In 2002 Chris Boardman sat down in the canteen of the Manchester Velodrome with the British Cycling Head Endurance Coach Simon Jones and a talented but frustrated cyclist on the brink of throwing in the towel. His name was Bradley Wiggins.
Chris Boardman was someone who’d done it before. To steal a cricketing metaphor, he had runs on the board. He was an Olympic champion and a two time wearer of the Tour de France Yellow Jersey. The idea was that Wiggins might be willing to listen to someone who’d known success.
In that canteen Boardman simply asked Wiggins three questions.
1. What do you want to achieve?
2. What do you think that requires?
3. How does what you’re planning get you those things?
Those are three great questions. It won’t surprise many to learn that as I read Boardman’s autobiography over the Christmas period, my arm instinctively reached for the notebook and pen. These questions are not entirely unfamiliar to those of us in the Antioch Plan, at least in broad outline. They’re scratching at the issues of vision, strategy and tactics. I’ve already warned the Antioch Planters that I may be quoting liberally from this book in the coming term. The man who was the vanguard of Britain’s cycling revolution may unwittingly be contributing to the coaching of our church planters!
But think briefly about those three questions for a moment in the context of church growth.
What do you want to achieve? I imagine the answer of our planters will be a variation on something like this, ‘I want to see the establishment of a flourishing church plant that’s heading towards sustainability as people hear the gospel, place their trust in Christ, grow in their knowledge and understanding of God’s word and use their ability, opportunity and capacity to bring about the growth of his kingdom in our local context’. Their version of that answer will be better.
What do you think that requires? Again, I imagine they’ll answer something like this, ‘It’ll take servant leadership from me and other leaders and it’ll require sacrificial participation from everyone in the church plant. Everyone will need to be involved in reaching our neighbours with the gospel, providing a church family for them to belong and training one another so that we grow in our biblical convictions, our godly character and our ministry competency’.
How does what you’re planning get you those things? If what they’re planning is an aggressive door knocking strategy, and by that I don’t mean door knocking in an aggressive manner (one would assume that would be counter-productive) but instead a determined and insistent approach to making sure that everyone in your neighbourhood has the opportunity to know of your church plant’s existence and pursue any line of spiritual enquiry that they might have, then they need to be able to examine the wisdom of said tactic especially as it comes under sceptical scrutiny from those they’re trying to persuade them in such a venture! For the record, I think it’s hard to think of reasons why our planters wouldn’t do this. It’s a good tactic, though not without potential cost.
As you’ll no doubt know, Wiggins went on to notable success, even if his efforts on the road are currently under some suspicion since they were accomplished with the addition of permissible but lamentable medical assistance. For those who are not following the story, Wiggins applied for and received a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) that allowed him to receive medication for a pre-existing medical issue. That medication also probably helped him go further and faster. For my money that’s the kind of thing that Paul has in mind in 2 Timothy 2 when he talks about the athlete receiving the victor’s crown competing according to the rules. Wiggins may have received a crown but only he knows whether he really competed according to the rules. But what’s more interesting to me than Bradley’s dodgoire TUE is that at that moment in 2002 in a canteen in Manchester, he didn’t quit. The conversation and the probing questions kept him in the game.
In the book Boardman reflected on that exchange and Wiggins’ subsequent response. The initial answers he gave were vague and unconvincing. And so Boardman sent him away and told him to e-mail him a plan once he’d thought it through. Wiggins did that a week later. But what convinced Boardman that Wiggins was now serious were his responses when pressed. Boardman writes, ‘I wasn’t directly critical, never said what was right and wrong, but I did drill down into his reasoning, asking him to explain what made him believe each particular step of his plan would work. What were his beliefs based on? How would he measure progress? Where he waffled and evaded I demanded evidence and clarity’. You might imagine that Boardman would make a persistent but productive church planting coach. But if you were planting a church you’d be glad of that kind of input, wouldn’t you? If you could survive that type of questioning you’d be certain that you were on the right path. That only leaves doing what you’ve planned to concentrate on!
It seems to me, to plan for success, our church planters and church pastors need to be willing to put our church growth plans under the same degree of scrutiny. We’ve got to have answers to those questions. God may give growth irrespective of how well we’re thought through. But it’ll be accidental. And we’ll take that, of course! But how much better to be deliberate? And plan. After all, are we not encouraged to anticipate that the Lord will work through means rather than despite them?