What could possibly go wrong with a church planted here?
On Thursday morning we experienced something of a failure.
One of the exciting opportunities this week was to run an opt-in seminar for year 12 students in a school with which the church doesn’t really, at this stage, have a relationship. The opportunity was facilitated by an enthusiastic science teacher who is a member of another nearby church. Our team prepared an hour-long seminar, which included a short bible talk, some discussion, and several testimonies. We had copies of John’s gospel to give out. The preparations were immaculate.
The only problem? No-one opted in.
We hung around for most of the hour. Meredith gave her talk on Jesus’ meeting with the woman at the well in John 4—and though it wasn’t the intended audience, it was a blessing to us at least! Needless to say, it was a disappointment.
In God’s kindness we returned from the high school to a team training session in which we heard another story of another sort of failure. We had the privilege of hearing from a church planter whose congregation in Bondi closed at the beginning of this year. He and his family moved to Bondi to be on mission here, leaving behind a solid job in the hope of witnessing to Jesus among the lost. A year was spent simply settling in and getting to know the area. Influenced by Tim Keller’s work, the goal was to found a gathering that took the best of Bondi’s character on board so as to break down barriers to the gospel. Key to the strategy was meeting two new people per day and having meals with as many of them as possible. They met more people who said “I’ve never heard of Jesus before” than they did those who said “I have some experience with a church.”
Beginning in a living room, the plant grew to about 40 adults and moved into Bondi Pavillion. People became Christians. Christians grew in their faith. But for various reasons, the ministry became unsustainable. They decided it was time to close up shop, and they felt that God was in that decision as well.
The beautiful thing about this planter’s story is his sense of God’s care and provision throughout the whole process. “I have no sense of failure”, he says; “I’m not sovereign—I don’t have that power yet. And I never will!” Though the congregation has closed down, God’s work was clear throughout: the Spirit moved people to faith in Christ and to deeper holiness. There were hurts along the way, but the kingdom grew—even if it didn’t grow in the way it might have been expected it to.
Of course, our trip to the local high school wasn’t a failure either. The school saw that we were happy to be there. The church learned more about the particular challenges of speaking about Jesus in that sphere. God was honoured in preparation, and the year 12 students were lifted up in prayer. In God’s creative providence, none of that was wasted effort.
It’s a great lesson to learn and to be forced to confront for students training for gospel ministry. Under God, we’ll plant seeds and water them, but it’s God who gives the growth. Failure in gospel ministry is to fail to trust and teach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ faithfully; how things work out depends on God’s goodness and timing.