University church planter aims to be accessible at Oregon State

GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP) -- Church planting was not in Josh Howeth's plans. While his seminary peers were eager to jump into church planting, Howeth looked to a future serving and revitalizing existing churches. Only a couple of years into serving as worship and family pastor at Grant Avenue Baptist Church in Corvallis, Ore., those plans changed.

"Our leadership at Grant Avenue desired to reach the students on the Oregon State campus," Howeth said during a North American Mission Board commissioning service in conjunction with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina's 182nd annual meeting in November.

Church planting was "an area of ministry that just hadn't clicked yet" when some of Grant Avenue's leaders approached him with the vision to plant a church on the campus.

Initially resistant to the idea, Howeth and his wife Elizabeth committed to praying about the opportunity and, within the year, their hearts were changed.

"What started as the burden of our church and our convention for these college students slowly became the burden of our hearts too," Howeth said.

Along with a core group of about 30 others, the Howeths planted The Branch on the campus of Oregon State University this year. Only a couple of months into weekly Sunday meetings, they are working to build and disciple a community of believers amid the 26,000 students on campus.

"These kids live in a very secular culture in a very unchurched state," Howeth said. "It's our vision to be accessible as a church not just to the students but to the surrounding community."

As Howeth and his team at The Branch work diligently to begin putting down Gospel roots on the Oregon State campus, he values now more than ever the support of the North American Mission Board and the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole.

"I'm very proud to be a NAMB missionary," Howeth said. "To feel the support from our convention and to know they really are behind what we're doing here in Oregon means everything to us. It excites me to keep moving forward and see more churches planted to reach more people for Christ."

Following the commissioning of 20 missionary units at the Greensboro Coliseum, NAMB President Kevin Ezell preached the convention sermon from Luke 10:2. Ezell also outlined NAMB's desire to revitalize churches and increase the number of missionaries and church plants.

"Missionaries, when I see you and I see the sacrifices you make, the tremendous sacrifice, I think of Acts chapter 20 and Paul's farewell to the church at Ephesus," Ezell said. "Paul said, 'I consider my life worth nothing to me but that I might complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me.' I want you to always remember that verse.

"It is not about my conveniences or my preferences. It is about being obedient," Ezell said. "And remember the power of one. When the response is slow and you feel all alone ... remember the power of one person in obedience to our Lord."

Milton Hollifield, executive director of the North Carolina convention, challenged the missionaries to pray.

"Even though we are involved in doing the things of God, we should never say we are too busy to pray," Hollifield said. "Southern Baptist have no hope to see our goals become a reality unless we experience a return to holiness so that God can empower us to accomplish His will."

Woman's Missionary Union President Debbie Akerman led a prayer for the missionaries during North Carolina Baptists' Nov. 12-13 sessions in Greensboro.

For church planter Charlie Dunn, one of the NAMB missionaries commissioned, God's call came in a unique way.

"I was up at 3 in the morning, just praying and reading through Scripture," Dunn said. "And it seemed like out of nowhere I heard God say, 'I want you to consider church planting.'"

Having never considered this path of ministry before, Dunn was surprised. Rather than jumping into planting immediately, he and his wife Abby opted to spend some time in prayer and study to discern God's plan for the next step in their lives.

"We prayed, we read everything we could on church planting, and we just asked God to lead us," Dunn said. "It took almost a year before we could finally express and understand that God was truly leading us into church planting."

The couple set out to discover where to put down the roots of their future church plant, visiting everywhere from Chicago to Cleveland and even London. It was a trip to Boston in early 2010 and a meeting with an established church planter that helped seal the deal.

"We spent a long weekend in Boston in January of 2010 and then made two more trips back to the city throughout the next year. Slowly we began to feel like Boston was the next step," Dunn said.

With the support of the North American Mission Board, Dunn looks forward to the future of church planting not just for his own work in Boston but in the nation as a whole.

"Being supported by the NAMB community really ties us into a larger family of planters and missionaries like us who want to see more churches started and more souls saved. This network of support means the world to us."


Sara Shelton is a writer for the North American Mission Board. NAMB writer Joe Conway contributed to this story. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).