The Unexplainable Concept that is Church Planting

At 3pm one day a few years ago my son, who was 5 at the time, sat down with me to watch the world superbike championship. He was quite pleased and truthfully so was I because I had been longing to watch it, longing to watch Aussie Troy Bayliss beat the best the rest of the world could offer! My son said to me how long is it before it is 3pm? I said one hour. He said, ‘is that a long time?” I said ‘not too long’. He said “how many minutes is that?” I said ’60 minutes’, you all know what he said right… “is that a long time?” 

There are some things only mothers can explain to their children. I believe the concept of time is one of those things! 

I want to spend more energy writing about our church planting experience, but I’m not too sure it will make much sense… where do I start? There are so many stories which have defined and shaped who we are… I’m afraid it will just be another one of those ‘is that a long time?’ experiences. But I believe it will be beneficial… at least for me, not too sure about you though. Most times we write things in hind sight. My goal is to commentate and try to make sense of it as it’s happening. It is my hope that one day I can return, read it and it will finally make sense to me… I know it’s a fanciful thought.

So let the fun begin! Defining and describing the church plant has really taken me by surprise… I am surprised how difficult it is… I’m surprised just how much of what I/we do is because of a reaction to the way things have been done in the past. It would seem as though we are the people we are today because we have seen the folly of our past ways, but to my surprise we are not sure how to go about our mission in that still-yet-to-be-completely-defined ‘new way’. And of course I am assuming (and possibly incorrectly I might add) that it will be a ‘new way’. I think it is more a return to the old ways, the ancient ways. We are attempting to understand and live like the church should live without any of the unnecessary traditional baggage picked up along the way. We are doing our best not to retreat from culture, not to react to culture but rather to lead culture.

Now I recognise what I just said means different things to different people. For example to some who read this it means a return to a form of church which has no influence of the world in her whatsoever. These people would see influence of modern music, of woman in ministry as something which has been inflicted upon the church by culture and needs to be cut out. To others it might mean a return to signs and wonders, which does sound rather good to me (as long as life isn’t more consumed with signs and wonders than it is with God and a life of obedience to and love for the One who gave everything up). But that’s not what I mean.

The problem lies in my inability to define the church plant that we are in. As soon as I use language I’m familiar with I run the risk of it being interpreted through someone else’s filter. My words can mean one thing to me and something completely different to someone else.

This reality has hit home hard, so much so that I’ve stopped using some of the words I’v previously used. I don’t talk in words which try to define a collection of ‘values’ or ‘principles’ anymore. I have done my best to eliminate any words which are only understood by third generation ‘Christians’. I don’t even use the word ‘church’ that often for fear of confusing people. I only seem to be using the word church in my writings on the journey. Now I seem to simply talk about ‘values which are action based’. For example when trying to describe the church as the type of church which always strives to evangelise and make disciples, I might say that we are a people who lose the right to identify with God if we don’t consider the ‘other’ as more important than ourselves. Another example? Let’s take a golden oldie … tithing… rather than talk about tithing in the usual 10% sense I talk about the value of living a life which gives everything away because simply Jesus is worth everything.

My communication has become more about how values can be learnt from living a life devoted to becoming all God has called us to be. I’m doing my best not to let my words get in the way of living The Life. I’m doing my best to help others who have no experience of church understand Jesus and His people and the sort of life He wants them to live. That means I am doing my best not to introduce words which are foreign to them. Sure I want to broaden their vision and values but that can best be done in a form or words that are natural to them.

I’ve come to realise that language is important (yes, it has taken a while!) Language is a powerful tool and can exclude or include. We grappled with language as we tried to name the church plant.

Some might think a name is not that important, and on one hand I would agree with you. But sometimes a name does a wonderful job of explaining an organisation’s intent to the community. For example, Mosaic’s name is fantastic. The name Mosaic portrays a picture of everyone’s broken lives coming together to form a beautiful glass window which people can see an image of Jesus on and through. 

To start with, the best we came up with is… drum roll please…..  ‘the church with no name’… I know I know it’s sad, but at the time it suited us. We were a group of people looking to make a difference in the world, who had become somewhat jaded by church life (and I use that word loosely). And we knew the answer sure wasn’t in the format and models of churches we had been involved with in the past. But on the other hand we also recognised that it is the church’s calling to be the voice, the body of Christ urging the community on to become everything God has intended them to be. So in a sense we had written the local church off and did not want to be part of it, but in another way we longed for the church to be powerful force God intended it to be. It was like we knew we had to be a church but didn’t really want to. Hence the name ‘church with no name’… Because church and anything related to the old forms of church we had experienced, well, we didn’t want to be part of. 

Over time we have repented and we now call ourselves ‘LIVE’, we chose LIVE because it best summarises what we are all about. We want all to experience Jesus and live the way He has created us to live. To live free, to live curious, to live creatively, to live as though He is worth everything. 

Alright, time for another one of those ‘concept of time’ experiences.

Leadership… My views on leadership have completely changed. My desire to be a leader has also been completely changed. In the past I have been involved in leadership which gave people the opportunity to lead in a certain area. For example, worship leading, or small group leading. When you are small in number you don’t have the human resources to have one person appointed to one single field and so we were forced to think differently. To be honest I’m glad we did, because when we tried to do things the old way (one role per person) it became apparent it was not going to work. You see when things aren’t going well and you have traditional leadership structures, people tend to become very isolated in that one area of leadership responsibility. It was like people were only concerned with their area, and if somewhere else was falling down, it didn’t really matter because their area was ok. Rather than taking the approach of ‘what can I do to help out’ it becomes more like ‘my area is doing well, and it is your fault that we are failing in other areas!’

