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.