Hidden in the shadow of His Hand – the soft launch of a church
The season we currently find ourselves in is an odd one. It’s neither here nor there. We had left our former church to start a new one, except we had then deliberately chosen not to launch publicly until early 2017, instead taking our team through a ‘soft launch’ period. This was with the aim of giving ourselves space and time to work out what River City would look like to those who will come to visit, and hopefully join us in the future. At times it has been tempting to think of this time as a hiatus; a stop gap; a liminal space between one thing and another. The dreaded word ‘ Momentum’, the thing every church planter both craves and fears, is being mentioned rather a lot! Pacing the launch of a church is rather a conundrum – go too fast and you risk team burn out, a depletion of resources and more guests than you can handle (yes that actually happens), or disillusionment if no guests appear despite all the hard work. Alternatively, start too sedately and you risk creating an internalised culture where your team becomes comfortable with one another and the foot eases off the mission pedal all together.
We have been wrestling with this tension since the moment we left Jubilee in July. For us, during the summer holidays, routine went out the window! Members of the team dispersed for various holidays, and for some, their own house moving sagas; our kids were sick meaning we didn’t get to leave the house that often; we downed tools, all our early enthusiasm for decorating and DIY stopped. I actually felt more exhausted by the end of the holidays than I did when I went into them. At the time, with no familiar church routine to focus on, it was quite a battle to keep reminding myself what we were doing here.
Then came September, the new term, and our ‘soft launch’; where we began meeting together as group on a Sunday morning. The intention for this time was to have the time, and freedom from the watching eyes of guests, to practice our Sunday morning meetings and iron out any kinks. Now we’re six weeks in and the team has been doing an incredible job. So much so that we feel able to ‘do’ our Sunday gathering fairly well. Aside from this blog, Facebook, Twitter and word of mouth we are not yet publicly advertising the church. To date, we have no website and have done no flyering, or launch events. Despite this we have a small number of guests almost every week and have already seen someone give their life to Jesus! But, with this early ‘success’ comes the temptation to speed up, move our public launch forward, and ‘just get on with it’. Yet, having sought God on what he has promised and said to us about planting, we are learning a number of crucial things in this liminal time:
1) We are following God’s voice – not a church planting manual
There was a moment before we planted that the Holy Spirit said to me that we had ‘graduated’ from following our current leaders to directly following God as our coach. There is no one-size fits all approach to church planting. We will take on advice and instruction from many sources as we go, but every church planter faces different circumstances, cultures and challenges. The Holy Spirit knows every solution. The challenge for the church planter is to be connected to and in intimate relationship with him, so that out of that place he can lead you, and give you the strategy you need to ’take the land’.
2) When God ‘hides you away’ it is to prepare you
It has felt very much like God spoke to us, filled us full of vision, got us moving… and then hid us away! It’s something we see the prophet Isaiah wrestle with and then prophesy about the coming Messiah:
“He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away.” Isaiah 49:2
Why would God prepare his servants and then hide them away? Why does He take us through delays, set backs, trials and tests? We believe it is because:
3) Delay increases our need, potency and power
Jesus clearly instructed his disciples to “wait in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). The disciples waited obediently for the helper Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit. He knew this band of people could not achieve the dreams of God alone. Jesus’ death on the cross had won the war, now the disciples were to gather in ‘the spoils’, his inheritance, yet, they were full of fear and character issues. They needed help and he knew it! The Holy Spirit is clearly given to equip us for service (Acts 1:8) and to testify to us about our position and security in Christ (Rom 8:15). Without knowing the latter we cannot achieve the former. The disciples waited in the upper room acutely aware of their need for him. The longer they waited the more their need increased. Need seems to be the utmost qualifier when it comes to partnering with a Holy God.
God reminded me again this week that this season we are walking through is ordained by Him. It feels very much that we are ‘waiting in the city’ so that he can clothe us with power from on high. We are acutely aware of our need! It is a time of equipping for us and our team. He is stretching us, challenging us, reminding us who we are, whose we are and what authority we carry. This season is a glorious one! Like the few moments a runner takes as he prepares himself before a race, getting his feet in the starting blocks, ahead of his explosive start.
It is exciting to see our team grow in confidence, and security in who they are. As we ‘practice’ praying for one another, stepping out in faith, pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. In the relative quiet and privacy of our soft launch period, he is preparing our arms for battle (Ps 18:39). We are learning that we are not orphans but heirs of a good Father who longs to show His love to the people of East Hull. What we carry is precious and powerful. I can’t wait to see all that God will do in January and beyond.