Leadership for me is now far more fluid. I no longer wish to have departments or anything like that. I want to see people step up at different times to try different things. The fresh approach is healthy- it keeps things vibrant and new. More importantly it stops the conflicts and resentment which can fester in the old ‘block’ style leadership. It creates a real atmosphere of anticipation. Each person can see and understand that they do have something to offer in the advancement of His Kingdom.

I love it when the others ‘out lead’ me.

In releasing people to do things they have not done before it’s easy to identify those who have a lot more capabilities than me. I hope and pray I never squash or get in the way of their leadership. I suspect one of the reasons I’ve seen these people out lead me is because now I am far more interested in simply walking in life with them, alongside of them, not out in front of them. I’ve had more opportunities to observe their qualities now that I’m not overly preoccupied by my own position and responsibilities and my own preconceived ideas of skills and gifting.

I no longer see my future is leading countless people towards God, but rather in being faithful to those He chooses to bring across my path – however many that may be. It’s a subtle difference, but a very important one. I now see the value in being faithful in the small things, perhaps for the first time. I’ve always known this was important, but now I really see it, if you know what I mean.

Of course there is also Biblical proof for being faithful in the smaller things before God will grant you bigger things….But in my mind the essence of the teaching from those portions of scripture is for me not to focus on the future BIG things but simply to be faithful to what God gives me now. Embrace each opportunity as it comes, live in the now and not in the not yet. That’s not to say I don’t have future dreams and plans. But it’s a big wake up call to me to be aware of what God has for us right now!

Another thing that is becoming clearer to me: leadership now means more living the life than talking about it. Gone are the days of talking and teaching about evangelism more than actually living an evangelistic life. Practically, that means I spend less time preparing sermons and less time with Christians in situations and circumstances where evangelism is not taking place. In changing this focus, I think I actually spend more time with Christians now, but it’s nearly always in the company of someone who is outside the real experience of the church.

Clearly it’s been a time of focus more on the practical things at the expense of the typical things like preaching and teaching within an environment isolated from the “world”.

There is a drawback to this change in leadership style. I am feeling increasingly distant from my previous band of brothers within the denominational ministers of my state. I do feel sad about this, because I had always wanted to be part of this wider family. But the reality is unless someone from the minister’s fraternal goes to the trouble of reaching out to me, I just don’t have the time to reach out to them, particularly with the ever increasing gap which drives our vision and values, communication and leadership understanding.

Another ‘concept of time’ experience is simply that… the concept of time itself, or lack thereof. My wife and I work a combined total of 6 days a week at The Pines – a centre training team leaders and workers in evangelism and disciple-making which leads to church multiplication. This does cause tension but not for the reason you may expect. The main tension is that working for such a place is very much a ministry -a ministry which is vital, a ministry which demands more attention than I can allocate to it! Where and when do I say ‘enough’… it is time now to switch off from the Pines and focus on the church plant. If I don’t force myself to do it I can easily become consumed with the ministry of the Pines.

And just like every other church planter who has to work another job to pay the bills…where do you find the energy to do and be all that extra stuff that church planting seems to demand? Where do you find the time to prepare for youth group (something you haven’t done for many years)? Where do you find the time to go out with your neighbours? Where do you find the time and energy to go to a prayer meeting? Or in my case this weekend a baptism, two birthday parties, a Thai restaurant dinner event put on by a friend of a friend who does not know yet know Jesus? 

And simultaneously, how can I keep my kids from seeing all of these things as something which must be done, but rather see them as something that is a privilege and joy to do and experience?

The concept of lack of time raises the greater issue of resources. What do you seriously think you can offer in the terms of resources? In my case… it certainly isn’t money, it certainly isn’t time, it certainly isn’t manpower, and it certainly isn’t a well prepared and professional presentation every Sunday.

Those who have started the church planting journey alongside us have experienced a dramatic removal of resources – personally and corporately. At times the only thing we have to offer is simply our determination to follow Him, our dedication to His cause. But at times that has worn thin. When you have to choose between credit card payments and the car rego you certainly don’t feel as though you have much to offer, there doesn’t seem much else you can give to Him. He seems to have taken it all.

I know that sounds overdramatic and a bit theatrical, because of course we have such things as our health… mmm… by the way since starting church planting I have started treatment for cancer, suffered from kidney stones and also had pneumonia… well at least we have our family right? Some church planters have lost children at the altar of church planting. There is real danger in thinking like this. Because if we do our best to look for the good or the things we still have, what do we say if God chooses to take these things from us?

It’s as though we’re looking for reasons to follow and love God, and we’re looking for those reasons in everything… but we fail to look at the thing which really should draw us to Him, the thing which should cause us to continue giving everything, the thing which actually gives us everything, everything that is really valuable – the Gospel. While we were still sinners He loved us.

I do my best now not to look at the resources which we might have, or in most cases don’t have.  My aim is to simply trust in God who loved and loves me still even when I was dead in my sin, even when I have nothing to offer Him. I need to keep in my mind the resources I have are nothing, my only hope is simply in Him. If we do something and it doesn’t seem to fly it won’t be from lack of trying, it will be simply because God didn’t make it happen for us. It might simply mean we got it wrong. It might mean we just keep on trying because God has something else He wants to show us. Either way, if I trust Him and not the circumstances I find myself in then I am the winner in the end. Even if winning means I lose everything. I am still the winner!

Well that is it from me for today… I will be back asap with more of the unexplainables of church planting!

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