1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 (ESV)
…12and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
As we meet to think through issues to do with starting a new church, we need to remind ourselves of why we would do it. Paul loved the city of Thessalonica by planting a church. The language of love particularly is to the fore in chapters two and three. They spell out what Paul meant as he says here that he increases and abounds in love for the Thessalonians.
Love was the character of his relationship with them from the moment he arrived in their city. The most tangible expression of that love was the words he spoke about the Lord Jesus. Fresh from flogging and jail in Philippi, he knew the trajectory that his speech would set. To declare the gospel of God guaranteed conflict. Yet, with God’s help, he dared to speak; he served them; he shared his life; and he saw God save. Torn away from them, his heart’s desire was to return. His longing was to himself speak the word by which God would keep and mature them. At personal cost he sent Timothy to speak that word. He rejoiced in their perseverance and progress.
He increased and abounded in love for them.
And he prayed that the same intense love would characterise their relationships with one another and all. As God answered that prayer, the result of their mutual love would be their perseverance and progress (verse 13). Their heartfelt love for one another expressed in lives shared and the gospel spoken would be God’s means of keeping and maturing those he had saved while they waited for the coming of our Lord Jesus. Churching and speaking the truth in love to one another would see each one persevere and grow. That is the ‘one another’ aspect of the prayer.
We saw the ‘all’ aspect of Paul’s love evidenced in his initial speaking the gospel of God to them. Their love shaped lives and words had already encompassed ‘all’—those outside their fellowship. How else could unbelievers report the change in them with such a deep understanding of the gospel? (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10) The prayer is that this will be the case more and more.
The Christians in Thessalonica loved one another and all by being a church on a mission. Their mission was an overflow of love. Their loving goal was to present Christ to everyone and to present everyone mature in Christ. As we hear his word, it is God’s work among us by his Spirit to produce the same goal orientated love in us.
Big picture vision
One way we are expressing that as a body at unichurch is our goal of seeding a new fellowship where a number of us will continue to love one another and seek to love ‘all’. It is the ‘all’ which expands as we plant— many will more easily come within our sphere of loving gospel influence as a consequence of our gathering on the southside of Brisbane. Over time we hope to continue to love the city by continually planting churches around the region—both associated small groups and new large gatherings.
Relationship with unichurch
The practicalities of our relationship with unichurch are that we will begin under their umbrella in administration but with a trajectory towards being established as an independent church. I will answer to the unichurch board through Roy. A sub-committee of the board will function as an administrative council for the plant. The budget developed by the board anticipates supporting the plant on a declining scale towards June 2010. You might like to think of it as shifting from living in the granny flat to renting our own space. When it is a viable prospect in terms of finances and ministry capabilities as a congregation, we will pursue incorporation as an independent entity. The relationship will continue to be a close one. In time we will see the further opportunities for the gospel that develop out of that relationship.
Independence, however, is not the big picture goal! Our goal is the glory of God being seen in our mutual relationships as a congregation of his people, his adding of new believers and multiplying the ministry in the establishment of future churches. That will have repercussions for the way we do church from the outset. We will seek to reach people like us, people a bit like us and people very different to us. Much of our effort will go into thinking through how to express this missionary outlook in our life together.
As we grow we will make decisions as missionaries in our city. To put some flesh on that, we will be a church which is planting churches which will plant churches. That may mean that we extend the phase of having only one meeting time in a particular location so as to seed a new gathering in another part of the city. It would be great to see new meetings starting in the Mt Gravatt area and to the south west towards the centenary highway. The missionary mindset will also echo in the way we operate our small groups.
We have an opportunity to try something slightly different as we begin. We are entering a new context even if very little in the rest of life changes. Among other things, the group who begin will be a new group, you are inviting friends to take a shorter journey with you to church and you are inviting them to a group which is just finding its identity.
In terms of our week to week life, beginning in February next year, the central meeting will be near Dutton Park at a time when kids are awake. Expository preaching will be the staple at that meeting. In conjunction with that, as the context in which we have particular opportunity to love one another, will be our small groups. That love should find shape in physical concern and focused application of the Word.
We will encourage all regulars at either small or large church to be actively committed to both alongside finding one way or another to serve.
We will begin small and cosy and will find much to enjoy about the closeness of relationship, but our goal is not to be small and cosy. Such a goal is inward looking and exclusive. It limits the number we would be happy to have join us. Put another way, it limits the number we would be happy to hear the gospel from us.
Under God, it might end up looking something like this:
|July||second interest meeting
|August||set up bank account
those committed to plant begin functioning as launch team
|September||seek to secure a venue|
|November||acquire initial equipment|
|January||Meet weekly in small groups|
|February||Launch public meeting|
There is very little that will happen around southside church that is not the result of our effort. There is a possibility that our children will know the loving care of some members of the evening congregation at unichurch but we shouldn’t presume on that. It will be exciting but it will also be hard work. We won’t push passengers off the bus, but what we really need is partners.
To that end, in a month or so we will be forming a launch team. A launch team is different from a core group in that they are:
- a temporary group working towards starting the church.
- outwardly focused on seeing the church start and others join.
We will have another interest meeting in July to help you think through how you might partner in the venture. I’ve deliberately avoided promoting involvement in the plant or asking people to be involved until fairly recently. At this stage though, it would be helpful to know where you are up to in thinking it through. If you’ve already worked it out, let me know. If there are things that you’d really like clarity on as part of making the decision, I’m keen to be transparent, so just ask.
Before we spend some time discussing, I thought I’d mention a few things that would be good to expect.
Expect to be expected to be at church and small group every week and to find opportunity to serve.
Expect it to be hard work in a loving community. It almost goes without saying, but very little will happen that we ourselves do not do. But we will be in it together and serving our Lord. And we will be in it offering the costly loving service which is driven by the love of Christ.
Expect major change at least every six months! It’s not that change is a goal but it is something that those of us who have been involved in church plants recognise as an inevitablitiy. There will be change as God brings new people among us; change as small groups develop; change as we discover what works and doesn’t work for us as a group; change as we find our way in our venue… change as a group of maturing missionary believers seek to be all things to all people, that by all means we might save some.
What kind of church does the southside of Brisbane need? What will it look like?
What excites you about the plant?
What are your fears?
What networks are you hooked in to? How can we reach and disciple people in those networks?
(Feel free to raise or ask about anything else.)
For all that’s been said about us working hard, it’s God who does the work of saving, keeping, maturing, equipping and deploying his people.