As you know, one of my concerns is to see churches planted into our less fashionable areas and to see them established and multiplying. Moving from what we desperately want to see to actually seeing it, is the challenge though. We’ve been looking to see if it would be possible to get involved in pioneer church planting ourselves into one of those areas. There are actually 3 or 4 possibilities, including staying fairly local to the West Midlands and so we don’t want to rush things, though we are starting to see some of the doors close a little.
You see, for me, pioneer church planting is not a simple as moving into an area and announcing that a new church has come into existence. It is possible to do that and people do it all the time. If we were in a completely unevangelised country, things would be different, we would be sent by the local church here to a country or region where there was nothing at all. However, the UK has been evangelised in the past and that means there are few places where you would say there is no Gospel witness at all. It might be that you have to get on the bus for 20 minutes or walk for an hour but there usually is some form of witness in the town or the city.
I’ve known of people who have turned up on their own to start their own church and it often does not end well for them, their church plant, the community and for other churches in the area. They also tend to be viewed with suspicion and they can create tensions and problems in those other churches nearby too. So, because we want to be a blessing and encouragement to other churches not a hindrance but also because I believe you only have been called to something when you receive an external call from a church, I don’t think that’s a healthy way to go about things.
Instead, my preference is to see those neighbouring churches recognising the need for a church in a particular suburb, town, estate and to be praying about it. Then, it may be that someone comes to them and says “I’m thinking about planting, because I can see the need.” At that stage, my advice is that the potential planter should seek to join with the local church or a year or two and simply be part of that church, sitting in services, welcoming visitors, praying, helping where (and only where) needed), not expecting the church to find a salary, a position or a title for them.
This gives time for two things to happen. First of all, it gives time for the church to see if there are others willing to commit to gospel work in that area. Secondly it gives time for the planter to settle into the area and start witnessing. If after a period of time they’ve witnessed to their neighbours and seen nothing, then they have still been faithful. If they have seen a few conversations and all that happens is a few people get added to the existing church or even a small group starts in the area as part of the church then that’s wonderful fruit to celebrate. If there are foundations in place for a local church, then brilliant.
For us, it may be that such an opportunity opens up, or it may be that I find myself in a more traditional pastorate in an existing church. If the latter, then I would hope within a period of time to be looking for people to join with us to help with the work in that church but also to focus on identifying an area to plant to.