Church planter Tim Matthews, vicar of St Swithun’s Bournemouth, shares his story of preparation as a time for the planter, the community, and the vision to be rebuilt on Christ alone.
Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.
Learning through Failure
The way the Lord prepared me was through a lot of failure. This plant was the thirteenth project we worked on and the first twelve didn’t happen because either I or others messed things up. I’m sure some of you have had failures in the past. That rate is falling as people become better informed.
When I was preparing from 2010-13, that three year gap was filled with confusion. I didn’t know where I was at times. But ‘the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’ (Psalm 118:22) and if you haven’t been through rejection, had a chance to have failures flushed out and pride exposed and dealt with, then you can’t be sure you’re building on Christ alone.
Then Bournemouth came along and we were asked to come down and look at it. We got a last-minute hotel room and walked around for two days, praying and picking up whether this was God or not. We walked away with a clear sense that this was God and our hearts rose to it. From there the project looked like it was over any number of times, but for some reason I knew this was the one to die for.
There have been many time when I’ve looked back and thought if I knew how hard it was going to be I would’ve quit. So you’ve got to be 100% sure that it’s God and that it’s His show, not mine. On my best days I don’t mess it up too much, but it’s God’s church and you have to believe that. When other people catch that from you, they’ll start to follow you.
Prayer and Preparation
The first thing we did to prepare was pray. You don’t want your church plant to be a work of human hands and unfortunately that will be a danger as church plants become the trend. It has to be born in adversity and prayer. You’re all facing huge challenges: financially, relationally, and geographically, and so it has be begin with seeking Him.
I began a confidential email thread asking people to pray. I booked off prayer retreats. I still have a box of soil from St Swithun’s site that I used to pray for the site. One day in autumn 2013, I felt the Lord say, “March seven times around the site”. I felt so self-conscious! I had some sandwiches with me and so I emptied the container and filled up the box with soil from the site. When I got back to London, I would take the lid off, smell the soil, and take off my shoes and stand in it so I was making a connection in prayer. Stuff like this sounds so stupid, but ‘the Lord uses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise’ (1 Corinthians 1:27). So get people you trust. Do some journaling. Do the course. And get a mentor.
One other thing that I’d encourage: the time leading up to your plant is the last time in a long while that you’ll have time to deal with some of your stuff. So I went to a counsellor and said, “Can we go on a walk together through my emotional landscape and check no landslides are about to occur? Because I’d rather that stuff was worked out now rather than a year’s time, affecting my wife and family and the congregation.” My wife and I also did a marriage course to work on the foundations of our marriage. Get people around you who can help you take a long, hard look in the mirror and say things like, “You are risk-averse; you are confrontation-averse; you are a people pleaser. Now let’s talk about why that is”.
The one thing I’d say to those weeks away from planting is, ‘Be strong and courageous’ and know that it’s God’s work. Ultimately, you’re going to have to ask people to trust that this is the Lord. So get to that point where you can look someone in the eye and say, ‘Why don’t you come along, because this is God and you don’t want to miss out’. That’ll come through prayer, study, thinking, and getting a deep sense of conviction.
Be courageous. There’s so much discouragement out there and the system we’re part of (though it’s changing) is hard and you’ve got to go in there with the opposite attitude, ready to take risks because you know it’s God and He can do it.
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