Belief in mentoring sparked by man who 'invested his life into mine'

LARKSPUR, Colo. (BP)--Allan Karr learned the importance of mentor relationships early on, when at 15 years old a man by the name of Jon Cook befriended him and helped him discover God's plan for his life.

"He saw a young man with potential and made a conscious decision to invest his life and energy and time into mine. And the relationship that we developed and the discipling that took place has become foundational for who I am as a minister," said Karr.

That discipling also has become the foundation of Karr's latest role. As Nehemiah Project director at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and a North American missionary, Karr oversees a network of church planters and their mentors across the western United States. He helps ensure that they receive the combination of seminary education and practical one-on-one interaction that helps God use them to further his kingdom.

"As a professor I have become increasingly aware that the intentional investment that one makes in the lives of people who are sometimes overlooked can oftentimes have tremendous potential for the kingdom -- if only someone would take the time to develop them," he said.

Karr, and his wife, Kathy, are featured missionaries during the 2001 Week of Prayer for North American Missions. From his base at the Denver campus of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Karr travels to each of Golden Gate's regional campuses -- in Phoenix; Vancouver, Wash.; Denver; Los Angeles; and San Francisco. A typical semester will find him teaching two to three classes weekly in two of the five cities, in addition to other appointments.

He also spends much of his time working to promote church planting throughout the West, including speaking at conferences, teaching at "Basic Training" seminars for new church planters, and helping plan strategy with associations and state conventions.

For Karr the academic life and demanding weekly travel schedule is new, but the subject matter has become his heart's passion. He came to the role from a position as church planter himself, as pastor of Castle Valley Community Church in Castle Rock, Colo., about 20 miles south of Denver.

Karr initially thought he would be a traditional church pastor -- in part, he said, because the concept of a ministry specializing in planting churches is relatively new. He received a master's degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo., and a doctor of philosophy degree from Florida State University. He now believes the Florida State experience gave him a foundation he would not have gained at seminary.

"It was very influential, and exposed me to issues of culture that I had never experienced before," he said, issues that would later help him better understand how to shape a church to the community it serves.

In 1993, during a pastorate at Azalea City Baptist Church in Valdosta, Ga., Karr began to feel called specifically to church planting.

"From my understanding of how God had wired me, it had to do with wanting new things. I had a heart for ... new and exciting opportunities," he said.

The mission congregation planned by Denver's large Riverside Baptist Church in Castle Rock provided the opportunity to pursue what he felt was God's direction for his ministry.

Kathy knew that she, too, must feel the same call to church planting, because they were involved as a team in the cultivation of relationships and hands-on ministry required to start a church from square one.

"The good thing is I have a real heart and passion for church planting ... and that makes it real easy," she said. "The methods that we used to start the church creates a lot of activity in our home, and so in that respect I had a great involvement. Allan and I worked at it as a team."

In the summer of 1999, however, Karr took his current position as Nehemiah Project director at Golden Gate seminary -- giving him the opportunity of applying the knowledge he had gained about effective church planting. He also remained in touch with the needs of church planters by serving as interim pastor of a new congregation in Aurora, Colo., following his involvement at Castle Valley.

"To have credibility to the postmodern church planter, one must be involved in it firsthand," Karr said. "Church planters do not want to hear stories about how you did it 20 years ago. They want to know how you do it now to reach people."

The Nehemiah Project was begun in 1998 by the North American Mission Board as a way to better equip its church planters, integrating a focused seminary curriculum with two-year internships.

"The Nehemiah Project is designed to ... address some of the deficiencies of church planting strategies of the past, namely that church planters oftentimes were not adequately prepared when they went out into the field," Karr said.

The system provides both a mentor for each church planter and group of fellow church planters who can support each other, he said.

"That provides fellowship and encouragement. It helps address the issues of loneliness, particularly with the wives," he said. "And it just gives people an opportunity to just bounce ideas off each other."

Typically, he said, planting a church can be "like a roller coaster ride," with tremendous highs and lows of success and perceived failure.

"During that time of ups and downs you have to be able to be wired to be resilient and bounce back. When it gets to the lows, it always helps to have a friend to lean on. And that's my mentor. And in the whole process understanding how important that person was for me ... I have endeavored to be that way for other people as well. And I see myself as a mentor, even in my role as a Nehemiah professor."

With the transition in Allan's ministry, Kathy's role as a church planter also has changed. She has gained new responsibilities in leadership -- including leading workshops during "Basic Training" seminars for church planters and their wives.

She pointed to the "overall calling" of God on her life as well as Allan's. Although the specific roles have varied, the assurance of that call continues to help them through the stressful moments -- whether they be the ups and downs of planting a church or coping with Allan's busy travel schedule.

"This is kind of the next phase of what he would lead us to do," she said. "... We both felt a real peace about it, and still do. We feel like this is exactly where God would have us to be."

(For more information on the Karrs and other missionaries featured in the Week of Prayer for North American Missions, visit the website.)

(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at Photo title: FOCUSED ON MENTORING.

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