Church planting is all the talk these days (particularly in my denomination, the PCA). And, in many ways, this is a good thing. However, with any good thing comes pitfalls and challenges.
One of those pitfalls is the near myopic focus of church planting in only large urban contexts. While we certainly need good churches in such settings, some advocates of urban church planting have come very close to suggesting it is the only kind of church planting that matters (for more, see my prior post “The Arrogance of the Urban“).
For this reason, we are highlighting RTS Charlotte alumnus Joe Holland (class of 2003) in this installment of the Where Are They Now? series (for prior installments in the series see here, here, here, here, and here). Joe is church planting in a small town context. And he is doing it for the very same reason that others go to the large urban context: because there are people there who don’t know Jesus.
1. What are you currently doing?
I am currently a church planter in Culpeper, Va. My wife, sons, and I moved here five years ago to start this church. Culpeper is a unique community with very little reformed witness. We were called here specifically to plant a church designed to reach people who are former church attendees and folks who are not yet Christians.
2. Why did you originally come to RTS?
When I was considering what seminary to choose I was a student at the University of Virginia. I was blessed to be around a number of godly men and pastors who were influential in my life and in the Christian community on grounds. As I looked around me, the majority of the men I respected had attended RTS. In that way, it was an easy decision. And for my wife and I, Charlotte fit us best geographically.
3. Is there one thing that you learned at RTS that has come back to you as you have ministered to others? A phrase, encouragement or advice?
To tell you the truth, I learned orthodoxy at RTS. That isn’t to say I wasn’t orthodox before RTS, but having grown up as a teenager who was converted through a para church ministry with no real church home, I was a theological mix between a clean slate and a junk drawer. RTS helped me sort out what the Bible taught, how it centered on Jesus, and how to begin in pastoral ministry.
4. What do you enjoy most about your current ministry?
At this point I enjoy the uniqueness of my ministry. I have a chance to participate in the growing conversation about planting churches in small towns that are near significant urban centers. It’s also exciting that many of the people that I have the chance to interact with are either new disciples of Christ or non-Christians. Doing the kind of ministry I am called to in a small-town context takes as much missiological skill as planting in an urban center, if not more. And that kind of ministry excites me.
5. What has been a struggle in your ministry?
Everyone told me that church planting would be lonely and difficult. I didn’t believe them. And I was wrong. Our experience in church planting has been anything but easy. And there are still days that discouragement is a more constant companion than the hope of success. In that though, we’ve found God to be as faithful as he ever has been even though ministry is as difficult as it ever has been.
6. If you could give any encouragement to a current student in seminary, what would it be?
I would tell a current seminary student to work aggressively at growing and having healthy relationships with others. First, if the student is married, work as hard on your marriage as you do at your theological studies. Second, learn to have friends and to be a good friend. Third, find a mentor that is older than you and spend as much time as you can with him. My lifelines in ministry these past 11 years have been my relationships with my wife, friends, and mentors–in that order.