Stolen generation of church planters

My experience

My first full-time, paid ministry experience was as an MTS apprentice at Christ Church , St Ives back in 1995 and 1996. John Woodhouse, the rector at the time, gave me the opportunity to lead a 'congregation plant' of young adults in the post-uni, pre-family age group.

I was very thankful for the fact that John gave me a long rope, but that he still carefully supervised my crazy schemes. The fact that he was the main voice in the pulpit certainly helped our endeavour.

However, as the newly-formed congregation started to develop and mature, I was taken away from the church, and I have never again returned.

I was part of the stolen generation of church planters.

The thinking was that in order for me to receive holistic ministry training, I should leave my home church and begin a series of two-year stints at churches during my formal theological training. Ideally, I would train at a church that was as different as possible to my home church, and under a senior minister as different as possible as the minister at my home church.

I am thankful for my experiences at the churches of I was privileged to serve.

I certainly learnt a great deal about ministry, which then prepared me well for the years that have followed. Plus, the ministry at St Ives happily continued without me, thanks to the heritage of faithful Word ministry, and the continued commitment to it today.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, it's all about church planting and Mark Driscoll.

Mark Driscoll’s visit

Honestly, I'm not raising that so that I might get extra page views in the perennial competition between bloggers!

The fact is that we are continuing to feel the aftershocks of Pastor Mark's 2008 Sydney visit, especially as we consider strategic ministry.

When Driscoll came to town, he helpfully pointed out the fact that he planted his own church at a young age, and that he was able to be free of the shackles of a denomination that would have ripped him untimely from the church-planting womb and taken him to the clinical world of a theological college.

Ever since Mark’s visit, we've been discussing how to find a way to allow our top guns to take every opportunity in entrepreneurial ministry.

As I listen to the chatter, I hear several suggestions. One is to encourage people to head to theological college much earlier. Instead of asking people to first complete a degree, then spend some years in the workforce, and then perhaps complete a ministry apprenticeship. The alternative is to upload the next generation in their early twenties with gigabytes of theological knowledge ready to download upon their future church plants.

A better way forward?

In my view it might be better for us to change the culture that encourages (or demands) people leave their home church during their theological education.

If many of our current church leaders did their catechist position at their home church, then perhaps we might have given our Sydney Driscolls the opportunity to have long-term ministry during their most entrepreneurial and adventuresome years?

It won't work for all people. The big churches usually generate more people than they can possibly keep.

But, if we allowed those who planted their own church during their ministry apprenticeship to remain as the main leader, whilst still attached by an umbilical cord to their mother church, then perhaps we might not have missed out on many opportunities to take a young church into maturity.

Jodie is the Senior Minister at Oak Flats Anglican Church

Comments (24)

Please sign in or register to add a comment.

  • Craig Schwarze
    June 22, 09 - 11:14pm
    Good post Jodie. Nice title too.

    I think the key thing is flexibility. Sometimes it's a good idea for someone to move, sometimes it's not. Trying to fit everyone onto the same ministry training track is the problem. I should add that I believe we are moving in the right direction in this whole area, towards more flexibility.
  • Joseph Smith
    June 23, 09 - 12:20am
    Flexibility is good. Because sometimes everyone will need to leave to plant a church...
  • Michael Kellahan
    June 23, 09 - 1:50am
    Nice title too.

    Actually, I think we should be a bit more careful in using 'stolen generation' - none of us would want to trivialise their experience

    On the substantive point though - Jodie - what about the post college movement of assistants? Should we go a more Presbyterian route and get people running parishes younger and with less hand holding?
  • Martin Paul Morgan
    June 23, 09 - 2:10am
    Jodie has raised a good point here. The insistence on a number of different experiences of church assumes a system of existing parishes, with existing congregations. An Anglican Minister is assumed to be the professional that gets experience in a number over his ministry life- so in training he needs a variety of experience. It is about maintaining the existing list of parishes.

    This may actually help some individuals in the church planting endeavor. But we should think about a strand for pre-theologically trained people planting, then gaining theological education in sandwich courses or part time, and also post-trained first year out planting which can be a long-term evolving position. In terms of our (new long-term) Deacons- some of these men may be church-planter deacons who go on from College to establish a network of congregations, either in a new parish, an existing parish or in an extra-parochial way (eg parish without property, ethnic ministry, etc etc). They may go on to become Presbyters, but may very well stay as church-planting Deacons.
  • Roger Gallagher
    June 23, 09 - 3:52am
    Hi Jodie,

    I think that there are strategic considerations that would weigh against your suggestion.

