Eight tensions I’m learning to hold, two years into our church plant

This week marks two years since we planted Pattern Church, a Church of England ‘resourcing’ church in Swindon. A third of that time has been during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has still been an utter privilege. It’s the dream job and I kick myself that I get to serve Pattern Church, in Swindon, with the amazing people who make up our team and our church family.

On this two year anniversary, whilst I’m really not pretending to be the expert, I’ve been reflecting on what I’m learning as a leader, and these musings fall into various tensions. Much of the Christian life involves tensions, like the now and the not yet, so here are a few leadership tensions I’m learning to hold in these first two years of our church plant…

1. So thankful, but only scratching the surface

We have seen some of the things we were dreaming of before Pattern was launched, and I am so thankful! We’ve seen people who had no connection with church find faith, get baptised, and become core to our family. This is the Isaiah 61 vision where those on the outside would lead in transformation. If this whole adventure was just for those people whose faith story we’ve already had the privilege of being a part of I would have come just for them. But, we’ve got huge dreams (1,000 baptisms, an army of young people running after Jesus, making a difference to social issues in our town, planting churches that plant churches, playing our part in seeing Swindon come ALIVE), and we have a way to go. I’m so thankful, but I cannot rest on what God’s done so far; we’re only scratching the surface. We need to keep running with big vision.

2. Big vision, and small moments

I’m a big vision person. We recently did a survey at Pattern Church and half of the responses reproduced the vision word for word, another quarter got it pretty much there. We go big with the vision inviting people into family to serve Swindon. A key part of my job is to keep our eyes on that vision and not falter. But the outplaying of the big vision is in the one-to-one. Jesus is the good shepherd, I need to be that too, and I need to make sure that our church family embodies that focus on each ‘one’… the treasure.

3. Huge joys and huge disappointments

If leaders are justified by their success, they’ll be devastated by their failures. Along with the many many huge highs there are moments of real pain. There has been criticism and complaints, really sad things, complex pastoral situations, people who’ve experienced Jesus then felt pushed away or just drifted, global pandemics which have messed up our plans. There are both highs and lows. As a leader and a Christian my job is to find identity in Jesus not success, to give him all the glory for every good thing and to come to him on my knees in prayer when things don’t happen the way I’d hoped, or to the time-scale I’d envisaged. This side of Heaven, we see both the highs and the lows (most days!).

4. Keep saying ‘no’ to say ‘yes.’

Every ‘yes’ is a ‘no’ to something, and every ‘no’ is a ‘yes’ to something. The busier we get as a church, and the more brilliant people with brilliant ideas get in touch, the more I find myself having to say no in order to say yes. We have a particular calling and commissioning as a church, to reach out to non-Christians, to try and connect with under 40’s, to plant churches, to serve our town, and to encourage others. We only have a finite capacity (even though we have an infinite God) and we’re in this for the long haul. In order to run after the things we feel particularly called to I often have to say no. It’s never fun, but I have to keep reminding myself what the ‘yes’ is that I’m saying every time.

5. Work at it but pray more

I’ve got so much to learn, and there are so many things we can improve on as a church. There is work to be done, we’re only two years old, and we want to keep getting better; I want to keep getting better. There are all kinds of ways I try to do this (mentors, conferences, books, podcasts, listening to people, goals etc). But, transforming lives is something God does; softening hearts, healing people, bringing change and breakthrough, that’s the work of the Spirit. I can work my socks off, but if God isn’t breathing His life into our church we might as well pack it in. Prayer is so completely central to any church/ministry/kingdom work (that includes all of you). I’m a priest; the one thing people should be able to depend on is that I pray. If I graduate from prayer I graduate from the source of life. Yes work, but also pray pray pray pray pray.

6. Be inspired by others but stay in your lane

There are amazing leaders across the country and the world who are involved in brilliant things. Churches are innovating in so many ways and it’s so helpful to be inspired by them. But comparison is the thief of joy. What’s our vision? What are we called to do?… do that. Follow Jesus well where you are, with what you’ve got.

7. It’s serious stuff but don’t take yourself too seriously

We’re dealing in eternal life here, we’re God’s agents of reconciliation in the world, there are over 200,000 people in our town who don’t know Jesus, what we do matters. But, as I said already, it’s the Lord who does the stuff, our job is to love people, so the pressure should be off. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, rest is a spiritual discipline, pursue those. Laughter and rest are God’s ways too.

8. Write a great story, but enjoy the adventure

We’re believing for big things, and I’m so aware of the privilege we have; the start-up resources that we’ve been given, the network we’re part of, the opportunity to start from scratch. We are believing that the Pattern Church story will make a cracking story as we follow Jesus here in Swindon. We focus on the big picture and run towards the next thing with all we’ve got. But it’s also important to celebrate the successes, celebrate what God’s doing, and enjoy the adventure.

With that in mind, here’s a little Pattern Church highlight video…

Go for it guys!