I walked into the fellowship hall of Bethel Church in Fergus Falls, scoping out the tables for an open chair, and better yet, a spot around good conversation. The main session of the 2014 Biennial Convention had just kicked off our time together, and the usual fellowship around coffee and cookies commenced. In the middle of the room, sitting by himself, was a man and a conversation I couldn’t pass up. I had never met him, but had heard stories from my mom, who had served as secretary in the Lutheran Brethren Home Missions office for a short time while she attended Bible School.
Age separated us by well over 50 years, but the relative speed of our steps was irrelevant as I sensed our common hearts for ministry. So I grabbed a coffee, plucked a cookie off the serving table, and took a seat next to Harland Helland.
Little did I know, this would be my first and last conversation with him. After a short discussion about ministry in Arvada, Colorado, the conversation moved to mission. I shared about opportunities I had with some young men in the community, and my heart for the need for a greater Lutheran Brethren presence in the greater Denver area. As I explained that statement, Harland’s eyes lit up and he responded with an exuberant, “Oh boy! That sounds like a great idea!” I imagine that Harland spoke a similar statement to many other people who were sharing dreams of reaching the lost for Jesus. He had been a church planter himself, and later he assisted many others in making that same dream a reality. As director of CLB Home Missions for 16 years, Harland was known to be one of the most influential mission mobilizers and church planters the CLB has ever had.
My coffee cup dried up and the cookie long gone, Harland continued munching his, and listening intently to a dreamer talk about ideas of what the Lord can do with willing servants on mission. When the conversation wrapped up, Harland spoke four simple words to me. “Now go do it!” A few months later, I heard that Harland passed away. I wept. I thanked the Lord for that conversation, and those four words of encouragement he spoke to me. I had no idea what the fulfillment of God’s plan would look like. I still don’t. But I knew the Lord had initiated that conversation that evening, and it was the beginning of something new.
Today as I write this, I am sitting in the limbo between announcing my resignation from Community In Christ Church in Arvada, and our commissioning to be missionaries and church planters in Parker, a fast growing city on the opposite end of Denver. It’s a community that my wife Savanna and I have grown to love. Ever since Savanna got a teaching job there four years ago, the Lord has been revealing to us his plan for reaching Parker. It started with his provision through a school community that has a few Lutheran Brethren connections. It’s continued through growing relationships with students, which give us a natural connection to parents. And although the school is a private Christian institution, there is a growing percentage of students who are coming from non-Christian homes. Savanna coaches volleyball, and I do the announcing any time they need me for athletic events. These natural avenues to families have allowed us to come alongside people who have specific needs that we can help with. We’ve also become part of a “Thriving Parents” group on campus that offers biblical truth and mentorship to parents who are looking for help with kids in their teenage years. Often these relationships stay casual, but sometimes they grow. When that happens, it can naturally grow into a disciple-able relationship.
This process follows the words of Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 10:7-14:
As you go, proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts—no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.
Lives are changed when the gospel is proclaimed. But too often we spend all our time trying to convince people who won’t receive the message. Jesus tells us that we can move on to the next person. As we grow in relationships and continue to faithfully proclaim that the “kingdom of heaven is at hand,” when someone does turn their ear to the Word, we pursue that relationship.
You might ask: “What does that look like?” We have found that being able to effectively tell our story (which is Jesus’ story in us), opens doors to share the hope that is missing in their lives. As that relationship grows, other lives are touched and disciples are made. This gave us a clear vision for our name—New Hope Church. Our goal at New Hope is to make disciples to the fourth generation. At that point it becomes a movement. Once it’s a movement, it gets much harder to stop.
That fourth generation disciple may not even know the first or second generation. And that’s ok. It’s not about us anyway. We are called to make disciples. This is the “go do it” that Harland Helland was so passionate about, and we can trust the Lord to build his Church.
Rev. Jason Rogness and his wife Savanna have been called by the Church of the Lutheran Brethren to be church planters in Parker, Colorado.