by Jamie Freeman
We may talk a lot about church planting, but we rarely discuss exactly what plant it is. I’d like to propose that it’s an onion. You heard me. Churches are onions.
I’ll elaborate. It’s not because they stink and it’s not because they make you cry (well, perhaps sometimes, but that’s not the intention!). It’s because they have layers. Churches have layers and onions have layers. Get it?
OK, so it may be a bit of a cliché (we’ll blame Shrek for that), but it is a helpful metaphor when it comes to thinking about the many layers of our story at H3O. What’s more, it points to what we believe is the core purpose of the church – reproduction.
In 2005 I was living and working in London where, against all the odds and dire predictions people often sprout, the church was growing. And it wasn’t just one model or expression either, it was a mixed economy. From the more traditional Church of England partnerships to the new and emerging Fresh Expressions, people were becoming followers of Jesus. I was watching the church embrace its core DNA – the reproduction of disciples making disciples.
Call this the onion seed if you like. This was where the dream of H3O began. However, this onion was planted firmly in the ground for a few years. I finished my studies at Morling and I worked at Gymea Baptist Church. I met Ainsley and we got married. It was a season of learning and serving at an incredible church and it was just what we needed for our growing onion to bolt.
Bolting is what onions do when they harness their energy to flower and produce seeds. Once an onion bolts it’s virtually impossible to stop.
In 2009, at the launch of the new facilities at Gymea, Karl Faase encouraged people within the congregation to consider what cause God was calling them to, what “vision he was laying on their heart”. Ainsley and I had been praying and talking about planting ourselves in a new community since before we were dating and so this was the green light.
We spoke with Karl and the leadership at Gymea Baptist Church who offered their partnership and support. And thus began a year of planning, vision and recruitment. This included participating in the church planter assessment with New Start and being adopted as one of their recognised plants. For our team it was really important to have this support and accountability from both Gymea Baptist Church and the Baptist Association – a great picture of the extended family on mission together.
As one of the members in our community puts it:
“The metaphor of family comes up for us frequently in the life of H3O – we want our gatherings to be like family gatherings, sharing our needs and haves with each other like a family, being birthed out of the Gymea Baptist family and now affiliating with the wider family of Baptist churches. We are a community of families and members of families exploring what it means to follow and share Jesus within a local community of families. It is a rich and colourful experience, celebrating what it means to bring our gifts together and be part of His Kingdom coming on earth.”
The journey to date has seen great challenges, scattered wins and sometimes the just plain ordinary day-to-day. As one of our team reflects:
“Not everything has worked, in fact there have been many dreams and plans that have never made it to announcement, but that hasn’t stopped the discussion. There is an idealistic restlessness amidst H3O, and that will keep driving us to seek the Spirit’s call, to seek new methods, to seek new possibilities.”
Despite any challenges, setbacks or disappointments we encounter along the way, we believe that this is all part of the bigger picture. Not just the bigger picture for our denomination and the vision of Gen1K, but the canvas that God is sketching as His people continue to point to The Way and make disciples. There is this ‘holy discontent’ that I witnessed back in London and I see in our church now as we seek to see disciples making disciples.
Here’s an interesting fact: Did you know that before being known as the Big Apple, New York was called the Big Onion – “a place from which you could peel off layer after layer without ever reaching the core”?
Dee Why, my city, is much the same. There are many layers and, four years in, it feels like we are only just beginning to peel back the outer leaves. As one community member explains, “H3O has grown to encompass a good community of believers, but I think we are yet to really tap into God’s heart for the truly unchurched of Dee Why. I hope that can be a powerful story of God’s grace in coming years.”
For me it is a crazy pendulum swinging between that holy discontent that drives mission and the grateful celebration and worship for who God is and what He’s done.
As Ainsley reflects on these first four years, “I remember the early days, sitting in my in-laws lounge room with 11 other people. As we prayed, dreamt, planned, unlearned, researched and brainstormed, I had no idea what kind of community God was building but every week as my 2 year old son and I walk to the Gathering and he talks through a long list of names of friends that he is excited to see, I know God did more than all I could have asked or imagined.”
I’m reminded that most onions we see in the fruit and veggie aisle of our local supermarket have never had the chance to bolt. The bulbs are usually harvested at the end of the first growing season and the energy they have to flower and produce seeds is lost. My prayer for H3O is that as we are immersed in the local soil we will grow, develop and flourish, spending our energy producing seeds that grow into new onions.
Because that’s the core DNA of church planting after all – creating communities of disciples making disciples producing Kingdom fruit. Or perhaps Kingdom onions.