Three Benefits of our Co-Mission Network

ccmI was at Christ Church Mayfair on Sunday morning for Co-Mission Sunday (that’s not yet a regular feature in the Church of England’s liturgical calendar, but give it time). Before he got me up to preach, Matt Fuller got me up to be interviewed. I hate thinking on my feet almost as much as I hate realising afterwards what I should have said. And so Matt warned me what he was going to ask, which gave me a few moments to formulate a useful answer. He asked me what the benefits of belonging to a network of churches were.

That’s a bit like asking what are the benefits of belonging to a family. It all depends on your experience of family. And for the record (in case my Mother ever reads this) my experience of my actual family has been uniformly wonderful. And in case the Director of Co-Mission ever reads this, my experience of my metaphorical family has been similarly positive.

But I think the family metaphor works. I like it that we’re (CCB) a part of a family of churches; a network of like-minded congregations trying to help one another do the same thing. For my money there are three obvious benefits that we’ve experienced in the last 14 years.

1. Co-Mission has provided us with a network of relationships. In my wider family I have aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces and so on. It’s good for me to have so many different people in my life like that. It’s relationally rich.  But there are a lot of lonely Ministers out there and a lot of isolated churches. But that’s never been true of me or CCB. We’ve always belonged, partly because we were the first plant from Dundonald in 2002 and they looked after us. But that’s what happens in families. Those of us on the staff and the ministry trainees experience the relational aspect perhaps more than most because we’re involved in training together with others in Co-Mission. Those relationships are so helpful in terms of personal support, ministry encouragement and godly challenge. And the elders of our churches are part of the Co-Mission Partnership and we meet together several times throughout the year as we reflect on and prepare for our joint ministry activity. And wonderfully because of things like Revive, or the forthcoming Co-Mission Women’s Day or Children’s Ministry training there are ample opportunities for congregational members to support one another in other churches. It’s been our great privilege to receive people over the years from other Co-Mission congregations who know what they’re going to get with us and want to remain part of the Co-Mission family. And we’ve been able to send people off to other Co-Mission churches to serve there. And the odds are that they already know people when they get there. It’s so encouraging to be part of a family of churches.

2. Co-Mission has provided us with a wealth of resources. When we were planted we were like the typical teenage kid going off to university or married couple starting out together. We were sent with our hands full of everything that we might need for those early days. We had people, we had finance and we had training and support. There’s no way that we could have got going on our own. It just wouldn’t have happened because we didn’t have what we needed on our own. But wonderfully we didn’t need to have it all because others in the wider Co-Mission family (not that it was called that then because it didn’t formally come into existence till 2005) wanted to be generous and share their resources to help get us off the ground. We continue to share the resources God has entrusted to us. New church plants benefit from people sent from other churches. Money moves from one church account into another in order to finance a worker or two in an economically deprived area. And we share training because there’s diversity of gospel ministers in Co-Mission; men and women with different expertise and experience. And at things like the Ministry Training Workshop everyone benefits. We’ve tried to be intentional about resource rich congregations supporting resource poor congregations, especially in the early days of planting and especially if (humanly speaking) there’s likelihood of some of those ministries ever being self-sufficient. That tends to happen through local geographical clusters. And it’s a good thing to be generous and sacrificial as we steward the resources that God has entrusted to us.

3. Co-Mission has provided us with a reminder of our responsibilities. The issues of training people for ministry, reaching the lost with the gospel and planting churches are rarely off the agenda in this family of churches. It’s really helpful to be reminded of our responsibilities as churches. When teenagers grow up they have to accept that with great privilege comes great responsibility. I’m not sure we would have planted Streatham Central, contemplated training up Jay as a church planter and encouraged BLoC to hibernate with us without being part of a family that regularly reminded one another that we’re trying to reach London for Christ through pioneering church planting. There’s a great danger in our personal lives to strive for, succeed and then settle for comfort. And that’s no different in our churches. But being part of a church family where we’re often talking about planting, about places without a gospel witness and about areas of London that aren’t being reached means that there’s a godly dissatisfaction that drives us on. We’re not happy to settle for comfort because even if we’re going well in our patch, 90% of London doesn’t believe the gospel. That’s a lot of people. And so, even if any of us runs a numerically successful ministry, we’re barely scratching the surface in this great city. Theer’s work to be done. And we have responsibilities. I love being part of a network that keeps reminding us of that.

Co-Mission isn’t the best family. I’m not saying that. But it’s ours. And I’m really grateful for it. It’s helped us be church. And it’s helped me serve church. There are real benefits to our network. And I praise God for it.

My Sunday Highlight – Before it’s Happened!

