Mike Alexander never attended seminary. He had never pastored a church. He says he didn’t even know what a church planter did. That is, until he became one.
Now, about two years after arriving in Aurora, Colo., and about 23 months after he began learning what church planters actually do, the church Alexander started has baptized more than 60 people.
The retired Texas teacher visited Aurora on a mission trip in the summer of 2012. During the trip 16 children began a relationship with Christ. As exciting as that was, Alexander couldn’t help but wonder where those children — all from one mobile home community (Foxridge Farm Mobile Home Park) in the town — would be discipled through a local church.
“There wasn’t anyone out here to disciple them, to move them along,” Alexander said. “That really touched my heart. I overheard the manager of the [community] talking to someone else on our team, saying ‘What we need is an older couple to come here and live here and minister to the people.’
“My wife and I are ex-school teachers and we could do that,” Alexander told the manager.
“Well, come on,” the manager told Alexander with a smile.
What started with God gently tugging Alexander’s heart and a short exchange with the mobile home community manager soon became a full-fledged missionary call. In the next few days he told his wife Rosemary, who had stayed behind in Texas, what God was telling him about moving to Colorado. He looked at the house he’d one day purchase. He also found his first ministry partner in the state.
“As I left the house, the first person I met was a guy named Jimmy,” Alexander said. “He’s a Native American with tattoos all over him.”
“What are you doing?” Jimmy asked Alexander.
“Well, Jimmy, I think God wants us to move here to minister to this community,” Alexander said.
“If you do that, I’ll help you,” Jimmy said.
Eight weeks later the Alexanders moved to Colorado. It wasn’t until he went to church planters’ training through the Colorado Baptist General Convention a few days after arriving in Aurora that he began to understand what it meant to be a church planter.
“I moved here to knock on doors and tell people about Jesus,” Alexander said.
Soon Alexander had a vision for building a church among the 481 units in the community. Six people — one family– attended the church’s first worship service in the couples’ home. Today, Living Hope Fellowship has 35 to 40 people in a typical worship service. Alexander says if everyone came at one time, the church’s attendance would be around 100.
“I never know who is going to be there,” Alexander said. “Most of the work happens one on one. It’s visitation. It’s talking to people. It’s taking the opportunity to visit. And then, you can’t just lead people to the Lord and leave them alone. There’s discipleship. There’s Bible study.”
Alexander has learned that ministry never stops. Sometimes that means giving people rides to work. Sometimes that means buying a bag of groceries for a friend. The Southern Baptist Global Hunger Relief fund helps buy some of those groceries.
“Physical needs are really important here,” Alexander said. “This is not a rich community. This is a pretty low-income place. It’s hard to find a job and if they find a job, they don’t have transportation.”
During the past two years Alexander has become so identified with the community that even people not connected to his church come to him to get pastoral needs met, such as weddings. When one young couple wanted to get married last year, someone recommended they visit Alexander. As he sat down with them for premarital counseling before the first wedding he had ever performed, he discovered the prospective groom had never committed his life to Christ.
“I’m not a Christian,” the young man told Alexander. “I’ve done terrible, terrible things. God doesn’t like me.”
“That’s not true. God does love you,” Alexander said before opening up his Bible and taking him through the Gospel. The young man became a follower of Christ and, for a couple of months before moving to San Diego, they were active members of the church.
Two years after answering God’s call to Aurora, Alexander knows what a church planter does — because he is doing it.
— Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.