Terminal: The Dying Church Planter

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SALISBURY, Md. (BP) – Send Network’s new podcast, “Terminal: The Dying Church Planter,” is more than just a story about a guy with cancer, said producer Tony Hudson. It’s a story about one man’s monsters, metamorphosis, church planting ministry and church members. Most of all, it’s the story of God’s kindness through it all and His ability to work all things together for good.

“Terminal” is available on every major podcast platform, with photos and additional podcast materials on TerminalChurchPlanter.com.

“Terminal” follows Richard Pope, a Send Network church planter who found out one month before launching Canvas Church in Salisbury, that he had terminal cancer and three to five years left to live. Despite his diagnosis, Richard and his team launched Canvas Church on April 4, 2021, and since then, more than 100 people have made decisions to follow Christ and have been baptized there. This past year, the church has doubled in size, trained a dozen ministry leaders and is sending out its own church plant, Garden Church in Cambridge, later this year.

But there’s more to Pope’s story than meets the eye. “I’ve been through a lot,” Pope shared on the podcast. “There’s so much, even before you get to the cancer.”

Some months after initially recording the podcast, Pope said he’s still a bit nervous about sharing parts of his story: “There’s a certain rawness to the way it’s told in the podcast, so I’m nervous about that.”

In fact, the 26-year-old church planter wasn’t keen on the idea of sharing his story in podcast form until he met Tony Hudson, a multimedia writer at the North American Mission Board (NAMB). “Tony didn’t come and treat me like I was a product he was writing a story about. Tony treated me like I was a person, and that God was doing something and that was a story worth telling,” Pope said.

Perhaps Hudson’s ability to connect with Pope had to do with Hudson’s own battle with cancer 23 years ago. As Hudson put it, “I think it gave me an opening that maybe just some other person who’s not had that experience might not have had. And the fact that God could have some kind of purpose out of my experience, which was pretty unpleasant, that’s a pretty great thing.”

Richard Pope, a Send Network church planter in Salisbury, Md., preaches to his congregation on a Sunday morning. Pope received a terminal cancer diagnosis as he was beginning his church planting journey, yet he decided to remain faithful to his calling and continue planting Canvas Church. Send Network released a podcast on September 14 that tells Pope’s story. Send Network photo

So last fall, a few weeks after meeting Hudson in person, Pope found himself in a makeshift recording studio set up inside his church — sharing with Hudson, and now, the world, some of the most difficult parts of his life story. Hudson, who narrates the podcast, said the six-hour interview with Pope was the longest in his career. Over the course of five days, he interviewed 29 people who all helped tell the story of Pope and his church. Hudson returned home with a 992-page transcript.

For Pope and his wife, Payton, listening to the eight-episode podcast was both gut-wrenching and encouraging. “After each episode, we asked each other, ‘How do you feel about that? Are you good with that?’ And yet,” said Pope, “the podcast might have been one of the first times we actually just listened to what God has done here, and that was encouraging.”

Pope said he hopes sharing his story will encourage struggling pastors and believers that their struggles don’t limit God’s goodness. In fact, though the journey of planting a church while battling cancer has been incredibly hard, Richard has already seen glimpses of how God has used his cancer as a tool to share the Gospel.

The podcast offers listeners a reminder that everyone is terminal, even though most do not know how long they have left. So, everyone, like Pope, should dedicate their life to something — and Someone — that matters.

“Terminal” is available on every major podcast platform, with photos and additional podcast materials on TerminalChurchPlanter.com.

This article by author Anna Skurdarnova first appeared in Baptist Press.

Feature photo: Richard Pope (left), a Send Network church planting missionary, and Tony Hudson (right), a multimedia writer with the North American Mission Board (NAMB), sit down to record a podcast, “Terminal,” that follows Pope’s journey. Pope began the process of planting Canvas Church in Salisbury, Md., and received a terminal cancer diagnosis one month before launching the church. Pope has remained faithful to God’s calling to plant the church. Send Network photo