This project is a grassroots, bottom up, story of how God moved two people, Jim Crouse and Lowell Bakke, to develop a partnership in the gospel with the dream of transforming the Western Region of the Advent Christian denomination, which has been in a long-term decline. That decline was evidenced by geographically isolated churches, shrinking congregations, and pastors who often experienced a sense of loneliness and defeat because there was little relational support. Additionally, there was a lack of the denomination’s educational resources and these churches often had a difficult time finding new pastoral leadership.
The purpose and vision of this project was to develop a biblical view of partnerships that allow church leaders, their congregations, and their local, regional and national conferences to partner with each other and the Kingdom of God for the specific purpose of developing permission-giving congregations that would foster a church planting movement throughout the Western Region of the denomination and hopefully the entire country.
In order to accomplish our vision, we developed and implemented four strategic initiatives.
1. LEAD Teams (Learning, Encouraging, Achieving, and Deciding) were developed in the Pacific Northwest to model for the denomination how partnerships in the gospel can effectively lead to church renewal and actively promote church planting. The LEAD team began by articulating the message, methods, and models of partnership for the Western Region. The team met every other month for twenty-four hour retreats in various parts of the conference. Their spirit and power of partnerships in the gospel began to impact the churches.
2. A research project was undertaken to study the six national leaders of the denomination, including the Superintendents of the other four regions of the denomination, to discover how God was partnering with them to bring about renewal and church planting in the other denominational regions which were significantly larger in the number of churches and church membership and have churches in closer proximity to one another.
3. In order to understand how effective partnerships worked and to be exposed to effective working models of partnerships in transformational leadership in church renewal and church planting movements, we entered the Doctor of Ministry program at Bakke Graduate University (BGU).
4. We adopted the Appreciative Inquiry (AI), an instrument designed to help local churches and conferences find their roots and discover their DNA, including their core values, initial vision and mission when they were at their best as an organization and an organism. This instrument does not focus on what is wrong or broken in a congregation, but what is good, right, and noble in our churches. We believe the use of this instrument will facilitate churches to become permission-giving congregations that will transform both their church body and their local communities now and in the next generation. It is also our conviction that AI can be used to establish dynamic partnerships in the gospel to build working relationships with other entities in the Kingdom of God to develop a church planting movement not unlike the one that swept across the country as it did 140 years ago when the denomination was established.
This Dissertation closes with an evaluation of what we have learned and what will be the next steps of this project. Ultimately, our research revealed that the vision of permission-giving congregations was there all along, but hidden under loneliness and despair. It also revealed that, through partnerships and the grace of God, these churches possessed the resources necessary to pursue the vision of a church planting movement.