On new beginnings (kinda)

This Friday everything starts again for our family. I’m not one of those ‘new year, new you’ people mostly. I have no great hopes that 2021 will solve the problems of 2020… things are actually substantially changing for us this year on a bunch of fronts…our youngest starts primary school, so all three kids will be at school with one pick up, and one drop off time, so there’s that, and the reconfiguration of our home life that’ll come with this new era, but January 1 marks the beginning of a new chapter for our church family as well.

For the last seven years I’ve been the campus pastor of a campus in a multisite church (Living Church, formerly (and formally) known as Creek Road Presbyterian Church). For a variety of reasons, from the 1st of January 2021, I’ll be the pastor of a new church plant — our campus is becoming its own church — City South Presbyterian Church.

The process of going independent from our mother church, and the multisite model, has been rewarding and challenging, and there are lots of things that are exciting about this move, but it’s also daunting.

I’ve written stacks about church over the last seven years — and when I go back and read things I wrote 7 years ago, I can see the ongoing development of my thinking, produced both by reading and engaging with a variety of voices, and by my experience, both in a ‘church plant’ (starting a new campus) and a large, well resourced church (as part of the ‘multisite organisation’). There’s lots that me-seven-years-ago thought that me-today does not think about the task of being the church in the world, and yet, quite a few convictions that have deepened.

During 2020, a terrible year to try to do anything but hold life together for church communities, our crew was working through the process of articulating our mission, vision, and values. I’m convinced that processes are as important as outcomes, and this has been a really humbling experience, but also a really rich one. If you’ve been reading for a while you might remember that at a crunch point, towards the end of last year, I wrote a ‘manifesto’ — which, I’d do again, because everyone has to once, but which is also a pretty wanky thing to do. I’m pretty convinced that the best form of ‘leadership’ in church is not ‘top down’ vision casting authoritative shot calling, but consultative and collaborative, and this process of coming up with our shared mission, vision, and values has been a process of seeing other people from our community articulate who we are as a church in their own words. The words ‘new eden’ don’t even appear once in the document, but, at the same time, we’re richer for having worked through the process together and it is a document that embodies the sort of values that I’d love to see our church mature in through the next period of our life together.

We’ve chucked our mission, vision, and values up on our website, but it’s not really a ‘public’ document. It’s not a sales pitch. It’s a document that our elders and leaders will be holding us to as a community (and holding me to as an employee).

This next year won’t be without challenges — we’re still a church that draws people from all points of the compass in greater Brisbane; people in our community live up to 40 minutes apart. We still have a desire to be an ‘urban’ church tackling issues in our city in a way that is grounded in, and communicates, the Gospel, and we still don’t have our ‘own’ home. It feels counter-intuitive to try to grow a community that perpetuates this geographic spread, and yet, everything I read about ‘urban’ churches suggests this dynamic is quite normal.

What we do have is a great relationship with a bunch of (mostly) older (elderly) Christians from the Annerley Church of Christ; through a few strange events we found ourselves meeting in their building from about this time last year, and the disruption of 2020 brought us together (it was easier to be Covid safe compliant with one gathering in the building than two). These mostly older Christians have made our ‘value’ of being a multi-generational church a reality, and have been a really tangible picture of the beauty of people who’ve embedded themselves in a church community together for the long haul (but also of the need to keep looking for renewal and intergenerational connections).

We’re working on a kinda ‘classic Christianity with a real world/contemporary twist’ vibe; we’ll be doing the same ‘opening up a bit of the Bible and figuring out how it lands with Jesus’ caper we’ve been doing for years, with the same desire to understand and connect with the world we live in, but rather than being a sort of self-help hype-based thing (with songs) in a multipurpose space (which is not a dig at anybody in particular, just another end of a spectrum of modern church practices), we’re deliberately ‘churchy’ — dipping into old and established historic practices of the church (especially communion every week, and saying the Creed together, and doing things like contemplation and silence where appropriate). Hopefully within a few weeks from now we’ll be doing this with coffee before church, and lunch at the pub across the road afterwards.

So, if you’re the praying type — we’d love your prayers as we get things up and running. The transition from being part of a well oiled machine to running everything on a budget that feels a bit like it’s running on the fumes of an oily rag feels like a challenge up front. It’s possible there’ll be a shuddering gear change that we all experience in the next few weeks (and look, if you’ve enjoyed my writing over the years and want to help pay some bills, we won’t say no to you expressing your appreciation, especially once we’ve got our bank account sorted out).

Our family would love your prayers for a family or two with girls who might join our kids church (we’ve got quite a few boys, but we won’t say no to other families joining us).

If you haven’t been to church for a while, and 2020 has left you with a nagging sense that there’s something missing in your life — whether that’s community, or God, or a sense of meaning and purpose, come along some time.

If you’ve never been to church and want to know what this God stuff is about, and why someone who appears reasonably sane most of the time (maybe) would do this gig, come check us out.

If you’re someone who is moving to Brisbane and looking for a church, we’d love to have you around for a meal, or I’d love to catch up for a coffee or beverage of your choice.

If your church would like to send you along to partner with us in this next stage of our church life, then I’d love to talk to you too. Hit me up with an email, or find me on social media somewhere.

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