Church Planting Lessons from the First Fleet Part 4

1788, The Brutal Truth of the First Fleet, by David Hill

Be prepared for the challenge of moving
For some church-planters, just physically relocating can be an intensely complex process.

John Hosier has suggested that moving house and family can actually become a major spiritual warfare issue for a church plant and we would be naïve to assume that the move to a new town or country for the purpose of establishing a new church should go smoothly.

Multi-national companies move people from place to place with relative ease – but church-planters have sometimes hit what appear to be immovable obstacles.

As we read of the incredibly ambitious relocation of over a thousand people on the First Fleet to Australia, we are immediately struck by their perseverance.

The voyage itself took 8 months! Today we become impatient if a flight is delayed by just one hour! And a delay of 8 days due to volcanic ash can seem intolerable. I heard one comic recently talking about the speed and the wonder of flight, where you have passengers who don’t appreciate the almost miraculous nature of literally sitting down in a chair and flying through the sky!! ‘Agh,’ he said, imitating a disgruntled passenger, ‘but it doesn’t go back very far!’

On route to Australia Arthur Philip, first Governor of New South Wales, had to endure an outbreak of scurvy (which was restrained by a stop at Rio de Janiero where fresh fruit was obtained), a conspiracy to mutiny (which was uncovered in time) and extremely unhelpful Dutch authorities in the Cape who made the fleet wait while they were desperate for supplies.

But they were on their way and there was no turning back. So for us in church planting: Selling houses, relocating, getting visas, organising funding, ensuring key leaders get on site, losing folk who we hoped would be with us etc. all these are significant challenges. We must not be taken by surprise at the apparent difficulty of getting the new plant up and running. We can meet the challenges with prayer. ‘I will be with you!’ said Jesus in the context of worldwide mission (Matt 28:18-20)

The novelty of the new and the reality of the work
For my wife and I, relocating itself – getting to the new place – has always been exciting! New sights, new places, new people! If you consider yourself a student in life then every new place is full of interest.

I have deliberately trained my mind, whenever we’ve gone into a new setting, to discover the most positive things about the culture, people, the natural beauty, the architecture etc. and I keep enjoying those positives and remind myself of them when pressure comes.

The reality of the challenge doesn’t take long to crowd in and demand your attention. And that’s appropriate. There is work to be done.

A new work in a new place can feel isolated and under-resourced, even though you’re aware of it. Almost every church-planter feels this because they usually come out of a well-resourced context.

This was so obvious in terms of the First Fleeters that the parallels were striking: they were not only preparing to build houses, but also to begin farms. They took seeds and basic farm tools. They took live animals on the ships, cows and sheep and chickens and geese, in the hope of successful breeding in the new community.

But there was also the realisation, heightened by the distance, that they were leaving the source of regular supply in every sense, from clothing, to nails, to paper, even to food! In fact, a week before they arrived they ran out of cattle feed and several animals died on board.

‘The struggle to build a new life in the harsh and unfriendly Australian bush was about to begin. For the next few years life would be uncomfortable, to say the least, and most of the settlers would have no chair to sit on, no table to eat at and no bed or cot to sleep in.’ (David Hill, 1788, Heinemann Australia, p.151)

Are we tempted to complain? Speaking personally, the most difficult period of relocation for my wife and I was from the US to the Cape and lasted about 8 months.

Money was scarce; the house in which we lived was, frankly, odd (doors missing, no sink in the kitchen etc). We arrived in winter and were not at all prepared for the cold, did not have a telephone for a time and kept receiving unexpected bills we couldn’t pay, in addition to the other more usual factors of arriving in a different country with a young family.

It was a tough time for us – but it sounds pathetic compared to the First Fleeters! What was I complaining about? Things began finally to ease for us after about 8 months, but Hill writes that life continued to be intensely difficult for the new Australian community ‘for the next few years’. And so it was.

All these things are challenges in relocating. Challenges that church-planters face. Challenges that can be overcome.

For the next installment in this story click here

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides