By Jim Burton
SIOUX Falls, S.D. — More than 180 years ago, anyone living in the Mexican controlled Texas territory had to speak Spanish and could only attend a Roman Catholic Church. As Stephen F. Austin led the effort toward Texas independence, a friend of his, Josiah H. Bell, was equally resolute toward another objective. Bell helped form the first Protestant church in Texas.
Bell started a family tradition that today reaches to the Dakotas.
“I guess it’s in our blood,” said North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planter Jonathan Land. He is Bell’s great, great, great, great grandson, and they share deep Texas roots.
“I was born in Texas,” Land said. “There’s a reason people don’t like people from Texas. They are just so arrogant about being from Texas. I used to be that guy.”
South Dakota has taken some edge off that arrogance.
His father served Texas churches as a youth minister and pastor during Land’s childhood. At age 8, Land was asking the right questions, which led to a discussion with his dad about salvation. At the family’s breakfast table, Land prayed with his father and placed his faith in Christ. He remembers an immediate change.
“I remember the first few times it came out of my mouth,” Land said. “I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus.”
As a teenager, Land was studious, a self-described nerd. Still, he found time to get into mischief.
“I distinctly look back and remember there were some moments when my life could have gone in a number of different directions than it has now,” Land said.
By his late teens, Land felt a call to ministry. He helped serve in the youth ministry of a small church that even allowed him to preach.
After high school, Land attended McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, on an academic scholarship and played baseball. He now realizes that during his freshman year he was worshipping baseball. Meanwhile, the pressure to keep a high grade point average and a new dating relationship with Shelby, his future wife, caused him to rearrange some priorities. He quit baseball and soon became the interim pastor of a small West Texas church during the summer break.
“They showed me mercy each week,” Land recalled.
Making the Connection
Land enrolled at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey for graduate studies. He intended to pursue Ph.D. studies, but again there was a change of heart when he realized that classroom teaching might not be his thing. So the Lands returned to Texas. He became pastor in Groom and met Doug Hixson, who was a pastor up the road in Pampa in the same Baptist association.
“We had a similar passion to reach people with the gospel, and we were actively engaged in it in West Texas,” Land said.
Hixson had moved his family to Spearfish, S.D., in 2010 to start Connection Church. His passion for church planting in the Dakotas grew to the point that Hixson sent a text to Land asking what he thought about planting a church six hours away in Sioux Falls.
“I had sent a credit card bill to Sioux Falls once or twice, but other than that I had no real knowledge of it,” Land said.
Through the Dakota Baptist Convention and with Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® financial support from NAMB, Land became a church planter apprentice with Hixon in Spearfish. Apprentice is one of the levels of involvement in the North American Mission Board’s Farm System. The Farm System looks to assist churches in discovering, developing and deploying the next generation of missionaries.
“That was a big deal for Doug and me,” Land recalled. “Some guys can just jump out there and do what it takes. We needed some skills to know what to do.”
After the move, Land soon became the lead church planter and worship leader at Connection Church of Spearfish’s first plant, which was in Belle Fourche. But Land’s sights were on Sioux Falls. With help from existing churches, there was door-to-door canvassing and multiple block parties in Sioux Falls. Those efforts generated a small group of interested people, enough for Land to drive regularly six hours across the state to lead them.
High religious IQ
Sioux Falls is a thriving metropolitan area of 250,000 people where financial services companies help fuel the economy. Once Land and Shelby moved there with their two children, they bought a fixer-upper home with meeting space and started hosting Bible studies.
“We aren’t walking into a place that has never heard the name of Jesus,” Land said. “They have a high religious IQ. The majority have not been following Jesus.”
Connection Church in Sioux Falls launched on Easter 2014 with 43 in attendance at a local elementary school.
“We gave our entire offering away to church planting and Annie Armstrong,” Land said. The church now contributes 25 percent of its undesignated tithes to missions.
Within three months, they broke the 50-attendee barrier, which is a milestone for Southern Baptists in the Dakotas.
Connection Church in Sioux Falls is attracting an above average amount of single, young adults. Their level of education varies, but they are all working in good jobs.
Land’s passion for the Dakotas and the potential for church plants there has grown rapidly.
“If we had planters and money we could equip people to plant on a regular basis,” he said.
Land looks forward to the day when Connection Church in Sioux Falls is helping other church plants, much like Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview, Texas, which supports both Connection Church plants financially and with volunteers.
That would make his great, great, great, great grandfather proud. Even better, Land is part of a multigenerational church planting legacy, one that will continue as Connection Church plants churches that will plant churches.
The goal for the 2015 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is $60 million. To learn more about the Week of Prayer, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and how your church can be mobilized to push back lostness in North America, visitwww.anniearmstrong.com. To read about the other 2015 featured missionaries, visit anniearmstrong.com/