By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
ELIZABETHTON — Members of Oak Street Baptist Church here are excited to see their pastor and his wife leave — sort of.
Members are sad they are leaving but excited about why they are heading west to Colorado.
Bruce Hendrich and his wife, Lisa, have been appointed by the North American Mission Board as church planters in Hendrich’s native state.
The couple will serve as church planters in Mead as part of NAMB’s SEND Denver Initiative.
The Tennessee Baptist Convention began a partnership with the SEND Denver Initiative this month.
The Hendrichs are not leaving Oak Street entirely. The church will continue to have ties with the couple. Members recently voted to give 5 percent of their undesignated receipts to help support the Hendrichs in their church planting ministry.
Hendrich is sad to leave the only pastorate he has had for 18 years but is excited about planting a church where the need is so great.
Hendrich said there is no Southern Baptist work in Mead, a town located about 30 miles north of Denver. What’s more there are only two churches in the town (a Catholic church and a Methodist congregation). “That’s what drew us there,” Hendrich recalled. “There are 11,000 people within a five-mile radius and only two churches in town.”
Whereas he is leaving Tennessee for familiar territory, wife Lisa is leaving the only place she has ever lived but she is equally excited.
“It’s been a faith marathon,” Lisa Hendrich said of the process of becoming church planters.
“Everything I clear out of the closet is a memory,” she said.
But, like her husband, she felt drawn to Mead because there is no Southern Baptist church there.
“We wanted to find that place where we were needed and where there was a great need for a church,” she said.
Mead fit the bill perfectly, the couple agreed.
For Hendrich, the move also draws him closer to his original call to be a missionary.
“I never envisioned being a pastor. I always wanted to be a missionary.”
Hendrich, in fact, trained to be a missionary pilot. After two years of Bible and missions training at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, he moved to Elizabethton in 1976 where Moody Aviation was then located. But instead of becoming a missionary pilot after graduation, he stayed with Moody Aviation as a flight instructor for 14 years.
During that time he served churches in a part-time role, primarily in music positions.
In 1992, Hendrich left Moody Aviation and joined Oak Street as minister of music and education, a role he held until he was called as pastor four years later.
About two years ago Hendrich returned to Colorado for a high school reunion. While talking with former high school classmates, he discovered they had a spiritual hunger that they did not have as teenagers. “They wanted to talk to me about spiritual matters,” he said.
Afterwards, while attending a church planting conference held at Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Hendrich visited with Don Pierson, a friend and former Tennessee Baptist Convention staff member who is now pastor of Stewarts Chapel Baptist Church, Flintville.
Pierson told Hendrich about SEND Denver and suggested he look into the possibility of church planting out there. Hendrich had attended the conference because Oak Street was exploring the possibility of planting an Indian church in Elizabethton.
Hendrich contacted Dave Howeth, leader of the SEND Denver Initiative and the couple began the process of becoming church planters.
He noted caution “flags” would rise throughout the application process. One hurdle was their age. Both in their 50s, church planters normally are much younger, he said.
Hendrich called the process “stressful and even painful” but noted that every time it appeared the door might close on the process, it never did.
“What it (the process) did was strengthen our calling, not weaken it,” he said. “Everyone wanted to make sure it was God calling us.”
During the process they visited the Denver area to visit potential church planting sites.
The couple visited “community after community” but never felt led to a site until they visited Mead.
While in Mead they visited the town hall and asked a lady in the office if the community needed a church. “She asked us to please come,” Hendrich said. They learned that she was a believer but was not attending any church. “We felt that was our Macedonian call,” he said.
That call was later confirmed when they contacted a realtor in town about housing. When she learned what they planned to do, she told them, “We need a church in Mead so bad.”
The Hendrichs have since developed a friendship with their realtor and have been in her home several times during visits to Mead.
“We see how the Lord has been preparing the way,” Hendrichs said, noting they have had several “divine appointments” with people since then who have expressed interest in attending Bible studies and eventually the church that will be established in Mead.
At the advice of missions leaders in Colorado, the Hendrichs do not yet have a name for their future church or a specific meeting place.
More than likely, they will hold Bible studies in local homes until the need for a larger space becomes necessary. “Church is not about a meeting place, it’s about a gathering of God’s people,” he said.
Their immediate concern is to build relationships and “make disciples who will make disciples.”
The couple knows they are just beginning a process that will take at least a year before they actually start a church, but they are excited because “there is an amazing missions field there.”
The couple is grateful for the support given to them throughout the process by members of Oak Street and for the fact they are their “sending church.”
“They are not losing us completely. We will still be members here but will be representing them in Colorado, planting a church there that is an offshoot of Oak Street,” Hendrich said.
“When they think of that, they get excited that their ministry is expanding even though they are losing their pastor,” he added.
Ron Berry, a deacon at Oak Street, acknowledged the church is sad about losing the Hendrichs but noted “we are excited to see what God will do in Colorado.”
There is a need there and God has led Bruce and Lisa to fill that need, Berry continued. “Oak Street sees that as a missions opportunity for us,” he added.
Church member Tom Stetler noted that Hendrich’s heart “is in missions work.”
He, too, noted the church will miss the couple. “We are sorry and sad to see them leave us, but we pray blessings on them as they go to do God’s work,” Stetler said.
Berry added that the members are excited that they are able to support the Hendrichs financially. “Everyone who contributes here will contribute to their ministry. That’s cool,” he said.
Hendrich also noted the church will be supporting their ministry through their gifts through the Cooperative Program as well. Oak Street currently gives 8 percent of its undesignated gifts through the Cooperative Program, the pastor said.
Hendrich’s last Sunday at Oak Street was Jan. 11 and they hope to be on their new field by the end of February. They continue to look for more prayer and financial “partners’ in their ministry as well as a handful of “supporting churches.”
For more information about their new ministry, visit www.makelovegrowco.com.