Lessons learned from church planting 5 – the blessing of a planting church

I remember a specific Sunday in the first few months when we planted Shofar Pretoria.   The group was still very small, and on top of that it was holiday season, so on that particular Sunday morning we had only seven members in our small, dark theatre-church.  However, as always we were prepared for a big service – ready for when the masses of visitors would come to church.    It was a comical scene: Richard Wade and two others were leading worship on the small stage, Jaco Wagenaar was behind the sound desk, and I think Magriet was handling the flimsies on the rear view projector (old school style!), leaving two in the “congregation” to worship.  After that one would get up to lead and motivate us in giving an offering, two would take up the offering leaving four in the congregation… Then I would get up to preach while Magriet would work the projector, with Jaco still manning the sound desk, leaving four members in the congregation… There were always more people facilitating the service than those actually being served!  Looking back I think we were really silly doing small church like that, but that’s the way we did church, because that was the only way we knew how,

An example to follow after

Although copying the “big church” model was obviously unnecessary and impersonal within such a small congregation, it brought such a sense of security and stability since the young congregation and this inexperienced pastor had a model to follow – a model in which they were brought up and a model which brought them life back in their student days. In a strange way it made us feel at home and safe.

But it was not only in our services did we copy the planting church’s model – we copied the model of ministry from Shofar Stellenbosch in all our church activities. In our Sunday services, intercession meetings, mid-week small groups gatherings, discipleship courses, Bible School and even evangelistic outreaches we modeled everything we did on the content and manner of ministry of Shofar in Stellenbosch.  In the beginning I even copied the sermons of Pss Fred and Lucille May and Sias le Roux (with their knowledge off course) until I had confidence in pulpit ministry.  With no surprise we experienced the same life in our meetings and effectiveness in our discipleship of new members as we ourselves experienced while being members in Stellenbosch.

The benefits of having an example to follow after incorporates more than the security and comfort of “going in the right direction” – it actually sets the young ministry team on the right direction that has proven productive and good.  Although we did not initially understand the motive for all these church activities we reaped the benefits of a healthy, growing church because we copied the design of a healthy church model.

The blessing of a covenant relationship. The leadership team of Shofar Stellenbosch always saw Shofar Pretoria (as well as the other young congregations which were planted in the same time) as an extension of itself, which meant that they were as committed to the welfare of this church plant, its leaders and its members as they were of their own congregation (if not more).  Their devotion to me and the congregation were sincere and commendable, as you might see in the rest of the post.

Support, protect and care.  Being inexperienced in planting, leading and pastoring a church, the newly planted Shofar Pretoria benefited immensely from the frequent visits, phone calls and emails, visiting mission teams and regular prayer cover of the apostolic leadership team.  During those early days I had frequent and long phone calls with Pss Fred May and Sias le Roux as I bounced my thoughts and ideas with them, and as they checked in to see how I was coping with my work and ministry load.  Especially the frequent weekend ministry visits by the mature apostolic team members strengthened and comforted the young church.

But the support and care was always first to me, the pastor (and Magriet once we married), then to the church.  Although it might sound selfish and even ignoble at first, this wisdom ensured that the pastor never “lead on empty”.  I recall a particular Tuesday three and a half years into the church plant.  I was recently married, bought a house, just resigned from the Air Force.  The church grew well and the ministry program was very busy.  My wife Magriet was in her fourth year of medical studies and busy with clinical work.  I remember coming into the office that day feeling very empty and emotional; I closed the door to the office as started crying for no apparent reason, and hid in my office from sheer embarrassment.  At first I thought it was a deep spiritual thing that happened to me and started praying, but that just felt fake and made everything worse, so I called Ps Fred, the principle pastor. He walked out of a meeting, listened to me and said I must get on the first flight down so they could spend time ministering to me. (I negotiated to wait until the next morning since I reasoned that it’s good to first inform and consult with my wife – she was working a 24hr shift in the hospital and I have not seen her since the previous day). I flew down and was so blown away by the fact that Ps Fred and Lucille May as well as Ps Sias le Roux had cleared their schedules to spend the day with me – talking, listening, counselling, praying – a day devoted in support and care of me. (Apparently my emotional outburst as the result of burn-out because I never stopped to rest and refresh… Simple diagnoses with simple solution – a good lesson to learn early-on in life and ministry!)

Always held before the Lord.  During that time I had the sense that we, the young church, was always brought before the Lord in prayer.  I recall that almost on a weekly basis I received messages or phone calls with words of encouragement, often very accurate as to the current challenges I or we faced.  We knew that the church in Stellenbosch prayed for us, and it was tangible in the grace we experienced as we met and ministered.  We were so encouraged by the love we felt and the help we received!

Direction and structure. Shofar Christian Church is known for its well planned and documented administration and ministry support system; since we are a church planting movement, the apostolic team always thinks ahead, making sure everything is easily to duplicate and imitate at a church-plant level.  Even in those early days when we planted Shofar Pretoria we benefited from the “Church in a Box” concept – a compilation of administrative, ministerial and training templates with additional resources designed to free the hands of the church-planter, allowing all the possible help to focus on relationships and personal actual ministry – to build into the people.

