Tim O’Neill, Exec. Chair
Why Plant a Church?
Hint: the answer is nothing to do with ego!
My wife Sharon and I felt stirred to do something worthwhile with our lives. OK, truth be told, it was Sharon who felt this way more than me. As a young and ambitious Chartered Accountant I was happy forging my career in the business world. We (i.e. mainly she) were restless and wanted to live a life with great and fulfilling purpose.
Sharon heard that a wise and well-respected man had recently come to Launceston, Tasmania where we live. His name was Norman Pell and he had relocated to be the Superintendent of the Baptists Churches in Tasmania. Norman had previously ministered with Billy Graham and Leighton Ford for 17 years helping them with evangelistic crusades mainly in North America.
So we went to see this man who was soon to become a loving and inspiring spiritual father for both of us. I still remember that first time we met. Norman asked us a bunch of questions and then posed that fateful question “have you ever considered planting a church?”. Norman then talked to us about planting a church for the unchurched; for those who weren’t part of a church anywhere.
Naturally the answer was no. Neither of us had been to Bible College, and whilst Sharon had been born in New Guinea to missionary parents, I hadn’t become a Christian until not many years prior. Planting a church had never appeared on our radar screens. But that didn’t mean that the possibility didn’t interest us. Despite Sharon thinking it was a nerdy idea (her words, not mine) It captivated us.
Over coming months I read book after book on church planting and related topics and searched scripture to glean what the New Testament said about church and church planting. About 6 months later as we had started assembling what we hoped would be a core team, we put on a marriage enrichment weekend for people who weren’t yet Christians. I still recall the feedback from participants that they sensed a kind of love there that they hadn’t experienced before. Thank you Jesus!
The next weekend we started meeting on a Sunday morning in our house with a number of the couples from the weekend. Today you’d call it a micro church. We would talk about what Jesus taught in the Gospels and discuss that. And then about a year after we had first met with Norman, we moved into a high school gym and started public services.
It seems funny now to reflect on this but for the first few years of leading the church, we went looking for the “right person” (or people) who would lead the church. Gradually, over time Sharon and I came to realise that instead of looking for the right people, we were the people God had called to this ministry. We were slow learners!
That was the church we planted nearly thirty years ago. Many have come and gone, but we are still there and many have come to faith. We have also planted out from the church. About two thirds of the congregation have come to faith in the church. It indeed turned out to be a church for the unchurched; a church with a missional focus.
After planting I continued in the business world full time for another five years being a bi-vocational church planter. It wasn’t until God gave me a very distinct call to full time ministry together with amazing circumstances that show dit was His timing, that I switched and became full time in ministry and part time in other spheres. God had gone before me and paved the way in the most remarkable way. But that’s another story!
My own experience of coming to faith as an adult pointed out to me how life changing faith in Jesus could be. I am eternally grateful and so desperately wanted the same for my friends. But at the same time, we went through some of the darkest times of our lives.
Over roughly a year as we were planting the church, we knew 7 people who suicided. I remember one young man found out his girlfriend had been cheating on him. One Saturday night he drank himself into a stupor, wrote a long handwritten letter and finished his life at the end of a .22. He like the others finished their time on earth to move into an eternity without Christ; an irrevocable and incredibly sad move.
Sharon and I were surrounded by death during this time. As well as the suicides there were the deaths of my father and Sharon’s mother as well as three other relatives. It brought home to us that life on earth is temporary and that beyond the grave two very different destinations await us. We get the chance to choose our destination whilst we still have breath. After that it’s too late.
It also brought home to us that Jesus calls each of us to be His ambassadors continuing His work on earth; as His followers to be fishers of people and to make disciples.
He calls our churches to be beacons of hope and love with genuine community that is centred around Him; not us.
And to say something that is probably really unpopular, Jesus calls us to lay down our lives; our dreams and ambitions and instead take on the dreams He has for each of us. It’s only then that we can be truly used by Him and it’s only then that we will find the life of purpose He wants us to receive and embrace.
Church planting is the future of the church in our nation.
Just pause and think about that for a moment. No matter what church you attend, it was planted by someone or some people at some point in time. That’s why I am passionate about the ministry of Exponential Australia and it’s October National Conference “Igniting A Culture of Multiplication” as well as other church planting ministries in our nation. We need new church plants and we need men and women to be envisioned and equipped and to hear and respond to the call to plant churches.
I remember reading years ago out the famous English writer Robert Louis Stevenson. When he was a young boy, he was very sickly. One day as night approached, his nurse came into his room and saw that he was looking out the window. She asked what he was doing. He was watching a man lighting the gas street lanterns and said “I’m watching a man punch holes in the darkness”.
That’s what church planters do. They punch holes in the darkness. Light always dispels darkness.
Put simply, our nation needs new churches being planted, churches that will punch holes in the darkness and bring light to our nation. Tim Keller in an essay entitled “Why Plant Churches” (January 11, 2002) wrote that:
The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for (1) the numerical growth of the body of Christ in a city and (2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else—not crusades, outreach programs, parachurch ministries, growing megachurches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes—will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This is an eyebrow- raising statement, but to those who have done any study at all, it is not even controversial.
So why plant a church? For Sharon and I it was because Jesus disrupted the life we had for something infinitely better; harder but more rewarding. Because He called us to plant a church to reach men, women and children who didn’t know Him. Because He calls us all to make disciples and church planting is the most effective way to do this.
Why plant a church? Perhaps because Jesus is calling you to plant a church?
Tim O’Neill is the Exec. Chair of Exponential Australia and is passionate about seeing ordinary men and women being used by God in extraordinary ways.
Exponential Australia exists to see church planting multiplication become a primary and widely embraced measure of success in the church.
Tim can be contacted at email@example.com