In this week's encouragement for Co-Mission, we're doing things a little differently, with a summary of what God has been doing in Co-Mission during the last year from Richard Coekin (CEO), Rupert Standring (Director of Church Strengthening) and Richard Perkins (Director of Church Planting).
After such a challenging year of turmoil and insecurity, surely our Lord has been teaching each of us the truth of these beautiful words:
‘Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I shall never be shaken’ (Psalm 62:1–2).
We can once more thank our heavenly Father for many blessings this last year.
We enjoyed several terrific events: Staff Focus, Co-Mission Sunday and Partnership Evenings. Considering the constraints, Revive Sunday was a wonderful encouragement – with moving praises led by musicians from across the network; a brilliant planting film; humbling interviews with key workers; and a timely challenge from God’s Word, expounded by Thabiti Anyabwile, to, ‘let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify you Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16). And our well-attended monthly Senior Pastors’ Prayer Meeting has been a precious encouragement to our Senior Pastors.
We’ve been stirred by God this year through the wonderful ministry of Jay Marriner as our Diversity Consultant; by Ben Lindsay’s helpful book, We Need to Talk about Race; and then by the shocking murder of George Floyd and the wider cultural issues of systemic racism it raised, causing us to prayerfully consider the challenges we face as a network wanting to reach the multi-cultural city London. We are driven not only by biblical principles of justice but also by the vision our Lord has given us of a heavenly church gathered, ‘from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb’ (Revelation 7:9). These issues cannot adequately be addressed quickly. In the uniting power and love of the Holy Spirit, and without tokenism or virtue signalling, we will want to continue sanctifying our blind spots and cultural assumptions in the months and years ahead as we try to bring the gospel to people in communities across London. For our uniting goal is the planting and strengthening of diverse reformed evangelical churches for the salvation of the lost to the glory of God.
It’s worth reporting that we had a challenging but hugely constructive offsite board meeting in which we focussed upon issues of inclusivity; on strengthening the flow of gospel workers from our children and youth right through to planting and strengthening gospel churches in London; and on improving our operating structures going forward. One challenge we will want to address in the coming year is to strengthen the voice of Senior Pastors in shaping the direction of Co-Mission. We want to keep ensuring that Co-Mission serves the churches and not vice versa – and so as we grow, we want to avoid disenfranchising our church leaders. More of this next year.
Roo and Perks have written below with more specifics of what God has been doing despite lockdown – there are many reasons for thankfulness. And I want to praise God for our extraordinarily gifted, godly, dedicated and united Co-Mission staff. They really go the extra mile in our mission to London because they love our Lord and they love the churches of Co-Mission.
I think we should particularly thank God this year for how he has exposed our frailties, humbled our pride and taught us personally to look to him for our safety and protection. We are surely all very different characters working in very different contexts. But we have all experienced anxieties about health, for ourselves and our loved ones; faced technical challenges and embraced challenging new ways of doing ministry (probably opening up exciting opportunities for the future); felt anxiety about the people on the fringe of our church with whom we have struggled to stay in contact; and been confronted with a wearying torrent of decision-making responsibilities. Surely God has humbled most of us and brought us closer to him for the rest and refuge our souls need. I am sure we are all weary and much in need of a holiday – somewhere! It has been a very hard season, but is has been good to walk with our staff teams, elders and congregations through tough times together with God. And whether or not we are able to meet physically yet as churches, it is spiritually so healthy for us to be more conscious than ever of needing God as our personal rock and refuge.
