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Story Magazine

First Quarter 2009

Three Graduates Live Out Their Calls As Mission Developers

by Kelsey Holm, Communication Specialist

After starting Advent Lutheran as a traditional parachute drop, Justin Grimm now ministers to about 150 each Sunday. About one-third of those are young children.

It read, "We believe God is calling and sending the church of Jesus Christ to apostolic mission in the 21st-century world of many cultures and religions."

Luther has not only fulfilled that promise, but is building on it in new and exciting ways. Many graduates have found a perfect fit in missional work. Here, three discuss what drew them to missional work and how they've flourished there.

Justin Grimm, '05, M.Div.
Advent Lutheran Church, Lake Ann, Mich.

Some would say the odds were against the success of Justin Grimm's first congregation. Advent Lutheran Church in Lake Ann, Mich., was a classic parachute drop - meaning Grimm and his family moved to the area and started the church from scratch. "We did it the way you're not supposed to do it," laughs Grimm. And the population of Lake Ann wasn't the best audience for a new church. "Just the number of people who had a bad taste of church in their mouths, there were a lot of people scarred in previous churches," says Grimm, who admits to at first not being too crazy about the idea of building a congregation from nothing.

"When my bishop first asked me if I would consider starting a new church, I said 'It doesn't sound like a good idea,'" he says. But he and his wife prayed about it, and Grimm realized, "I can do this. It's ministry. It's what I was trained to do."

But the call of a mission developer is also different from a traditional call in myriad ways, says Grimm. For one, he must meet people where they are, Instead of neighborhood residents seeking out a new church, Grimm seeks out his congregants.

In the early days of his ministry, Grimm knocked on a lot of doors. "One thing that sets mission development apart is the highs and lows are minute by minute," he says. He would feel the joy of connecting with one person, only to feel rejection at the next house.

"There were a few days I wanted tocurl up in the fetal position and cry, but on the other side of that is such joy. There were families so suspect of church who are now leaders. I have assistant ministers and ushers who had never stepped foot in the church who are now involved."

Grimm tells one story that sums up why he does what he does. "A man once asked me to teach him how to pray, and he still comes back to that story," says Grimm. "I have the opportunity to teach people just what it means to be a disciple."

The first worship Grimm led at Advent, in December 2005, was held in the town hall in Lake Ann. Then the congregation moved to the town's old fire garage, which they leased and renovated. Grimm recently received schematics for a new building, where he hopes to hold Advent's 2011 Easter service. Advent currently worships between 150 and 160 on Sundays, with about a third of those young children.

"We've really done a lot with spiritual gifts. We help people see how God has gifted them to further God's kingdom. The biggest thing I attribute our growth to is that they have a part in this."

Rob James, '06, M.Div.
GPS Faith Community, Machesney Park, Ill.

When he was 15 years old, Rob James announced to his congregation in Peoria, Ill., that he wanted to be a pastor. But it took him until his second year at Luther to figure out just what kind of pastor God was calling him to be. Around the same time, Luther was making strides in Congregational Mission and Leadership.

At a conference through CML James learned about redevelopment ministry. He spent the next six months learning what he could about a missional type of ministry that went beyond traditional pastoral duties. "It was a language I wasn't familiar with, and it sparked my passion," says James. Just seven months later, he attended a weeklong conference, where an ELCA representative challenged him to consider mission development. It was what he needed to hear. As interesting as he found redevelopment ministry, James says he's "more of the entrepreneurial spirit."

Though James had begun meeting regularly with area mission developers and had even started a group for students interested in missional work, FLEAS (Fellowship of Lutheran Evangelists Attending Seminary), he knew he needed to learn more. He set up a unique internship opportunity with two ELCA mission starts: Spirit of Joy in Buffalo, Minn., and Alleluia! in St. Michael, Minn. Neither congregation, which are 10 minutes from each other, had the resources or amount of work to fulfill James' internship needs -but together they did.

"That year confirmed my call to mission development," says James. "During that year I developed my passion for reaching out into the community with the gospel message and I saw the important role of the pastor to equip and release leaders for ministry."

