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


Church Planting Lessons from the First Fleet Part 6

Tim Flannery's collection of eye-witness accounts

Expect Providential Blessings
God both develops perseverance in us, perfecting our character and faith, but also surprises us with welcome provisions and comforts!

Being convinced of God’s sovereignty should never produce in us a fatalistic or stoic attitude. He can and does respond to our cries for relief, sometimes radically changing circumstances on our behalf.

At times His providential care for us can be seen in utterly unexpected ways.

Providence in a broken tooth!
I was struck by this when I read a strange but remarkable fact about Philip Arthur, first Governor of the Sydney settlement. It reminds us to trust God for amazing manifestations of providence.

In his book The Birth of Sydney’ (an edited collection of eye witness accounts of the earliest years of the settlement), Tim Flannery notes a peculiarity which may be of interest to those keen to establish cross-cultural relationships.

‘Young Cadigalean [Aborignal] men were initiated during a ceremony known as Yoo-lahng Erah-ba-daihng…held in Camerigal territory at Wallamola.

There the tribes would gather and, after days of ceremony, the highlight came when the initiates had an upper incisor knocked out with a stone.

The teeth were carefully kept by their Camerigal hosts, who returned them to the Cadigal at a ceremony some years later.

This practice of knocking out a front incisor, incidentally, was to have some significance for the Europeans, for Governor Phillip was lacking just such a tooth.

The Aborigines clearly viewed him as an important person, perhaps as an initiated elder who had returned from the dead. They called him Beeana – father.’ (Tim Flannery, The Birth of Sydney, Text Publishing, Melbourne, p.21)

God knows all things. He knows your need. He can help form bridges for us – we need to cross them, exercise sensitivity and wisdom – but He can give us unexpected help.

For the next installment in this story click here

For the first post in this series click here

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

Church Planting Lessons from the First Fleet Part 5

HMS Supply, the oldest and smallest of the First Fleet ships

Commitment to the new community
It seems to me that there’s a connection between growing a large church and longevity in the leadership. The leading elder, along with other elders, is there for good, for the long haul. This obviously provides stability.

So I’ve been surprised over the years, to meet church-planters who are eager to leave after a very short time. And not surprised by the negative impact on the plant if that happens.

Of course, the Apostle Paul was often compelled, by persecution, to move on, but I’m not sure that’s always an applicable model for planters who may need to persevere until the work is established.

It finally dawned on the Australian ‘First Fleeters’ of 1788 that they were truly leaving the known world behind them. This truly hit home for the crew when they left Cape Town, about half way on their journey to Botany Bay.

David Hill writes, ‘Many felt as they headed away from the Cape that they were leaving behind all connections with the civilised world.’

David Collins, who was to act as the new colony’s Magistrate, writes, ‘When, if ever, we might again enjoy the commerce of the world, was doubtful and uncertain…All communication with families and friends now cut off, [we were] leaving the world behind us, to enter a state unknown.’ (1788, David Hill, William Heinemann Australia, p.130-131)

And so it is with us! At some point the daunting, but exciting, challenge hits home. We have left home and are building a new community for God in a new place. If we are alone, then we are in trouble. But, here’s the good news, Jesus tells us ‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age!’ (Matt 28:20)

Autonomy is the goal
The First Fleet of 11 ships were given enough provisions to hopefully last until they could begin farming for themselves in Australia. The list itself makes interesting reading!

1400 shovels and spades, 175 hammers and 747,000 nails!! They took many animals on board including sheep, goats, chickens and pigs – even 4 mares and 2 stallions. But they only took 12 ploughs. Clearly, they expected to do line fishing as they only took 14 fishing nets but 8000 fish hooks! Somehow or other a printing press was taken on this first journey. Click here for the full list

The relationship between the local Aboriginal people and the settlers is described by Hill as one of ‘mutual incomprehension’! And so the settlers undoubtedly lost key opportunities to learn.

Initially they were dependent on their own provisions and the whole colony came close to starvation a couple of times until they were relieved by more supplies from England. Finally, however, their farming skills grew.

Dependence on external resources may be initially necessary as a new church is planted, but obviously, the evidence that the work has taken root is that it is not only self-sustainable but also can become a centre of generous giving into other pioneering situations.

For the next installment in this story click here

For the first post in this series click here

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

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

Church Planting Lessons from the First Fleet Part 3

The Lady Penrhyn, one of the eleven First Fleet ships

For the background to this post click here

Get to know the place
Do your homework and make sure your research is accurate. If you can, personally go and visit the place as much as possible. Get to know the people, the surroundings, the needs, the history and the opportunities there. Be thrilled with the beauty and variety of the surroundings and the people but be ready to face challenges. Building something new doesn’t come easily.

The glowing reports given to Parliament about Botany Bay were way too optimistic and were based on only six days of relatively superficial observation. The initial site was rejected.

Even when the fleet moved on to Sydney, the settlers couldn’t contain their optimism!

Hill writes, ‘The first recorded impressions of Sydney Cove…gave no indication that the newcomers had any inkling of the problems that lay ahead.’ (David Hill, 1788, Heinemann Australia, p.149) One settler initially described the harbour as the finest ‘in the universe’!

Well, it’s good to be full of faith and to believe that things will go well, but we also need to face our challenges realistically. David met Goliath with genuine faith, not unreality. There was a mix of previous experience, faith and boldness. He didn’t downplay the task but faced it with holy realism.