Among us is one couple and church in particular need of our prayers – Ben and Karen Shaw, and the Boathouse Church Putney. As you will know, Ben has been off work for some months to enable his radiotherapy treatment following serious surgery to remove a cancerous tumour from his jaw. Sadly the prognosis is not good. The doctors now report that the treatment has not worked and the tumour is multiplying. They think he is likely to die within twelve months. This is obviously devastating news for Ben and Karen, and for their families and church. Ben has therefore just this week resigned and told the Putney church family – and has asked me to communicate this news to you. Ben and Karen intend to return to Australia, probably by the end of the summer, to spend time with their families. Throughout this traumatic period, Ben and Karen have displayed a remarkable resurrection confidence in God, in which they have been strengthened by their church family and by others in our network. But they would obviously greatly value our continued prayer. Please do pray for healing and/or excellent palliative care for Ben; for many gospel opportunities to speak of the gospel hope that sustains them; for Ben and Karen as they try to enjoy these precious last months together on earth; and especially for Karen as she contemplates the future. Pray they will know the comfort of finding deep rest and refuge for their souls in God.
(Perhaps I could commend to you Ben’s powerfully compelling recent video presentation on the evidence for the resurrection which is bolstering his personal faith. You might want to make it available to others, including unbelievers, as we have at Dundonald – it is now available on the Co-Mission website here.)
Back before coronavirus (if anyone can remember that?!) we had a really successful Staff Focus looking at prayer, which appears to have precipitated more prayer across our network, not least in the now monthly Senior Pastor Online Prayer Meetings.
Three good Partnership evenings have been run on gospel generosity; sexuality and standing firm in God’s word; and servant leadership. These have continued to equip senior pastors and elders in the task of looking after the flocks under their care.
This year has also seen the first ever comprehensive ministry survey across Co-Mission churches. The results show continued growth, especially among children and youth. It’s hoped these findings will prove to be really useful tools for church leadership teams to assess their strengths and weaknesses.
Clusters continue to bed down as part of our ministry culture – a tangible expression of being able to do more together than we can on our own. In many instances during the recent challenges of coronavirus, they have really come into their own and provided much needed local support and encouragement.
Undoubtedly the last five months have presented huge challenges to those of us charged with the health and strengthening of our congregations. I have been so heartened at seeing how Co-Mission churches have responded to these challenges with faithfulness, creativity and hope. Restrictions may now be easing and some of us are back in the buildings we meet in, but this virus isn’t going away anytime soon. We will need to continue to reinvent our roles and how we exercise effective leadership over many months to come, whilst all the time looking to our faithful God who has all of this in his hands and who, unlike our circumstances, never changes.
This was not the year I would have chosen. But it was the year the Lord has given us. And he knows what he’s doing to ensure the worldwide spread of the gospel way better than I do. And so, despite my evident enthusiasm and excitement at formulating a new strategic plan to bring about the planting of 60 diverse, reformed evangelical churches by the end of 2025, that’s been put on hold for now. It will come out again when this pesky virus has stopped killing people and we can get back to limitation-free living.
In the meantime, it would be fair to say that this postponement has put something of a dent in our aspirations as well as our accomplishments. Nevertheless, it would also be misleading to say that this year has been without its successes. Take the London Church Planting Academy, for example. Its launch and profile may have been somewhat low key, but it’s been a real highlight for those of us who’ve been involved in it. I love it because it’s been genuinely collaborative as we’ve partnered with others to make it happen. It’s intentionally planter focussed, aimed at providing them with what they think that they need to develop their gospel ministry. And it’s wonderfully diverse with a cohort of people working for the gospel in different contexts, from different backgrounds and with different strengths. Andy Harker and I have taken great encouragement that throughout the period since March, when we moved everything online, the numbers involved in Church Planter Training, for example, have held up.
With recent events, it would be easy to forget that this year three church plants have moved out of conception into development. It wouldn’t be fair to describe them as post-delivery, but they’re taking meaningful shape and have all the recognisable forms of a church plant waiting for their due date. The Lord willing, Queen’s Park, Clayhall & Barkingside and Beckenham will imminently see the fruit of the labours of the church-planting teams who’ve been toiling to make those happen. We have a handful of other exciting possibilities simmering in the background. But if these past few months have reminded us of anything, it’s that we’re in the Lord’s hands. And so we’ll plan, we’ll pray and we’ll wait on his sovereign provision.
With love in Christ,
Richard, Roo and Perks