No church can avoid the nobles of Tekoa

Nehemiah 3 is littered with examples of people who had social and political clout. It’s full of people for whom labouring on a building site wouldn’t be where you’d expect to find them. But they did their bit.  They played team, got involved and did what had to be done. And so the comment in (5) about the nobles from Tekoa strikes a jarring note.

The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.

They decided not to get involved. We’re not told why. They clearly resented being told what to do by their supervisors, so perhaps they thought this work was beneath them. We may be tempted to think that they were work shy aristocrats. And we may be right. But before we judge them too harshly, it’s worth asking whether there are ministries in the church that we think are beneath us. Is chair stacking really what someone with a 2:1 from Cambridge ought to be doing? Durham perhaps, but not Cambridge. I jest. I wouldn’t trust a job of such complexity to a Durham man. I jest again.

But when our church has a recruitment drive for crèche helpers aren’t we tempted to think that looking after babies is beneath someone like us? But this is a ministry that enables both parents to hear the word of God on a regular basis. It’s a ministry that contributes to the growth of the church.

But the nobles of Tekoa teach us that when building the kingdom of God we can’t rely on everyone playing ball. There’ll always be a bunch of individuals who decide to be non-compliant. But the work carried on regardless. The walls were built. And sadly, for them, they missed out on the joy of being a part of it. Presumably this will always be the case. A church is unlikely to get 100% co-operation from everyone. There’ll always be a dissenting minority, perhaps even vocal who will not join in with what everyone else is doing.

What do we learn from this? God built the walls without the co-operation of the awkward squad. Nothing is going to stand in his way of fulfilling is promise to build the Kingdom of God. Not even the non-compliance of people who think that working hard to build the church is beneath them. So crack on. Don’t let their negativity get you down. Enjoy building the church. And trust the Lord.

Ministry – It’s not good for man to be alone!

As a general rule, men in ministry shouldn’t work on their own. Isolation isn’t healthy. After all didn’t God say, ‘It’s not good for a man to be alone’. I know. I know. I’ve taken that completely out of context! But let me explain.

For much of the life of Christ Church Balham, I’ve been working on my own in a study in the family home provided by the church. And in many ways, it’s been great. But sometimes, just for my sanity, I needed to head out to work in the local library. I just wanted to see other people. During this time of working alone I developed a close friendship with the postman! And I’d look forward to a time-consuming trip up to town just to see one of the church lads for lunch. Other staff we’ve employed have had to do the same thing. Because we weren’t working in the same place, we’d meet up every week around our family kitchen table for a staff meeting. We’d arrange to meet up in a local coffee shop to catch up informally or talk through an individual issue. And there’d often be the regular meeting at the Co-Mission Ministry Training Workshop. But overwhelmingly we’d work on our own, in our own spaces.

Part of me loves that. I have a tendency towards introvertedness. It’s either that or I’ve never met anyone I enjoy spending time with quite so much as myself. In which case it’s arrogance. But there are times when I love being shut away to read, study, think, sometimes even pray and to send emails, strategize and write. At times like that, the personal interaction happens virtually. I’d occasionally pick up a phone and talk. But I always feel awkward about doing that with people who otherwise are at work. Their employers don’t pay them to talk to their church minister! In a church like ours, in which the overwhelming majority work up in town, I mainly see people at the weekend or on weekday evenings. But for huge chunks of the day, it’d be me in my study. Home alone. Not any more. Not since we got a church office. And that’s been great. It’s killed my efficiency. It’s undoubtedly harder to get stuff done with the distractions that other staff create. But it’s undoubtedly been good for me and good for the staff team.