    In Sydney, the area with the greatest need for church-planting is the Georges River region. Most of our ministry candidates tend to come from Uni churches, or bigger churches on the North Shore, in the Shire or in the Hills District. So allowing people to do their catechist positions at their home churches might result in even less ministry staff working in the areas of greatest need.
  • Martin Paul Morgan
    June 23, 09 - 4:00am
    Well- the Georges River region certainly has a great need- but it already has Parishes. We need to plant into those parishes and allow the planters to stay there for longer/"permanent" terms, and plant in extra-parochial ways. Which in my reading is what Jodie was driving at... as planters start new churches, they can stay with the church they plant as it grows rather than being forced to move on to new experiences.
  • David Maegraith
    June 23, 09 - 4:27am
    Actually, I think we should be a bit more careful in using 'stolen generation' - none of us would want to trivialise their experience

    As an aside, I saw the term 'removed generations' used the other day - surely in acknowledgement that in some cases kids were taken for their own good?

    But back on topic...
  • Shane Rogerson
    June 24, 09 - 12:16am
    good post Jodie
    part of the assumption though is that churches have younger would be planters and pastors being trained - which would mean there would be a whole heap of new churches in St Ives, but counter to Martin's point - there may be parishes in the George's River Region, but that doesn't mean they'll have the resources or people to plant.
    YET if there were stronger partnerships between churches in areas where there is a need for planting and those churches that have the people to plant, I could see it working rather well.
  • Pete Sholl
    June 24, 09 - 12:33am
    It is possible to plant and stay. The congregation I planted started on my first weekend of first year Moore College - and I stayed for the four years of college and beyond. Hard work - but well worth it. The congregation is now strong and active.
  • Martin Paul Morgan
    June 24, 09 - 12:34am
    Yes yes- I'm assuming a Gospel driven partnership in this- so church planters are released to plant in other areas where there are obvious and less obvious opportunities throughout Sydney- and further afield. Rather than being pushed on from this ministry, they are encouraged to stay and evolve with it long term. Those who were there watching on may then be encouraged to plant out of this work- and they are the ones who invest in a new area or community.
  • Martin Paul Morgan
    June 24, 09 - 12:59am
    Actually Peter- I often think of you planting in the Inner West and people like Malcolm Williams. We should push that tactic a bit more? If not exactly the same- similar. Steve Reimer planted Stanhope Anglican straight out of College and he is planning to hang in there. There are other examples.
  • Jodie McNeill
    June 24, 09 - 4:18am
    @Pete, great to hear from you. I had you in mind as I wrote this article, and had hoped you might jump in on the comments.

    Pete, from memory, you weren't an Anglican candidate throughout your years at Moore, is that right? It was only as an 'independent' that you had the choice to take this pathway. I certainly can't think of any of my Candidate colleagues who were allowed to remain in their home church during theological college.

    I would be keen to know if this is still the case? Are Sydney Anglican Candidates still required to leave their 'home' church (planted or not) and head off to greener pastorates as part of their training?

    If so, then I would suggest that creating this flexible pathway is an urgent agenda item for Ministry Training and Development, if they want to go with the church planting flow raised by Driscoll and others before him.
  • Jodie McNeill
    June 24, 09 - 4:24am
    @Roger, I certainly know the needs of the Georges River Region, having served for some time as the regional youth ministry trainer/adviser a few years ago. It is certainly crying out for more ministers to grow under-resourced churches. We need the 'bigger' churches to send more people to those 'smaller' churches.

    However, I don't think it needs to be an either/or. St Ives has sent many people to Moore in the past two decades at least, and many of them had not planted a church prior to their theological and ministry training. However, if the small percentage of people who had planted a church/congregation stayed at Christ Church, then it is possible that even more people might have been eventually sent to the rest of the world (and the South West).

    We need our larger churches to be generous, and to send people to other churches. But, we also need people to grow ministries within the fellowship of the mother church through church plants, so that even more people can be recruited and trained for ministry.
  • Martin Paul Morgan
    June 24, 09 - 9:24am
    Not either or. Hardly ever is.
  • Jason Hobba
    June 24, 09 - 12:19pm
    I'm with Michael Kellahan on this one, Jodie - but feel much more strongly about it...It's a REALLY BAD title to the article and absolutely trivializes what the stolen generations went through. Having personally known a member of the stolen generations, I think the title and some of the wording should be changed asap. It is very insensitive to what others have suffered.

