SDCC had its fourth birthday in September and it has given me the opportunity to stop, take stock and evaluate some of the lessons I have learned in that time.
1. We planted a church we weren't just church planting
Most of you will be thinking of course you were, and may conclude at this point not to read any more if that's as insightful as it is going to get. But just hear me out. As you plan and launch a church plant whether it is a pioneer plant, a core team plant or a revitalisation plant you focus on planting. Your time is given to putting in place all that needs to happen to reach new people in a new area with the good news of Jesus. What I don't think I thought enough about was the ordinary nuts and bolts of planting a church, and on day one, in our very first meeting together that is what we had done - we had planted a church. There were people there gathered together around the word of God, yes praise God there were new people, interested people, and dragged along for a one off people, but there were our people.
From day one we were a church with all that that entailed; rota's, PA and AV equipment to transport and set up, bills to pay, pastoral issues to deal with, children to provide for, and so on. Everything we had at our sending church was now being done by our smaller, fragile, slightly scared, but very committed core.
And our plant has never stopped being a planted church, as a church planter you are not an evangelist or some trailblazing pioneer you are a pastor of God's people looking to establish a beacon of gospel light in the darkness. That means it is vital to have a good committed godly team of leaders with you who can bear some of the load of pastoral care and teaching, and to be continually looking to grow and develop more leaders.
2. Grow God's kingdom not my kingdom
The pressure on church planters is in some ways unique, maybe its me but in the months and years since we have planted the question 'And how are things going?' always seemed to mean have you grown and if so how many by? Admittedly it may just be me, but I don't think so. That is why it is vital that we understand we are growing God's Kingdom not our kingdom, it is for his glory not our glory and it is to be done using his methods (prayer and his word) not ours (just as well because I'm not sure I have any!).
So we have simply tried to teach the bible. Our services are in no way glitzy or professional or even slick, indeed someone recently described them as being chaotically family like - that doesn't mean it is bedlam just that it feels like home but is not cool and professional (at least that's what I'm taking it to mean). We drink coffee and tea together with biscuits or cake, we sing songs together, we pray together and we teach the bible before having more food and drink and aiming to apply the bible to one another's lives.
Teaching the bible drives everything we do from Sunday morning, to LightHouse, to Gospel Groups, to our children's work. This is vital because it means we can stay focused on making God's word the main thing because his glory and his kingdom is the main thing.
3. Mission & Maturity
As a church plant it is tempting to focus on reach the lost but this must not be done at the exclusion of the maturity of the believers in your church. As a church plant is a planted church we ought to preach for believers and unbelievers as we would in any church. Discipling those who are following Jesus as well as engaging with the questions and heart motives of unbelievers as the passage exposes them.
It is not a case of preaching for mission or maturity, we must not fall into this trap but preaching for mission and maturity. It is something we have tried to replicate in our gospel groups, they are discipleship groups - aiming to disciple the not yet, the new and the mature believer at the same time, alongside one another and by means of the gifts of one another.
And as we have taught God's word to believers and engaging with unbelievers alike we have found believers coming and staying and growing in their understanding and maturity and we have seen unbelievers engage, understand and some come to faith and some reject the message and leave.
4. Network or Neighbourhood
Most of us live in networks but I think we naturally think of planting churches into a neighbourhood. We certainly did setting ourselves a church plant area that we would target, and yet by God's grace very little of our growth has come from that neighbourhood. Instead we have grown not just with people from outside our neighbourhood but outside our town. That means we have had to, and keep having to, be flexible in our thinking. If we are a network church rather than a neighbourhood church we need to have network hub points so that we support people in their existing networks in their varying neighbourhoods, rather than expect everyone to travel in centrally for everything.
I think we set out with one vision a neighbourhood church and God has given us a different reality a network church which causes us to be reliant on him and to rethink how we thought about how the church would go forward.
As I look back on just over 4 years God has been gracious and he builds his kingdom through his word.