New coordinator, church planting center bolster HIS/I-29

ST. JOSEPH – The Heartland Interstate Strategy (HIS) team’s efforts to target the Interstate 29 corridor for the gospel were bolstered by plans to hire a coordinator stationed in Missouri and to work with Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Center for Church Planting.

The HIS team met Oct. 21 in St. Joseph, the southernmost hub city on the corridor that stretches through the Upper Midwest into Canada.

During the meeting, a job description and responsibilities for the HIS coordinator were discussed. Mark Elliott, director of missions for the Eastern Nebraska Baptist Association and chair of the group, said the position is critical to advancing the vision into a working plan for reaching the lost of the region.

“We need somebody who can see the big picture and see the multitude of opportunity,” Elliott said. “There’s tremendous need to see it in a coordinated fashion.”

The North American Mission Board is funding the position through a special relationship with state conventions in the South Region. The coordinator will be housed at the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and will begin working next year. John Yeats, executive director of the MBC, said the new position will likely share HIS responsibilities with other duties.

Joshua Hedger, the newly appointed director of the Center for Church Planting at Midwestern Seminary, told the group that the I-29 corridor, along with Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit, will be a focus area for church planting.

“We believe you cannot train church planters in the classroom,” Hedger said. “You have to train them in the field.”

Midwestern Seminary’s opening of a Center for Church Planting is an exciting development for the HIS team, because it opens up more opportunities for interns and staff to be in the field. Reaching the Upper Midwest, where Baptist and evangelic influence is light, will require dedication, team members noted.

Church plants are bringing a new dynamic, said Morgan Medford, church planting catalyst for the Dakota Baptist Convention.

“Some of our existing pastors are being energized by the new guys,” Medford said. “It has the opportunity to start a strong movement of God across the Dakotas.”

One goal for the HIS team is to have one existing congregation step forward to serve as a church planting base for each hub city along the corridor.

Scott Murphy is a church planter in Atchison, Kan., located across the Missouri River from St. Joseph. He described the challenges in reaching a city designated as the most haunted place in Kansas that hosts ghost tours.

“We have been praying and fighting against this on a spiritual level,” Murphy said. “Because this is the kind of thing that has been courted, a lot of people’s hearts have been destroyed.”

In this effort, a local supporting church is invaluable, he said.

The group’s next meeting is planned for December in Omaha. Next year, they will conduct a vision tour of the I-29 corridor.

“We could be at the embryonic stage where we could look back in 20 years and say ‘Behold the hand of God,’” Yeats said. “I get goose bumps just sitting here and thinking about what’s ahead of us. It’s incredible.”