Church Planting Lessons from the First Fleet Part 7


HMS Sirius, the flagship of the First Fleet of 1788, tragically shipwrecked just two years later

Keep your armour on!

John Piper once said, ‘We do not know what prayer is for until we know that life is war!’
And Terry Virgo also famously said, ‘The Christian life is not like a battle – it is a battle!’

The pressure of a new work, the move to a new place, the loneliness of building a new team, the discouragement of financial hardship, the unexpected setbacks – all these things can lead to a weakening of our resolve, and the temptation to retreat.

The first European settlers made many mistakes. Their approach to the Aboriginal people was intended to be respectful, but, inevitably, an innate sense of superiority soon asserted itself.

But there were comical moments too. As a boat of sailors landed on one beach, the cautious Aboriginal leaders gathered. Some small gifts were exchanged but still the locals seemed nervous. They wanted to know which gender the Europeans were. They looked like strange women, seeing as they had smooth, shaved chins and were covered with ornate clothing (the locals were completely naked).

As soon as the officer understood the locals’ dilemma he ordered one particularly unfortunate sailor to momentarily disrobe. On discovering that the European visitors were male ‘a great shout of admiration’ went up from the men who then signaled to other nervous locals that it was safe to approach.

Things didn’t always go so peaceably. Although Governor Philip had the respect of several local leaders, many didn’t know him. He was to learn the hard way, when, in an attempt to be jovial he scared a nervous local who promptly threw his spear at him. The spear went clean through Philip’s shoulder and out his back. The wound was made worse by the fact that the spear kept snagging the ground as Philip and his men ran back towards their boat in panic.

Disorder within
But the settlers had their own internal challenges. David Hill describes the pandemonium that took place on February 6th 1788.

‘…it was to be ten days [after arriving in Sydney Cove] before the majority of the female convicts were unloaded from their transports and rowed to the shore, by which time a large number of tents had been pitched for them.

‘[Governor Arthur] Philip’s caution turned out to be not unwise, because the women’s eventual landing resulted in wild scenes and debauchery that shocked many of the officers.’ (David Hill, 1788, Heinemann Australia, p. 154)

Whenever church planters attempt to break into a new community for the gospel there is resistance. Sometimes the battle is outside – cultural miscommunication, persecution, hostility. And sometimes the battle is inside – pride, sin, divisiveness and failure.

Paul exhorts us to ‘Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.’ (Eph 6:11) We are to be alert and aware always.

Recognise the potential of a new beginning

Arthur Philip is a fascinating figure. He exercised wisdom at a number of key points in an age where he may have acted ruthlessly.

He showed a care and concern for all the passengers of the first fleet. He allowed the convicts time up on deck for exercise and made sure they were kept healthy. This is in stark contrast to the terrible cruelty and mistreatment of those convicts who survived the Second Fleet. Relatively few died at sea under Philip’s care.

Although he didn’t have the choicest examples of human potential, he nevertheless realised that each one would contribute to the new community, for good or bad.

Clearly Philip felt the best way to proceed with the convicts was to help them realise the possibility of a brand new start in New South Wales. This could be, for everyone, a new beginning.
Their past, with its variety of criminal misdemeanours (some serious and some petty) was now truly past. The new community provided an opportunity for them to rise above their past.

In the church we are a new community because of the power of the work of Christ on the cross. His shed blood has opened a new and living way for us to be reconciled to God and to one another. We are now united with Him in His death and in His resurrection and are now living new lives in the grace of God.

Thus a new church plant represents a new era of grace to a village, town, city or people group. May God give you grace, strength and protection as you take the good news of Jesus Christ to all the world!

To read the first post in this series click here

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides


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