StreathamAll things being equal (ceteris paribus if my A Level Economic memory hasn’t failed me in the same way that it did in the actual exam), I already know what my Sunday highlight will be this week. The Lord willing. Somewhat unexpectedly, it has to do with Streatham. Now what were the odds of that?! But we’ll come to that in due course. First, an extended metaphor …

Last weekend Rosslyn, the kids and I were away with old university friends in Birmingham. It was a great time with great mates. Since we were so near, I decided that on the way back home we’d stop in and have a look at the place where the gang of us had met, mucked around and matured. And studied. We couldn’t have picked a worse day to visit the University of Warwick. Hundreds of parents in cars rammed to the gunwales with duvets, kettles and their kids’ favourite posters were dropping their offspring at their new residences. I’m not sure who was most anxious; the parents or their sons and daughters. No doubt the event was marked with the obligatory picture on Facebook. And one would imagine that the previous evening meals had been shared and words said to mark and celebrate the passing of a child into independence. Significant moments for a family.

On Sunday at CCB, we’re going to commission Streatham Central Church. Whilst the parallels aren’t exact (I’m not planning to drive Alex Lyell the Church Planter to his new digs, I haven’t given him a fully charged mobile phone to call me when he gets into trouble and I haven’t sat him down for a long talk about the perils of peer pressure and the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption), there are nevertheless similarities. This church plant, conceived within the loins of Christ Church Balham (now there’s an image to play with) is about to enjoy their independence. No longer will the plant be just an idea; a hope for the future. It’s about to become a reality. And we thought we should mark that in an appropriate manner.  Not this time with a celebratory meal at Pizza Express (though I did suggest this) but by commissioning those that are going and appointing Jon Stidwill as co-elder. And then on Sunday evening we’ll interview Alex about the plant so that we can pray for this work in its earliest days.

We’ve asked the whole church family to join us. This is a family celebration, even for the newest members at CCB. We want Streatham Central to know that they go with our encouragement, our support and our tears. This is a significant moment for our church family. I’ll let you know how it goes.

BLoC – The Brixton Update

Kevin Ahronson Photography -218How’s Brixton going? It’s a great question and I get it from people who are genuinely interested in what Jay, Felix and the team are doing in the capital of black Britain. Jay’s too busy being a model husband, father, student and pastor to have time to keep us up to speed of all the exciting developments. And so, given that others’ expectation of my performance in those areas is much lower, I decided I’d do it for him.

The Brixton Plant has recently decided on its’ own name – BLoC – Brixton Local Church. I caught up with Jay to ask him how things were progressing on the block. Who says I’m not totally at ease with street culture!

This is an interview that I did recently for the Co-Mission Gospel Patrons’ Newsletter about his involvement in the Proclamation Trust’s Cornhill Training Course.

Me: Jay what’s been happening in Brixton since the last Patrons’ Newsletter?

Jay Marriner: God’s being very kind to us.  It’s certainly tough and at times it can be discouraging.  However, thankfully God’s still passionately into the business of changing lives, which means He’s grown our work.  It’s great news and good to be a part of. The Bible study on a Monday night is still going well.  There are around eleven us who meet faithfully.  It’s only a small flat and we cram into it.  But it’s worth it because Jesus rocks up every week.  We’re coming to the end of Ephesians.  It’s been a perfect book for us as a group. People are really growing in the gospel.  It’s been good to see God’s grace lead people to make significant changes in their lives. We started a second group but sadly it didn’t take off.  It became clear that there was a need for more 1-2-1, relational Bible reading first before we formed another group. However, thankfully that’s a possibility that’s just on the horizon.  God’s also been gracious in allowing us to work with a number of black boys in Brixton.  We’ve put a mentoring project into a local secondary School. We’re hoping that this will enable me to work with a number of families in Brixton. Alongside that I’m meeting people to read the Bible 1-2-1 and still making contacts.  It’s great that God is growing His work.

Me: So what exactly is Cornhill and why are you doing it?

JM: Cornhill is a training course with the primary aim of training preachers.  It’s great! And I mean that!  I’m doing it because it’s helping me to get a better handle on the Bible.   I’m learning about Bible books, theology, doctrine, ethics and we have some great guest speakers.  I’m learning lots. I’m doing it because I want to be equipped for ministry in Brixton and I’m confident that Cornhill can help me to do that.

Me: And why is what you’re learning at Cornhill so important for what you’re trying to do (God-willing) in Brixton?

JM: Cornhill is important because it’s all about the proclamation of God’s word so that sinners might be saved from hell. It equips you to do that. Especially in planting into Brixton because a central part of our gospel strategy is small group work.  That means 1-2-1 reading and Bible studies. Cornhill is great in helping me better understand the Bible. Also it’s helping me to be a better preacher. The preaching groups provide a place to train and provide insightful feedback.  This, combined with all the other things that you learn at Cornhill, makes it so helpful in planting.

