Here are his reflections.
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
In Mark 9, we meet a man whose son was horribly afflicted and oppressed by a demon. Jesus’ disciples who had been given supernatural authority to deal with this type of affliction were unable to cast the demon out this time. Strange. The disciples and the man were arguing about this situation.
I have often found myself relating to this man and his cry.
I’ve found myself here, arguing with myself, thinking about Gospel change in Wyndham, and about planting churches—what will it take? I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!
What does it take to plant a church?
That was the question at the heart of the International Church Planting Intensive I attended in New York in September.
The great cities of the world are in City to City’s sights. A global church planting organisation and movement, City to City want to see global cities impacted with the gospel. These highly urbanised, and often secular cities are the culture generators of the world. Christians need to engage, speak into and influence cities for Jesus.
Starting out of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York, and particularly influenced by Tim Keller (who did his doctorate on ministry in global cities), City to City have been the primary resourcing and training organisation that myself, Andrew and Suburban have drawn from as we move towards a church plant.
Fourteen church planters and regional trainers from around the world came together. We represented five continents, and the group came from cities as disparate as Kigali, Rwanda; Álvaro, Portugal, Glasgow, Scotland; and Istanbul, Turkey.
Located in the City to City offices in Midtown Manhattan, we received great content and teaching from experienced trainers who have literally hundreds of years of church planting experience between them. Yes, Tim Keller led some sessions, but the real highlight was the diversity of voices teaching on a range of topics from contextualisation, core team dynamics and missional discipleship, to self-leadership, gospel spirituality and preaching.
Days were long. We left our apartment at 8:00am and often wouldn’t get home till 10:00pm. This was not only because of the formal teaching sessions, but because we received personal coaching times with City to City staff who willingly stayed in the office after hours to meet with us, and also because there was a wealth of experience and knowledge within the international contingent to mine.
The experience was not just intensive in terms of content; it was intensive in terms of relationship. Friendships were fast-tracked as we discussed, shared, argued, ate, drank, debriefed, laughed and cried with one another. It was a great blessing not just to network with planters and global trainers, but to call them friends.
A thing I love about City to City is a concept they call “Gospel Catholicity”. It’s the idea that one church can’t reach a city. In fact, not even one type of church can reach a city, nor a single denomination. We need various churches of various styles in various denominations and networks, striving together in the same direction for the cause of the gospel and the city.
It’s the vision we have for Wyndham and the Western Suburbs.
After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
So what does it take to plant a church?
It turns out it takes a great deal to plant a church in global cities like Melbourne. The failure rate is as high as small business and the dynamics of “startup” are not dissimilar.
But there is an aspect in which it is totally different. We can learn strategies, techniques and philosophies of church planting—and trust me, we have. We can always strive to be better, more professional, sharper operators—and trust me, we will. We can also be called, trained, released and “given authority” just like Jesus’ disciples in Mark 9—but the demon will just not come out! We want to see lives changed, the kingdom come, the church grown, but the evil will just not flee.
Because the business the local church is in is the business of changed hearts and lives.
It’s not just tough—it’s impossible. We can’t bring to an end the oppression and affliction in someone’s life.
But we can bring them to someone who can: Jesus, the great Saviour of the world.
I’ve learnt a great deal over the last months about the dynamics of church planting, and I’m extremely grateful, but most importantly I’ve been reminded about returning to the source of all power, freedom and truth.
Pray, church! That the kingdom will come, that His will is done.
There is no other way.