Planting pregnant was a term that was bandied around at a recent church planting and church growth conference I attended. It’s an arresting and somewhat discomforting image for male church planters! But it’s helpful. It refers not to the gynaecological condition of the church planter but to the reproductive potential of the ministry team. The essential idea is that a church planter should plan and plant with a potential planter in utero so that at some stage in the future they’re good to go.
I was at the London Underground Church a couple of Sundays ago. One of the unexpected delights was the chance to sit under the teaching of someone who was once part of a youth group that I used to run. Dave Seckington was up in the place of the regular preacher at LUC, Malcolm Riley. We were in Jonah 1 and there was lots of great stuff. He’s not the finished article but I wasn’t expecting that and neither, I hope, was he. I’m pretty sure the thought of how much he’d progressed hadn’t even entered the congregation’s head. They were just glad that one of their guys was up and explaining and applying the Bible to their lives. Dave is one of the launch team at the Underground. And this year he’s on the Cornhill Training Course. And he’ll learn loads at both. He’s getting lots of brilliant biblical input from Nigel Styles and the team at Cornhill. And that will prove invaluable. After all, at the heart of all great church planting is a bible ministry. But what he’s getting at the Underground is experience of what that looks like and what it feels like in practice.
I remain an enthusiast for the church planting placement. In many ways I think it can offer so much more than being at a larger church. Of course, there’s no way that Malcolm will be able to provide Dave with the kind of input that he’s getting at Cornhill. But that’s why God gives us people like Nigel. And there’s no way that Malcolm will be able to give the same kind of input that Dave could get at say, Dundonald under Richard Coekin. But that’s alright because Ministry Traineeships ought to be about on the job training. They’re not about lecturing, or working through a syllabus or even sitting at the feet of the best. They’re about giving it a go, getting our feet wet, making mistakes, learning from them and then having another go. It’s about being in ministry with a more experienced minister and learning a pattern of ministry. They’re about reflecting on what’s happening and why, how we feel about it and what we should do in response. They’re about experiencing close up the joys as well as the frustrations and discouragements of ministry. They’re about learning how others cope with the highs and lows. And church plants provide a brilliant opportunity to do that with a church planter who is so much more than a trainer, a coach or a mentor but a friend. I learnt loads in ministry as an apprentice at what was then a much smaller Dundonald Church. That was over fifteen years ago. But what I learnt from Richard Coekin has stayed with me and shaped me ever since. My view is that we need to send more people into church planting traineeships and plant pregnant.
I guess I ought to say that it’s not inevitable that Dave will become a church planter. But what better training and preparation for the rigours of planting than being a part of a plant?