Yesterday was a milestone day at New Vine Baptist Church. For the first time we gathered the staff of our three congregations together for ministry to God and to each other. Later in the day we asked ourselves the question, “What is it going to take to grow into a network of 20 ‘New Vine-y’ churches in the next dozen years?”
We are an odd group of people…nine of us aged between 25 and 50, six blokes and three women. God has assembled us from different walks of life, sharing a common love for Jesus and a passion for His church. Mostly we are home grown leaders (we developed our leadership, pastoral and ministry skills in the local church after some other previous training or vocation). So why aim for further church planting? Haven’t we all got enough to occupy us in our three churches, with all the programmes and pastoral issues that come with such endeavours? Yes…but…
New Vine commenced under Paul Whiting and my leadership in 1995. It emerged from our deep sense that our nation needs many more localised and relevant expressions of the Christian faith. Australians need to be reached with the gospel and given ways to gather and express their growing faith in meaningful ways. Our unified sense of call was to plant a regional church in Newcastle’s north-west from which to pioneer other churches and ministries. In 2004 we sent a team out to establish H2O Baptist (now in East Maitland) and then in 2008 a colony went out to commence New Vine Lakes (now in Eleebana, Lake Macquarie).
Fast-forwarding to today…we are still well aware of a statistical need for more churches to serve our growing urban and suburban populations (presence) and we still perceive a growing cultural gap between the general population of Australia and the church (relevance). Part of the answer? New wineskins! “What would we do from scratch?” is such a freeing question compared to “How can we change what we have?” We take our central beliefs about the Bible, the nature of the church, our imperative to reach out into all the world and make disciples and then come up with a pioneering plan! Releasing people to think freshly about church and how it can be.
Some people resonate massively with new endeavours. It gives people in our setting something to aspire towards; the possibility of pioneering creates energy, opportunity and teamwork. God made us after His image and He put in us the ability to create new stuff! Church planting gets on the right side of these human traits. It creates a fertile place for discipleship and leadership development. Without people coming to faith or reconnecting with a faith community any church plant is doomed, so it is imperative in a pioneering environment to look outwards. All this combines together to create a wonderful vehicle for evangelism, discipleship and pastoral training. Our aspiration to reach into new geographic areas and new groups of people stirs our hearts and keeps us moving forward.
Of course church planting is not without massive challenges, and we have had our share. We collect quotes, here are a couple of favourites:
Nothing works… so try something!
Don’t get involved in church planting if you don’t like messy things!
So yesterday…we prayed, we sang, we laughed until we cried, we dreamt a little more of what can be. Both church plants are now getting close to their own church plant endeavours, and all three of our churches have people with growing conviction of God’s hand on their lives. We can identify a growing number of people in our midst (especially young people and “young-in-faith” people) that we will continue to shepherd and develop them towards their calling. Spectacular achievements are the result of unspectacular investments over many years. How do you eat an elephant? One mouthful at a time!
I encourage you to seek and find those people in your ministry circle who are carrying this “pioneering imperative” around with them, a gift placed on their life by God. Then take steps with them to see this grow and blossom. Start with them starting on something and work towards them pioneering a church!
Pioneering Imperative by Andrew Cole, Co-Pastor of New Vine Baptist Church in Newcastle, NSW. Prac12.