The New Frontier

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The more we saturate the urban core with new churches it means that we have done a course correction for our over-emphasis on suburban church planting that marked previous decades. Like a massive pendulum swinging I feel like it is time to begin addressing the “what’s next?” for North American church planting. To me, that is not only uncool and undesirable cities and neighborhoods, but even smaller communities that are in the in-between places of our major metro areas. And because of the shift in our economy it means that many communities that have been traditionally dependent upon resource extraction (e.g. logging, mining, fishing, etc) are seeking to reinvent themselves to attract and retain not only tourism dollars but even their share of the elusive and migratory creative class.

As I mentioned previously, I recently finished reading the book The Padre on Horseback which was a summary of the life and missionary journeys of Italian Jesuit missionary Father Eusebio Kino who planted a slew of missions in northern Mexico and southern Arizona over three hundred years ago. On the heels of that I picked up another book called A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca. The back cover reads, “In 1528, a mission set out from Spain to colonize Florida. But the expedition went horribly wrong: Delayed by a hurricane, knocked off course by a colossal error of navigation, and ultimately doomed by a disastrous decision to separate the men from their ships, the mission quickly became a desperate journey of survival.” While de Vaca was not a missionary (he was a royal treasurer) God used him mightily across the southwest in miraculous healings among the indigenous population.

Both of these books capture well for me the passion and sacrifice that missionaries have gone through since the conception of the church in Acts. Sure, I could’ve picked up other memoirs of more contemporary Protestant missionaries, but something is intriguing for me personally about the role of these men in the Southwest. I am also drawn to new ventures, new places to explore, and new experiences. In fact, I thrive on it.

Again, what drew me to the urban core was that for me (and many others) it was “pioneer missions.” I don’t mean that in some ethnocentric or colonialist framework since I am a white man, but because regardless of church tradition or ethnicity we were not overtly starting that many new churches in the urban core for the latter half of the twentieth century and into this new century. It was like a frontier for new mission work and church planting. Since my hunger and thirst is for the “new” I’ve been on the hunt for where this frontier now has shifted to.

(This is an excerpt from my upcoming book Intrepid.)

Sean Benesh