Leading a church designed to include people in recovery. Teaching people to tell authentic stories about when life turned around. Designing a network of new churches. Leading a congregation of LGBTQIA+ persons where more than half are not Christians but are considering Jesus. Teaching college students how to help others feel like they belong. Inviting gamers on Twitch into online discipleship groups. Co-leading a multiethnic church plant focused on justice and evangelism. Starting a micro grocery story in a food desert as an outreach ministry. Creating peacemaking training rooted in art and conversation.
These are just a few of the seeds God is planting.
The parable Jesus tells in Mark 4 teaches us that God is always planting seeds so new things can grow. Some of those seeds fall on fertile soil and some don’t. While many of these seeds don’t grow into full grown plants, some do. Those that do grow sometimes produce lots of fruit and make a big impact on the world around them.
We began the Seeds Project with this assumption: God is using innovative leaders to plant seeds of new ministry all the time in lots of unexpected places. We wanted to know how God was using these leaders to help these new ministries make an impact on the world.
We discovered 24 ministry leaders from diverse backgrounds and contexts and from a wide variety of theological traditions, whom God was already using to develop ministries that helped people discover the difference Jesus makes in everyday life.
These leaders were invited to participate in a learning cohort of their peers for one year. These two cohorts of twelve leaders began gathering on Zoom in the midst of the pandemic to relate to each other, accelerate the work they were already doing, and share what they were learning with a broader audience.
Here are a few key learnings we’ve taken away from spending time with these leaders over the last seven months:
- There are many leaders who sense a leading from God’s Spirit to try doing ministry in new ways
- Many of these leaders are isolated and feel alone in the work they are trying to do
- Existing church systems are not designed to identify, encourage, and empower these leaders to follow God’s leading
- There are common challenges these leaders are facing. Many of them need help fundraising, developing an organization, maintaining their connection with God, and building teams of staff and volunteers.
One big learning we have taken away from spending time with these leaders this year is that more than anything these leaders need to be connected to each other. The amount of encouragement they get from being together is hard to measure. Knowing they are not alone and hearing the stories of peers who are struggling with similar challenges provides a lot of encouragement to keep going.
Here is what some of the Seeds Fellows have said about their experience of this fellowship this year…
“The most valuable things for me in my experience so far are the innovative ways that have been shared about doing ministry as well as the enthusiasm of the leaders about their forward movement. It has given me a new vigor and affirmation that doing ministry out-of-a-box is ok, it’s even a God-idea.”
“I have experienced God’s hand upon my life and especially my ministry, to reshape, confirm and give me a newfound meaning of who I am now and what I’m to do in this season of my life. Also, it has let me know it’s ok to feel like you’re walking alone but to know you’re not. He’s shown His patience and love in my indecisive times, and this fellowship has again helped me to see God’s hand is still mighty and it’s upon me.”
“I have found encouragement to keep moving forward even when the system and structure I exist in makes innovation difficult.”
It seems that what the Seeds Project has done this year is affirm the calling and giftedness of these leaders who often feel like their ministry doesn’t fit the normal boxes. Creating a community of leaders whom God is using to plant new seeds normalizes their work in a way that not only encourages them to keep going but invites others to believe they could do similar work.
We believe this is one pathway by which God may be renewing the church. The Spirit of God is inspiring and calling leaders to engage people who are not already involved in the church. These leaders need support. They need to know each other. They need coaching and encouragement. They need funding. They need to be part of organizations that are designed to empower and amplify their work, rather than always feeling like they are fighting against the system they are in. This is work the Seeds Project continues to try and learn how to do.
The church in North America (understood broadly) needs a research and development department. God is already innovating—planting new seeds. We at the Seeds Project have had the good fortune to get a glimpse into how the Spirit is working through these leaders this past year. We feel called to continue to learn how to support them as God leads us into the future.