REFLECTIONS ON THREE RECENT GATHERINGS #1: Relational Mission 'Unpacking the Vision' Gathering

REFLECTIONS ON THREE RECENT GATHERINGS

I recently been to three significant gatherings. I have outlined the gatherings below and then in separate posts I will fill out my reflections

The FIRST was our network’s (Relational Mission) ‘Unpacking the Vision’ days where the apostolic team and others unpacked how, as a family of churches, we are responding to what we feel God has called us to.

The SECOND was a gathering of leaders representing the churches that were planted out of and/or are are in partnership with The City Church, my former home where I served as an elder for seven years and from where we were sent from to plant Redeemer Church Colchester.

The THIRD was The City Church’s ‘Global Sunday’ gathering when the church take a Sunday to celebrate all that God has done and is doing in them and through them - inviting churches that have planted out of City to join them. They also take up an offering to further advance church planting initiatives.


Relational Mission Vision Days

The City Church Pioneer Leaders Gathering

The City Church Global Sunday


#1 Relational Mission ‘Unpacking the Vision’ Gathering

Two days together with elders and other leaders across the Relational Mission family during which the apostolic team and others unpacked how, as a family of churches, we are responding to what we feel God has called us to. Things that I was struck by;

AUTHENTICITY

  • One of the things I love about RM and those that lead us is the aroma of authenticity. Our leaders are not trying to be something they are not. They are not trying to fit a mould of what some expect ‘leadership’ to look like. They are honest, open, vulnerable, faith filled worshippers of Jesus who are seeking to serve God in the sphere of influence given to them.

VISION

  • I often get asked the question for us as a church plant ‘what is your vision’ and I often wrestle with the question because I think I know what people are after…a succinct, heart stirring, action directing, resource calling goal. That’s great - I am pro-vision! I think the Bible is packed with vision that stirs our hearts, directs our actions and calls us to give everything for…however I am always uneasy when the vision as outlined in a statement or the like stirs my heart more than the Bible does with its grand vision! I realise the two are not necessarily separable…all godly vision should be a clear outworking and faith goal of what is already laid out in the Bible…maybe broken down into what we feel God has particularly called a specific group to at a specific time. So hear me - I am pro-vision! But I know my heart and want it to be as excited day in day out to outwork the holistic biblical vision that will live beyond me…many ‘heroes of the faith “died not having received what they ‘had vision’ for”. It did not deter them…

  • These ‘Unpacking the Vision' were brilliantly put together and led by men who live out the above. They first love Jesus, His Church and have a vision to see Him and His bride glorified. Any numbers, goals, resolve were brilliantly expressed as our ‘faith response’ to that much larger and far more sustaining vision. If you are a wonderful vision caster it can be easy for people to each year look forward to being stirred to action by another ‘exciting vision’ chapter…that is not necessarily bad! But the only vision that will sustain you, fuel you, call you to sacrificial grace given resolve and action is one of Jesus and His grand mission. I get nervous when I, or our people, are more stirred by my best efforts to express vision than they are by Jesus, his purposes and the glory of His bride. I walked away from these days more eager to serve Jesus, more excited about Jesus and His church. I love the dates, the numbers and the goals…they bring focus for this people in this season - fantastic! But the way the Vision was unpacked was brilliant - humble, faith-filled, Jesus saturated.

HUMILITY

  • Similarly to the above, the ‘aroma of humility’ was tangible. Someone once said that humility is not thinking less of yourself, of thinking of yourself less…the difference is that thinking less of yourself leads to ‘I can’t do it/I am nothing…’ whereas thinking of yourself less leads to ‘Jesus I look to you, you can, you are almighty, by your grace we can…’ During these days humility was tangible…there was faith, resolve, hope and hunger fuelled by the grace of God and His greatness and goodness.

  • We were also wonderfully led to ‘weigh together’ the prophetic words that had shaped the particular vision being expressed. The ‘vision’ was the na response to ‘If these words are legitimate then what is our faith-response.’ Stef Liston led us through this asking the following helpful questions;

    • Is the word-piece reliable and trustworthy?

    • Does it chime with other prophetic words?

    • Does a word like this reflect the expression of New Testament Christianity?

    • Does it reflect the character of God?

FRIENDS

  • It was a joy, as alway at these gatherings, to have such fun, depth, honesty and camaraderie with dear friends. This sustains and strengthens me. I am grateful that such a culture is modelled, prioritised and facilitated. It smells New Testament like! It is not professionals simply coming to be ‘trained’…it is family - brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers coming to be drawn together, equipped and sent out to enlarge the family - HIS family.

