Last summer New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary expanded on an existing partnership with the Wyoming Southern Baptist Convention designed to reach more people for Christ and help strengthen more churches in Wyoming. Working with Don Whalen Jr., State Missionary for Church Planting Strategies for the Wyoming Southern Baptist Convention, six NOBTS students were selected to participate in a 10-week summer apprenticeship with Wyoming churches. This year the seminary will send up to 10 students as Wyoming church planting apprentices.
“This ‘high-velocity’ church planting experience provided NOBTS students with firsthand opportunities related to church planting on the mission field, as well as enabling these students to discover and develop their call to ministry and gain practical experience, confidence and skills in reaching new people groups with the Gospel,” Whalen said.
Whalen designed the apprenticeship to make the most out of the summer – not only for the church planters who hosted NOBTS students, but also for the students as well.
“It was a high priority in our planning that not only would fruitful ministry take place, but also that students would grow in their faith, confirm their call to ministry and grow in their church planting competency,” he said.
To say both things happened would be an understatement. In their ten weeks in Wyoming, the six students saw God work in mighty ways. During the summer, 39 people accepted Christ through ministry opportunities in which the NOBTS students were involved. The students also grew in their faith and boldness and several actually helped launch new churches.
The Gatekeeper staff caught up with Clay Carroll, who served as one of the first Wyoming summer apprentices. Carroll, a Master of Divinity (specialization in urban missions) student from North Little Rock, Ark., served with Pastor Marty Rostad at Lifeway Church in Torrington, Wyo. He also helped Rostad launch a church plant in Ft. Laramie, Wyo. We asked Carroll to share his thoughts and reflections about the experience.
Gatekeeper: What was the most meaningful part of your 10-week mission experience in Wyoming?
Clay Carroll: “The relationships that The Lord gave me while I was out there have been the main thing that I go back to, though. I have been able to continue growing a number of those even since returning to NOLA, as well. The way Marty and Nancy and the entire Lifeway family adopted me so quickly made the summer so effective. There was never any hesitation by anyone to count me as one of their own even though I didn’t look or talk like anyone else out there. It would have been easy for them to discount the long haired, hippy boy from Arkansas but that’s not what they did. They made me feel at home and took the time to get to know me and let me into their lives. It is impossible to think about any of them and not smile and recall fond memories from my short time in their ‘country.’”
“I also consider the other ‘apprentices’ as family. I knew Andrei and Helga [Parvu] before going out there but none of the other three. God gave us an immediate connection and brotherhood. We laughed together and nearly cried together on a number of occasions in our few days together. I truly consider all of them close friends now and that probably never would have happened outside of that trip.”
GK: What are a few things you learned about ministry last summer?
CC: “It ain’t easy or quick. Church planting takes time and tons of energy. If you aren’t fully committed to it, you might as well quit wasting everyone’s time because people see through fakeness. Ministry is more than a full-time job. It truly should become your whole life. There are no hours of operation for a pastor. But, on the flip side, personal time becomes even more vital. Without an occasional escape/retreat, you are sure to burnout. You have to learn to step away and trust the leaders within your church to handle things while you refresh your mind, body, and soul.”
“I also learned that just about everything you do should be viewed as ‘ministry.’ If you are with someone who isn’t part of your family, you have to behave in a way that shows Christ’s love. While I was out there, I had the chance to go to the lake with some people a few times, play disc golf, go to movies with a young couple, and go camping with two different families. While all of that was an incredible blast, it would have been a waste if I did not think of it as ministry. Ministry is 24/7. Those experiences allowed me to encourage and pour into each of those people on deep levels that are impossible within the walls of a church building. Doing relational ministry is about getting out and going alongside people in their lives (which sometimes means you get to do fun, awesome things with them).”
GK: How was it to work with Marty Rostad and Don Whalen? What did you gain from the mentorship with a leaders serving outside of the Bible Belt?
CC: “I cannot begin to explain the influence those two men had on me. I consider it an incredible pleasure to call both of them friends and mentors. Neither of them have Bible Belt roots so they think differently than I always have. It was a refreshing change, honestly. Their hearts for the Lord are so encouraging and uplifting. Both of them allowed the Spirit to speak through them to provide just the right words of encouragement at just the right moment throughout the summer. The way they approached ministry was much different, too. In the Bible Belt, we tend to be very programmatic even if we say we aren’t. There was nothing programmatic about their ministry. It was a refreshing twist to doing ministry and serving God. I wish everyone had the chance to meet and work with those two men. They have been such an encouragement to me and my walk with the Lord.”
Would you like to serve in Wyoming this summer? Click HERE for details about the 10-week summer missions experience in Wyoming. Those selected to serve will receive a stipend and seminary scholarship for their service.