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Honest expectations of a church planter 

We have brilliant stories to tell... and times when we didn’t know if we were doing the right thing. It's important to record both, writes Liz Grier

Beginning UnlimitedWe don’t have favourites in our family. I can’t bear the thought that one child might feel more, or less, loved. I’m so determined to love my children equally it has become a joke. ‘I’m the favourite’ is often to be heard being loudly declared by one or the other. Often they try to trap me into expressing a preference.

But as much as I will not have favourites in my family, the same rules don’t apply to the Bible. Because when I read the Bible I really do have favourites. Take the Gospels. My favourite is Mark. I love the immediacy and the urgency with which he tells the story. Everything is ‘now’, ‘then’, ‘immediately’. He’s in such a rush to tell the good news he doesn’t stop to tell us about Jesus’ birth but jumps right in with the baptism and testing of Jesus. So keen is he to tell us about Jesus’ ministry he simply ignores the first 33 years of his life. And the read is breath-taking. The whole book can be devoured in a two-hour sitting.

Mark’s Gospel was the book of the Bible I knew best when I became a Christian at the age of 19, and unconsciously since then I think it has been the plumb line for my Christian faith. I believed that life with Jesus should be ‘now’ and ‘immediately’, and never was this more true for me than ten years ago when my husband James, our two young sons and I moved from Birmingham to plant a church that would reach out to young people who ‘don’t do church’. Even the words ‘church-planting’ and ‘pioneering’ excited me. I thought that our days would be full of excitement, of following God’s lead and seeing miracles all around.

Ten years after moving to Devon to found Unlimited church, we took our first ever sabbatical. For the first time in 20 years we stepped back from ministry, from doing and, most crucially, from being there for people. As part of this I went on retreat for 24 hours. I had only one plan: to rejoice over the good in the last ten years, to release all the pain and to receive what was for the next season. Rejoice, release, receive.

And what I discovered in a tiny prayer cabin in North Devon was that through the journals that I had sporadically written I had a record of our church-planting story. I delightfully found that there was so much to rejoice in.

Less enjoyable was remembering and forgiving the hurts and failures. But in my handwritten notes I found a record of the highs and lows of the last ten years. Or maybe more accurately than highs and lows, it was a record of the chronos and the kairos.

The Bible describes time in two ways: chronos and kairos. Chronos time is the tick, tick, tick as time passes. It is measured in minutes and hours and seconds. Kairos is the NOW moment, the moment when God shows Himself; when time stops ticking and you are right there with Him.

There are so many kairos moments I want to share. Unlimited is truly a multigenerational church with a passion to reach out to the young people of Exeter. From an unpromising start with no building, no team, no money and no youth, God has provided all these things which have enabled us to do so much. We have run night cafés from 12-3am, to provide a place of safety in the heady night-time economy. We run a lunchtime café for college students; we have prayed for more than 1,000 young people and have brilliant stories to tell. Many have come to know Jesus through what we do.

Take, for example, the story of Eli. One night he walked into night café. James and the team had met him a few times before and on one of those occasions had offered to pray for him. When the team prayed they asked God how He saw Eli, what it was in him that was unique and special. And the prayers were written down. As James and Eli got chatting Eli told of how a few weeks ago he’d been really low, on the verge of suicide. He said as he was lying on his bed thinking about how to end his life, he saw the cards which the team had written on when they prayed for him. Eli told how when he reread what had been written, he changed his mind. He no longer wanted to end his life.

Stories like this are incredible and exciting. But the truth is that it has not always been like this. Recently I recognised that because Mark’s Gospel has been the plumb line to my Christian life, his breathless account of Jesus’ life had led me to expect that church-planting and pioneering would only consist of kairos time highs. I had not allowed for the chronos. The times when we didn’t know if we were doing the right thing, where nothing seemed to be happening, when we were lonely and struggling.

So I decided to write a book to share this story. A book that would honour and glorify the amazing God who has led our every step. A record of the kairos moments, all the encouragements we saw along the way. But a book that would also include a record of the chronos. Of the times when it felt like nothing was happening, when my doubts threatened my faith, when things seemed to be going horribly wrong.

I wanted to write this book because I had never read anything out there that seemed to include both the chronos and the kairos. I know that no one else’s journey and struggles will look like mine, but I hoped that if I could be open and honest, then it may encourage others to be too. So I wrote Beginning Unlimited. I hope it will encourage and inspire others to keep on keeping on. To work out their calling. To take risks, joy, success, failure and challenges and to know God in every step.

Liz Grier is the author of Beginning Unlimited (978-1-909728-92-9), published by Instant Apostle on 21 September 2018 and available from bookshops and online sellers. 


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Baptist Times, 27/09/2018
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