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The cost of a new start: Checkpoint Spring 2021

After several years serving in parish ministry in Sydney, CMS workers Morgan and Olivia are now working at a church in the Middle East. Morgan shares some of the highs and lows of being a sending church.

We recently farewelled a fellow pastor from our church here on location. It’s hard to imagine how we will fill the pastoral ‘gap’ left by him after seven years of deep relationships and discipleship. In my brief time working here, I feel like I had only just begun to learn from him and his decades of cultural and pastoral insight.

This farewell, though, was by design. Our church seeks to multiply churches around the city, country and region. By God’s grace, the church has embraced the pain and weariness of sending for the sake of God’s global church.

In the 11 years since our church here was planted, eight more churches have been sent out from the original congregation.

Now my fellow pastor is returning to India to plant churches there. Stepping into what God is doing through this church has been a great joy and privilege. Three things have stood out to me about how we seek to plant churches.

1. International churches can be missional hubs

I used to think of international churches like country clubs, a place for western expats to take refuge from the culture in which they were living, and to be encouraged until they could return home.

Nothing, I discovered, could be further from the truth. English-speaking international churches can be missional hubs that reach and grow both visitors and nationals, while supporting and strengthening the local church.

We are in a country where there is no visible local church, and a large proportion of the population are expats. The average expat, though, isn’t a British businessperson. They might be an African aeronautical engineer, a South East Asian maid or a South Asian taxi driver.

All of us expats will return to our countries of origin someday. So whether people hear about Christ for the first time here, or come from a church background, our aim is for everyone who leaves to have grown in the gospel and their ability to handle God’s word. We want to see people returning to their home communities, cities and nations to be a blessing.

The common language here is English, and this gives us an opportunity to reach people from around the world, who are coming to our city. The strategic nature of international churches means church planters going from us to their homelands usually choose to plant English-speaking churches in an effort to reach more for Christ. These churches can then become hubs from which language-specific ministry can flow, in the same way that our church here has planted churches for particular  cultures and languages in our city.

2. Church planters are trained in churches

A hallmark of our church has been training leaders from the nations to go to the nations. This requires a deep knowledge of God’s word. For this reason our church started a seminary where leaders study hard to rightly handle the word of truth, and where I have the privilege of teaching.

However, the best preparation of all for planting a healthy church is growing and ministering in a healthy church, alongside other experienced leaders. We therefore seek to get students involved in church life and ministry, and use our resources to employ as many trainees as possible on our church staff.

Although COVID has slowed my getting to know the wider church here, a great joy has been that I have been able to spend lots of time with a smaller number of leaders and staff, walking with them as they grow in ministry here and prepare for ministry in the future. My friend—the man who is going to India—had an ambition to plant a church there years ago. Yet the years he has spent leading in our church has been a blessing to our church. By his own admission, it was also the best preparation he could have had for planting a new church.

3. Church planting is costly

Our church has felt the cost of sending out so many leaders. The loss of relationships and key leaders takes its toll. So when I was invited to serve here it was actually on the condition that I had no ambition to plant my own church! The church was feeling tired, and they needed leaders who would stay and equip those who were coming and going.

It can feel awkward, in a diverse church, to realise that the long-term staff are more proportionally Western than our church membership. But I am encouraged when I take a step back from just looking at our church leadership, and consider an imaginary map of the surrounding region. There, I can picture many who were once leaders here, and would have remained fellow workers in our church. Yet they are now leading and serving in churches across our city, country and region.

The cost, for those who stay and those who go, is worth it.

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