Thoughts, failures and successes (Ben Gardner)

Ben GardnerBen Gardner is having thoughts on failures and successes.

Success is never final; failure is never fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill is one of my heroes. Despite his 'black dog' days of depression, he never gave up and continued to pursue what he believed was right and what was needed. I'm sure like many of us, Churchill learnt from his mistakes more than he did from his successes.

Leading a fresh expression of church is nothing like leading a nation into battle, but sometimes it can feel like it. There are days when you see growth, numerically and in the depth of relationships, discipleship, and then there are days when you ask yourself, 'What am I doing?'

Six months ago I was leading a fresh expression in the market town of Woodbridge in Suffolk. Named The Lounge, it was based in Costa Coffee. The birth of this church was not planned but a result of the relationships that the local church (St John's Woodbridge) had developed over the years with the Costa staff. The starting point of this church was relationship and listening to our 'non-customers' (those who did not attend a 'traditional' church).

The Lounge was a great success, it developed, people came and the events were of a good quality. However, I started to notice that many of our guests were Christians who were fed up with their traditional churches, desiring a community that seemed less structured and distant from the established church … even though The Lounge was born out of and accountable to a 'traditional' church. I also began to recognise that all the events and key relationships with The Lounge community and Costa staff orbited around me and the people I knew.

Leading a fresh expression of church is nothing like leading a nation into battle, but sometimes it can feel like it

Towards the end of my time in Woodbridge this became a fundamental problem … who was I going to pass the baton to? Who would continue the discussions, events and aid the discipleship of those that were beginning the journey with God and his church? Questions which all church leaders should ask themselves at the beginning of their ministry!

My obvious failure was the lack of investment that I placed in building a team from the beginning and to recognise that The Lounge was not engaging with the people that we had originally started it for. However, due to the great church that I was connected to, namely St John's, The Lounge continues to grow and develop as others have taken on that baton since I left. An Alpha course is now running at Costa and some of the staff are taking part – wonderful stuff, but the story could so easily have taken a very different turn.

Building a team and sharing ministry is essential when taking on a new church, ministry, a small group, etc. Jesus calls all of us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28.19). We are called to 'go' out in community, not on our own. My failure was to build team to help me listen to those we were reaching.

Winston Churchill could not have led this nation to victory if it wasn't for those around him and those that he shared leadership with.

Who is on your team? Have you thought about inviting others into leadership? Are you willing to let go and give others a chance at leading, hosting, teaching and contributing new ideas?

Championing young leaders (Ben Gardner)

Ben GardnerBen Gardner asks why we jump through hoops to leadership?

I oversee a 260-strong student church at St Thomas Crookes Sheffield. The way in which we run this church is through missional communities: groups of (between 15-30) university students who have a passion for a particular people group, sub-culture or geographical area. Many of these missional communities are reaching people who would never normally be reached by the ‘traditional’ church system and structures that are currently in place.

Some of these missional communities are growing quickly. Therefore, my team's priority is to identify, equip (through an apprenticeship model) and release new young leaders quickly: and I mean quickly… sometimes within weeks and months!

Through this process I have come to realize that many of our young leaders, who are brilliant at what they do, would never stand a chance with the church's current system of ordination. For many, ordination might not be a calling but for some it is. However, my issue is that it takes a long time – up to nine years – of jumping through hoops to get to a point where a young leader can be released to plant and grow missional movements.

Let's look instead at the Apostle Paul's approach. As an incredible coach for new leaders, it seems that he entered a town/city, identified potential leaders, spent time with them and released them to lead and grow new Christian communities. We have to remember that he didn't stay long in these communities so how did he do it?

In 2012, why does it take so long to identify, equip and release young leaders to plant and grow new churches?

Here are some hard questions to set us thinking:

  • is it due to the fact that many leaders fear giving leadership away?
  • do we undermine the potential that young people have in leading a missional movement?
  • are there unnecessary barriers that mean a massive number of young pioneers are not being indentified and acknowledged as church leaders?
  • is the process of ordination necessary? Is it too slow? 

Let the discussions begin!