Surfing God’s waves
Rick Warren compares the growth of the church with a surfer riding the waves.
If you take a class on surfing, you’ll be taught everything you need to know about surfing: how to choose the right equipment; how to use it properly; how to recognize a “surfable” wave; how to catch a wave and ride it …
Surfing is the art of riding waves that God builds. God makes the waves; surfers just ride them. No surfer tries to create waves. If the waves aren’t there, you just don’t surf that day! On the other hand, when surfers see a good wave, they make the most of it …
Only God makes the church grow. Only God can breathe new life into a valley of dry bones. Only God can create waves – waves of revival, waves of growth, and waves of spiritual receptivity …
Our job as church leaders, like experienced surfers, is to recognize a wave of God’s Spirit and ride it. It is not our responsibility to make waves but to recognize how God is working in the world and join him in the endeavour …
The apostle Paul did not surf. But he knew very well that it is God who opens doors for the gospel. Our responsibility is to notice these open doors and to enter. [See Acts 14:27, 1 Corinthians 16:9, 2 Corinthians 2:12 and Colossians 4:3.]
Paul experienced this in his own ministry. Acts 16 tells us how the Lord closed doors in Asia but opened the gateway to Europe. [Read the interesting Bible study “The Sovereign Spirit of Missions: Thoughts on Acts 16:6-10 and Church Planting”, in Planting, Watering, Growing, 2011, 19-24.]
As Free Reformed mission we try and tried to follow where Christ leads us. That is why …
- we moved from Mamelodi to Soshanguve in the 1980s
- we decided in 2008 to start mission work in Akasia and Soshanguve F4
- we closed the mission point in Soshanguve CC in 2012
This is the principle on which my report is based.
The Executive of the Mission Board asked me to draft a report on the Soshanguve Extensions after finishing my work in the FRC Mamelodi.
In 2008 the Maranata church council decided to start mission work in – Akasia, Soshanguve F4 and – the Soshanguve Extensions. How and where do we start?
Sources [people I spoke with]
- Rev. D M Boersma, church planter in Chantelle (Akasia)
- Rev. M P Magagula, church planter in F4 (New Eersterus)
- Oscar Makobe, former Mission Team member, living in Extension 1
- Rev. G F Mnisi, called as missionary for the Extensions in 2009
- Shadrack Sindane, former WW member, living in Extension 10
- Planting an Orthodox Presbyterian Church (2001) at http://www.opc.org/chm/chplant/.
- Timothy J. Keller & J. Allen Thompson, Church Planter Manual (Redeemer Church Planting Center, 2002).
- Dirk Maurits Boersma, Same Plant, New Flowers: Identifying opportunities for new churches in greater Tshwane (Pretoria) – Report for the Mission Board of the Free Reformed Church Pretoria-Maranata (2008).
- Planting, Watering, Growing: Planting Confessionally Reformed Churches in the 21st Century. Edited By Daniel R. Hyde & Shane Lems (2011).
The decision to start mission work in ‘the Extensions’, is step one. The next step is to decide in which of the more than a dozen extensions. They are rather extensive 😉
Some parts have been there for a long time, up to 20 years. People are settled. Other parts are brand new. RDP houses are being built. People are busy moving in.
There is a big diversity between the different areas. I heard names such as …
- Plastic View (the name tells you something about the structures built over there) and
- Marry Me (obviously an area where mostly young mothers live with their children).
Where does the Lord open doors for the gospel? Where does Christ create waves for his church to surf on? This is a spiritual matter. But it has also to do with very practical questions.
Who are the people living in the Extensions?
It would be helpful to have more information. I tried to get data of the Census 2011 from Stats SA, but until now without success.
Why did the Maranata church council decide to ‘open a branch’ in the Extensions? A few quotes from the underlying report written by Dirk Maurits Boersma (2008, boldface added):
Several extensions have been built on the South side of Soshanguve. They are located West of the railroad that is the border of WW and XX. I visited this area on 11 June with br. Makwakwa and br. Modiba from WW who know the area. I also gathered information from a former church member who lives in Ext. 10.
The Extensions differ in character: some are older and more stable (Ext 1-4), others have started 5-8 years ago (Ext 9 and 10), and others are new (Ext 13).
The extensions are huge compared to WW: about 10 times its size. No Reformed churches are known to be here. The distance to our existing churches does not seem very large but for this income group it practically means that they can’t afford to go to church every week. Currently, the churches in WW and XX don’t have active outreach into these areas. When we start a church in this area we could help this core group and we could reach many people who would otherwise not hear the gospel.
New extensions like Ext 13 and future growth to the South (towards Rosslyn) will bring in even more people. Many single young mothers live in Ext 12 and 13. The new government policy is that a mother with a child qualifies for an RDP house. It used to be that only married people qualified (this applied to the homes that were built in Central). The men from WW told me that the change in the law has caused a surge in pregnant girls, unfortunately. Few men can be found in Ext 13.
