More than 20 church plants are now supported by FIEC. Earlier this month we held a 36-hour retreat for church planting couples to support and encourage their ministry. Held in the beautiful surroundings of Torch Trust’s Holiday and Retreat Centre in West Sussex, Sam Buckley went along with his wife Melissa.
The writer, C. Peter Wagner, once said:
“Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.”
Whether he’s right or not is a matter of opinion, but there is certainly a movement of new churches being planted all over our nation which are reaching out into places where there is little or no gospel witness.
For the last few years, Mission Director Andy Paterson has been working hard to support church plants and church planters. As part of that support, eight church planting couples from plants that are part of the FIEC family were whisked away for a 36-hour retreat to the beautiful setting of the South Downs in May.
We all came from different contexts: from new estates to historic cities; from council estates to affluent suburbs; from northern England to the south coast; from urban London to rural Cumbria, while others are serving in the commuter belt.
Not only did we come from different contexts, but we all had different levels of ministry and planting experience, from decades planting and leading churches to those fresh out of theological college.
The churches were at different stages too; from Abbeywood Community Church, launching their morning gathering the following day, through to New Life Brighton at around 20 years old.
Despite our many differences, there was more that united us because we all share a desire to see people won for Jesus from all different parts of our society.
We are united in the conviction that God works powerfully by his Spirit, through his word to bring people from death to life and transform them into the likeness of his Son. And we are united in our conviction that planting new churches is a wonderful way to reach the unreached in our nation.
We spent 36 hours chatting, eating, praying, sharing and catching up on rest. And I’ve got to say, it was a joy.
A joy to hear
It was a joy to hear stories of people being reached with the gospel of grace, and turning to the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance and faith.
It was a joy to hear of the gospel preached, the word of the Lord going out in areas which had been lying fallow for years.
It was a joy to hear of people being equipped and motivated to follow the great commission in the area God has placed them.
It was a joy to hear of churches growing, often slowly and painfully, but growing nonetheless.
It was a joy to hear of prayers answered.
It was a joy to hear about God’s faithfulness and sustaining hand on his people doing his work, even when they feel as if all is falling apart around them.
A joy to share
It was a joy to share the encouragements and particular challenges of ministry in small, new churches seeking to gain a foothold for the gospel in their communities and to resource one another with stories of lessons learned the hard way.
It was a joy to be taught by Andy from Psalm 91, to get the benefit of his years in ministry and to hear the precious promises God makes in Scripture that God rescues, protects, answers, comforts, honours, delivers, satisfies and saves.
It was a joy to share abundant food together and to enjoy God’s gift of beautiful countryside. We even did a bit of celebrity spotting – Simon Cowell anyone?!
It was a joy to stop. To take a break from the day-to-day and week-to-week busyness of life in a church plant and to take a step back. To think. To pray. To plan.
One of the guys reminded us of the famous verse from Psalm 127 just before we left:
“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain.”
There is such a temptation to get our heads down in ministry, to crack on and ‘do’ stuff. We can be as busy as we like, rushing from one initiative to another, but unless we’re depending on the Lord, on our knees before him, unless he is the one working in us, we’re working in vain.
That was a salient word to take with us as we went back, refreshed and ready to go, to our home churches.