It’s been good for me because it’s not good for a man to be alone. Ministry is fundamentally relational. And men (or women) who spend lots of time on their own aren’t preparing well for relational ministry. Gospel ministers need to be people people. And the best ones usually have strong inter-personal skills. It’s hard to develop those when the only person you spend time with is yourself. I don’t doubt that it’s especially difficult for church planters or lone pastors who can’t afford staff teams to address this. But we need to. We need the encouragement and stimulation of others. It’s not good for pastors to spend time in the company of themselves. And so it’s been no surprise to spot Pete Snow in and around the Factory in Raynes Park, even though he’s just launched a church in Putney. And it’s my intention to give Jay Marriner the opportunity to work from the Mews in Balham once Brixton gets up and running. We need one another. It’s good for encouragement, for accountability and simply for normality!

Once you’ve got a staff team, or even apprentices, it’s very hard to build a team spirit if you hardly ever meet. In the past we’ve had situations where the staff and apprentices had a professional relationship but not a personal one. That’s just odd. It ought to be the case that the staff team model Christian relationships to the congregation. The congregation ought to get an idea of how Christian men and women should treat one another from the way we relate. They ought to get an idea of how we submit to one another from the way we treat those in authority. They ought to get an idea of how to serve one another as we serve those for whom we have responsibility. But it was well nigh impossible to develop a staff team dynamic when we worked in separate locations. Before the office we wouldn’t really talk about what we did at the weekend, where we were going on holiday or what we made of the England game. We’d get together and talk strategy, people and rotas. Because we had to. It was all very efficient but not very productive. We’d misunderstand one another. We wouldn’t appreciate one another. And we wouldn’t really encourage and care for one another. That’s different now. The relaxed opportunities created when we tell our new ministry trainee, Dave to go and make the tea (!), or when we grab a bite to each at lunchtime or when we simply want to distract everyone else because we’ve come to the end of our work; those are the chances to talk nonsense and get to know one another.

It’s only since moving into office space that I’ve realised how unhealthy that working in isolation had become. It was unhealthy for us as individuals and also as a team. It would be very hard to go back to that arrangement. And so, congregational members need to look after their minister and their staff. They need to do what’s necessary to get them out of their studies. And if they have a staff team then they need to do what’s necessary to provide them with somewhere to work together. It’ll go pear-shaped if they don’t. The Minister will either go mad from working alone. Or he’ll love being alone, in which case he’ll be hopeless at personal ministry. He might be a great preacher but he’ll be useless with people. And no one profits from that.

Planting for Christ – Media

Last Wednesday was the Co-Mission ‘Planting for Christ’ Conference. It was a good day. There was a good turn out, though not as many came as did last year. Mark Driscoll must’ve been quite a pull.  The talks from the conference are now available here.

I left the day (early if truth be told – to pick up various children) hugely encouraged. I missed Al Stewart’s talk but I got Richard’s and two seminars.That was enough for me. I was hugely stimulated. The conference aims to be ‘Biblical, Missional  and Practical’. And it did it for me in each of those areas.

Richard’s talk was especially helpful in causing me to re-examine the biblical principles that underpin and inform my passion for church planting.If you only listen to one talk from the conference, this should probably be it. It was excellent. Look out for his lightning summary of some of Ed Stetzer’s comments choosing church planters. There’s real wisdom in his observations.

I came away wanting to plant another church. In that sense the conference helped me to be missional. I’m desperate to think about how we at CCB can launch another congregation to reach another area with the gospel. I don’t want to lose the recklessness of youth as I move into middle age. Wisdom tempers the arrogance of the young but old men can become worryingly conservative. I’d rather have a go and fail than wait till all the ducks are in a row and never get round to it.

Justin Mote’s and Andrew Evans’ seminar made me think about what we’re doing and how we’re trying to do it. Andrew was very gracious in answering  a barrage of questions (largely from me, I think) about the practical details of what they did, where they did it and how they did it. That’s just so helpful for practitioners!

Dex has managed to record both the main talks, as you might expect. But he’s also recorded some of the seminars.