We may expect that the area between Soshanguve and Rosslyn will be filled up in the next 10 years.
I visited an RDP project in Ext 9 with Shadrack Sindane on 28 June. RDP houses are being built in front of the existing shacks, and many residents plan to use their former home as rooms for the children. Right now, many existing residents of Ext 4, 5, 8, 9, and 10 receive such an RDP house. This is a great improvement for them. Therefore I think we can expect these people to stay for many years. It brings more stability to the area.
There are Pentecostal churches here, but no Reformed churches. I saw ‘Galilee Word Centre’ in Ext 2, Assemblies of God in Ext 1, and a ZCC (of the St. Engenas type: with the dove symbol instead of the star).
Some of our members live here: when they lost their home in WW, 3-5 families moved to Ext 2, 4 and 5. The distance to the church makes it difficult to attend every week. One family comes to church regularly. There is no Bible study for them at the moment. Another family lives in Ext 10 and just joined the XX church.
A huge area remains unreached: thousands of people have been living here for more than 10 years and more are coming. We have overlooked this area of opportunity for quite a while. Maybe this was because of our preference for established areas with brick homes?
While I was doing research I discovered a report I had written in 2000 about opportunities for church planting in Soshanguve South. At that time I proposed that more than three new preaching points could be opened in the extensions, as well as one in XX. Due to a lack of manpower nothing could be done at the time. Later, XX was chosen for a new church plant but we never looked at the extensions again. The area is pretty much left to independent and Pentecostal churches.
Two different reasons are mentioned:
- members from WW and XX live here, rather far from their churches
- this area with its many people is unreached by the Reformed faith
I would stress the 2nd point more than the 1st. Our reason to start working in the Extensions is not to accommodate our existing members. We want to reach unchurched people with the gospel. Those members already living in the area can be involved in planting the new church.
The different church planting manuals stress the importance of starting with a dedicated core group:
The core group should be small at first and arise out of the common interest and passion of people of like mind in seeing a Reformed church take root. The core group should be self-conscious about this effort … and fully aware of the time, energy and personal sacrifices that will be involved …
The core group should begin meeting informally in someone’s home and spend time brainstorming and discussing what kind of church they would like to see planted.
The core group should seek to identify and then invite people who might be interested … to join the core group …
From the first meeting, the core group must begin to seek God’s will through prayer and through establishing some initial benchmarks that will indicate whether the dream will become a reality. These include a timeframe … concrete ways to judge progress … and so on.
Kim Riddlebarger, “Planting the Plant: Some Thoughts on Preparing to Plant a New Church”. In: Planting, Watering, Growing (2011) p. 92.
Since we have members living in the Extensions, we could use them as a starting point. In Boersma’s words: help this core group to reach many people who would otherwise not hear the gospel.
Both Boersma and Magagula have experienced, however, that ‘old members’ can also become a hindrance to the growth of the church. Their past in the church with its traditions makes it difficult for them to be open to new developments. They are members of the church, but are they living members of Christ? We need a dedicated core group!
Let the church planter be aware of this and choose his core group members carefully.
Since the new mission field will be adjacent to the churches in WW and XX, and since some ‘old’ members will be part of the core group, it is important to involve both churches as soon as possible. Let the new mission point not be a Maranata project, but make XX and WW co-owners from day 1.
Of course the missionary will be the first one responsible for the work in the Extensions. But this is not a one-man show. The mission team contains a lot of experience in the persons of other church planters. And from the onset, the missionary works close together with his core group.
Since the area is huge, one might even consider calling two missionaries. [A proposal to do so was e-mailed within the Mission Board in March 2011, while I was considering a call from the Netherlands. Even after my decision to accept the call, the proposal should still be discussed.] Or maybe this is a good moment to once again use the gifts of brother John Mahlangu 😉
At this stage it is too early to write a plan of action. I can try, however, to outline the way:
- Survey the area (collect data, talk with people living there, visit community leaders)
- Identify 2 or 3 areas where you can start, e.g.:
- an area where we have dedicated church members and their friends
- an area where people are moving into their new RDP houses
- an area where otherwise a door is opened for the gospel [There is a small congregation in Extensions 7 and 12 (Thulani Mphofu) that is in contact with the Living Hope congregation in Akasia. Would it be good to cooperate with them?]
- Bring together a core group in those areas for prayer and Bible study, e.g.:
- start praying with dedicated church members and their friends
- go door-to-door and identify committed Christians among the new inhabitants
- do evangelism or organise a ‘holiday Bible school’ or an Athletes in Action project
- In due course the Spirit will make clear if there is a perspective to continue in that area and to start with Sunday services.
- in all decisions involve the core group
- make the people also financially responsible
In 2 Kings 6 there is a story about some prophets cutting down trees near the river. One of them is very unlucky: his iron axe head falls in the water. “Oh, my lord,” he cries out, “it was borrowed!”
The same applies to this report. I freely borrowed ideas from Warren to Boersma. Nevertheless, it is my prayer that something good will float upon the waters!