Me: So is your training helping you as you seek to plant a church in Brixton?

JM: My training is really helping me as a plant into Brixton because I’ve got a better grasp of God’s word. And, as a result of a year’s training, I’m better at handling God’s word. It’s been great to open up the Bible with confidence. It’s also been good to apply doctrine, Christian counselling, a theology of prayer and so on to Church planting into Brixton.  I have to say that Cornhill has been a massive help in planting into an urban area like Brixton.  And I’m not sure that I’d have recognised that beforehand.

Me: You wouldn’t strike most people as a typical Cornhill-er. Is that true? Or fair?

JM: Nope, I’m not a typical Cornhillite. But it’s good. It’s good to train with people who are not like me.  It stretches me!  Cornhill comes completely from a different cultural world than me.  But that’s ok. Given what you learn it’s worth it! And, to be honest, there are some great people on the course. You’re right, I’m not the typical Cornhillite but I certainly feel at home. I must say that I’m aware that none of this would be possible without the kind support of Co-Mission and the Gospel Patrons.  They’re great and God is using them to grow a work.  Their financial support has enabled plant into Brixton but also my training. As a family, we’re really grateful for that. We praise God for the Patrons.

Jay is coming to the end of his first year on Cornhill. And I think it would be fair to say that not only has Cornhill improved Jay but he’d have you believe that it’s true vice versa! He, Julie and the kids are trying to move into the Brixton area and Affordable Christian Housing together with Co-Mission Gospel Patrons are working together to answer our prayers. It’s been a good year and we’re so grateful to God for the progress we’ve seen.

My Sunday Highlight – Commissioning the Antioch Planters

antioch commissioningAs 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.

Church Planting Conference

415734Just spoken to a mate who’s involved in church planting in Oxford. I invited him to ‘Planting for Christ’. Despite being an old Co-Mission boy, he didn’t know anything about it. To be fair, he’s been in the States for the last few years. And so I thought it’s probably worth a quick post so that people are aware it’s happening.

In my view this is a conference worth attending. Not all of them are. Don’t make me name names. As conferences go for usefulness, it’s up there with the administrators’ conference. It’s church planting specific. And its distinctive is the desire to be practical. That’ll probably be no more in evidence than in Richard Coekin’s seminar, which is an unplugged Q&A clinic. It’s entitled ‘Get going … in planning your plan’. Basically Richard will respond to  questions posed by delegates on church planting specifics. I can’t imagine that it’ll be recorded. It probably shouldn’t be because it won’t be characterised by nuanc; few things he says will die the death of a thousand qualifications. He won’t always be right. Irritatingly for those of us who work closely with him, he often is. But even when he’s not, he’s hugely stimulating and encouraging. That hour-long session is probably worth the admittance price alone.

Then there are two plenary sessions. I’m speaking on ‘What constitutes ‘success’ in planting?’ Because I’m so familiar with it, obviously! And Andy Patterson, the FIEC Yoda of Church Planting, will be looking at the issue of sustainable sacrifice in ministry. That’s a burning question amongst planters who feel like we’re involved in the spiritual equivalent of starting up our own business. You’re not. And you tell yourself you’re not. But you still think it.

The seminars before lunch are entitled ‘Get Going’. They’re to do with starting up plants. Reuben Hunter will reflect on his experience in planting Trinity West in Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush, in the seminar ‘Get going … in a big city’. Pete Woodcock, from Cornerstone Kingston together with Simon Martin from King’s Church Walton on Thames will talk about church planting in the suburbs. And Jason Roach of the Bridge Battersea and Graham Miller the Director of London City Mission will talk about getting going in a UPA.

After lunch the seminars are entitled ‘Keep Going’ and they’re to do with maintaining spiritual health. Andrew Nicholls, now on the staff at Dundonald as the Biblical Counselling guru, will deal with our marriages and the stresses placed on them by the demands of church planting. Jeremy Hobson, who’s led the St Helen’s Church Plant, Trinity Islington for the past few years, will talk about maintaining our own spiritual disciplines and devotion for the Lord Jesus Christ. Neil Powell will talk about keeping going despite the financial pressures. Neil is involved with Birmingham 2020, a church planting initiative in the country’s second city. He’s also the senior pastor of City Church. Andy Mason, who runs a ministry on a large UPA estate off the King’s Church, St John’s Chelsea will talk about perservering through the inevitable disappointments of gospel ministry.

I’m a big fan of this conference. I don’t think you need to be involved in church planting to find it useful. But the particular demands of church planting bring the issues that all of us in full-time gospel ministry face into sharp focus, perhaps with an increased intensity. You can find details of the conference here. It’s held at the Factory in Raynes Park (a suburb of  Wimbledon). And at £15 it’s a bargain.


