5th October 2017

On the weekend of 29 September - 1 October 2017, the inspirational Church Planters' Conference took place in Windsor, a joint initiative of the South England Conference (SEC) Church Growth and British Union Conference (BUC) Evangelism departments.

Pastor Kirk Thomas (DSC_0870BUC Evangelism director) welcomed the attendees, who had various historical experience in Church Planting. Daniel Cudjoe Snr, began planting when he established Gambia's first Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1948 whilst others were considering venturing to plant a church for the first time. Such was the range of experience amongst the 90+ attendees from around the BUC. With characteristic zeal, Pastor Thomas introduced all to the rallying cry 'Ignite and Excite!' He and co-host Pastor Simon Martin (the outgoing SEC Church Growth and Discipleship director) led out in a training experience which attendees described as "deeply stimulating", "wholesome" and "awe-inspiring."

In his opening address, Pastor Martin expressed his desire for Church members DSC_3259to develop a passion for the work so his UK map would be saturated with markers designating Church Plants throughout the region. He linked this with Ellen White's counsel that rather than too many large congregations, there should be many lights scattered around as Church Plants reach new territories[1]. Using an analogy of members being like boats: he pointed out that no matter how beautifully we are made, we must 'catch the wind in our sails' and 'launch out onto the sea' if we are to fulfil our DSC_0985purpose. Therefore, Church members are in need of the Holy Spirit to motivate and move forward in mission. With this in mind, the conference was aimed at encouraging attendees to be 'ignited' and 'excited' by Church Planting.

Main speaker Pastor Roger Hernandez (Ministerial and Evangelism director for the Southern Union) shared an abundance of rich spiritual food, in a down-to-earth style often with pointed humour. For example, how God can still use us despite our mistakes just as He did with Moses; that "policy must serve people and facilitate mission", "criticism is sandpaper to polish you", "we are called to work by imagination not by memory" and "leaders need the skin of a crocodile, a tender heart and knees peeled in prayer."

Inspired by the life of Moses, Pastor Hernandez stated that 1.6 million experienced the 'Promised Land' because one person was willing to say "Whatever" to God and allow God to use him however He chose. He then led attendees in this 'most dangerous one-word prayer'.

Further nuggets of wisdom came in the form of high quality devotions, plenaries and 'breakout' sessions by other speakers. DSC_3298

Newly appointed SEC Church Growth director Pastor Wayne Erasmus shared a story about a missionary working for a tribe which held distinctive marathon singing sessions, so the village could hear the latest news. His mission was painfully slow until a new Christian from the community sang the gospel in the local style. Likewise, Pastor Erasmus encouraged attendees to "sing the old song" of the gospel "in new melodies which resonate with communities around us."

Dr Bjørn Ottesen (former President of the Danish and Swedish Unions and Head of the Department of Theological Studies at Newbold College) identified a rise of the 'individualist' mentality and the rejection of organised religion. The lecturer used research to make a compelling argument for the Church to be relevant, add value to people's lives and shed unnecessary customs which hamper effective evangelism.

Mfakazi Ndebele (non-stipendiary pastor of Oasis church plant) spoke on 'Designing Your Church for Maximum Engagement', which involved encouraging every member to sign up to a ministry so their plants flourish.

Adrian Peck (pastor of Kings Lynn church) shared his qualitative research in which he discovered that despite the challenges of a secular environment, growing churches thrived by tailoring every detail of church life towards being accessible to unchurched people.

Dee Edwards (intern pastor of Luton Central church and pastor of the Dunstable church plant) did a poignant enactment of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples based on John 13: 1-12, explaining how He shared the 'full extent of His love' through service which necessitates direct contact with people's often 'messy' lives.

Pastor Martin spoke on receiving the Great Commission, intercession, authentic community and our call to make disciples who are also disciple makers to follow Jesus' example.

Pastor Jon Gendle (Discipleship pastor) urged us to "never lose sight that we are in a battle" for which we need "spiritual tools." He highlighted how the "beauty of the gospel must come through in all our teachings" and the critical need for people to be 'born again' as no one will see the Kingdom of God without it[DSC_32912]. Exciting resources authored by Pastor Gendle will be available via the SEC in the near future.

Pastor Maureen Rock, Principal of the Adventist Discovery Centre (ADC ‒ formerly the Voice of Prophecy), reported that indigenous members of the public have been inspired to contact the ADC and request correspondence Bible courses. She also promoted free courses which are available for every church to offer to their local community.

Pastor Hernandez's daughter, Vanessa, inspired Church Planters not to forget to DSC_3243nurture their own families and rendered stunning special music. As did Paul Lee (Assistant to the SEC President) who also led meaningful worship, accompanied by musicians Leon and Anthea Barclay of Bedford church, which included the apt theme song, 'Go Ye Therefore and Teach All Nations'.[3]

Other highlights were testimonies of how the Ark church plant effectively engages with local people and the Church Planters' Market during which teams from plants mingled with each other at their tables to exchange ideas and encourage each other.

As the conference drew to a close, Anthea, also a skilled poetess, inspired attendees with especially penned words including:

"Go ignited and excited on a sometimes lonely road

For the cause for which you labour, you will see the streets of gold."

Attendee Kevin Thomas of Chiswick church commented that the event "allowed you to think about witnessing in a different way, to turn off your preconceptions about how things should be done" and "focus on what actually matters." He appreciated testimonies of people who are doing what we are discussing so you know it works and the idea of doing something different in his local church to make it more visitor friendly.

Murrett Mohan of King's Norton church plant deemed the conference "really good" and said she "had received food for thought about what is behind why the Church does what it does." Fellow team member Shirley Ryner said that she appreciated that such conferences always offer "a different way of seeing things", adding that, "People don't come to church. You have to go out and meet them." DSC_3353-Edit

Her recently baptised companion Mary Charles shared her determination to pray the prayer of Whatever.

Pastor Thomas thanked Pastor Martin for all his work in the SEC. Pastor Martin addressed the very appreciative Church Planters for the last time before his departure with parting words urging them to "Keep the 'Ignite and Excite' Church Planting going. That is our legacy. Thank you for the prayers and support. God bless you."

Finally, during the charge, Pastor Thomas stated that:

"Contrary to popular opinion, God is still at work in this part of the vineyard. There will be challenges, but dream big because God is on your side" encouraging attendees to work together so that we can be the best witnesses that we can possibly be.

He revealed that prayers, crying and fasting have been taking place behind the scenes for God to minister differently to attendees during the weekend to raise up mighty workers for His kingdom. There were signs of answers to this prayer. By the close of the conference, the place reverberated with the cheer 'Ignite and Excite!' Many were energised and determined to return home and make a difference in their local communities.

[1] (Testimonies for the Church, 8:244).

[2] (John 3:3)

[3] Written by Leon Patillo.

[Divinia Reynolds, Balham Church.]

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