Make the right decisions quickly
After ten long weeks at sea, from Cape Town, the fleet finally drew close to Australian shores.

Arthur Bowes Smyth was aboard the Lady Penrhyn and expresses the wonder of their first sighting of land.

‘At 7am we discovered land about forty miles distant. The joy everyone felt upon so long wished for an event can be better conceived than expressed.’ (Hill, p.141)

Hopes were high. But they were met with an unexpected challenge. To everyone’s shock and surprise, Botany Bay itself was ‘totally unsuitable’.

Arthur Philip, the first Governor of New South Wales, wrote, ‘I began to examine the bay as soon as we anchored, and found that…I did not see any situation of which there was not some strong objection.’ (p. 143)

Captain Watkin Tench recorded their discouragement, ‘In the evening we returned on board, not greatly pleased with our discoveries.’ (p.143)

Here, Arthur Philip’s leadership was excellent. Within just three days, and with all the convicts still aboard the various ships, Philip and a few others set out in three small boats to explore the coastline further to the North.

It was here they discovered the more suitable site they called Sydney Cove, where the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge are today. The decision to change location was made quickly.

The party returned to Botany Bay where convicts were attempting (unsuccessfully) to clear the ground in case this really was their best spot. Philip ordered the whole fleet to move up to Sydney.

Interestingly, two French ships, arrived at Botany Bay as the First Fleet were leaving. They had heard that the British had decided to establish a settlement there and fully expected to find a town, with houses and roads already built.

The French were bemused to find what looked like a hurried and comprehensive withdrawal from the Bay, but nevertheless entertained various of the leaders on their ships with some fine dining. It is amazing to think that information of a global nature took months and sometimes even years to get from place to place.

Clear decision making, especially in terms of location could be critical in establishing a new church community. And if a decision has been made that proves to be incorrect, surely wise leadership can acknowledge that and make an adjustment that benefits the community.

Many struggles still lay ahead for the settlers, and they very nearly came to starvation early on, but this single location decision certainly saved many lives.

For the next installment of this story click here

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

Church Planting Lessons from the First Fleet part 2

HMS Charlotte, one of the First Fleet ships

For the introduction to this story click here

The ‘First Fleet’
In 1788, 11 small ships carrying nearly 1500 people, half of whom were convicts, embarked on a heroic, dangerous and untested mission – to plant a new community in Australia.

After the Revolutionary War in America, England could no longer send its unwanted prisoners there. A new solution was necessary. Several exploratory trips to the west coast of Africa proved fruitless.

Back in England, decommissioned ships on the Thames and elsewhere were being filled with prisoners at the rate of about a thousand a year. Soon these ships were filled to overflowing and became breeding grounds for sickness and violence.

Botany Bay
Finally, under immense pressure, and, somewhat on impulse, Australia (known as ‘New Holland’ at the time) was decided upon as the chosen destination.

Captain Cook had visited Australia briefly in 1770 and named the west coast New South Wales. Optimistic reports were given to Parliament about a potential site which Cook had named Botany Bay.  The decision was made.

Church Planting?
As I read the excellent historical account of the First Fleet, ‘1788’ by David Hill, I was reminded of the experiences and challenges of church planters around the world.

The manner with which these ‘First Fleeters’ faced the difficulty of establishing a new community in unfamiliar surroundings seemed compelling to me, and encouraging.

Today, against a backdrop of apparently sudden successes, patience and perseverance in establishing a church can be viewed as a lack of faith, or anointing.

Obviously a modern day church planter’s motives and objectives are very different to those of an 18th century colonialist (especially one sent to establish a penal colony!) – but, given the significant differences, the experiences of the First Fleet to Australia, and the earliest generations of Australian settlers, in establishing a new community in a new place may provide some teaching points.

We’ll look at those teaching points here

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

Church Planting Lessons from the First Fleet

Transportation Notice from Dorset. Photo by Steinsky

Setting the scene
‘Farewell to olde England forever
Farewell to my olde pals as well
Farewell to the well known Old Bailey
Where I once used to look such a swell.

Singing Too-ral Li-ooral li-ad-dity
Singing too-ral li-ooral li-ay
Singing too-ral li-ooral li-ad-dity
And we’re bound for Botany Bay!’
(From a song of the ‘first fleeters’ who sailed from England to Australia in 1787 see

They were unusual times. British law was harsh. The death penalty was handed down for convictions as slight as petty theft.

As time went on, many judges became increasingly uneasy about sentencing to death those convicted of relatively petty crimes.

In fact, in 1800, Sir Samuel Riley declared that ‘there is probably no other country in the world in which so many and so great a variety of human actions are punishable with loss of life than in England.’ (Quoted in 1788, David Hill, William Heinemann Australia, p.8)

Transportation to America

The merciful alternative was to reduce the sentences to ‘transportation’, where the convicted criminal would be shipped off to one of Britain’s colonies, rather than be ‘launched into the next world.’

It sounds like an unusual solution to us now, but back in the 18th century it was the English solution to the unpleasant problem of dealing with the unruly and lawless!

Up until the revolutionary war, the American colonies were considered the perfect place for such convicts. And the English Judges, reluctant to so easily send people to their death, sent some 40,000 convicts to America instead.

However, a new option was now necessary, and a new community would be settled in a very far off place.

For the second installment of this story click here

© 2010 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides