Brian Bowman moved to Phoenix Jan. 1, but it wasn’t to catch the BCS Championship football game between Oregon and Auburn in person Jan. 7 or to escape the frigid Oklahoma winter and enjoy warm days under the Arizona sun.

Bowman, former pastor of Meridian, First, is representing Mullins Association as its first church planter under a new church planting network launched as part of a new associational strategic plan.

Bowman, his wife, Brooke, and their daughter, Bailey, 13, and son, Britton, 11, hit the ground running, and are busy developing relationships as they point toward beginning Valley Life Church in the Happy Valley area of North Phoenix the first Sunday in October. The church will be affiliated with Central Association of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, said Jason Vance, pastor of Ryan, First, who as part-time director of missions for Mullins Association, plays a significant part in this unique development.

When former DOM Jerry Couch retired in 2009, members of the association’s board of directors stepped back and took a long look at the organization.

“We went through a phase where our board put together a new strategic plan for the future,” Vance said. “We began a series of meetings to redefine what our Association existed to do.

“The real nuts and bolts of it is we decided that the association would not assume the role of its member congregations in ministry. That we would not do ministry, but we would equip the churches to do their ministries so there would never be a situation where the association would actually be in competition with one of its churches in doing ministry.

“We also decided through studying the Scriptures that we felt churches should plant churches, and that there are some things we need to partner together to do as local churches that are greater than ourselves that we couldn’t do on our own. For example, First Baptist Church in Ryan couldn’t plant a church in Phoenix on its own.

“And, although our churches give faithfully to the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and North American missions, of course, we also wanted to provide our churches the avenue of having a hands-on, boots-on-the-ground opportunity to be involved in a church plant.”

As that philosophy was being forged, the board began to agree that the position of DOM could be bivocational.

“That freed up some funds for us to financially support a church plant,” said Vance, adding that the board approached him last August about accepting that position as he continues to serve as full-time pastor at Ryan, First.

“Our streamlining of ministry and even the leadership position of DOM has financially enabled us to plant in Phoenix,” Bowman emphasized. “We feel that it’s noteworthy that the association is going through these major changes to plant churches.

“It began with those association-wide meetings and us asking what are we to be about, what are our values? When it came down to it, there were a lot of things we are for—these are the things that an association like us should be for, and one of them was church planting. And, it went from that to examining what we were doing that didn’t really line up with what we believe we should be doing, and we made the difficult decision to not fund things that churches can do themselves.

“So, really, we decided that the association will do what only the association can do, and not the things that the churches can do. That freed us up to plant churches, freed us up so the churches themselves can do things like children’s ministry and youth ministry and prayer ministry and things like that.”

Bowman said he is grateful that the Mullins churches have made a five-year commitment to pray and send teams and financial support for this new plant.

“We will then re-group and plant more churches to continue a church planting movement so the 39 churches in our association can feel like they all have a direct impact in planting churches through their financial support and the mission teams they will be sending,” he said.

Vance said the association carefully went through a process of prayer and discussion about where to start its church planting efforts.

“We formed a church planting network and prayed through about where to plant a church,” he stressed. “We decided on two criteria: an area where there was a lot of people and very little Gospel presence—very few churches—especially Southern Baptist churches.

“Secondly, an area that would welcome a church plant, and we landed on Phoenix.

Proximity to Oklahoma also played a part in the process.

“We wanted a location that also would enable our churches to not have to travel extensively to go on a mission trip. Phoenix is only about 16 hours away. That allows our churches realistically to go visit and help Valley Life get started.

The new church will begin in a large theater complex.

“We have secured a place for the launch in a movie theater,” Vance revealed. “Between now and then, Bryan will be developing relationships with the neighbors and school officials as well as developing a core of believers.

“We don’t know what all God through His Holy Spirit is going to do out there, but we hope to develop a core group and launch in the fall.”

Meanwhile, Mullins churches will send teams to the area on a regular basis.

“Velma Church is going on Spring Break to prayerwalk over the area and do anything Bryan needs them to do,” Vance said. “He also has plans for activities such as Backyard Bible Clubs and sports camps for kids.”

Since the first of the year, Bowman has been gathering a core group of believers who will meet in three groups in homes and hold preview services while the church is being organized. They also will be active in the North American Mission Board’s Crossover Arizona, which will be held June 6-11, just prior to the June 14-15 SBC Annual Meeting in Phoenix. Information about the church is on Facebook under Valley Life Church. A website also will be set up soon.

Vance praised fellow Mullins Association pastors for their unity through this process.

“As DOM and fellow pastor here, I am amazed at the level of cooperation we have had among our churches and ministers to come together to plant churches,” he said. “Just to live out that biblical calling for churches to plant churches, because in so many situations, you see maybe territorialism or churches having different philosophies, and these guys have come together for the sake of the Gospel.

“This is a five-year commitment to the church in Phoenix and hopefully, in five years, that church will be self-sustaining, and we’ll come back together and go through this again in a place that God leads us.”