A Capital Idea – Antioch

Antioch PlanNice piece in this month’s Evangelicals Now. Good to get some coverage. And what with Noah’s release it was hardly a slow news month. Front page was a bonus. I was expecting the piece to be tucked away on the inside pages sandwiched between an advert for the Protestant Truth Society and a book review for the latest book bewailing the theological liberalism of those that don’t hold to a six day literal interpretation of Genesis 1.

It’s a well crafted piece of journalism, in my honest opinion. OK, so I wrote it. What’s especially brilliant is the bit where I quote myself! In my defence, I’d been asked to write up something for EN. I spoke with the administrator who just happens to be an old school friend and he gave me some hints and told me to send something in from which they could work. I hadn’t realised it was actually going to be attributed to me! If I’d known I wouldn’t have quoted myself!

Here’s the piece in full.

The Antioch Plan is a new church planting initiative for London.

It’s been launched by Co-Mission, the cross-denominational church planting network run by Richard Coekin. This exciting development is an attempt to gather and plant ‘house church’-sized congregations across the wide variety of Greater London’s geography. Their objective is to recruit, train and deploy a cohort of ten to 15 pioneer church planters and fund them over a three-year period. And they’ve been given £1 million to finance it.

Anglican and Free Church

Recruitment has begun already. A wide variety of men from both Anglican and Free Church backgrounds have responded to promotional materials in the Christian press. The first in a series of selection interviews with the Antioch Board has already taken place. Four men have been approved for the scheme and they’ll commence in September 2014. The second round of selection interviews is due to take place later this month.

The diversity of candidates represents Co-Mission’s determination to plant in the different communities across London. Two of the recently appointed planters are Tom Sweatman and Mike Reith. Tom is 25 years old and he has recently completed a ministry apprenticeship at Cornerstone Church in Kingston. He is planning a house church plant on the other side of the Thames in the suburb of Hampton.

Mike is approaching his retirement. He has spent the last 20 years as the senior minister at Dagenham Parish Church. Concerned by the lack of gospel-preaching churches near his home, he wants to do something bold for the thousands who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ. His plan is to plant in an ethnically mixed and deprived area of East London. These two planters and these two locations demonstrate the Co-Mission’s intention to resource a diverse range of new church plants.

Oak Hill and LTS

September’s cohort of pioneer church planters will have access to a training programme running alongside the already wellestablished Co-Mission apprenticeship training scheme. Lectures in theology will be provided at a Wednesday workshop by staff from Oak Hill and London Theological Seminary. Ministry training and Bible handling will be taught by senior Co-Mission ministers. The specific church planting training will be given by a variety of experienced church planters, many coming from the country’s gospel partnerships. In addition to a formal training programme, each planter will be encouraged to partner with an existing Co-Mission church, perhaps even recruiting a launch team from that church family. They will be encouraged to join a local cluster of Co-Mission churches to benefit from the wisdom and resources of existing churches. An Antioch church planting mentor will provide advice and support throughout the three-year launch period.

Over the past few years, Co-Mission has gained experience of planting both with individuals and small teams looking to grow house church plants. Two plants in particular have trialled the ideas that underpin the approach of Antioch.

From Putney to Brixton

The Boathouse Putney is a church plant into familiar territory for Co-Mission. But the way they did it was anything but familiar. Pete Snow and his wife moved into the area in 2010. Over an 18-month period they gathered a Bible study group and ranChristianity Explored courses for unbelievers. They launched a Sunday meeting in November 2012 with 25 people. They’ve recently appointed their first experienced pastor so that Pete can move to theological college to study.

Jay Marriner has spent the last two years training as a church planting apprentice at Christ Church Balham. During that time he has been trying to establish a reformed evangelical gospel work amongst the black community in the heart of Brixton. He has seen the Lord gather two Bible study groups, had contact with a large number of local residents and launched a mentoring scheme amongst teenagers at a local secondary school. He is currently studying at the Cornhill training course while he gears up for the imminent launch of a regular Sunday meeting.

Significant moment

Speaking to EN, the recently appointed director of Antioch and senior minister at Christ Church Balham, Richard Perkins, said: ‘It was a hugely significant moment in God’s plan of salvation when the first Christian believers at Antioch intentionally reached into a very different social context from their own. Antioch subsequently became the base for cross-cultural mission to the world. We’ve boldly called our church planting strategy after the church in Acts 11. Wouldn’t it be great if, as a result of these new fledgling church plants, a great number of people believe and turn to the Lord?’.

Still spaces

At the time of going to press, the Antioch Plan still had vacancies for its first cohort of pioneering planters.

If you wanted more details on Antioch, you can find them here.