I’m looking forward to hearing what William Taylor had to say about ‘Priorities in City Centre Plants’. I’ll be amazed if it’s not teaching the Bible! But I’ll get back to you on that. Mike Cain took a seminar on preaching that’ll be pure gold. Andy Patterson talked about congregational identity and planting networks, which is something we face within Co-Mission.

You can get the talks here.

Planting for the Gospel

This is, quite simply, the best book on church planting that I’ve ever read.

But that’s not quite as impressive an endorsement as it sounds. I’ve not read a whole load of books on church planting and those I have, I rarely complete. But because this book is only 120 pages and it’s written by someone I know, I got through to the end. Twice!

But before we go any further I need to declare an interest. Not just in church planting (that should be obvious) but in the author. Graham Beynon is a mate. And that shapes what I write. If it helps, my own inclination to ‘big him up’ and plug his book is countermanded by my own jealousy at him publishing the only book I thought I’d ever write! I don’t know whether that makes me objective. But I think it makes me honest!

Graham is a prodigious publisher of books (the man needs to get a hobby). He’s the Free Church equivalent of Vaughan Roberts. Barely a year goes by without him producing yet another indispensable paperback to put into the hands of every adoring and appreciative congregational member. (I’m dealing with it). And deep down under the impenetrable layers of envy lies a kernel of gratitude that he’s written so helpfully on this particular issue.

This book is terrific. And I’m not the only one to think so judging by the experts his publishers have lined up to espouse the valuable contribution this book has made to the Christian scene. Whoever was tasked with that responsibility has covered all the bases. The commendations read like a who’s who of contemporary evangelical leadership. Timmis, Jensen, Scott Thomas and Warnock. Some astute promoting has been going on there. Unless I’ve got it badly wrong that’s the Australian, American and European market covered and blogosphere to boot! And why not. If the book is half as good as they say it is, it deserves to be widely read.

‘Planting for Christ’ is not the definitive volume on church planting. It doesn’t try to be. And I’m not going to criticise a book for not being what it’s not trying to be! That would be absurd. Graham’s aim in this book is much more straightforward. He writes, ‘my simple hope is that this will aid anyone and any church wanting to think about planting a new church’ p10. It does that, brilliantly.

It’s introductory; and so don’t expect it to deal with absolutely everything you want to know on the issue. But it does map out the ground that you’ll need to cover in your planning. It’s brief; it only took me a couple of hours to finish and you may wish for more. But that means that it’s ideal to put into the hands of busy lay leaders who need to support any church planting initiative. And it’s helpful; it stimulated all sorts of productive trains of thought as I worked my way through it.

The book consists of two parts. In part one Graham explores the theoretical issues that confront us in planting. And in part two he provides case studies of recent church plants.

Part one consists of six chapters

  • Chapter 1 deals with the issue of why we should plant churches in the first place.
  • Chapter 2 deals with the issue of what types of churches we could be planting; he provides seven models.
  • Chapter 3 deals with the issue of how we decide which church planting model we choose.
  • Chapter 4 deals with the issue of the consultative process prior to launching a church plant.
  • Chapter 5 deals with the issues that church planting teams need to consider before they plant.
  • Chapter 6 deals with the issue of managing expectations both in those who join the church plant and those who lead it.

Part two consists of approximately 30 brief descriptions of recently launched church plants. They’re grouped under the seven different models of church plants given in chapter 2. This part was hugely stimulating, a little voyeuristic and strangely encouraging. It was striking that few of the UK church plants had experienced spectacular growth. Most were trying to grow through the gospel dynamic of relational Bible teaching and since that’s a deep long-term work numerical growth will take some time. It seems to be different in the States. In fact, those that grew quickest in the UK experienced most of their growth through student ministry. Most church plants started which was encouraging because in my small corner of the evangelical world we continually have to struggle against the perceived wisdom of planting with nothing less than 50, a full-time pastor and three years’ worth of funding. That rules out planting for all but the biggest and wealthiest churches.

