Plant Rant

I’ve been reading Peyton Jones ‘Churchplantology‘ over the last few days and it has been percolating my thinking around this area again.

One of my genuine frustrations and bewilderments with my own denomination has been the absence of purposeful church planting over the last 30 years.

Church Plantology Audiobook | Peyton Jones, Ed Stetzer |

I remember back when Bob Clark and Phil Bryant were in partnership, both promoting, calling for and intentionally focusing on church planting. We may not have planted a heap of churches, but we did plant some and we did get some stuff done. I recall attending a church planting conference in 1996 led by these guys and it was catalytic in my own formation. Intuitively I knew this was what I wanted to do – but I had accepted a job in the hills as a youth pastor – which funnily enough eventuated in a ‘church planting’ type of project among young people.

But it seems church planting has dropped off the radar, for the most part. I remember asking a question about this at a recent pastor’s gathering – ‘why is no one planting churches?’ and the honest, fast response was ‘because it’s hard work!’

Maybe true – but some people are built for it and if we don’t pursue it we can expect them to do something else or go somewhere else. Some cars are built for serious 4wding – the diff lockers, winch, 4 inch lift and suitable tyres all say ‘built for purpose’, yet so many of them spend their life on the blacktop. In a similar vein I think there are some folks who are just created to pioneer, risk, create and repeat. Yet they find themselves trapped in the confines of a steady as she goes meat and three veg church.

As I observe what is happening around the place I see a fair bit of ‘campus planting’, (or franchising – to be more blunt). I see ‘revitalisation’ of dying churches happening, but I see precious few fresh starts, focused on a people group, or a locality and I wonder why…

My theory is this. While churches may speak about planting churches, while they may dream about and even vote on it at church meetings, churches just don’t plant churches. Church planters plant churches.

Churches don’t plant churches – church planters plant churches.

I feel like it’s as simple as that. But because our systems and processes have become so unbelievably regulated and bureaucratic most church planters either leave or find themselves trapped between wanting to kick off a new initiative while seeing a truckload of paperwork every step of the way.

I appreciate that every era has its’ struggles and perhaps in the 2020’s the ‘barrier to entry’ we need to ‘suck up’ is not persecution but paperwork. Perhaps we just need to accept that this is how it is in this culture and move on.

But – if that is going to happen then someone has to find a way to free the church planters / apostolic types from creating risk assessments, filing incident reports and the like and let them get on with tilling the soil in the community, nurturing and training teams as well as creating frameworks for new church communities to thrive within.

It was 20 years ago that we first experimented with new expressions of missional community and church gatherings as we went to Brighton with our Upstream crew. Back then we were considered too different or too non-conformist by most people wanting a Sunday church to join with all the bells and whistles of kids programs and good music. Our team eventually shrunk as people moved on and we closed it down. But maybe post-covid we may be able to re-imagine again what churches can look like. We may be ready for a fresh tilt at re-thinking mission and church for a very new era.

At the end of the day conservative institutions that focus on maintaining the status quo (your average local church) will never be the catalysts for new initiatives. There is too much comfort to lose. But if we can identify and unearth the next generation of apostolic leaders and inspire them with what may be possible, then maybe we can capture their imagination before they kick of a business venture or some other entrepreneurial activity.


It wasn’t the word I was originally thinking of to describe the last 31 years of continuous pastoral leadership, but my friend suggested it the other day and it does capture it well.

As we had lunch he asked me what I was looking forward to in this next phase and quite simply one of those things is the freedom to not be ‘on duty’ every Sunday.

Every Sunday for the last 31 years, unless we have been on holidays we have been at church and ‘responsible’. Before that we were there each week voluntarily and prior to that as a kid I was required to attend both morning and evening by my parents. So there is something in me that is really looking forward to that change.

It has been relentless.

It’s not at all that I want to stay home and sleep in every week or turn up when I have nothing better to do. That isn’t how I view church. But it will be nice to ‘come and be part of’ rather than always alert to the demands of leadership. (That said, there is a part of me that wonders if that part of me will ever be able to switch off.)

It will be nice to visit our kids churches or to catch up with friends who live in the country, things we find difficult when we are committed to one community. It will be nice to have brunch with our neighbours because we aren’t already committed.

The word ‘relentless’ has a somewhat negative tone to it, but my experience hasn’t been negative – just constant – never ending.

Re lent less

I feel a bit like a kid who is about to finish ATAR. After 12 years of schooling the freedom of the next stage looks inviting but I don’t really know how it will feel. Of course it’s not that we ever move away from commitment and responsibility, but it just changes shape. From year 12 there is university study, or work.

For us the responsibilities just shift to a different focus. I want to write more. I have a few books I am feeling I’d like to write. With no one pushing me and no external forces it’s simply down to me to get it done. And oddly enough as much as I want to do it, I also avoid it. I will need to commit to this. I need to set time aside and push the self discipline button.

As well as writing I have the two businesses to oversee.

I have made a conscious choice to scale Brighton Retic back to simple repair work. No more grunt work, installs or turf laying – a tough decision because I love that part of the job, but the body is hurting and it’s saying ‘enough’. I have heard it the last few years but kept going. Now it’s screaming at me. ‘Slow down!’ I struggle to grasp that I am no longer capable of the work I did so easily 10 years ago – and I resist the idea of physical weakness as though it were a personal fault. We went to a seminar recently where the facilitator asked us to ponder what unreasonable expectations or assumptions we make about ourselves. I had to admit that I expect to function with the same boundless energy, strength and capacity as I had 10 years ago. But the simple reality is that my body is getting slowly weaker as I get older. My hands and elbows hurt and I know the source is excessive twisting and turning, my knees need nursing through a retic season and my back has ongoing pain. These are just my body telling me it’s time to change tack.