I am very grateful to be part of such a family, led by such Fathers who call us to our best and in all things point us to Jesus.

Pioneer Couple to Eldership Team – The Journey

journey

Pioneer Couple to Eldership Team – The Journey 

I was recently chatting with someone I respect greatly and he asked if I had recorded our journey from church plant kick off as a ‘pioneering couple’ in our living room to establishing an eldership team…I hadn’t, so this is my ‘looking back’ at our journey.

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Background.

In July 2015, having moved to Colchester to plant a church our family started to invite people to join us for midweek ‘Connect Nights’ as we called them then. It was me, my wife (who we were to find out was pregnant by then) and our two children (4 & 2). We knew that within a few months another couple from our sending church were coming to join us. Nothing else was certain. Just over three years later on the 31st March 2019 we commissioned four elders to serve what had become Redeemer Church Colchester. 


Three Starting Points.

Three key convictions that were key to outworking this journey;

1.    Be Convinced

  • I am convinced that getting an eldership in place was absolutely vital for the health and growth of our church. Paul writes to Titus and tells him to get elders in every church to ‘straighten things out’. I am convinced that churches need elders to ‘get straightened out’ and move forward healthily.

  • I am convinced churches should multiply (plant churches) and therefore we need more elders all the time – for here now, here as we grow and there (planting or strengthening other plants).

  • I am convinced church leadership should be a team of elders – therefore we needed more than just me!

2.    Be Deliberate

  • I am convinced that we need to be deliberate in prioritising, developing and identifying elders for the reasons above – but in a church plant situation it is very easy to be overwhelmed with lots of day to day tasks and to think ‘what’s the need today, we will get to elders in time’.

3.    Begin with what you have

  • I am convinced that you can disciple elder-like men as the qualifications for elders are Christ-like character. The worst that will happen is good discipleship and good men!


 Timeline.

I’ll begin with simply outlining the key markers/steps along the way and then fill out what the journey was like – many of the steps we got to were ‘fruit’ of the culture of the journey.

 

July 2015 – December 2015 – Midweek gathering in homes

  • On Sundays we travelled 40min to a nearby church expressing something of what we wanted to become.

 

January 2016– April 2016 - Sunday & Midweek gatherings in homes

May 2016 onwards  - Sunday gatherings in public venues, Midweek in homes

May 2017 – ‘Planning Team’ established (not publicly announced)

Jan 2018 – ‘Leadership Team’ established (publicly announced)

Jan 2019 – Eldership Proposal (publicly to the church)

March 2019 – Eldership Commissioned

 

 

If I was to summarise the process it would be;

  • Relationship – getting to know the person

    • Gathering for relationship

  • Releasing – giving opportunities to discover and use gifts

    • Giving Room

  • Recognising  - getting a sense of the ‘grace’ on people

    • Grace recognition

  • Recruiting  - gathering men who I’d recognised ‘grace’ on for shepherding

    • Gathering for purpose

  • Raising – discipleship & training

    • Growing together

      • Cycling through ‘Recognising, Recruiting and Raising’  - for us this was Planning Team —> Leadership Team —> Eldership


 

Key Considerations.

Some key considerations that emerge from unpacking the above summary. These are somewhat ‘summary points’ too and could be unpacked more comprehensively.

 

1.    RELATIONSHIP

  • If the church is to be a ‘real family’ then this needs to be modelled by the ‘fathers’ in the house.

  • As the elder qualifications in the Bible are mostly about character you actually have to know each other beyond a meeting context to ‘get under the bonnet’.

  • Unless you are looking for yes men, there are going to be challenges and conflicts in the team – strong relationships mean these are fruitful not fatal!

  • Whilst not all having to be ‘best friends’, deep godly friendships are vital if we are to ‘guard each other’. Relationship means bringing challenge into each other’s lives can be done more effectively, precisely and winsomely. You have to know someone well to know how to do that!

  • As the ‘point leader’ or ‘team leader’ you have to set the culture and be open and vulnerable too. You must lead by example.

  • Being in each other’s homes is helpful, it immediately removes formality and gives you an insight into each other that you might otherwise miss.

 

2.    RELEASING

  • You need to create contexts where gifts can emerge.

  • Drawing others into pastoral meet ups, preach planning, meeting leading, small group leading and sometimes letting them take the lead must be deliberate and purposeful.