If I had one criticism. And I suppose I ought to have one to show that I’m not totally biased. It would be that’s it’s a little too introductory. It’s just a little too lightweight for most church leaders. But at least they’ll read it. It does mean that it’s ideal to give to the elders who’ll be expected to support and finance the proposal. But Graham’s such a good thinker and clear communicator that I wish he’d pushed on for another 100 pages. I know there’s more to download; not only from his own experience of planting churches but also from his reading and thinking.

You can grab a copy here.

Another Christ Church

Last Sunday our family went to church. Nothing unusual about that. I do it most weeks. I even stood at the front. Nothing unusual there either. Except that it wasn’t our church. It was another one. We were on holiday and we went to stay with friends who are part of a new church plant in East Anglia. We went to Christ Church South Cambs and we stayed with the Chapman family in Sawston.

Sawston is a village of nine thousand to the south of Cambridge. It’s about a fifteen minute drive to the city centre (though we did this at night). I’m told it’s a ‘blue collar’ village. But this is Cambridge blue collar we’re talking about so it’s probably gingham blue collar! But the houses are cheaper than in some of the more picturesque alternatives in the area and so you get a more normal and representative cross-section of society. From what we saw, though, overwhelmingly the village consists of families. Therefore it came as no surprise to learn that Sawston has two primary school and a secondary school providing education up to sixteen. CCSC meets in this.


Waiting expectantly for the crowds ... and the tardy regulars!

Tim, the minister of CCSC, took the opportunity to interview me on the issues of church planting. I’ve known Tim for over ten years. Our families lived next to one another at Oak Hill Theological College when we were Anglican Ordinands. I’m Godfather to his elder son. I remember with great fondness Tim’s  propensity to fall asleep in lectures and my unfailing delight at drawing attention to it. In Greek (and every other subject we touched on), we both marvelled at how much cleverer his wife was than both of us. We both had Armed Forces backgrounds. Me with the senior service; the Royal Navy and he was a Pongo. We both left to be involved in Anglican church plants. He went onto the staff at All Saints Little Shelford from which he would launch CCSC a few years’ later. Christ Church Balham happened first, which simply means that CCSC was better planned!

It’s not often I get to go to another church. I tend to refuse those rare requests to speak elsewhere. But it was a real treat. I liked seeing the same gospel convictions played out in another context and I appreciated the chance to reflect on their ministry and compare it with ours. As you might expect, given the nature of contemporary Anglican church planting in schools, there were lots of similarities.

1. A small band of people were preoccupied with setting up church before anyone else got there. One of the challenges of church planting is that church often needs to be unpacked. It either comes out of a cupboards, like it does for us. Or it comes out of the boots of various people’s cars, as it did for them. The music kit, coffee equipment and bookstall spend most of the week in Sawston’s garages. That’s a real hassle. You can say things like ‘it’s good to provide opportunities for service’. And that’s true. But it’s still a hassle. Sometimes you’d just like to walk away and leave things set up for next week. CCSC couldn’t survive without a small group of committed servants who get everything up and running. Their work is unseen but their efforts are not unappreciated.

2. The overwhelming majority of the church was nowhere to be seen with five minutes to go! It was heartening to discover that ours isn’t the only church family with an unhealthy relationship with punctuality. I know it’s hard to get a young family out of the door. That’s often the time when one of them decides to fill their pants during potty training. But we managed it. Every church minister with a young family manages it, mostly! Why can’t every Christian family? If our Christian families don’t manage it then they’re subtly and unwittingly repudiating the doctrine priesthood of all believers. I doubt that they’d realised it. But if we’re not at church with time to spare then we’re assuming that someone else, namely the paid staff and enthusiastic others, will be doing the work of ministry amongst the visitors. That’s hopeless. Ministry time is the  time both before and after the formal meeting. That’s the time when we can encourage and be encouraged. If we’re not there then someone else has to do that. We’re rubbish at this. Some families stay afterwards, which is terrific because they get involved in others’ lives, welcome newcomers and befriend those on the fringes. But many of our church family think it’s acceptable to pitch up halfway through the first hymn. We’re clearly not alone in holding to that heresy!


