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Church Planting in Dublin – 11 lessons after 6 months

26 February 2015

Church in Dublin pictureSo it felt about the right time to think about reflecting on some lessons I have learned in the first six months of church planting.

Year 1: Planting Ourselves – Leanne and I moved to Dublin in September 2012 and in the first 12 months we planted ourselves. Do read about why we moved to Dublin and three updates from the initial stage. A lot of this was to do with house, schools, making friends, understanding the city/culture and getting a job – do read the 10 reasons why we love living in Dublin. Finding a job in the technology sector was a big priority and answer to prayer.

Year 2: Planting The Gospel – by that I mean we ran two Intro Courses with around 40-50 guests in attendance. We had gathered a team of around 15-20 people so we followed the Apostle Paul’s advice of “sharing not only the gospel but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8) and invested in those who were connected with us – whether they called themselves Christians or not. And we saw our first baptism.

Year 3: Planting The Church – in September 2014 we did a ‘soft launch’ of our church and then had our official launch on 12th October. So we’re coming up 6 months old and as we have just had a vision Sunday I thought I would jot down some lessons I have learnt over the last 2.5 years. Here are 11 things that came to mind, in no particular order.

  1. Time management and sleep are vital. People have asked me many times how I manage to do all I do (family, work, church and Gaelic Football being the 4 main things). The example of leadership from Nehemiah which I recently wrote about has been hugely helpful (he was as strategic and hard working as he was prayerful and pious) but also the example of Paul who “worked harder” than all the others, yet it was really God’s strength within him (1 Corinthians 15:10 and Colossians 1:29). God wired me to enjoy living at 100 miles an hour and moving from one thing to the next. However taking time out to sleep and rest and practice Sabbath is vital for living at 100 miles per hour (I also have a very gracious wife!).
  2. Tent-making has been essential on so many levels. I have been blessed to find a job, in HubSpot, that I enjoy and that pays the bills. I have found the Apostle Paul’s example of tent-making and planting a church in Acts 18 hugely helpful and my full time job has lead to financial stability, personal development, understanding my heart and the city better and networking opportunities (lessons 3-7). In fact Acts 16-18 have stayed very close to me during the last 2.5 years. Acts 16 is about finding the spiritually receptive in the city, Acts 17 is about understanding the idols and culture of the city and Acts 18 is about longer term investment in a city. These 3 chapters loosely map onto the first 3 years in Dublin for us.
  3. Financial stability is releasing. The biggest challenge in moving to a new city is financial survival and from speaking to other church planters, a lot of mental and emotional energy is put into ensuring they can support their families. Often lots of fundraising externally is needed. Having a job that ‘pays the bills’ has been a massive advantage. Although busy, it has meant we can concentrate on building the church rather than raising finances. However this is only one of many benefits I have reaped from the job.
  4. Contextualisation is non-negotiable. Having a full time job, and playing Gaelic Football, has not only been hugely rewarding and fun but has meant I have had 100s of conversations with people about the city, the culture, their beliefs and their views on church. I have been able to understand the city far better, and my hope is that this will mean that the gospel we preach and the way in which we are as a church resonates with the people of Dublin.
  5. Living the tension is good practice. I am soon to write another post where I share some more reflections on transitioning from full time ministry as a Church Pastor into full time ‘normal’ work as a salesman. My main take-away is that just as Jesus lived in the gap (between heaven and earth) and acted as a mediator, so for me to live in the gap, the cross-section between ‘the church’ and ‘the city’ has been invaluable. I have been stretched and I have learned masses. It is easy to live in a church bubble and it’s easy to live in a worldly bubble; living in both creates real tensions. I have learnt more about my heart and about the city because of this tension. My prayer is that I can remain in the gap and that many fruitful things come as a result…and my HubSpot employers know this is my goal and are supportive, which is incredible!
  6. Networking is a must. One of the character traits I re-discovered on coming to Dublin was my enjoyment of networking. But if you’re new to a city and are wanting to set up a new initiative and take root in the city you must meet hundreds of people. Some of whom you never meet again, some become friendly acquaintances and some become friends. And you listen and listen and ask questions and see if there is anyway that your story and their story can connect. One lesson I learnt early on (from failing to do it!) is that you have to give into the network, not just take from it (more on that later when I talk about love). In these two years I have made some great friends for which I am truly grateful.
  7. Inbound Marketing is genius. HubSpot invented Inbound Marketing (i.e. using your website as a way of growing your business, non-profit, educational institution…or even your church). Having learned so many lessons about online and digital marketing, we have been able to take some baby steps to putting them into practice. Our website and our social media presence has been a key part of us launching the church (thank you Caroline Anderson). I also think the church should practice inbound marketing on a deeper level which I explain here.
  8. Openness is key. This links back to the networking but is broader. Firstly I have had to have a go, make mistakes and learn…and learn quickly if I am to survive! I have needed to take advice off people in the city and allow God to shape me before I have been able to shape anything else. I have learnt to be open to God using all sorts of situations and people to help move the initiative forward. I have run up many rabbit holes and sometimes have felt like I was hitting my head against a brick wall…but then suddenly a door opens and an opportunity appears. This leads me to my next point.
  9. Entrepreneurial resistance is needed. Starting something is very different from growing something and 100% different from maintaining something. The entrepreneurial-never-say-die-never-give-up-live-to-fight-another-day attitude is vital. I was once told that a Christian Minister has to have an infinite capacity for disappointment and I think that is true of anyone trying to start a new project and rally support. However, something else I have discovered about myself is that I thrive in new situations, thinking outside the box and trusting God for a way forward in the face of a huge mountain.
  10. Hiring a Children’s Worker was a brilliant idea. One church planting mentor (Al Barth) told me that typically city centre churches are money-rich and time-poor (I feel we are poor on all accounts!) and that to pay for people to do jobs can be a good way forward. With myself in full time employment, Leanne flat out during the week with the kids and both of us serving upfront on a Sunday we needed help with our children and the kids’ provision on a Sunday. So we hired a kids’ worker for 4 hours a week. She happens to be brilliant and this was just an inspired suggestion for us at our stage.
  11. Love triumphs over all. It may sound corny but it’s really true. I posted on this before we even left for Dublin, quoting Tim Keller and his advice to church planters. But love for God has to come above love for the church. Love for Leanne and the kids has to come above love for the church. And love for the people in the church and in Dublin in general has to come above ‘setting up the church’. As Jesus famously said, the first two commandments are to love God and love others…and guess what, he was right! When loves motivates and drives you, there is a lightness to the challenges, a joy in the endurance and a rising of faith in the face of obstacles. Let me finish with the quote from Tim Keller again:

You must have the gospel firmly in your heart so that you are not ministering out of a need to convince yourself of your competence or worth but out of love. Religion is “I obey and minister, therefore I am accepted.” The gospel is “I am accepted, therefore I obey and minister.” If you are operating out of the former matrix (i.e. basing your justification on your sanctification instead of the other way around), then two sets of problems will emerge:

  • In your own ministry you will tend to overwork, deal poorly with criticism, worry too much about attendance, giving, and signs of success, and be less than a good and gracious model of a gospel-changed life
  • In your preaching and teaching you will be creating a lot of “elder brothers” (cf. Luke 15), people who are very good and committed to serving God as way of procuring his blessing. This makes people (like the elder brother) very grumpy, condescending to “sinners,” and unforgiving. In other words, you will create a church that can’t win people to Christ.

I am sure there is more that could be said, but here were the first 11 things that came to mind. Thanks to all of you who have journeyed with us so far and supported us in many different ways.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Andrew McNeile permalink
    27 February 2015 12:20 am

    Great post Steve – wonderful to see all that God is doing through you Andrew

  2. 26 March 2015 4:26 am

    Great insights. Keep them coming!

  3. 6 May 2015 3:55 pm

    Thanks Steve- I’ve enjoyed reading this and I’m currently working my way through a number of your links. As someone who loves the church and Hubspot, I’m enjoying embracing your tension and the life that comes from it!

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