Planting a new garden

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Where do you buy your vegetables? At a supermarket? Or maybe a specialty fruit store or farmers’ market? Or do you value the quality, economy and process of bringing food to your table so much that you’ve decided to grow your own?

There’s something very special about ploughing your own garden patch, carefully planting seeds, weeding, watering, harvesting, and then the pleasure of seeing those beautiful veggies on your table one day. 

It is a universal attribute of church plants that they are strongly evangelistic—you don't plant a new church without reaching out.

We say we “grow” vegetables but, of course, what we do is a rather small part of the process. We don’t make the sunshine, the earth or the water. And there’s certainly nothing we can do to take a dormant seed and breathe life into it. But still, without doing our part, those beautiful, fresh veggies would never exist. 

It’s not entirely different from growing new disciples. At least that’s the way Pastor Wayne Krause, who heads up the South Pacific Division (SPD) Centre for Church Planting, thinks. Talking at a recent three-day church-planting seminar, he says: “This conference is all about making disciples.” What does that mean? “Discipleship is the intentional process to let Jesus grow in and through us,” continues Pastor Krause. “We don’t just want to make church members, we want to serve God by making genuine new disciples—just as He instructed us to do.”

But what does church planting have to do with making disciples? “It is a universal attribute of church plants that they are strongly evangelistic—you don’t plant a new church without reaching out,” states Pastor Krause. “And, we’re either growing or we’re stagnating as individuals and as churches; there is no equilibrium in the Christian life. So church planting is not only about making new disciples, it is also about keeping us moving forward in our walk with Jesus. The Adventist Church started as a church planting movement. We simply want to go back to our beginning, planting new churches and regaining our momentum as a movement, not stagnating and institutionalising.” He stops, chuckles and concludes, “Church planting is the extreme sport of Christianity.” He should know. His church has planted six churches  “so far . . .”

Apparently Pastor Krause isn’t alone in his thinking. The church-planting conference has drawn 163 delegates: roughly half are pastors and half local church leaders. “You’re all ministers,” Pastor Krause says, “some of you are paid, some of you are volunteers, but you are all ministering.” The three-day event at Avondale College is also heavily supported by division, union and conference leadership. The sessions comprise a 20-minute talk followed by a 20-minute small group discussion.
 


Pastors Mark Baines and Chris Stanley.

I sit in on one round table discussion. There’s a young man with a hipster beard who talks about reaching his mates from Melbourne University, a woman of Papua New Guinea (PNG) heritage who now lives in Western Australia, and representatives from Auckland (NZ), country NSW and Sydney. I want to simply observe but the discussion is so engaging I can’t help but get involved.

After the discussion, I talk to Rebecca Lukale. Originally from PNG, she and her husband recently moved to Tom Price, a mining town in WA, where they work in an indigenous community. Tom Price is a 16-and-a-half hour drive north from Perth and a six-and-a-half hour drive east from the ocean. “We’ve started a house church,” she says. “Through friendship, we now have two ladies with their kids coming to church. We also had an African couple coming to church; they moved to Perth. They’re now planning to be baptised which is great! I think there are many other people who we can reach.”

So why is she at the conference? “There are plenty of churches in our community—Jehovah Witnesses, Baptists, Anglicans, charismatic—but no Adventist church.” Why is that such a problem? “A church gives a visual symbol of our presence in the community and also a place for us to meet as we grow. We have the truth and I want everyone in the community to know the truth and to be ready for the second coming. I’m passionate about door knocking, meeting people, getting to know them and inviting them to church. It is about a four-hour drive to the nearest Adventist church. So we need a church in our community where people can come.” She concludes, “Please pray for the town of Tom Price, that soon we’ll have the newest Adventist church in Australia!”

This is just one of the inspiring stories at the conference. Luke and Sau Letele have come with their young child and their friend Ron Piilua. Luke and Ron work on navy ships at Woolloomooloo, Sydney. The three have a dream of planting a church in Sans Souci, a southern Sydney suburb.

“We are focusing on the needs of single mums and young families,” Luke says. Why? “We did a fitness boot camp outreach recently and that’s who showed up. So they chose us, not us choosing them!” “It’s a demographic in great need of ministry,” Sau says. “They have complex emotional needs, generally they face a very difficult financial situation and they are rushed off their feet. We are thinking carefully how to structure our church to meet those needs.” “We won’t have a traditional service; we’re thinking about what the best times are, how to reach the kids; we are thinking out of the box,” Ron adds.
 


Ron Piilua (far left) with Luke and Sau Letele.

“The vision cast at the conference isn’t about planting one more church, it’s a vision of multiplication—where church planting becomes the DNA of our mission as a church,” says Dr Sven Ostring, director of discipleship movements in Sydney. “Church planting takes us out of our comfort zone—we intentionally step out and connect with a new community. Like Jesus, we learn to be comfortable in their marketplace and then call people to follow Him.”

“There were people here from across the whole division—which was very important,” says Pastor Glenn Townend, president of the Trans Pacific Union Mission. “Mega-churches may work for evangelicals but in Adventism, the way we’ve grown is through moderate-sized churches multiplying. One of the first churches we planted in West Australia spawned four other churches. It has about 80 members today, and some of the churches it spawned have over 100 members. Larger churches tend to foster spiritual consumerism; smaller churches require spiritual participation. You don’t have to guess which model gives more people more opportunity to develop as disciples.” During Pastor Townend’s decade as president of the WA Conference, the conference planted roughly 63 new churches. During that period of intentional church planting, it became the fastest growing conference in Australia.

There are lots of ways to do church. We can show up at 11.10, sit at the back and then drive home at 12.30, critiquing the sermon on the way. Sort of like picking up veggies at the big supermarket and finding a few spots on the spuds. At the other end of the extreme, we can be part of a team, planting a new church, getting out in a new community, struggling to find the right messages and methods to reach new people, making mistakes, innovating, struggling through discouragement and, one day, seeing the very first new Christian give their life to God at our church plant. Sort of like growing our own veggies: it’s a lot harder but could it be a lot sweeter too?
 


James Standish is editor of Adventist Record.