Wisdom and support in handling difficult situations graciously.  A notable situation early in the church plant had the potential to snuff the passion and scatter the congregation when an assistant pastor with an extraordinary ministry gift fell into secret moral sin.  While being away on holiday in Namibia I was warned through disturbing dreams that there was “an outbreak” of sexual perversion in the church.  Upon returning home I was troubled at the news that things were as I dreamed, and our local leadership team started praying.  I first suspected that something impure was imparted when a mission team came to visit just before I left, but after enquiry with the team leader and prayer I felt at ease about them.  But then Ps Sias le Roux from Stellenbosch phoned with a word of knowledge regarding a particular sinful habit in the assistant pastor’s life, and after gentle confrontation he confessed everything to me.  This lead to the suspension and support towards restoration of the pastor and his marriage, but sadly his persistence in this destructive habit and the resulting shame lead to his estrangement from his wife, the church and his ministry.

During this difficult season for the young, intimate congregation, the confident and compassionate leadership of apostolic team in Stellenbosch proved very comforting and encouraging.  Rather than being a demoralizing experience, this episode proved to be a great teaching moment of the destructiveness of sin and graceful restoration of Christ in and through the church, leading to the fear of God and intimate accountability of one another.  Furthermore the church as a whole (and myself as pastor) felt really safe and cared for, knowing that the leadership of this young church was not left to themselves.

The blessing of inheritance.  As children inherit houses they did not build, money they have not earned, identity they have not established and traditions they have not started, so Shofar Pretoria received a big kick start in life simply by being planted by Shofar Pretoria.

One of the most cherished blessings we have inherited was the “DNA” of the Shofar Christian Church.  The initial planting group were all discipled and mentored in Stellenbosch through the apostolic leaders, as we attended and participated in all the ministry opportunities.  Through those relationships, the passions and values that lived in their leadership team’s hearts also lived in our hearts.  These passions and values include: a passion for the lost and unreached people; a sincere love for people leading to selfless service of people; a life devoted to worship Christ in everything we do; being sensitive to the leading and empowerment of the Holy Spirit; as well as living deliberately in pursuit of purpose God has for each one, with a willingness to be prepared for that life.

Because of the many personal ministry visits of the apostolic leaders as well as the visiting mission teams from Stellenbosch, these values and passions were transferred to the new members in a relatively short space of time.  And once these values were installed in our hearts, our culture and training courses merely needed to strengthen it so that it lived in every member and directed our thought, dreams and efforts of our congregation.

Discipleship courses and structures we did not build. Being part of Shofar Christian Church means that – as in other church groups – every member has the privileged of going through a well-structured discipleship course to lay foundations in your spiritual and relational life through carefully facilitated encounters with the Lord and His Truth – all in community.  Often in those early days I smiled at how blessed we are, the initial planting group, firstly because we have gone through these discipleship courses which set us on a true and proven path of life, and secondly because we had the experience and material and training to disciple others through this foundational course.  Every new member were invited and ministered to in relationship along a sure path.  We saw many, many new members burst with joy and freedom as they received healing and deliverance, or hear the voice of God for the first time.  And yet we never labored for these discipleship courses – we simply used it and the church grew healthy and steadily.

Moreover, very early on in the church plant we could start teaching and hosting a Shofar Bible School, both 1st and 2nd year.  We went through these rich courses ourselves while being students in Stellenbosch and it blessed us greatly.  Now we grow leaders in our church by presenting these courses because we had all the material an training tools given to us by Shofar in Stellenbosch, with some ministry experience gained in campus ministry and missions Now and had ample opportunity in facilitating and teaching and preaching in campus ministry and missions.

Other training material and guidelines inherited from the Shofar in Stellenbosch included the facilitation of small groups, church services and worship ministry.  These guidelines and policies also prevented some serious potential disasters within this young, vulnerable church as many schemers and false apostles and false prophets sought opportunity to minister or even take leadership in the church.  Good guidelines and policies really preserved the purity and directed the passion towards productive growth in the congregation.

Even the governance structures and policies – such as Eldership, Governance Board, Finance Board and Advisory Board and Human Resource policies were naturally inherited from Shofar Stellenbosch, allowing to follow established best practices and leaving us to focus on ministry.
In conclusion, I am convinced more than ever that one of the primary reasons why Shofar Pretoria survived and thrived in those early days was because of the living relationship with its planting church, the generous provision of its resources and ministry practices, with the unselfish devotion to care and support of Shofar Christian Church’s apostolic leaders in serving and protecting this young pastor and congregation.

I say to these men and women what the Lord said to me one, early in the church plant while I was praying or the church: The LORD will record, When He registers the peoples: “This one was born there.”” (Psalm 87:6) and you will receive your reward.

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