Church planting with a family

A few lessons from two years of church planting (in a new country) with a young family.

Last night Jo and I were interviewed by the Broadcast Church Planting network. The title of the interview was ‘The Pioneering Family’.

Having been here in Amsterdam for two years planting Liberty Church, the interview was a good opportunity to consider what have we learnt about church planting with a family. In particular, moving to a new country and church planting with a family.

We’re still learning of course, but here are a few things we’ve learnt so far:

Prepare the family first

Three years before we moved to Amsterdam, our church at that time (CCK Brighton, UK) became a multi-site church. They moved from one location to two (now four) locations across the city and we became part of the Shoreham site.

For most adults, they’re able to grasp the concept that we’re still in the same church. We just now meet in a different building, with a different mix of people etc. However, we noticed our kids saw things quite differently. This was now their ‘new church’ and the venue where we used to all meet together in the centre of Brighton was our ‘old church’.

As well as correct their theology of the church, this also gave us an opportunity to sow some seeds into our children. And in particular when Jo and I launched a new service at the Shoreham site we taught the kids that one day we’d do this all again.

This meant that before we’d publicly announced we were going (we wanted them to be the first to know) our kids already knew we were going to move. So when it actually happened it wasn’t a surprise, but an adventure we’d been planning for a few years.

It takes a year to move house

Not long after moving to Amsterdam I visited Redeemer Church in Den Haag to hear Terry Virgo speak. I got talking with Terry after the service, and he made this helpful statement,

‘When you move to a new country, it takes a year to move house’.

He didn’t mean it would take a year for all our furniture to arrive but to settle, to find your feet, to make life work.

In hindsight, it was probably more like 18 months for our family. In other countries where the cultural differences are greater, 2 to 3 years maybe a better timescale.

The point is — playing the long game is important. Through that first year I was often reminded of Terry’s comment.

When life was feeling awkward, when we were feeling unsettled or the kids were struggling — to know that was ok, to know it was all part of the journey took the pressure off.

In our initial planning for the church plant, the primary goal for the first two years was simply for us (and the others who moved with us) to settle our families.

God loves our kids more than we do

I remember one morning cycling back from school at a particularly low ebb. Our kids were struggling with school, they were unsettled which meant I was unsettled. I was trying to pray but was mostly just confused and cross.

’It’s not fair’ was my primary lament. At that point my kids were doing the hardest thing in the church plant, surely I should be doing the hardest things not them?

God graciously reminded me of Matthew 19. Some children are brought to Jesus and his disciples try and shoo them away. Jesus rebukes them:

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

God reminded me that he loves my kids more than I do. He was looking after them.

Our natural instinct (a healthy instinct too) is to try and protect our children, to keep them from harm. But sometimes we can’t, sometimes we can’t make the pain disappear. And often we don’t know what Jesus is doing in them. He has plans for them too, things he is preparing them for. Adventures of their own ahead.

Enjoy the city

When you move to a new country there are plenty of things you miss. Friends and family of course, but sometimes the things that really highlight your distance from ‘home’ are smaller, less important details. The things you’d always taken for granted. Cheddar cheese, Cadbury’s chocolate, Woking FC, shampoo, Tetley’s Tea, running along Southwick beach etc.

For a while we were recipients of many packages of ‘emergency aid’ from friends back in the UK which was a huge blessing. However, the main way to deal with those homeward urges and cravings is to counteract them with the new tastes, smells and sights of a new city.

For the kids, perhaps the best thing we did in the first year was to get annual passes for Artis Zoo. We’ve also visited numerous museums, galleries, beaches, pancake houses and coffee houses (not coffee shops, important Amsterdam detail).

We’ve consumed more stroopwafels then I thought humanely possible, tasted lente bier, herfst bier and bock bier, enjoyed bitterballen, oude kaas, vla and many other local flavours.

Each enjoyable new taste and impressive new sight dulls the memories of marmite and Brighton beach (yuk, horrible stones) and helps us feel more and more at home.

Celebrate the wins

It’s so easy, particularly when you’re right in the thick of things, to miss what God has been doing. You can get so caught up in the combination of family life and church life that the successes pass by unnoticed.

We’ve taken a few moments to reflect with our kids. ‘Do you remember when we were all just squeezed into our apartment every Sunday morning?’ ‘Remember when you didn’t speak Dutch?’

Particularly in the tougher moments, it’s so much easier to remind the kids of why we’re here if when can also point to what God has done.

These, and a few other lessons, were part of the interview recorded with the Broadcast team. The video & podcast should be online shortly here.