From where I sit in my study I over look a construction site. Each day I watch three blokes work in the wind, rain and cold building a house for one of our neighbours. In the three weeks we have been here, it doesn’t look like much has happened because houses take time to build, especially if you are going to do it properly. As I watch this house begin to take shape, I feel like we are undertaking a similar project in church planting (although mostly but not entirely from the comfort and warmth of the indoors). I plan to share a few of the similarities I have observed so far over a few posts, not because I am an expert or thing that I have anything to teach anyone about church planting, but to give those who are interested a glimpse into what church planting in Wellington looks like for us.
[Of course God is sovereign over this who process and he is the master builder of the church with Christ as the chief cornerstone, but these are some reflection of what it looks like and feels like on the ground going through the process.]
Firstly, you need to have a plan but you need to be flexible.
As the builders do their work, they are following a plan. The builders don’t simply turn up to an empty site and just start building as they please. They don’t make it up as they go with little idea of what the end result will be. Months and even years before any hole is dug or foundation is laid, architects, engineers, surveyors and government officials have all had a say in what they are building and how they are doing it. From the beginning of work, everything is planned out, they know what it is they are building. The materials are selected, the placement of the house is decided, the tests are done to make sure it won’t fall over and that it meets all the required regulations. Without this plan, the construction will be a mess and the final product will be a disaster.
Have a plan
And we feel like it is the same with church planting. We have moved from a job in an established church that had a plan and a vision with multiple services running, various ministries established, a staff team to work with, small groups with leaders, a strategy for reaching the local area and all of the various structures that make it all happen. Now it is just us, a small band of merry men & women, a Bible and a big city to reach. We need a plan. We need to know what we are doing and how we are going to do it. We need to have a picture of what this church will look like in the future and we need to work out the steps that will take us there.
At the moment we are faced with almost endless possibilities, most of which are excellent in their own right. We could start a social welfare ministry, we could begin a student outreach, we could start an aged care ministry, we could plan a massive outreach event, we could target a particular subsection of the community, we could do anything really. But it is only if we have a plan, then we can decide what to do now and what to leave until later when the time is right. And the plan didn’t simply fall out of our heads but was the result of many months of prayer and consultation with those who know us, know church planting, know New Zealand and know Wellington.
Having a plan will also help us be disciplined and follow things through especially when they are hard and might not bear immediate fruit. Even in the short time we have been here we have gone through the ups and downs of starting something, wondering if it is working, despairing that it is not what we expected, trusting in the plans we had made under God, prayed a lot (!), followed it through and come out the other side pretty much exactly where we hope we would be. Without the plan, we may have changed course and ended up somewhere different altogether.
Plans are great, and as the boys build their house across the street, they follow the plan. But it is inevitable that things change and this requires them to be flexible. A supplier might run out of particular materials, something is overlooked in the design, the owner wants a bigger bath or wants the house to be painted a different colour, any number of these can upset the plan as the project runs its course. When things change or don’t work out, they need to be flexible and find a solution to keep things on track.
We arrived in Wellington on 19th May and immediately the plan had to change as our long-term accommodation (and location for our church meeting) was delayed. This changed what we could do with our launch team, it changed how we could do ministry, it changed how we would work without an office, it changed what family life looked like as we squashed into a 2 bedroom apartment. We needed to adjust our expectations and be flexible. And it turned out that in God’s kindness, it gave others opportunities to host church, to show hospitality and for us to all get to know each other in a way that would have been different had we been meeting in our place from day one.
There have been other detours and distractions (and there will be many more) but we continue on with the plan to plant a church that loves Jesus and loves Wellington.
Next: Setting a good foundation and building with the right materials.