Locals complete Driscoll boot camp
By Natasha Percy
An Australian church-planting network is in the wings after Bishop Al Stewart and four other Australian church-planting enthusiasts attended a boot camp and international church-planting conference in Seattle last month. The event was run by Acts 29, a network founded by Mark Driscoll and supported by Mars Hill Church, which provides friendship, coaching and resources to church planters. The network currently includes over 130 churches from nine countries.
Bishop Stewart, along with Andrew Heard from Central Coast Evangelical Church, Steve Chong from Kirkplace Presbyterian Kogarah and RICE, Guy Mason from Docklands Church, Melbourne and Mikey Lynch from Crossroads Church, Hobart had been planning the trip for some time. To build momentum and gauge the interest in an Australian church-planting network, they held a conference in Sydney in February. “We would have been happy with 40 people; we had approximately 160 turn up,” Bishop Stewart says. This included people from different denominations, but also men from Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart, and Adelaide.”
The March 9-11 boot camp and conference drew 800 people from across the US and nine other countries. Key themes at the conference were taking risks to engage with non-believers and tell them the gospel, and the need for endurance and hard work.
As all five planters look towards the formation of this network, Bishop Stewart says the Seattle experience has yielded wisdom in crucial areas:
Assessment of church-planters
One of these is the assessment of church planters. “I think particularly we need to understand how to assess potential church planters, because not everyone’s suitable for this and if people aren’t assessed properly there can be a very high burnout rate and people get damaged,” he explains. “With proper assessment, the success rates improve dramatically.”
Bishop Stewart went through the Acts 29 assessment himself – a two-hour interview and online preparation including questionnaires, references and a bible talk submitted) – and says he found it ‘very useful’.
The culture needed for church planting
The ‘vibe’ of Mars Hill Church – overseen by Mark Driscoll – is a good indicator of what needs to be encouraged and improved in Sydney, according to Bishop Stewart. “I think this is the thing we can most learn from our American brothers and sisters: Mars Hill exudes a love for Jesus, a confidence about the future, and a great generosity to visitors,” he says. “I feel like we often lack a sense of urgency in getting things done. We need a culture that is prepared to take a few more risks, in trying new things. We so often use our resources in maintenance mode. After the Global Financial Crisis, there will be a temptation to spend more and more time examining how to divide up a smaller and smaller cake.”
Church planting: a fad or the future?
Bishop Stewart says church planting is not just a buzzword, but a much-needed tactic that Australian churches need to embrace. “I know the criticisms: this is new and fashionable, and these young guys think they’ll be rock stars if they plant a church. Reality will sort out the “would-be rock stars’ from the real church planters.
“But reality also needs to give a wake-up call to the critics – we are slowly dying – Protestant Christianity around the country is ‘bleeding out’.”
Pointing to NCLS statistics which indicated that in the ‘90s. Protestant churches in Australia declined by six percent and Australian church attendance declined by three percent, Bishop Stewart has asserted the need not only to “revitalise and renew” existing churches, but also for new churches, and “churches that will plant other new churches”. If we don’t go in this direction, Bishop Stewart cautions that we may be ‘left behind’ by those with the “courage and vision” to plant new churches. “These guys will not fit neatly into our existing structures, we can welcome them or they will go elsewhere,” he says.
For full article visit Sydney Anglican
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