Dad’s words at breakfast on the morning of June 30, 1994, changed my life forever. “Well, kiddos, we’re going to do it, ” he said. Stephanie, Jeremiah, and I all waited to be enlightened. “Last night, the Lord made it clear to me: we’re going to go off the road and start a new church.”
Dad’s announcement generated mixed reactions. As teenagers, Stephanie and I eagerly anticipated the prospect of a real house and our own youth group. But Jeremiah, who had lived eight of his nine years in our cozy, 40-foot fifth-wheel trailer, was not so sure about staying in one place all the time.
In fact, all three of us children had loved growing up as evangelist’s kids, traveling from church to church, holding revival meetings in nearly every state. Now, we were about to adopt a new identity as members of a distinctive, courageous set of people: Church Planters’ Kids.
CPKs are a unique blend of pastors’ kids and missionaries’ kids. Like PKs, they deal daily with the pressure of being an example to the other children in the church. Their presence is assumed at every church activity, and they are routinely the first kids to arrive at church and the last to leave.
But like missionaries’ kids, CPKs may face culture shock. Even though they do not leave their native country, they move to a new region because it needs a Biblical church. Without an established youth group or Christian school, they are likely to struggle with loneliness. Also like MKs, they may depend on uncertain monthly missions support.
CPKs are in a class by themselves, though, as witnesses to God’s ability to plant a new church right here in America. With their parents, CPKs learn to pray fervently for God to establish the new church. They learn how to pray while they stand with freshly folded bulletins on a Sunday morning, just hoping that someone will show up for the service. My family’s church-planting adventure in Franklin, Tennessee, began with no financial support, no house, no place to meet, and no congregation. We earnestly prayed as a family for those things and then saw God abundantly provide them.
As participants in the birth of a baby church, CPKs also experience the labor pains. They learn how to handle rejection after rejection as they make phone calls, visit door-to-door, and pass out countless brochures. They learn how to “get the no’s out of the way” in order to get to the “yeses”: those people who are searching for the truth and are interested in hearing about a new church.
CPKs are sometimes stretched to serve in ways other ministry kids are not. Since the new church is a smalltime operation, CPKs may become “volunteer” custodians at the rented meeting place, experts at assembling bulk mailings, and activity organizers. Without a youth pastor or even teen Sunday school class teacher in the early days of our church, I—under Dad’s direction— enthusiastically organized our little church’s first youth activity, because I personally wanted to go to one.
One of the most valuable lessons CPKs learn is to be realistic about the ministry, staying faithful even when the numbers are small. Our church grew, but slowly. There was no instant church; it grew one person at a time. We painfully lost some, then joyfully gained others. Although I had spent much of my life in churches as an evangelist’s kid, it wasn’t until we planted Trinity Baptist Church when I was 14 that I began to learn the joys and sorrows of working with people on a long-term basis. My sister, Stephanie, found that being a CPK helped prepare her for her current role of pastor’s wife. “Lessons about the reality of dealing with imperfect human beings in the context of a church are invaluable for future ministry,” she said.
Church planting does not allow for “pulling up and driving away at the end of the week,” I scribbled in my journal that first year in Franklin. I learned that we as church planters could care about people, pray for them, encourage them to come to church faithfully, and teach them the truth; but ultimately, they had to make their own decisions. Sometimes people chose to reject what was good and right, and I learned that I couldn’t take their choices personally.
From finding a place to meet to helping choose the first nursery toys, from untold hours of spreading the word about a new church to the nervous excitement of the first service, CPKs work alongside their parents as pioneers claiming new territory for God. But in addition to sharing the workload, they also share the joy of seeing God build a new church to glorify Himself.
Although my family’s ministry has changed now, and Trinity has a new pastor, I will always love the church that I, a CPK, witnessed God establish.
At the time of original publication, Susannah Barba, daughter of Dave and Claudia Barba, was a graduate assistant in the English department of Bob Jones University.
(Originally published in FrontLine • January/February 2003. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)