Learn, Pray, Join: When limitations become opportunities

Zachary Martinez is the pastor of Sojourn Mennonite Church in Fort Collins and Greeley, Colorado. He lives with his family in Greeley, where he likes to garden, ride his bike and patronize local breweries and coffee shops. His work has appeared in The Mennonite, the Sun Magazine, and other publications.

I didn’t initially accept a call to plant a church.

When the opportunity arose, I was only a year into my first call as pastor of Sojourn Mennonite Church in Fort Collins, Colorado. Sojourn itself was still a young church plant, and I was only at a quarter FTE. This seemed like a limitation for Sojourn at first. The church hoped to grow to support a full-time pastor, but how to do so with only a quarter-time pastor presented significant challenges.

My wife and I were living in Greeley, the nearest major city in Northern Colorado. At same time, the Mennonite church in Greeley underwent some important changes that left several members wanting to move in a different direction. A possibility arose: perhaps these newly churchless Mennonites could form the core group of a new congregation within Mountain States Mennonite Conference.

In Fort Collins, Sojourn was in a unique situation to help breathe life into a new worshiping community in a neighboring city. What at first had seemed like limitations quickly became an incredible opportunity. Because of its limited resources, Sojourn met every other week. We began to imagine what it would look like to animate a worshiping community on those Sundays when Sojourn wasn’t worshiping. Before long, a small community of lifelong Mennonites and young families gathered in a living room, and Sojourn Greeley was launched.

The early momentum in Greeley was so strong that it seemed Greeley’s growth might out pace Fort Collins, but the journey has not been all rosy and smooth. As enthusiastic as they seemed, the young families faded away; although, a strong core group remains. Finding the people to fill the basic needs of a worship service, like childcare and accompaniment, became more and more difficult. The minutiae of church planting and organizing replaced the initial excitement of something new, and we were left with the question: will we be one church in two cities or will we be two churches all together.

In large part, these difficulties and questions remain. In Greeley we’ve added a childcare person, but I often worry it’s too little too late. Administrative tasks like leadership development and budgets, at times, threaten to derail the possibility that we might be One Church in Two cities, my preferred route.

I would be lying if I said that I never get discouraged. I do get discouraged, probably more often than is healthy for me. But even at my lowest there is a persistent nagging question in my mind: why? Why would such obvious and exciting opportunities present themselves if they were destined to fail?

That those things we see as limitations might in fact prove to be opportunities seems to fit perfectly well within the story of God. Might Sojourn’s story be just one more iteration of that?

Despite the administrative challenges that lay ahead, we have a lot to be grateful for in Northern Colorado. In Fort Collins, we’ve started a fund that supports Dreamer students focus on their studies by helping to eliminate financial stressors. To date we’ve help 25 students and awarded $10,000 in emergency funds. In the coming months both Fort Collins and Greeley plan to work through the process of joining the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBTQ Interests (BMC), a process that will help Sojourn brainstorm decision making processes between two communities. In Greeley, our congregation gained significant attention by inviting RAWtools to come and re-forge a gun into a garden tool, an event that inspired other churches to host non-violence trainings. Both Greeley and Fort Collins partner with local organizations to provide free meals every month.

It’s unclear exactly what the future holds, but in general, we are hopeful. New things are difficult. They take work and patience, and I’m much better at the former than I am the latter. We welcome prayers for persistence and peace of mind, and that we might be offer the good news of peace and justice to those who hunger for it.

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This post is part of MC USA’s Peace Church Planting: Learn, Pray, Join initiative.

During the months of March and April, we invite you and your congregation to pray

  • for MC USA church plants to grow
  • for those who are sensing a call to church planting
  • for active church planters

Consider what part you might play in Peace Church Planting:

  1. Sponsor a church planter to attend Sent 2019
    The Sent gathering is an important time for peace church planters from diverse communities to gather for worship, inspiration, resourcing, networking and empowerment. Scholarships to attend Sent 2019 are offered to planters on a case by case need for those who aren’t receiving compensation for working with a church. Unlike larger church plant networks who fund church planters, many Anabaptist church planters are bi-vocational and preparing for Sunday in addition to other jobs. Taking time off work to travel and participate in Sent may require taking a day without pay, in addition to expenses of travel and lodging.

    • $65 will pay for one person’s registration
    • Any amount helps contribute to the cost of a round-trip airline ticket
    • $320 will pay for two nights of lodging, where conversation and networking happens in the “off-hours”
  1. Support church planting efforts in MC USA, with the goal of planting nine new MC USA congregations in 2019, through prayer and the ongoing Church Planting fund: mennoniteusa.org/give/churchplanting
  2. Are you being called to peace church planting? Find resources for church planters, learn more and consider attending the Sent Conference at Mennonitemission.net/ChurchPlanting.