epuni and stoke

On Sunday afternoon I spent a few hours with Robyn of Epuni. On Thursday afternoon I spent a few hours with Paul of Stoke. With Robyn I chatted with some young adults over lunch. With Paul I went visiting the elderly in the later afternoon. Robyn was a student in my final years at Carey. Paul was a student in my first years.

Both invited me to visit them. I loved it. Both Epuni and Stoke are small churches. At times in their history both have been vulnerable churches, familiar with strife and questioning their future. Both Robyn and Paul are uncomplicated in their approach. They love and they feed and out of that context they lead. Both Robyn and Paul loved the church in the classroom - now both love the local church in the community. Both have studies, rather than offices. Both are just in their second years with a long way to go. But my hunch is that Stoke and Epuni will find themselves on a trajectory of quiet, slow and healthy growth.

It got me thinking...

I am one who believes that the local church is the hope of the world. It is Plan A and there is no Plan B. But it has to be properly defined as both a gathering community (for worship and maturing) and a scattering community (for work and missioning).

I am one who believes in the community church in the community. I don't really care for the logic about "corner store dairies being replaced by supermarkets and so little churches need to be replaced by large churches". It may make sociological sense, but it is weak theologically and biblically and that is more important to me.

I am one who believes that 100 healthy churches doubling from 50 to 100 is more strategic than 10 healthy churches doubling from 500 to 1000 - even though the mathematics may be the same. The foundation for further growth is better, the number of different communities being touched is greater - and it is more realistic and achievable (although I am happy if both are able to happen).

When I was a student and when I was a principal there was too much hope and aspiration around about the possibility of ending up in a large church. It was unlikely. It is unlikely. It will be unlikely. Far better to correct the hope and measure the aspiration more accurately and settle down for the long obedience in the same direction. Yes, I am one who believes that the training years should be devoted to shaping pastors to be rightly-convicted, effective shepherds within churches that are authentic communities with measured dreams ... but should someone show a propensity for leading the much larger (it will be the exception, rather than the rule) then that capacity is best nurtured through the mentoring and coaching of someone who has walked that walk and draws alongside.

New Zealand needs the Robyns and the Pauls. Hundreds of them.

New Zealand needs the Epunis and the Stokes. Hundreds of them.

nice chatting



Rhett said…
Robyn was my senior pastor for about a week and a half at the end of my last Summer placement. She was great, and Epuni is a fantastic church too.

Talking about lots of little churches, what are you thoughts on church planting?

One thing that has been jarring for me moving from a Wesleyan context (for 5 years) where church planting is hugely valued, to the Baptist context has been the lack of emphasis on church planting.

I've bought into the value that every time a church hits around 250-300 in attendance, they should look to free up 50 people to go plant a church. Easier said than done, of course, but I certainly haven't come across many with a passion for church planting (other than a rare few here and there), in fact I've mostly come across a suspicion of it.

Sorry for hijacking your topic, but does it fit into what you talk about lots of little churches?
Andrew Butcher said…
I found this post to be especially moving, Paul - aided by my "simultaneous" reading of Eugene Peterson's memoir. What you say expresses a real and remarkable humility: the growth of the church is not our work at the end of the day anyway. It is God's church and God's work, in our lives, in our communities, in our congregations. Surely our aspiration (as you intimate) should not be to big popular churches, but to spending a lot of time on our knees in prayer and in the Scriptures in learning and in all sorts of places in worship and from there grow a healthy Christian and a healthy church.
Alex said…
I suspect if this value was truly inculcated in the classroom and pastors meetings we'd have few burned out and more effective pastors.
Paul said…
Let me pick up on these helpful comments:

I am not sure I'd want to be known as an advocate of "lots of little churches" - more "lots of healthy smaller churches growing larger gradually". A subtle, but significant, difference. I am not trying to say that there is something inherently special about being 'little', just as I wouldn't want to say there is something inherently bad about being 'big'.

I am sure church-planting is part of this and I have sympathy with what you are expressing here. The one caution I have is that the skill-set of a church-planter can be a bit different from that of a pastor/shepherd. I worry about church-planters hanging around for too long and not adding the caring:feeding:maturing dimension to their calling, essential in a church once it is established.

Yes, I find Peterson does tend to be a discomforting prophet in our midst on this subject. Maybe a little idealistic at times however. I do doubt whether if he found himself in a large church as a senior pastor, he could quite live the life he advocates sometimes. Maybe he could. Maybe he did. But it is a heavy burden to place on lesser mortals. There is an organisational busyness that is incredibly difficult to tame... but nurturing a sense of God as the leader in His church is a great place to begin.
Paul said…
Ahhh... couldn't agree with you more. From my years training and working with pastors, I'd make two observations about burnout.

(a) It develops in lives where there is a building disconnect between the private world and the public performance. The integration, the integrity just isn't there and it takes so much energy to keep the lie going - and it wears people out. Leading out of an overflow of who we really are can be energising...

(b) It develops in lives of pastors whose eyes are roaming to the bigger and the more 'successful'. They become distracted. They lose their nerve. They forget that success is measured purely and simply with the currency of faithfulness to a call of God on their lives. Nothing more, nothing less. Great stories can always fan our hopes and aspirations - why not?! - but in a way that returns us to our calling, rather than taking us away from it.
Barry Pearman said…
I was talking with some one recently who when I asked them to describe Church they spoke about it being a social networking site. Relationships shallow, conversations lite.
I like your comment 'I am one who believes that 100 healthy churches doubling from 50 to 100 is more strategic than 10 healthy churches doubling from 500 to 1000 - even though the mathematics may be the same'. I would add that I am one who believes that 500 people developing rich soul talk relationships with at least 500 others is more strategic than 10 healthy churches doubling from 500 to 1000.
I love rich soul talking relationships where Daddy, Jesus and Spirit dance through the conversations, alluring the conversant to deeper places of change. In a recent conversation I asked my two friends this question. 'Does your experience of local church encourage conversation where deep Soul Talk happens'.
Small is beautiful. Jesus said 'For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." Matt.18:20. I am not always so sure that Jesus shows up to where two hundred or three hundred come together, perhaps he would rather be down at the local cafe on a Sunday morning in a rich conversation. Perhaps those who don't know Jesus yet can experience him in the relational conversations we can offer.
Epuni and Stoke will grow if the conversations they offer in their community are rich and welcoming.

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