Wednesday was church planting consultation day. It comes around six months or so. The Senior Pastor of Dundonald and the Director of Co-Mission, Richard Coekin, chairs a gathering of likeminded friends from around the country in the Factory. They come to talk about the nuts and bolts of launching and running small congregations. It’s an informal gathering, it takes up most of the day and it’s hugely stimulating. It grew out of Richard’s inability to deal properly with the increasing number of requests for a chat about church planting. These were filling up his inbox and clogging up his answer machine. So he convened a day to kick around some of the common issues that many of us seem to face. It went down well. It’s been well receieved. People keep coming back and each time there are newcomers to the group.
Strangely I’m often in two minds about whether to go or not. It takes up the lion’s share of the day and Wednesday night is Ministry Matters. I always need to prepare so that I’m on my game! The topics we tackle there aren’t straight forward. I can’t blag. And they can be a feisty lot. And they have high standards! I ’forced’ myself to think about the value of the consultations and, to my mind, whether I go or not has become a ’no-brainer’. Here are the six reasons why.
1. It’s eminently practical
People submit their questions beforehand or throw them in on the day. And that sets the agenda, so there‘s always a fresh feel to the discussion. Richard has a stab at answering them and that usually generates supplementary questions. He does the vast majority of the talking. And so although the word ‘consultation’ has a certain semantic nuance, we’ve limited it! It’s consultative in the sense that we ask Richard’s view on things and he gives an answer. It’s interactive in the sense that people interrupt Richard when he draws breath and he stops talking for a moment! And that’s OK. It’s why people have come. Occasionally and very generously he asks for my wisdom but people haven’t come for that! And every now and again there’s a quip to be made, which is something I rarely pass up. Typically the range of questions is very broad so we end up talking about all sorts of things. For example, on Wednesday we talked about how to raise money to finance a church plant, we thought about how to persuade a school to let a church hire a building, what thought about what to look for in a second staff member amongt other things. It’s the kind of ministry issues specifics that you simply don’t get at most other ministry conferences. Let’s be honest, there’s no point in flying Tim Keller or Mark Driscoll over from the states to ask them where you should run an evening church in Balham or start a lunchtime ministry in Bradford. Our focus is at the ministry practice end of things. We‘re dealing in tactics not the big picture strategic stuff.
2. It’s brutally honest
Richard doesn’t pull any punches. Phrases like ‘you’re not the man to lead it’ are occasionally heard. He doesn’t beat around the bush but gets to the heart of the issue pretty quickly. But he says what needs to be said. Often he manages to say things with sensitivity and he’s savyy about the delicate issues. But he says what needs to be said. And people appreciate that. They haven’t come to have their egos massaged. They’ve come because they want some answers and they’re concerned about the growth of the kingdom and want to know the best way to grow it. I’ve not been in the firing line and so I’ve been happy with the level of honest assessment. It might be different if I was being told what was wrong with my well conceived plan. But for the sake of the kingdom, the churches we lead and the effectiveness of our ministry we just need to get over it. And they have.
3. It’s accumulated wisdom
People come because they want to download what Richard has learnt over fifteen years of church planting. He’s a few steps ahead of most of us. He came to run an established church plant, Dundonald Church, twenty years ago. He planted an evening church in 1996 and he’s been planting ever since. Under God and with the sacrificial support of key elders, he’s established a network of church plants. In the past five years or so we’ve been able to plant at about a rate of two churches a year. He’s made some mistakes that I can think of, though not many. And he’d admit to fewer! He always seems to forget that momentous decision in November 1996, when the evening church plant was about a dozen strong to tackle the book of Ezekiel in four 50 minutes long sermons. Genius! You won’t find that in most church planting manuals! But overwhelmingly there’s credibility to his comments and wisdom. He hates being the centre of attention. Genuinely. But he knows that it’s useful because that’s what people keep telling him.
4. It’s unavoidably contextual
This is where I get most frustrated. Although he’s been involved in leading a handful of church plants and he’s initiated several others, he’s unavoidably bound by his own ministry context. He often reverts to type. And that’s Wimbledon. Not everywhere is like Wimbledon. And church planting in Balham, Bristol or Bradford isn’t the same as church planting in Wimbledon. And he sometimes forgets that. I’m not saying that Wimbledon is an easier place to plant a church. But I am saying that it’s a different place to plant a church. And though the principles for planting may well be the same, how those principles are applied in a specific location will need to vary. That became acutely obvious when we started talking finance. You could see the Free Church boys from the north wide eyed at the sums of money we’ve been able to raise to support the church planting initiatives in south London.
5. It’s inevitably opinionated
That goes with the territory. It’s inevitable. We’re not dealing in the realm of right or wrong where we can measure our convictions against the Bible’s teaching. We’re in the realm of wise or unwise. And so the kinds of things that we discuss come down to judgment calls. And so there’s scope for disagreement. We might take issue with Richard’s analysis, and that’s OK. But rarely. What he says is so often sensible. And that’s why people come. If they could stay on their own and bat it around with their own elders and staff team then they wouldn’t travel to London, but they do.
6. It’s hugely encouraging.
We feel like a band of brothers. We’re all on the same team; we’re conservative evangelicals and we’re all trying to do the same thing; lead recent church plants. There‘s camaraderie that comes from sharing the same issues, facing the same challenges and knowing the same experience. There’s no testosterone, which is nice. I don’t pick up any sense of competitiveness. That might be different if we were all planting in each other’s areas. But we’re not. There’s a wide geographical spread to our locations. And so we’re all just trying to do what we’re doing better, more effectively. It’s been hugely encouraging. I never fail to learn something. Richard asked my why I take notes and scribble throughout the sessions. It keeps me engaged and it stimulates my thought processes. Invariable I end up doing things at CCB differently as a result of these sessions. And that’s a good thing.