After serving in Armidale Anglican Diocese for 23 years, why would my wife Jo, and I, accept an invitation to plant another Anglican church in Tamworth? Aren’t there enough churches there already? Wouldn’t we be more useful elsewhere? Like overseas?

We can subtly think that when Jesus said ‘go to the ends of the earth with the gospel’ he meant only jungles, coasts and cities, not regional country areas. Surely rural areas are already well covered in Australia and we just need to focus elsewhere with the good news.

What follows is a few humble thoughts from an experienced country pastor turned inexperienced church planter.

Church planting in regional areas

Having churches where people are, is always the big principle; putting churches where people can be reached for Jesus. However, growing country regional areas are often overlooked in this. A common trend happening across Australia is that smaller rural communities are declining, while larger regional centres are often actually growing. We need to keep up with this by planting churches where people are. Tamworth has grown by twenty thousand people in the last twenty years and the local council is expecting similar future grow to one hundred thousand people in the next two decades. The new growth corridor on Tamworth’s northern side is where our new church has been planted. There are many other regional communities around the country growing and expanding in a similar way. Therefore, a question worth consideration is: Are there church planting opportunities in growing regional non- city areas? 

Keep boldly stepping out in faith

 As a senior minister with a staff team and a church of several hundred people previously, it has been a good step of faith to plant a church, starting with a core team of just sixteen people. As ministers of the gospel, as with all followers of Jesus, we’re called to take up our cross and follow Jesus wherever the Good Shepherd might lead. However, after a while in ministry, it’s easy to get comfortable and start making life and ministry about yourself. Making decisions based on what’s best for ‘my’ career or what will be bring ease or honour for self, instead of where does Jesus wants me to serve, even if it is out of my comfort zone. We are always happiest in the will of God, and that often means taking the challenging road of following our Saviour’s footsteps, denying self and seeking to honour Him.   

Experienced pastors should consider church planting

With 23 years’ experience as a pastor, it has been very helpful to church plant. I haven’t had to learn how to be a pastor-teacher but rather have been able to focus fully on church planting. As I already have many ministry resources and contacts, that has enabled me to hit the ground running as a church planter. To be honest, I haven’t found church planting a whole lot different to being a senior minister. It’s still trying to grow Jesus’ church using the resources He has given me, evangelising, discipling and equipping people, prayerfully dependant on God. It’s been a huge privilege to church plant and see Jesus build His church from scratch. Church planting is something that more experienced pastors should consider.

Be devoted to prayer

Early in in my ministry when going through some difficulties, I was challenged to consider as a Christian leader, whether I was devoted to the ministry of prayer and the Word (Acts 6:4). My conclusion, as I considered my average week, was that I was devoted to the Word but not prayer. After all, ‘devoted’ is a strong word and doesn’t leave a lot of wriggle room for justifying a lack of prayer. So what followed were allocations for prayer into my diary each week. I have found it needs to be in the diary or it quickly gets forgotten or squeezed out. This was a very helpful lesson to learn prior to church planting, where you are very dependent on God to build His church. Also, Church planting is a blank slate, where culture is established, therefore devotion to prayer is something that has been important to practise and model to others. After all it wasn’t just the leaders in Acts that were devoted to prayer but the whole church (Acts 2). Church planting in a pandemic and seeing the church grow has been a timely reminder that God doesn’t need conditions to be good humanly speaking to grow His church. The pandemic has also been a reminder to keep being devoted to prayer.

All of Australia needs to be reached for Christ. Therefore, wouldn’t it be wonderful to see more churches planted in country regional areas, even by experienced pastors, because honouring Jesus, not self, always means boldly stepping out in faith for His glory.

Scott Dunlop is church planter at North Tamworth Anglican Church.