The ubiquitous church planting banner!

3. This wasn’t a crowd gathering for a show. This was a group of people gathering to hear God’s word and encourage one another in his service. They hadn’t come to be entertained, they’d come to be encouraged and to be encouraging. And it showed in the interaction afterwards. Quality relationships were in evidence everywhere I looked. People were chatting. They had their diaries out making arrangements to meet up in the week. I’m sure that those with young families many are hard pressed and weary. I’m sure that many are over committed with too many activities than is sensible. I’m sure that people struggle to find a window in the diary for a social coffee. But it just seemed as though people knew each other because they were in one another’s homes during the week. Because it wasn’t a group of people gathering for a show it meant that things didn’t need to be polished. That’s not to say that they were rough around the edges. But I think even Tim would admit that he’s not aiming for slick professional presentation. I don’t mean to disparage ‘doing things well’. But ‘doing things well’ isn’t the same as doing things to a professional standard. What we mean by ‘well’ is surely defined by the intention of our gathering. This was God’s people gathering to hear their pastor explore  the scriptures as he prayerfully understood them and apply them to those whom God had given him to love. We sang to one another and to God. We sang a kids’ song so that they were included as part of the church family. And we interacted over coffee. This was no show. It was church.

4. Relationships are so much easier to build if you live just round the corner from each other. Sawston is in commuting range of Cambridge, that’s why lots of people go to live there. But its proximity to the city centre means that it’s possible to head into the city for church. And there are lots of great options; Christ Church, St Matthew’s, St Andrew the Great, Cambridge Presbyterian and Eden Baptist to name a few. CCSC just think it’s harder to reach their neighbours with a Cambridge church than it is with a Sawston church. And they’ve got a point. No one in Sawston can be more than five minutes drive away from someone else. That makes it easy to generate a healthy church community life. It also means that you can manifest a genuine Christian presence in the village. That’s got to help your evangelism, hasn’t it?

5. It’s disproportionately exciting to welcome a new family to a small church. I flatter myself to think that we must have looked very attractive. Obviously Rosslyn is; distractingly so in my opinion. But I don’t mean in that sense. I mean a normal looking five member family with primary school aged kids had just walked into church. And Dad was carrying a Bible. If that isn’t good news to a church planter, then I don’t know what is. It must have been so disappointing to discover that there wasn’t a chance that we wouldn’t be back. They hid it well. But one of the thrilling things about running a small church, as most church plants inevitably start out, is that it’s wonderful when God brings someone new through the door. This time last year one family pitched up out of the blue to our Christingle service as a result of fliering the local area. She’s now professing faith and her boys are stuck into Sunday School. That is indescribably wonderful.

6. Welcomers are worth their weight in gold. The ability to walk across a room to an unfamiliar face and be genuinely interested in someone is a rare and precious thing. Though people were hard pressed preoccupied with getting church up and running, there were a handful of people who made the effort to come and say hello. They were terrific. They asked us about us, which was nice. Even after discovering that we weren’t going to be there next week, they asked questions about CCB and showed real interest in what we were doing for the gospel in London!  We weren’t the only visitors that Sunday but I’m not aware that anyone ‘got away’ without at least having had the opportunity to engage in conversation with one of the regulars. You can do that in a smaller church. In a larger church you run the risk of discovering that the unfamiliar person sat next to you has been coming to the same church family as you for two years!

It was a real tonic being at CCSC. I left mightily encouraged. And I haven’t even mentioned the sermon, in which God spoke to me about my commitment to evangelism and my commitment to the church. But that’s for another time.

