Planting pastoral leadership

Greenwood’s Jonathan Morton founds network to train church members to become future leaders

One Mission Society headquarters, Greenwood. Photo by Meghan McCormick.

The key is to reproduce leadership. Train members of a church congregation to start their own church when they leave. Church reproduction becomes ingrained in the DNA of each new church. Soon, you have a network of churches planting to the seventh, eighth, ninth generations – then you lose count.

It’s a system that Greenwood resident Jonathan Mortan has stood by throughout his career with One Mission Society (OMS). Even at his own church in Franklin Township, Nueva Vida, he is training members to become leaders of their own congregation.

“I have no interest in having 500 to 1,000 people in our building,” Jonathan said. “It’s about people whose lives are a bit of a mess, coming to know Christ, understanding what forgiveness is all about, having the shame taken away, being forgiven, having joy and realizing they have been restored… then they’re commissioned. A lot of those people will not be with us in two or three year’s time. They’ll have their own church.”

Morton was born in Northern Ireland. He studied philosophy at a college in Scotland, then did his post graduate in jurisprudence.

“I was going to pursue a career in corporate law,” he said. “I just didn’t have a peace about it. God put a burden in my heart which was unexplainable to me. I had never been to Latin America. I didn’t know much about Latin America. I finally began to research organizations that worked there. I found One Mission Society.”

Lupita, Jonathan, Daniel and Noah.

OMS, which has more than 100-year history of working outside of America, focused on training the local people to take over the church started by the missionaries, a strategy that Jonathan liked. He signed up for a two-year period. He spent the first year in Costa Rica, learning Spanish and working to aid young boys who were being used as prostitutes for the international homosexual community. He was moved to Mexico a year later, in 1995, to start OMS’ social outreach program, beginning medical clinics and food distribution.

“It was then, quickly, I realized if that work was to be permanent, it needed to be with the local church,” Jonathan said. “That’s when my interest in starting churches that functioned as a genuine family in Christ was born. I began to research how do you start a church like that? How do you start a church without DNA? That began a lifelong love of planting churches.”

The first church he was involved in planting in Mexico was where he met his wife, Lupita. The couple married a year later. Jonathan continued his postgraduate education in Mexico, and later earned a Ph.D. at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky.

Once that church reached 200 to 400 people, they would hand it over and go some place which had no church. He did that for 13 years, as a field director in Mexico for OMS, until 2008 when he was asked to move to the U.S. to direct international ministries at the headquarters in Greenwood. He and Lupita reside on the OMS campus with their two sons, Daniel and Noah. Jonathan started by directing OMS’ vision, staff and ministries in Europe and Latin America, later taking responsibility for Africa and Asia.

“I had the privilege of seeing movements of churches that would go from zero to 3,000 churches in a decade, seeing thousands of churches planted in a year, seeing three quarters of a million people baptized in a year,” Jonathan said. “That was a huge privilege. I expected to do that for future decades to come and that wasn’t to be.”

He is now director of hispanic outreach at OMS.

A year and a half ago, in their free time, he and Lupita began to pastor a hispanic church, Nueva Vida (New Life) on the Southside near University of Indianapolis. It has since relocated to Thompson and Five Points Road in Franklin Township. This time last year, there were 40 people in attendance. That has grown to 80 to 100.

“I began to study the Spanish population in the U.S.,” he said. “Twenty percent of hispanic people were leaving their local church every year. They were leaving for work. When you have a church that 20 percent of your congregation is leaving every year, you have to think of a model of planting that leverages that. What we’re doing in our local church is instilling a model where every local person goes through a discipleship program, which culminates in being taught and trained in how to start a new church. So when they leave, instead of praying they find a decent church somewhere, we commission them to start a new church.”

Two families have left Nueva Vida in the last year for work-related reasons and are nearing the start of their own church.

Omar Malpica moved from Indianapolis to work in Illinois last year. He and his wife, Katya, are now working with a couple there to start their own church. They will begin bible study next weekend. It has been a long journey for Omar, to even find Nueva Vida and start attending the church.

“I refused to go to church at the beginning because I was a Catholic,” he said. “We were believers, but not committed. My wife and the pastor’s wife used to work in the same office. It was one invitation after another. I kept on saying no. They kept inviting us. I have been part of New Life for almost 10 years now. It’s been a life-changing experience. I used to have many bad habits. I was an alcoholic; I used to smoke. For once, I think I made my parents proud. I never thought I would be the person I am right now. Once I started to attend the church, I started to learn about God’s work. It changed my life, not immediately. It was a process.”

Omar went through Nueva Vida’s discipleship program and said he feels prepared to start his own church, though that has also taken time.

“You have to find persons of peace,” he said. “You start talking to people and if they want to hear about God and the message, if they are receptive, you keep on talking to them. It’s been harder here in Chicago than in Indiana. It’s been hard to find that trust. Once you find this person of peace, and you start talking to them, they will bring other people. That’s how a new church starts. That’s how we got trained to do it.”

Jonathan said he multiple other group are working to launch training centers, the first to begin in Orlando, Fla., in October and the second to be in Indianapolis at Nueva Vida. The first international center will be in London.

“We work as one church, but the each church in network is autonomous,” he said. “The network will stand on its own.”

Currently they are looking at ways to serve the local hispanic community, such as beginning English and cooking classes.

Jonathan said they also welcome existing churches into the network and help them train in the discipleship program, while maintaining their own identity.

“It’s about lives being changed,” he said. “It can’t stop with one pastor. If you’re able to reproduce yourself in multiple other people, it starts to become infectious. We want to see the community changed and that’s the best thing, seeing people whose lives have been changed through watching others; seeing that person mature to a level where they live infectiously. At the moment, it’s a movement that has just started.”