James found a good fit for his mission development skills at GPS Faith Community in Machesney Park, Ill. A satellite congregation of Grace Lutheran Church, GPS - which is now autonomous and worships out of a local movie theater - was started in March 2006. On June 1 of that year, James began his call. Shortly after he arrived the pastors of Grace accepted a new call.

"There were setbacks," says James, but the congregation overcame them. On an average Sunday, GPS has 200 people in worship. Though James calls himself "a big believer in marketing," he also believes that the best evangelism is simply word of mouth.

"They aren't coming because of a sign but because of a relationship," he says.

One such relationship led James into a whole new area of ministry that he wasn't prepared for -adult baptism. The man who hands out mugs at GPS' hospitality table each Sunday invited his neighbors to church after providing mechanic services for their cars.Word spread through the extended family members, and they're all attending GPS. One of them came to James with a desire to be baptized.

"I had never even heard the term adult baptism. I wasn't trained for that," he says. "But I baptized two adults, and it was a special day for them. They invited family and friends. Then I baptized their daughter, cousin, aunt, another cousin. I ended up doing eight adult baptisms in this family and each time, they invited others."

Molly Juntunen, '06, M.Div.
Lutheran Church of Hope,West Des Moines, Iowa

Molly Juntunen is a firm believer that "there are enough buildings in the world." She's happy that the two worshipping communities she helped launch in the past three years gather in a middle and elementary school. Both are satellites of Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Juntunen co-pastored the first satellite, NorthBranch, as an intern at Hope. Both she and the leadership of the church found the mission of starting satellites such a good fit that Juntunen finished her senior year while simultaneously working at Hope. A position was created for her - kingdom expansion pastor - and she hasn't stopped working at full speed since.

"Hope is 14 years old and was a mission start itself. It started from scratch. It's been pretty much constant growth," says Juntunen. In her four-and-a-half years there, Hope has gone from worshipping 4,000 to worshipping 7,000 between the three congregations. The second satellite, Hope CityBranch, started in June 2008.

Juntunen has worked both sides of mission development. After a year and a half of launching the first satellite, she moved back to a full-time developing position, in which she does leadership development for a group of people who then build teams under them to carry out the ministry of the satellite.

Throughout her ministry, Juntunen has followed two of the key rules of mission development: the permission to fail and to make it up as she goes along.

"The motive behind mission development can never be about numbers and growth and making any congregation or denomination bigger. I really believe that mission developers don't start churches - God starts churches," she says. "If we just go where God is going then we've done something right. That's what I've learned here. It's got to be a God thing. There can't be any other motivation behind it."

She would like to see some growth in Hope and the larger church, though, and that's growth in leadership. She wants to see Hope's internship program increase in size so leaders will be multiplied, and by partnering with other seminaries and churches she hopes to increase the effectiveness of Hope's leadership development efforts.

As a developing leader at Luther, Juntunen learned she could, in fact, be a different kind of leader - the leader she truly wanted to be - and still be Lutheran.

"When I learned you can be Lutheran and care about building the kingdom, that was a big turning point for me," she says. She soon found other students and faculty - like Craig Van Gelder, professor of congregational mission - who felt the same way about mission as she did.

"I thought, here is someone who sees us as different kinds of leaders," she says of Van Gelder. "That was empowering for me."

What empowers her now as a young mission developer is that "we're reclaiming the idea of mission for our place and time.

"To me there's a huge shift going on with the understanding of mission. Whether going overseas or in a U.S. context, being missional is and always has been the purpose of the church," she says.

Juntunen believes that the major difference between overseas and U.S. mission work is that in one case, more people may have never heard the gospel. In the other, they may have received it in a confusing, irrelevant or destructive way.

"That's the creative part of mission development, to figure out what's kept them from knowing Jesus. In some cases they've heard it in 50 poor ways," she says. "A missionary is someone who intentionally makes sense of the gospel to people who it didn't make sense to before, whether you're in Africa or downtown Des Moines. I think that's the purpose of every Christian, but God calls some of us to be leaders to equip Christians to do that."

Molly Juntunen, '06, M.Div.

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