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Church Planting: A Front Row Seat to the Party

Jeri Heilmann

Jeri Heilmann

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I didn’t want to plant a church. God made me do it.

Okay, that is not entirely true. God doesn’t make us do anything. God invites us into what he is doing and we get to decide if we will participate or not. 

When my husband told me he felt a call to church planting, my response was,“That would be really, really hard and I don’t want to do it.” I said, “No, thank you.”  

Thankfully, my husband knew when God calls a couple to something, he calls both of them. He began praying God would change my heart, and I went on with my life.

When God calls a couple to something, he calls both of them.

A few weeks later, I suddenly became aware my heart had changed. I couldn’t tell you exactly when it happened or how, but something in me switched. I knew in the place where I know anything, my gut, that I wanted to plant a church, that I couldn’t not plant a church.  

All of the scary, hard things I imagined church planting would be now sounded like exciting, hopeful, adventurous (still hard) things. 

I knew God was inviting us, and I said yes.

The next few months seemed like a whirlwind. We began job and apartment hunting, putting our house on the market, and asking for prayer wherever we could get it. In a short time, my husband transferred his job, our house sold, we found an apartment, and God prompted another couple to join our team.

We planted our Vineyard church in Altoona, PA in 2014 and it has been the hardest 6 years of my life. I have experienced more spiritual attacks in these last 6 years than in the 33 previous combined. But I have also gotten to see God more clearly and closely than I ever knew was possible. 

People in my city and church have learned to hear the voice of God, have experienced healing, and have begun lives with Jesus. I have become a more free and whole person as a result of saying yes to one of the craziest adventures in my life.

I can remember clearly the moment when it all hit me; what an honor it is to be called. It was 2 years after we moved from Columbus to Altoona. Our church, which started as 4 adults and 5 kids in my living room, had grown slowly to 2 small groups. We sensed God asking us to begin a Sunday service. To be completely honest, the first 2 years of planting had beat us up considerably and there were more days than not when we wanted to quit. 

I was sitting in the back of our small meeting space in a train station, tired in all the ways that a person can be tired. Worship began and the thick presence of the Holy Spirit became tangible.  People were worshipping in a way I hadn’t seen them participate before. They were crying and lifting their hands and I knew I didn’t deserve any part of it. 

I was struck by how God was drawing people to him and that in his kindness, he had given me a front row seat to the party.  

Everything that God has asked me to do has been hard, but he has been with me at every turn and it has certainly been worth it.

Are you called to be a church planter?

Try our 10 Question self-assessment designed to help you discern if church planting might be for you.

About the Author

Jeri Heilman

In 2014 Jeri Heilmann and her husband, Derek, moved back to Jeri’s hometown to plant a church. The two co-Senior Pastor and find it to be both extremely rewarding and extremely challenging, depending on the day. They have 2 kids. Eden (7) is a natural born leader and Eli (9) is deep thinker and an evangelist at heart.  Jeri loves giant hugs and pickled beets.  She hates inauthenticity and loud eating sounds.

The views expressed on this site or in this media are those of the speaker(s), author(s), or contributor(s), and do not necessarily represent the views of Vineyard USA or any of its Regions, Ministries or Initiatives. For more information, see the
Vineyard USA disclaimer here.

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