Plans and Dreams
As the church planting team was being prepared, what hopes, dreams and plans did they have? What was their vision for a new church?
As Ian’s probationary period came to a close at Renfield St. Stephen’s Ian and Sarah were considering where they would go. The New Charge Development project was being established and Ian was interviewed to discuss being a minister in a New Charge Parish. Stockethill was a possibility but wasn’t yet ready to receive a minister and so Ian would have to wait.
In the meantime, Ian chose to be interviewed for Urban Priority Areas. It was clear to both interviewer and interviewee that Ian was not called to this area of work. Ian further reflected that ministry within the established patterns and forms of the Church of Scotland did not seem the best fit. The idea of a New Charge, with the chance to innovate and forge a distinctive path suited to time and place, appeared to be the way forward.
While they waited, Ian read about church planting and thought and planned. He created a five year plan for planting a new church. There was no clear view of what the end product would be, it was rather a plan for seeking the right seed for the soil of a local community and tending there the growth of God’s plant.
At the same time, Ian reflects, although New Charge encouraged their new ministers to start with a blank sheet and although he was committed to seeing a church develop that was appropriate for Stockethill, he nevertheless brought with him assumptions about what a good church should look like.
Four popular church models were influential in his early thinking: The Cell Church model encouraged by Bill Beckham and used at Whiteinch, Willow Creek’s seeker sensitive church meetings, the Purpose Driven Church of Rick Warren and, finally, Natural Church Development. All of these influences were to be pulled together to create a new parish church of the Church of Scotland. And yet, while all have been influential in their way, none provided a simple solution to the problem of church planting.
One final point should not be underestimated in its importance. Both Ian and Sarah were approaching the task ahead determined to seek the leading and involvement of God in their decision making. After a dream about the setting up of a tent, Ian and Sarah focussed on the following verses.
“Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labour; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD. “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” (Isaiah 54:1-2)
These verses have been especially important to the church. They speak of God’s blessing on the weak and vulnerable and despised. For an inexperienced church planting team, with little experience as evangelists, they were encouraged again and again that it was God who did the blessing. [Would like to discuss this further - how was the verse used; just for the team, for the people of the parish?]
Prophecy was also influential in the direction the church plant would take. This could affect the direction of decisions before they were taken, but also cause decisions to be reversed after they were taken. The prophecies were varied but could be dreams, pictures or pictorial language that could be interpreted or emotional convictions that a choice simply was not appropriate. The team’s responses to these phenomena were not one of simple obedience or arbitrary choice but took place in the context of their larger interpretation of Scripture and understanding of God’s mission to the world in Christ and the place of the Church in that.