In May 2019, Josh Howard and his family were living in Austin, Texas, when they received the news no parent ever wants to hear: Their 7-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia.
While she was in treatment, they wrestled with a question — if they only have one life to live, how can they make their life count?
For the Howards, that was planting BridgePoint Church in Knightdale. Read more about their journey in church planting in the Q&A below.
How and when did you feel called to plant a church?
I probably wrestled with that idea for eight to 10 years before we actually said yes to it. I’ve believed for so long that church plants are the best way to reach people with the gospel. I didn’t think that God was calling me to be the one to start a church plant. I had mentors, accountability partners, all sorts of people saying, “Hey, I think you need to plant a church.” I just said, “I don’t think that’s me.”
Through my daughter getting sick and, honestly, God closing doors, God bringing people in our life at the right time to speak truth into our life, my wife and I eventually came to a place where the only thing keeping us from planting a church was fear of failure and fear of the unknown.
There’s a pretty good track record in the Bible of people that have stepped into those two fears, and God has used them tremendously.
How did SendNC help you in the church planting process?
Once we got on the ground, we started walking with Hephzibah Baptist Church, and the first organization they connected us with was SendNC.
First, they had a time for church planters who were going to be walking with them for the next year to get away and spend time together, where they poured into us at a retreat. Then, they had a time for my wife and I where we could go and meet other spouses. They walked closely with us over a six-month time, doing training, providing resources, providing relationships. Specifically, we met once a week on Zoom for an equipping time.
Because I’m in the Triangle area, there’s a number of church planters with SendNC in the Triangle area, so even now quarterly we all meet for lunch for encouragement.
What’s the hardest part about being a church planter?
For me, I hate not being in control because there is so much unknown.
We moved to a new city [and wondered,] is anybody going to show up? We hosted our first group in our house before we launched [and asked ourselves], are people going to come to that?
You have all these different unknowns. For us, we keep seeing God check those boxes. You would think that I would learn not being in control is a good thing, but God is still working out those rough edges in my life day after day and week after week.
How has God changed lives through the church plant?
A friend that we’ve been walking with in the pre-launch phase didn’t have much church experience in their life. And when they did, it was really all law and no grace. That really pushed them away from the church.
That individual has started to trust us, engage with us, has found life in our community. Seeing and hearing from that individual that they surrendered their life to Jesus since starting to walk with us and their desire to be baptized is an amazing story. To see the transformation, a person who previously struggled to trust the church, seeing them trust the church — that’s ultimately what we want.
On our first Sunday, we had a lady who said, “I got your first mailer and ignored it. I got your second mailer and was like, ‘I really should go to church, but I’m not really someone who goes to church. But I really should go to church.’ So here I am.”
She said, “You guys are more genuine than I thought you’d be.”
She came back the second week, and afterward she told me she was challenged as the Word of God was preached. Just seeing the Holy Spirit beginning to plant those seeds or completely bring a person to salvation — those have been two really great stories.
What advice would you give to pastors who are thinking about planting a church?
I think one of the things is just realizing there are questions that will never be answered until we step out in faith. We can be wise and diligent in discerning God’s call for our life. We can ask good questions and surround ourselves with the right people, but ultimately there are some things we will never see come to fruition or some questions that will never be answered until we surrender and say yes to God.
For us, that was a big part of our story. We had so many unanswered questions. Once we said yes, God just started answering question after question after question for us.
by Lizzy Haseltine, N.C. Baptist contributing writer
EDITOR’S NOTE: Josh Howard is one of the many church planters and missionaries featured in our Praying for the Nations prayer guide. To learn more and to join hundreds of N.C. Baptists who are praying for the nations, visit praync.org.