Stolen generation of church planters

Jodie McNeill

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 sydneyanglicans.net 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.