I remember our first child being born. She was healthy, but a bit large. My wife Helen burst blood vessels in her face pushing Hannah out into the world. Taking both of them home some days later I remember thinking “what are we supposed to do now?” At each stage of life things seem to be more complicated: birth, raising a toddler, handling adolescence. Each stage requires more wisdom, more experience and the previous chapters don’t equip you very much for the next one, yet there is no escape from the process. Much the same is true in seeing young churches develop from birth into healthy adulthood.
In July 1998 thirty planters met for a 36 hour conference on the subject. Bob Hopkins and I worked from stories of good practice and examples of mistakes, aided by questions participants had identified beforehand. Nine full sessions and very positive feedback later, we are sure this is a topic for many other plants too.
Maturity matters, for the immature plant will not grow as a church and will be off putting to the world. It is in danger of failing in its mission and will become deadening for its existing members. Health must not be confused with maturity. Health is a state, while maturity is a process. We need both and to know what are the signs of both.
Maturity means going beyond activity into identity. It will not be enough to know what we do, we must grow into self understanding of who we are. This means learning the art of living with unity and diversity, acting out interdependence with the wider Church, handling the fact that the church is both a hospital of sinners and a barracks of soldiers, and knowing that
being sent is our identity not just that mission is our task. This is church doctrine which we ignore at our peril.
Growing in maturity will involve a constant focus on remaining in mission mode, understanding and choosing the right mission strategies, because we know how they work and who it is we are working with.
Arriving at maturity will involve the sending church in learning to let go; working through what is meant for the plant to become self governing, self financing and self reproducing. The giving of trust and the relinquishment of power are central.
I guess in the past it was too easy for us to think that we knew how to do Church, and that in Church planting all we needed to do was get the birth process right and then everything else would sort itself out.
We must do better in future.
This article was originally produced for an ACPI circular called “News From”. This paper publication was (usually) published and distributed free to those on our mailing list twice a year between 1997 and 2001. Please bear in mind that the articles were written several years ago, and circumstances may have changed and people may have moved on.