20 February, 2014 Will Dobbie
I pretty much bit the hand off the person who offered me the chance of a shot at church planting. The idea of planting had been making my heart beat faster (literally sometimes) for years. And Croydon is a planter’s dream: I’ll spare you my pitch but Croydon really is stunningly strategic and needy at the same time.
So my family and I started to rent a house in Croydon, and I joined the staff of a nearby evangelical church. Since then, we’ve put out some prayer letters and a short promo film to help mobilize the 4 ‘P’s – prayer, publicity, pennies and partners. We’ve also laid on some vision evenings. I’m relieved to say that some guests even came to some of our vision evenings. And now we’re waiting, with bated breath, to see who and how many will actually commit to the team.
In recent months I’ve also found immense encouragement from other local pastors. In particular, the Croydon Gospel Partnership (CGP) is a group of like-minded, wonderful, faithful brothers pastoring churches around the edges of and just outside Croydon. But the scale of our task is put in perspective by the fact that the combined churches in the CGP come to about 0.1% of Croydon’s population. So we’re a drop in the ocean.
To guys out there thinking of planting, I’d say that lessons for me from the last few months would be:
Make sure your reasons for planting are a) right and b) passionate. My heart has never been so scrutinized and exposed as by this. And while my drive and focus have never been higher, they’ve also never been so tested. I wouldn’t rather have any other job on the planet, but that doesn’t mean this one’s easy. I know planters who are passionate about Jesus and the Kingdom, but maybe not about planting in particular. I’d advise against that.
Have a thick skin. The last four months have been wonderfully liberating in helping me to care less of what people think of me. Caring takes a good amount of emotional energy which, to be frank, I’d rather invest in trying to start a new church and in my people, than in far-off critics. That said, I reckon almost all criticisms carry, or at least point to, a kernel of truth – however unfair they might seem at first. So my challenge has been objectively extracting the kernel for the sake of improving myself and my ministry.
Keep perspective. In lots of ways – such as: that God is sovereign, so if I’m faithful and genuinely give my very best effort and skill, I can be content; that God loves me and has justified me already – I don’t need to plant a church for that; that eternity is very long and that we’re on the brink of it; that eternity is very real and that we’re in the ‘shadow lands’ right now; and so on. Trying to start a new church seems to involve seemingly endless minutiae – sometimes quite stressful, complex minutiae. And taking a step back in ways like these has spared my mental health on a number of occasions.
Drink from various wells. I’ve been greatly stimulated by a wide variety of church planting literature. Clearly the Word of God is the basic and ultimate church planting literature; and clearly a ‘chew the meat, spit the bones’ approach is crucial when reading human authors – especially those coming from slightly different angles or contexts. But as British conservative evangelicals, I think we’re fools if we let certain classic neuroses (the ‘not-invented-here’ syndrome, or the ‘studied amateurism’ syndrome for example) leave us squeamish about adapting and mobilizing the pragmatic wisdom of other practitioners.
I’m conscious that these personal lessons aren’t planting-specific. Which, come to think of it, reassures me. Let the enthusiastic, painful, joyful, exhausting, excited butchering continue…