Texas Conference Internship Church Planting, Taking Risks
For many people, when they get that sinking feeling in their gut, it’s time to run in the opposite direction. Not me. When I feel afraid and start making excuses, when I go through those typical stages of resistance, I know that God is calling me to do something.
That’s how I knew that I needed to explore the idea of church planting more. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant for me – if I would end up, one day, starting a new congregation or if there were some valuable things to learn from planters. I just knew that the whole concept required a deep dive.
So, I filled out the paperwork to become a church-planting intern for the Texas Conference in the winter, and I waited for a response.
I believe that external and internal callings go hand-in-hand. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had a deep desire to bring about something new, in one form or another. Ever since childhood, I loved the ceremony and traditions in church. Now that I’ve been working on my master’s degree in divinity at SMU, I’ve become even more drawn to liturgy.
At first, I felt conflicted. Did my interest in liturgy make me better suited for another denomination? At the same time, in my heart, I know that I’m a Wesleyan, and I’ll always feel that way.
The more I spoke to others, the more I realized, I wasn’t the only one who wanted to combine a more casual contemporary worship with the liturgical roots of our past. I wanted something that felt authentic and was in touch with our original practices, and my peers wanted the same thing.
Then, my mentors started telling me that I could create that environment that I envisioned. It took being frustrated to look around me and realize that I’m not the only one – and that’s what made me want to be a catalyst for change.
I also had to learn to be confident – in my love for liturgy and also just in myself. I’m an introverted, young woman. Church planters are almost always charismatic, young men. I’m almost the exact opposite of the mold.
Becoming a church-planting intern was a risk that I would have to take. Part of my spiritual journey has involved letting go of my love of planning and becoming more of a risk-taker. The Holy Spirit can be quite wild, I’ve learned. You typically just have to hold on for the ride.
Last spring, I got the call that I was selected to serve as an intern at Covenant UMC in The Woodlands. I immediately looked the subdivision up. I had no clue that this place existed. It wasn’t where I expected to be, but it turned out to be a perfect fit.
I literally showed up on a Saturday, moved in with my host family and started work the next day. I jumped into the church immediately.
Jason Burnham is the founding pastor at Covenant. He planted the church in 2011. In April, the congregation completed construction on its own building. Before that, the members all met at a school cafeteria.
I was blown away by the faith that it took for them to follow this new pastor, without even having a church. I learned a lot by interviewing the lay members over coffee.
Describing a typical day at the church is impossible. In my 10-week internship, I’ve been tasked with a variety of things – from going to strategic meetings and working alongside trustees to walking through the building with a construction team and helping program the new preschool.
Pastor Jason also allowed me to teach a Bible study class all about the women of the bible. He empowered me to do something that I love, which is teaching, and enabled me to share with the congregation the experience of having a female pastor.
Covenant is also in the process of launching a new service, and that’s given me a lot of experience working on logistics -- from how to change musical styles between services to setting up volunteers for each event. You can plan something in your head but to bring it fruition is a totally different thing.
I’ve learned so much about church operations during my time at Covenant. My focus on evangelism also has become increasingly apparent. It’s all about what can we do differently to bring more and more people through our doors. My heart is more in this direction that I ever expected.
There’s a way of thinking that church-planters have, and it’s strategic, refreshing and different. Their very job of bringing communities together and finding how they can serve those individuals is authentic. Planters, by nature, have to be evangelically minded.
I believe that they have a leg-up on how everyone in church should think. We should look at communities and see who hasn’t been reached and how to best accomplish that task. It’s a focus on incarnational ministry, not being at a distance, but becoming one with the congregation.
Pope Francis has this quote I love about pastors having the smell of their sheep, basically becoming part of the people they lead. I’m mindful of how to become one of those pastors, how to truly serve the flock. How do you walk into an environment as an outsider and learn to best become part of your flock?
Planters think this way all of the time. It’s been an honor and a privilege for me to learn from them. What they’ve taught me is invaluable no matter what path I take.
In August, I’m moving to Houston to start a yearlong internship at St. Luke’s. This will be more general in scope, looking at all of the sides of ministry. Once that internship ends, I plan to graduate, kick-start the commissioning process and get ready for my first appointment.
Pastor Jason has spent so much time talking to me about what I want to do next. If I planted a church, where would it be? Who would I want to serve?
I also may want to bring that evangelical spirit of church planting back to an established church. I’m open to whatever, and I’m excited to see what God has planned for me next.
Madison Garcia is a Texas Annual Conference a Church Planting Intern at Covenant United Methodist Church in The Woodlands. For more information about the church planting internship, go to https://www.txcumc.org/churchplantinginternship.
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