirmed that the daily living choices that Nick and I are making do matter, and will bear some sort of fruit on God's timeline.
- As a seminary family, we deliberately chose to live off-campus.
- We live in an area that some considered dicey (we find it to be quite privileged, all of UCity considered).
- We shop in stores that are lower-class, and some that are middle- or upper middle-class -- a broad range.
- The church we attend Sunday nights is a local one; we study the Bible with people who live within blocks.
- The parks we play in are walking distance, and we usually try to strike up a conversation with whomever is there.
- Next year our daughter will attend a local UCity preschool that offers tuition assistance.
- We protect downtime in the neighborhood, just frequently chatting with neighbors outside.
- As much as work/school could take over, we schedule and block out our time in order to protect relationships and sanity.
Some questions we still have to answer involve the future, like possible jobs post-graduation for Nick. Probably, we'll approach anything in the future with some data, some personal visits, and lots of prayer -- kinda the same way this simulated plant proposal went.