    The topic of church planting is important, but to compare your experience of (voluntarily, I might add!) deciding to leave your home church/church-plant - even if it was to fulfil the requirements of others, it was still voluntary - with the experience of being taken away from family...that's a very dodgy comparison indeed! I suggest you watch Rabbit Proof Fence again (or for the first time, if you haven't yet seen it), then see if your comparison is valid.
  • Craig Schwarze
    June 24, 09 - 12:27pm
    Must admit, Jason, I really dislike having the English language hijacked by political correctness. This sort of hyperbole and metaphor is part of everyday speech. If I say, "A world war is brewing at the office" am I guilty of being insensitive to the 50 million people who died in WWII?
  • Pete Sholl
    June 24, 09 - 12:31pm
    Jodie - you are correct. I was an independent at college. I'd also like to say that the Moore College faculty (who were concerned for the over work issue) and several senior clergy were very supportive of the whole thing.
  • Jason Hobba
    June 24, 09 - 12:37pm
    It has nothing to do with hijacking the English language. It has to do with a title given to specific historical events that involve the pain and suffering of generations - notably of indigenous generations. To say it is a simple case of hyperbole is wrong. If you said "A holocaust is brewing at my office" that would be a more accurate comparison for you to make with my point, rather than WWII more generally. It has nothing to do with political correctness, it has to do with proper recognition and respect of what a specific segment of our Australian population have been through. Do you know anyone that is from the stolen generations?
  • Jason Hobba
    June 24, 09 - 12:42pm
    Oh, and Craig, it has to do with a key word: EMPATHY. To use a title like the one Jodie uses shows a lack of empathy, in my opinion.
  • Craig Schwarze
    June 24, 09 - 12:47pm
    We'll just have to agree to disagree on this one Jason.
  • Shane Rogerson
    June 24, 09 - 12:47pm
    its also inaccurate
    I wasn't stolen from my home church, nor forced to leave ( I willing moved from a 1000+ church that didn't and still doesn;t seem interested in planting to a church plant).
    but its was a catchy grab for a blog title, caught my attention anyway.
  • Jodie McNeill
    June 24, 09 - 10:48pm
    Pete, thanks for confirming my memory of the fact you were not an Anglican Candidate.

    How did you find the experience of heading a church at the same time as completing a theological degree? Was your overall workload (academic and pastoral) significantly more than your colleagues who were doing a 'normal' load?

    Did it help you more/less studying theology at the same time as running the church you planted?
  • Jodie McNeill
    June 24, 09 - 10:56pm
    So, given the fact that Sydney Anglicans are now trying to work out a way to promote and develop young church planters, wouldn't it be a simple and effective solution to allow some people to remain within their home church whilst they are at theological college?

    From my experience, there were several others in my home church who hadn't had an opportunity to do a ministry apprenticeship before heading to college. For those people, I'm sure the challenge of heading off to a new church to become a (one-day-a-week) member of the staff team would have been their preferred choice, anyway.

    Furthermore, my home church couldn't have employed 95% of the people who ended up leaving for college, anyway. However, if it had kept the 5%, then perhaps it would have been better for the life of the new venture/ church plant?

    Can anyone from MT&D;tell us the current policy re: whether an Anglican Candidate is allowed to spend some or all of his/her time as a student minister at the church they attended before College? Can they also advise if this is something that is being considered, in the light of the heightened interest in church planting in our Diocese.
  • Pete Sholl
    June 24, 09 - 11:58pm
    Hi Jodie,

    Studying full time and pastoring a church full time certainly had its moments - although I had great help from all sorts of people (thanks Dominic, Mark and heaps of others). I think from memory I preached about 28-30 sermons a year which I think is a bit more than the average student minister. But I also had great pastoral experience in taking a couple of funerals, doing lots of visits, working out 'strategy' type stuff etc.

    I think my studies certainly benefited from pastoring, even if my marks didn't - if you understand the difference. Even though my student minister experience was a bit different from others, I can speak very highly of the need for active ministry alongside study. However, I also feel strongly that we need to take the 3 or 4 years to concentrate on study to give a firm foundation for hopefully decades of active ministry post-college.

    As a brief aside (sorry) - I reckon the best preparation I had for being where I am now - on the mission field - was 4 years full time study doing a Moore College BD and then an MA over a couple of years later on. Throw a busy ministry before, during and after college into the mix there somewhere and I feel very blessed to have been given the preparation I have had.