While others saw the need for me to get ‘out of home’, it took a while for it to register with me. But around the end of 1995 I began to consider moving on from Scarborough.
I had been working 3 days a week in church and another 3 teaching Phys Ed and both had become exploding jobs. I was struggling to keep up and looking for some sense of clarity as to where to from here. It was while I was meeting with the local community centre manager that it dawned on me. He simply asked me ‘what do you really want to do Andrew?…’ The immediate answer was ministry – not teaching and I realised I had just made a self discovery. My teaching days were over.
A freak conversation shortly after saw me about turn and decide to sign up for theological education at the then Baptist Theological College – now Vose. I had been avoiding study as much as I could, despite the efforts of John Randell to try and get me to consider it, but I had this realisation that if ‘this was going to be my life’ from hereonin then I better get prepared. Into that mix came a phone call from Lesmurdie Baptist Church and the question as to whether I’d consider going there as a youth pastor. I laughed and dismissed it. Do people really live that far from the beach?
However knowing I was finishing up I had to find somewhere to be a pastor while I studied. We spoke with Riverton, but the chemistry wasn’t there. We actually considered moving to Quinns Rocks as volunteers and joining the church up there that was in its very early days, but Lesmurdie called back and we agreed to a meeting.
We were surprised by the sense of connection we felt there and slowly found ourselves drawn to life in this far-off place. So in 1996 we packed up the house we had literally just built in Karrinyup and headed for the hills, where we stayed until the end of 2002.
It was the best move we ever made.
I was able to shake the the ‘boy’ feeling I had carried for most of my time at Scarborough and was now in a space where I was able to think for myself and experiment. I was also immersed in theological study and thinking thoughts I had never thought before. I watched some folks think those thoughts and actually come unstuck – a seminary is a tough gig for those with brittle black and white opinions. I was becoming curious and Vose (I’ll call it that because its easier) challenged me to think. I loved it.
The church at Lesmurdie had a definite ‘permission giving’ culture and in that space I discovered a side of myself I had never expressed in church life. I had been creative in school, but I hadn’t found much creative traction in my church experience. I was too concerned not to offend, mess up or get into fights with power brokers.
At Lesmurdie the staff team trusted me and encouraged me to do what I thought was best. I don’t think I scared anyone initially with my ideas, but it was the start of a new phase where I began to explore what was possible rather than what was permissible. It was nice to be in a community that viewed us differently. Scarborough was a wonderful church in many ways and I am grateful for the time there, but I couldn’t shake my own self perception of being a boy.
From young people to older people we felt welcomed and loved and encouraged. I know that happens for a while in church, but this kept on after the ‘honeymoon’. The result was that I grew in confidence and began to think differently. A combination of my time in study and a community of people who believed in me catalysed some new energy and my stunted imagination began to expand.
Our staff team was fantastic. Garth led us and was a wise, thoughtful presence in all we did. I didn’t appreciate his wisdom as much then as I do now. He was 50 when I was 35 and now I’m 50 I can see some of what he saw then. Colin was energetic and passionate, dare devilish almost when it came to risk taking. He had some unique prophetic gifts and in our staff team I felt comfortable exploring aspects of ministry that were unfamiliar to me with these men.
We were part of church meetings that were healthy – where the people contributed and cared for how they interacted with others. I didn’t witness any dummy spits – even in some difficult times. My belief is that Garth set the tone for how we interact and that simple observation has been valuable for me in my own role as a leader. I get to set the tone. More than that – I have to set the tone.
Another significant memory was of the 3 older ladies who attended the evening service every week without fail and who supported all that we did. Loud music, craziness and youthful silliness didn’t dissuade them. They came to encourage and support. I doubt they enjoyed the form, but I know they enjoyed seeing young people seeking God. And the young people loved them too. They saw their hearts and loved these ladies who were able to get over themselves and see what God may have been doing. That informed my thinking of who I want to be as I age. That old guy in church who doesn’t always ‘get it’, but who cheers on those who do – not mindlessly – but with heart and passion because its not all about me and my petty preferences.
After 5 years of youth pastoring and a long process of prayer and reflection as to where we were headed as a church Garth led us down the path of appointing me as the senior pastor with him as the ‘associate’ pastor. It seems weird to say ‘associate’, but he recognised that the form of leadership gifting I had was going to be helpful to the church at that time and he offered a role shift. Again this left a mark. How many older guys have the sense of personal security to do that – and then get behind the person they have let into their role? Its made me consider how I lead with grace and from a place of personal security rather than the need to be ‘the boss’.
There were some difficult times at Lesmurdie but without wanting to gloss over them I felt like the church handled them with good form. We had enough conflict to make sure people dealt with the stuff, but without manipulative behaviour or tantrums.
I lasted just two years in the new role and from the beginning was calling the church to plant another church. It was as simple as saying ‘either let’s do it – or let’s fund someone to do it!’ After 18 months we weren’t getting anywhere and that was when I sensed that maybe God was stirring us in that direction.
I’ve written about all that happened there in other places. It wasn’t an easy time as we chose to be the ones to lead a church plant and to leave LBC with 4 other key families. Some felt confused and others abandoned. There was no simple way to go about things and we ended up leaving feeling ‘released’ but not ‘sent’. I’ve often pondered what I would do differently there, but whichever choice we made was vexed. We invited people into the process, but few joined in which meant that when we announced our intentions to move to Butler with 4 other families there was surprise, consternation and disappointment. Had we stopped and taken a more collaborative approach I’m not sure if the negative emotions may have prevented us from actually making the leap into church planting.
That said, one of my more recent learnings is around the importance of communal discernment. We made that decision within a small community – mainly leadership and others who ‘opted in’ or were part of the team. But the wider church didn’t travel the journey with us and therefor didn’t own it.
If I did it again?… Yeah, I’d definitely slow down and engage more people.
So the time at Lesmurdie was valuable for forming a sense of identity in ministry, for processing theological ideas in a practical context and for learning how to lead in a number of different ways.
As we left for our missionary work in Butler I did so with a great sense of confidence and anticipation. At that point I hadn’t clicked that the church wasn’t as behind us as I’d hoped, and I certainly didn’t countenance that the new venture wouldn’t go to plan. So there was some new learning to be done around failure and disappointment.