On the 1st of January 2019, Tam and I went public with a decision that we felt led to reach out and start a gathering with people centred around our faith in Jesus. This is otherwise known as planting / pioneering / starting / giving birth to (graphic I know) a Christian church.
It was a decision that we were intentionally slow in making, appreciating the gravity of it. Ultimately, it was a sense we felt so strongly that we couldn’t deny it.
And now we’re here. What next?
Well, a blog obviously, ha!
I thought it would be a good way to express how we’re feeling, a glimpse of the journey to this point and give insight to what we hope to be, as a church. It’s actually significant for me personally as I put “pen to paper” because it’s ensuring I’m giving necessary thought and Holy Spirit guidance to our steps into the future. Also, understanding “why” can never be underestimated.
So the best way I thought to do this was to answer some questions people have asked and may have. Hope that’s cool. I know that as you read my answers below that not everyone is going to be happy. Some will be inspired, others infuriated and still others, they probably switched off 3 paragraphs ago, haha. I’m ok with people receiving this differently, I’m ok that we don’t have all the answers and I’m also ok talking about it, so just get in touch if you want to talk more.
Here we go:
How do we know this is what God is saying and leading us into? Well, if I had looked at this sentence 17 years ago I would have thought “crazy”. It presumes so much. The existence of God, that he speaks and desires to lead. These may be foreign concepts to some but this has come to be my personal belief and reality. I now come from the presupposition, through faith, that God is real and that he desires closeness. He (God) is personal and through the person Jesus, I have access to intimacy and friendship with Him (God). This friendship brings with it a purpose, that I (we) am alive for a reason. So by this closeness, by our life’s journey to date, by circumstance and council from others, by Biblical word, by passion and genuine conviction that the local church is God’s idea and central to his intention and ultimately BY FAITH, we have a sense this is what God is saying and calling us into. Are we certain about this? Certain enough to take the risk and keep following.
What are the fears? Honestly, we find ourselves in a place where – perhaps because we’ve already navigated so much – including me dealing with genuine fear, that fear isn’t an issue at present. I know there can be fear around so many things but right now we’ve got nothing to lose. I guess the biggest fear would be failure but that all depends on how we choose to define success. What I can see and read in the bible is that there is only one thing that pleases God and that’s faith. I don’t believe God is impressed by our accomplishments, us hitting our goals or obtaining a measure of “success”, I believe He’s looking for our continued trust. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating laziness and apathy but I do believe in a rest that comes by trust which brings grace. Whatever is before us is beyond our ability anyway and so the best thing we can do is embrace what God is doing.
Why start a church when there are already so many? This is a great question and was actually one of the early stumbling blocks for me deciding to follow Jesus. I was like, why can’t these “Christians” just get along and do something together? Aren’t all Christian churches the same anyway? Yes, there is and should be so much that is the same across the many churches. Those things that are the same are the core foundations of belief. Where the differences appear is the means by which a church expresses that belief and that’s what I have now come to appreciate, the need for variety. The beauty of humanity is that we are all the same yet uniquely different. We connect with different things, enjoy different things and find a sense of belonging in unique environments. We have no intention to disrupt the incredible churches that already exist, we are believers in THE local church and our desire is that we would add to what is already formed. Together, united around shared beliefs and cause, expressed in our uniqueness we can make a significant positive impact. We personally know some pastors in this region and they have been nothing but supportive and encouraging of us. We feel a genuine unity amongst the churches and this being God’s heart is something we would want to perpetuate. In prayerfully considering whether this is what God is leading us into, one thing has become evident, there are still multitudes of people not living in the freedom we would know to be found in Grace. Our heart is that the environment we help create would be one where we do see many not yet living by faith, come to accept the greatest news of all time, the Gospel. There is also evidence to suggest that the best way to connect with people not yet embracing the gift of grace is to create new faith communities ie start new churches. We are comfortable and confidant in what we can bring, with others, to the faith landscape of this region. We know that it will resonate with some and won’t with others and again, that’s ok.
Instead of “starting” a new church have we considered overseeing an existing church to see it reinvigorated? This is not something we’ve given much consideration to because think about it, it’s a fine line between coveting something that’s not yours and being receptive should we be approached. It’s a complex scenario when talking about the change of pastors in a local church, it’s one that has to be done with transparency, sensitivity and complete integrity. It can and has been done well but unfortunately there’s also been many instances when the people, who are the church, have been negatively impacted. It’s not something we feel right about pursuing and so we pursue the new but we are in a place of being open to what God wants to do and so we’d approach this scenario, should it arise, with the prayerful respect it deserves.