So this year will be a downscaling of the business. Danelle will keep the phone and take calls and book jobs. She will limit my jobs to a manageable load on 3 days of the week and I will just have to turn some people away, or possibly even sell the business. Originally we were looking at hiring a manager or worker, but this way just seems to keep it simple and flexible… We shall see… I think she may regret agreeing to do the admin!

The caravan business has been flourishing. It’s around 6 or 7 jobs a week consistently now and as well as this I have been supplying and installing diesel heaters for people. If you google ‘Perth Diesel Heaters’ I am the top listing – in fact the only listing – so I have been developing that business with the hope that eventually I may be able to get someone working in it – or it could be sold. The 6 or 7 weighs and the 1 or 2 diesel heaters each week has seen the business really bump its numbers up. l’m enjoying seeing this business slowly catch fire and I think it will be a real winner going forwards.

So some people have asked me if I am ‘retiring’ and the short answer is ‘no – I don’t believe in retirement.’ But I am looking forward to the shift in focus and the different rhythms of life that will accompany this. I am looking forward to a less ‘relentless’ period, but certainly not looking to hang the boots up and sit home and watch Netflix full time 🙂

So here’s to a less relentless experience of life and to learning how to operate as a Christian leader in a new space!

Grace Allows Us All to Breathe

A few years back I bumped into a guy at a party who (between drinks) began to tell me some of his life story and how it involved a brief faith experience at a local church. He was part of the youth group at the time and had some innovative ideas as to how mission and ministry could take place. But it was the 80’s and there was no doubt he was ahead of his time. The pastor listened to him and his friend share their vision for potential mission work and church planting in the flats in Wembley, but it wasn’t going to grow the church so it was dismissed.

‘He told us to F off’ he said.

I seriously doubt that pastor used that language, but whatever the words chosen this was what he heard. He heard that his brand of faith just wasn’t gonna be acceptable in this very straight 80’s church. So he left and hasn’t been back since.

Very sad – that a pastor was unable to accomodate a different vision to the one he had been trained in. If it’s all true then I find it a really gut wrenching story and somewhat of a slur on the man’s ministry. It has sat with me all this time as a warning.

Then more recently I caught up with someone else who was also part that church during the same era. I shared the story with him. He responded by telling me the story of how this same pastor ministered to his dad during his final days on earth. As a non-believer he called the pastor to come and sit with him as he died and confessed his sins. This man had spent time in jail and lived a far from perfect life, but in his dying moments this same pastor sat with this man’s head on his lap as he wept and confessed the wrongs he had done in his life.

The gentle love and care of this pastor for his dying father who was broken and repentant made a massive impact on him. This pastor was a good man.

I sit both those stories out there together because it speaks to the complexity of who we are. None of us have a perfect track record. We all get things wrong. But then again we all get things right too.

We are complicated and life is complex.

But perhaps the one thing we can say with conviction is that we all need grace and we all need to offer grace as well. I imagine that in years to come someone will have a story of how I obstructed their path to a great idea. But I also hope there will be stories of those who I supported and encouraged in their sense of calling.

Grace – it allows all of us to breath.


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“You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means” So says Inigo Montoya in the 1987 romantic comedy film The Princess Bride. He responds this way to the constant usage of the word ‘inconceivable’, by Vizzini.

I have to say the same to many who use the word ‘missional’.

‘You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’ I found myself immersed in the ‘missional conversation’ in the early 2000’s as we began to move past questions about post-modernity and more into the phase of ‘what now?’ We had recognised the world had shifted and was actually continuing to change at bewildering speed, but as the church our approach was still largely ‘come to us’. And if a simple invitation didn’t achieve that end then we would try various means (seeker services / guest services etc) to try and entice people back in.

The ‘missional’ approach was a critique of this methodology and it’s very premise.

It said mission is not about inviting more people to come to church. It is about sending people out into the world to be the people of God. It wasn’t about church growth, bums on seats or any of the stuff that mattered so much to us.

At its core the word ‘mission’ comes from the Latin ‘missio’ which means ‘to send‘, so the idea of inviting back is completely contrary to this. (Understand it’s not wrong or bad to invite people to church. It’s just that this is not mission. It’s inviting people to an event.)

Mission = being sent. Repeat after me…

Now 20 years on from the early conversations, the prickly ‘missional’ word is firmly entrenched in the language of the almost every church. Now we are all ‘missional’, at least that is what it says in our values document. but I sense if we were to ask someone in the pews, ‘just what do you mean by that?‘ the response would not speak to the core of what being missional means. Most people just want to see people come to faith / get converted / follow Jesus – insert whatever language works for your tribe…

But mission is about the church moving out into the world as the loving, serving, blessing presence of God, aligning with his work and reflecting his kingdom in all we do. Out of this of course our hope is that people will have a genuine encounter with Jesus and the God we represent and they will choose to follow in his way.

But this may not grow our churches.

They may not get ‘converted’ in any convenient way that we can count.

They may not choose to follow Jesus in the same cultural pattern as we have.

And this may prove a challenge for us. But it seems to me that the other option is to try and convert people into the cultural pattern of the church, part of which involves learning about Jesus. Mission is far messier than this… Mission is less scripted, unpredictable and often times just looks like people living life.

So when you use the word ‘mission’ what do you mean?… Perhaps it’s ‘inconceivable’ that we could have got this wrong, but maybe we have been so mired in a particular form of evangelical faith that we have been unable to practice mission.

My great fear is that the word ‘mission’ has been lost, as it has been co opted to mean ‘whatever we do to get more people to come to church.’ When I see church’s claiming to be missional, I expect to see signs of the kingdom of God – not better marketing explaining why their church service is better than the one down the street,