  • The longer you wait to do this you more you perpetuate the ‘single pastor/man of God’ culture in your church which will forever undermine anyone else’s contribution or authority. Also, the longer you wait the higher the stakes – set the culture now! Obviously, this is not done recklessly and you guard the culture.

  • A lot of this can be done subtly and privately simply by inviting people to speak into areas of your life and church life/pastoral situations.

 

3.    RECOGNISING

  • I love this part – seeing what God has put in people! Always be looking for it, just as a Father seeks to nurture the talents and abilities of their children we get to do the same in each other’s lives.

  • It is vital to be deliberate in inviting outside eyes and counsel from early days – prophets, apostolic leadership, fellow church leaders. This avoids you only recognising those in your ‘mould’ and helps avoid any sense of blindness!

  • Ask God for discernment, and – one of my favourite phrases – follow the fruit – where is this person being fruitful (even if they don’t see it!). How do others speak of them/commend them. What do they pray fervently about?

 

4.    RECRUITING

  • Whilst all the above is done informally (although some setting might be more ‘formal’ (e.g. planning team) there comes a time to explicitly ‘test’ the call, qualification and desire more deliberately and publicly.

  • This also allows the church to journey with you and is an opportunity to educate the church and get prayer!

  • Some people change significantly when given a ‘mantle’ or ‘role’ – this can be positively or negatively and you are then given the chance to work that through (it could be due to pain/previous experience/wrong timing/calling/insecurities).

  • This also helps bring the sobriety of eldership to the fore – being before the church, carrying responsibility, living with the ‘whole body’.

  • Deliberately ensure everyone is fully invested in this stage.

  • Whilst more ‘public’ it is healthy to set a culture of investigating and growth – take the church on the journey. Not everyone in this phase may be become elders, that is ok. If that is a problem for an individual it is likely revealing something that needed to be revealed!

 

5.    RAISING

  • The whole process is ‘raising’ but there  comes a time, often alongside the ‘recruitment’ phase to deliberately train and focus on eldership qualifications and roles.

  • We met very regularly in this season – it was high commitment.

  • We worked through scriptures and books.

    • Alexander Strauch ‘Biblical Eldership’ / PJ Smyth ‘The World needs More Elders’.

  • I connected our emerging team to apostolic ministry and trusted friends

  • We prayed weekly together on Friday mornings (you catch much culture in praying together!).

  • Get the others raising others too!

 

We’ve learnt much and keep learning. These are very much ‘summary notes’ and may raise some questions that are not answered, but hopefully gives you an insight into our journey and maybe of some help in yours.

CHURCH PLANTING TIPS...

WHY QUESTION.jpg

I was recently asked for a short response to ‘What would your top 3 church planting tips be?’ - the below answer took into account the person asking, our relationship and their setting. Below is what came to mind immediately…what would you say?


PERSONAL

1) Be Real

  • People are attracted to authenticity

  • It is exhausting not to be

  • If you are not, you’ll need to keep up the show to keep people

  • People follow someone who is real before someone whom is right (Craig Groeschell)

2) Be Connected

  • apostolic fathering

  • brothers

  • movement/network

3) Be at peace

  • God is Sovereign you’re not

  • Jesus is building his church

  • His yoke is easy

  • His kingdom is increasing

  • He pursues people

  • He has people in your city

  • He called you

 

PRACTICAL

1) Prepare / Structure for growth ahead of time

  • leadership

  • website / database

  • serving expectations and excellence

  • But like a Swan...people experience the serene floating on calm waters (the fruit of the structuring), but you are working hard beneath the surface.

2) Prioritise eldership/leadership

  • something is left ‘unfinished’ until that’s in place - Titus (brings security)

3) Pursue Partnership

  • mainly with apostolic/churches in your network for support/sensing

 

STRATEGIC

1) Focus on developing culture

  • above quantity, appearance, quick fix

  • tell stories

  • structure calendar for the outworking of mission and community

2) Build deep community but always talk mission

  • Community on mission

  • the two are not mutually exclusive but rather mission is inevitable fruit of authentic gospel community - and community the means of discipleship.

3) Connect your People apostolically

  • invest in getting guest speakers

  • Invest in taking them to conferences, telling stories, road trips

  • Connect them relationally to the ‘bigger picture’ = ownership

4) Work hard, rest deeply, play well

  • Embrace seasons

  • Don’t fear lulls/holidays,

  • Enjoy drinks/meals with leaders in your church and friends

  • Build into budget

  • Enjoy journey

 

—> If I had to choose just 3

1) Be real

2) Structure ahead

3) Focus on culture