Are we going to be a part of a denomination or independent? If independent where is the accountability? We are walking this road independently, with intentional spiritual oversight, having good friends alongside us and a total appreciation for the need of accountability. It’s not because we are against a denomination but it’s not where we’ve come from, as in our church history, and we don’t see the necessity for it right now. We do absolutely believe in having people to whom we submit ourselves too, who have credibility and the church’s best interest at heart and so we will be approaching people to ask for their committed council and oversight. Ensuring good governance, safety and infrastructure suited to see the church healthy will be a priority for us at all times. We have also started the process of working with ARC here in South Africa. (ARC is an association of churches who have a heart to see healthy, life giving churches started. They offer support, coaching and council). Our heart is to enhance the reputation of the church and of Christians, understanding there have been shocking circumstances that have worked to undermine the truth and authenticity of what following Jesus is all about. We are not and do not aim to be perfect but are most certainly committed to everything of what we are a part of being (way beyond) above reproach.
What is the culture going to be? Culture is an interesting concept and one I’ve got a lot of thoughts about and still a lot to learn. Essentially culture is the shared set of beliefs and values of any grouping of people. Right now, I can’t definitively say what the culture will be because we haven’t got a group of people and if by definition it’s the “shared” beliefs and values then the culture will take shape over time as we gather with others. I can say I do have a new appreciation for my Pastor of many years, Brian Houston and what he used to say about “being the culture”. I know that the culture will be who we are not what we hope to be. That’s saying it can and will evolve over time. Culture can’t be enforced or enshrined in legislation, it’s something that we all “be”. I can tell you what Tam and I value and what we hope to bring to the culture and that is authenticity, friendship, intimacy with Christ, participation, family and justice.
What is the vision of the church? Again, this is something I am so mindful of not etching into “stone” to early. I appreciate the question and understand the value for having “sight” for the future but I also want to come from a place of settling on a shared vision which is owned by people and not just dictated to by us. We absolutely have vision for the future and believe we have something compelling, nation impacting and Christ exalting within us that over time we’ll share to see what resonates with those in our world. Perhaps I’ll be more specific when we establish formal means of communication through the church website and social media.
Where will the church be located? There’s probably 2 ways of going about this. One is being gripped entirely and clearly about a particular place / town / suburb etc and determining to establish something in that place. The other, which is the way we’re going about it, is to cast the net a little wider and to then proceed as God directs, reflected mainly by the response and connection of people and where they are. We have our eyes and faith, to start, on the northern corridor from Durban North through to as far as Tinley Manor in KwaZulu-Natal. This is a region that is rapidly growing, increasing in population size all the time and is undergoing exciting investment and development. More specifically we have felt a “God-connection” to Umhloti where over 10yrs ago I was giving voice to the possibilities of this area obviously not knowing then about the development to come. We are excited about Umhlanga, Phoenix, KwaMashu, Verulam, Westbrook and the Ballito area too. I also have a deep love for Durban and the incredible potential of this city. The beauty of having a clean slate is that we’re flexible, nimble and willing to be mobile so that we’re open to where God gives grace and “open doors”. We are believing there are people in this region whose hearts God is stirring to be a part of something new and the “dots” will be connected.
How can people help? We’ve been humbled and so encouraged by so many who have expressed a desire to help even if at the moment it’s largely from afar. Firstly I would say this, please pray for us. Wherever you are, if you’ve read this far and already have a trust in God and his purposes, we cherish your prayers. More than ever we’ve come to appreciate the significance of prayer, not in the prayer itself but in the activation of God’s grace through prayer. We know how full life is and you’re dealing with your own stuff and prayerful in your own situation but when you get a moment, pray for God’s will to be done in and through us. Secondly, please spread the word. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world we know how connected it is and so your word of mouth is powerful. It may be a friend of a friend of a friend who hears about what we’re doing and there’s an incredible connection. Thirdly, please get in touch. We are so keen for a chat, a coffee, a catchup, to explore any feelings of connection. A church is only a church if there’re people and so we’re now all about connecting with and gathering people.
At the end of the day, this is our greatest step of faith to date. We trust God is in this. We have a passion for South Africa and her people, know the local church is God’s vehicle and we want to serve in such a way that we are a positive contribution to the continued transformation of the Rainbow Nation. We believe nothing is impossible with God.
LOVE AND BE LOVED
Bev & Tam