Planting for the Gospel

Graham Beynon’s forthcoming book is due to be published in January. It’s a hands on guide to church planting. He’s  got experience of church planting having planted Avenue community church, Leicester. He’s currently studying a PHD and acting as Course director for ‘Team’ (Training for East Anglia Ministry) and involved in church ministry in Cambridge.

This is a subject close to my heart; church planting. It’s over five years since we did our last one at CCB. That’s too long. But we’re in the Lord’s hands. And he hasn’t given us the opportunities we might have hoped. It’s allowed a period of reflection on what we did and how we did it, which has been rewarding in itself. I suspect that this book will help that process enormously.

This is the publisher’s blurb

“One sunny April day a group of people were standing nervously outside a school building. We were waiting for the caretaker to come and open up for us. He was late and I was getting anxious. It was the first meeting of our new church plant. About 50 adults and 20 children from a nearby church were meeting together for the first time on a Sunday morning. All our plans were laid but we weren’t sure how it was going to go, and right now the caretaker wasn’t helping! He soon arrived however and it turned into one of the best mornings I can ever remember.”

For Graham Beynon, this wasn’t the beginning of the journey; there had been many things to reflect on and to plan to get to this point. This planning work would lay the foundations for a group of Christian people, a church, to be committed to one another; a church that is praying, learning and growing together; a church that seeks to be healthy, flourishing and biblically grounded. That journey is not an easy one. Are you planning to plant a church or being challenged to do so? This guide recognises that no church starts out the same and there are various different models. It will all depend on your beliefs about church, its aim and purpose, and context as to what model you might adopt. There will be important things to decide upon such as leadership, decision-making processes, outreach, and community involvement. This is an opportunity to consider the principles and practicalities of church planting with case studies and questions to consider at the end of each chapter.

Graham’s got a pretty impressive line up of commendations

 

“This little book will introduce you to the many different ways that people go about planting churches. Given that the Church is God’s chosen instrument to save the world, what could be more important than learning about how new churches can begin?”

Adrian Warnock, Blogger (adrianwarnock.com) and author

“The goal of Planting for the Gospel is that Jesus would use us to build His church for His glory. Graham Beynon provides a series of preliminary ideas to encourage us to think of church planting as a fruitful means for making disciples and spreading the Gospel. This resource is very helpful for mother churches to think strategically about planting a daughter church and also for young pastors to explore their calling in following the will of God as bearer of God’s mission to people of all nations.”

Scott Thomas, President, Acts 29 Network

“Christians can easily ascribe to Graham Beynon’s desire: “to see God glorified by his gospel being spread and his church growing”. But we often do not see as he does the consequence of such a desire: “This will inevitably mean more churches and so church planting”. And even when we see that inevitability, we often do not see the complexities of the task. Graham has done a great service by teasing out some of the many issues involved in church planting. I warmly commend this book to all who would like to follow through on the inevitable outcome of their evangelistic desire.”

Phillip Jensen, Dean of Sydney Cathedral

” It is simple without being simplistic. Accessible without being predictable. Useful without being boring. Informative without being prescriptive. Graham Beynon has done us all a huge favour in writing this, and I very much hope it helps provide an effective way into one of the most pressing and urgent needs of our day – the littering of our world with communities of light, aka. churches!”

Stephen Timmis, Director of Acts 29 Network in Western Europe

I’m biased about Graham. He’s a mate from theological college. And so I suspect i’ll be less objective than usual and just rave about whatever he’s written! But Graham’s writing is eminently theological and practical and so I’m looking forward to it enormously. If you’ve not read his previous books, you should. He’s been enormously productive over the past few years; there’s

Mirror, Mirror, on the issues of identity and self-esteem

God’s New Community, on the church

Last Things First, on the issues of eschatology

Experiencing the Spirit, on the work of the Holy Spirit

And a couple of booklets called Jesus at Work and Jesus at Leisure.

You can get them here.

I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the book. But I suspect it’ll make me wince as I realise what I should have done. But good to know for next time, because I don’t think I’m done with planting.