The Antioch Plan wasn’t even a glint in Richard Coekin’s eye when the possibility of planting in Brixton was floated. Richard is the Director of Co-Mission and is commonly acknowledged to be the ‘ideas man’! And yet, despite Brixton coming a couple of years before Antioch, it exemplifies exactly what we’re trying to do with our pioneering church planting strategy. So what happened?
To begin with, we took Jay Marriner on as a church planting apprentice because he was willing and so were we. It was a match made in heaven. Jay had wanted to be involved in urban church planting for a while but hadn’t found a place from which to do it. And we’d wanted to be involved in planting into a different socio-economic and ethnic groups from that with which we were most associated. I guess that most people assume that Co-Mission is essentially white middle class. We wanted to be intentional about broadening out from our roots. And the ‘we’ in all this is Co-Mission. Not me. And not Christ Church Balham. Or not only us. We’d never really thought about the distinct community down the hill on the A23. It hadn’t even crossed our minds that we could be involved in trying to plant a Reformed Evangelical Church in the middle of the capital of black Britain. But then again, until 2011 we hadn’t met Jay!
Call it godly opportunism if you want but Richard saw the potential. And a couple of conversations later Jay was all but signed up on our Apprenticeship Scheme. Whatever questions we may have about the thoroughness of the selection process, it can’t be denied that in God’s goodness He has blessed this happiest of unions. All apprentices need a placement church and a training mentor. So where better to train for urban church planting in a black context than with me in Balham! And yet, it’s worked. And the benefit has not all been one way! I now know considerably more now about the social dynamics of Brixton than I did two years ago. But that’s not hard because I knew virtually nothing. Brixton was where I went to get the Victoria Line to town. And buy Shea Body Butter from the Body Shop. And that was about it! But by working together, Jay has been equipped for the work of pioneering church planting ministry. By character, he’s a ‘hunter-gatherer’. God has given him wonderful people skills. And he’s initiated contact with people and followed through every lead with determination. Allied to a conviction that relational Bible teaching was the way forward, he’s seen some real progress. And, under God, he’s gathered a crowd from scratch.
In our training we read good books, had informal conversations and reflected on what was happening and whether it was any good. Books like ‘The Trellis and the Vine’ were crucial for forming deep convictions about the priority of gospel ministry over strategic planning. That’s not to say that Jay hasn’t thought big hairy audacious goals and has a secret five point plan for the evangelization of the country’s Afro-Caribbean community. He has. But he’s learnt the importance of doing the honest and often slow work on the ground. We had lots of useful conversations which were frank, brutal and necessary. This was new to us both. And we had lots to thrash through.
It’s to Jay’s credit that Brixton is a couple of months shy of launching a regular Sunday gathering. Praise the Lord! Through his leadership they’ve now got two small group Bible studies up and running with a wonderful mix of lovely people of all ages. This year they’ve been joined by a placement student from Oak Hill Theological College who grew up and was educated in the local area. They’ve had productive conversations with London City Mission about how a partnership could prosper the gospel in Brixton and amongst the wider black community. And Jay’s ‘graduated’ from the Apprenticeship Scheme. I’m no longer his Obi Wan, though we can’t help but chew teh church planting cud when we meet up. He’s now studying at Cornhill part-time to hone his Bible handling skills. It’s pretty full on for him and for his family. But this is the kind of bi-vocational church planting that the Antioch Plan wants to encourage. It’s not for everyone. But it is for some.
But the point is that, the Lord willing, this is a possible, viable and sometimes desirable way of launching church plants. Brixton is not out of the woods yet. Let’s not pretend that it’s a fully functioning church. But it’s way closer than it was two years ago. Because two years ago, this little Reformed Evangelical Church didn’t exist. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in a few years time, this is just one of a handful of stories of church plants that the Lord got off the ground through the ministry of pioneer chruch planters?