As recently as February (on our annual Senior Staff Focus) I reckon that if you’d pushed the Co-Mission church pastors, almost all would have expressed their doubt that we’d have a full cohort of planters for the proposed launch of the Antioch Plan this September. I was one of them. I shared their doubt. And that’s a tad embarrassing since I was being teed up as the Director/Mentor. We had not, at that point, been inundated with applications. But on Sunday morning we introduced, prayed for and commissioned our first cohort of Antioch church planters. Starting this autumn, fourteen men will spend the next three years trying to launch and grow churches in various locations across London. Praise God.
On Sunday morning at Revive (the Co-Mission Bible Festival Weekend), the Director of Co-Mission, Richard Coekin commented that three things stood out amongst the cohort that the Lord has raised up.
1. The variety of the planters. In the best possible sense, they really are a mixed bag! We didn’t think it would be like this. We thought we’d try to recruit young university educated men with lots of ability but a godly impatience and an entrepreneurial zeal to take risks for the gospel. I guess we were after the type of guys that Collin Hansen describes as ‘young, restless and reformed’. There may be more of them in the States than over here. Perhaps it’s true that Brits tend to prefer joining institutions than being individualistic. Perhaps that’s why so many of us travel down the more conventional ministry routes. And that’s OK. But what it’s meant is that the guys the Lord has given us are much more varied than we were anticipating. There’s a wide range of ministry experience, of age and of background. We have a man in his sixtieth year and one just out of university. Some of the guys are married, some have families and some are still single. We have one who’s had thirteen years of experience as a missionary in Vietnam. One has been an incumbent at an Anglican Church on the south coast for eight years. One has never had a proper job! One grew up on an estate. I’m not talking council, I’m talking family! It’s not a cohort marked by similarity other than their apparent desire and appetite to serve the gospel, love people and exalt Christ. And that’s the best type of similarity.
2. The diversity of the contexts. The churches that these men are looking to grow are trying to reach into the rich diversity of London’s communities. For example, they’re attempting to plant churches amongst Bangladeshis in East London, the South American immigrant community who meet in Central London, the Korean community in West London as well as the young professionals who will gather up in town and the families who opt for the space on offer in the suburbs of Greater London in places like Teddington or Kew. In God’s wisdom, He’s raised up a group of people who will plant churches that will begin to reach the diverse population in this great city. And that’s good. As a network of churches, we used to be accused of only planting white middle class churches. I’m not sure that was ever really fair because we’d always said that we wanted to plant lots of churches to reach across the socio-economic as well as ethnic spectrum in London. God willing, this is just the beginning for Co-Mission. But perhaps we’re beginning to make progress. After all, one of the noticeable things about Revive this year was the variety of skin colours on show. And I’m not just referring to the sunburn of the white boys who forgot to put on their suncream!
3. The quality of the cohort. The Lord has given us some very gifted and capable ministers. Not all of them have had theological education. Many have, but by no means all. And some of them may never undergo formal theological education. But their ministry skills, their theological knowledge and their management acumen are not in doubt. Most of them could have opted for a different type of job; perhaps joining sizeable staff teams in larger churches, or applying to be the Senior Minister at establishment churches or going off to Theological College and being employed by one the great churches in the FIEC. But they’re made of different stuff. There’s something about them and their convictions that means they want to take risks for the gospel. And perhaps with Co-Mission they can. Maybe we can provide them with ‘the blue sky above and the safety net below’. They’re pioneers and they want the freedom to do their thing without restrictions and limitations. But they also want the support, encouragement and friends that this kind of ministry needs.
So, in answer to our prayers, from this September I’ll have fourteen men gathering on a Wednesday afternoon for Church Planter Training. Fourteen restless, pioneering entrepreneurial chiefs in one room. It’s going to be mayhem. Trying to organise this lot will be like herding cats. But it’s going to be exciting. And we’re very grateful to God for making it happen.