Birthdays and Growing Up

 

Our church celebrated its second birthday at the end of March. What a joyous celebration and a time to look back on the blessings that God has richly provided each step of the way on this planting
journey. We have welcomed new people and farewelled others. We have tried new things. We have
started new ministries and made plans for the future. And now we are waiting patiently for a
building to be built.

I celebrated my fortieth birthday last year. I don’t think I ever really got the big deal about this
significant birthday. I wasn’t sure why people would weep and wail and look panic stricken by the
thought of just another birthday. Wouldn’t you just feel all grown up by then? It all seemed so far
away. And then it was here. I didn’t have a major meltdown or have to be sedated, but it did all start
to make sense. I did actually experience the ‘taking stock’ and ‘reflecting on your life’ that descends
upon you when you have a significant birthday. I knew that I definitely did not feel old enough to be
forty, but at the same time, I knew that this milestone marked a bit of a turning point.

I am pretty sure that I had assumed that by the time I turned 40 I would be a more mature Christian.
I thought that I would have it together more, be more disciplined and have conquered some of those
niggling sins. And even though I wasn’t counting on it, I probably thought that we would be more
financially secure. In fact, before we became church planters, I had dreamed of a trip to Europe to
celebrate my birthday. Needless to say, that dream will have to remain a dream for a while to come.

As I have reflected over the past, and waded through my emotions, there have been a few things
that have stood out. I am not as good as I would like to be at forming and maintaining friendships. I
still struggle with contentment. My contentment tends to eb and flow and I go through seasons of
feeling more and less content with where God has placed me, what he has provided and how he has
made me. And I can tend to neglect my spiritual needs and that leads me to feel that I am being
sucked dry by constantly giving to others. See? Turning forty makes you take stock and think about
who you are and where you could do with some spiritual fine tuning.

I do still feel bombarded by the world’s assumptions about work, career, financial security and
status. But it seems like over the past two years God has been shaping me to be able to take
people’s assumptions about women, about work and about me and to sigh and move on. I know
better how to explain that my husband and I have moved to this new area to start a new church and
that I work from home and do lots of volunteer work. I have recently decided to get back into
teaching as a casual this year. I feel blessed and see that this could be another great opportunity for
ministry. Even though it’s scary.

I don’t feel grown up. I still lose it over messes made by my family. Sometimes I look at my children
and think ‘What exactly do you want from me in this situation? I have no idea what I am doing!’ But
maybe there are things that I have learned to let go of. And even though I am not in control of this
patchwork life that God is quilting together for me, I am pretty happy to keep heading in the
direction that he is taking me. At the ripe old age of forty, God is still working on me and he is giving
me lots of opportunities for patience and lots of opportunities to learn how to be content. Here’s to
many more birthdays for me and for our church. Church planting is not for the feint hearted, but I
don’t want to be doing anything else.

– Rachel Collins

“It’s none of your business.”

 

Last Sunday a young guy got up to speak on John 21. I was sitting in the front row – because I am
encouraging. I didn’t really listen to the Bible reading – because I am arrogant. I already knew what
John 21 is about. It’s about how Jesus does the X3 reinstatement of Peter to demonstrate that he is
graciously overturning Peter’s X3 denial of Jesus. I was writing down names of people to email on
Monday, but so it looked like I was taking notes on the talk – because I’m sneaky.

And then it suddenly happened. I started listening. Jesus says to Peter three times “feed my sheep”.
He’s giving Peter a difficult, important task. Jesus then tells Peter very clearly “follow me”, and
ominously hints at the way Peter will die, in consequence of taking on this task.

But then Peter does a weird thing that I’ve never noticed before. In verse 21 Peter’s response is not
to ask Jesus for more details, or find out the best way to get the job done, or thank him for the
privilege of serving. Peter immediately looks around him and spots John and asks Jesus “What about
him?” Jesus gives him a pretty curt answer – basically, “it’s none of your business Peter”. Yet again,
it’s not really Peter’s finest hour.

Peter’s interaction with Jesus, in the wider context of my attitude last Sunday, keeps rolling around
in my head. And I don’t have a pithy one liner to sum it up. But Peter and I seem to have a lot in
common. We are both tasked with being ambassadors for Jesus, and neither of us has the kind of
track record that would get us to a second interview for the job. Jesus inexplicably picks Peter, and
you and me, to speak on his behalf, and “feed” his sheep.

If I want to be more useful to Jesus, my experience is that “just try harder” doesn’t cut it. What I
need is a daily shift in my focus; not looking inward to my scant personal or strategic resources, and
not looking at others to either favourably or unfavourably compare, but as the writer to the
Hebrews so wisely exhorts, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith”.

– by Cathy Tucker

Expensive haircuts

 

We are just into Year Two of the church plant. It’s going OK. We’re hitting most of our targets. All of the things – easy and hard – that you’d expect to be happening are happening. I should be happy. But I’m tired and a bit grumpy. I find my internal narrative is often a bit anxious and whiny. “This church planting thing is so unique and so difficult. I feel lonely because no one who hasn’t ever church planted would understand just how hard it is…” Blah blah blah…

But then I talk to Andrew.

Andrew does my hair. He’s a bit expensive, (actually eye-wateringly expensive), and my hair looks fab at the end. But the main reason I’ll keep going to Andrew is that he helps me with my whiny internal narrative.

Andrew is about as different to me as you could get. I’m an anglo, straight, married church planter with great hair. He’s a Lebanese, gay, single hairdresser. And bald.

Yet every time I talk to Andrew I feel better about church planting, because building up a hairdressing salon and helping lead a church start-up are so similar. Here’s what we’ve agreed we’ve got in common about our start-ups:

  1. We are passionate about its growth – we’re not content with where it’s at
  2. We eat sleep and breathe it, ‘cos we aren’t just employees
  3. We feel the successes and failures keenly, and that’s emotionally destabilising
  4. We know that if it’s to grow, we have to trust others to do stuff – not be a ‘one man band’
  5. We get frustrated when others don’t do stuff as well as we do
  6. We make it hard for others ‘cos we micromanage them instead of training them
  7. So we’ve both got a coach we meet with regularly
  8. We are totally dependent week by week on who decides to walk in the door
  9. We know we need to take holidays to stay fresh but there’s never a perfect time in the year
  10. The whole thing exists on a shoestring budget and teeters on the edge of not being viable.
  11. But we love it and believe in our product and wouldn’t want to do anything else.

 

So, I’ve got my next hairdo booked for after Christmas, with Andrew’s church planting coaching session thrown in free!

– by Cathy Tucker

The joyful empty Bible study

A few weeks ago I turned up ready to lead the lunchtime Bible reading group. I was only just on time. Thankfully, I was also the first there.

Check phone. No messages. Hmmm. Sitting by myself.

‘Maybe they’re all just running late…?’

Obsessively check phone again. No messages. It became pretty obvious that no-one else was going to turn up.

I think I did most of the classic grief responses in about 90 seconds:

  • I’m hopeless – no one likes the way I lead groups.
  • They’re hopeless – they really should get their act together to turn up.
  • I’m more important than this – don’t they know I’ve given up a lot to do this church plant!
  • Maybe I shouldn’t have started the group in the first place?
  • I feel stupid – will hubby think I’m hopeless at this?
  • I’m angry that I rushed to get here, and prepared and did the stupid printing.
  • I’m embarrassed that I got so angry at hubby that the printer wasn’t working.
  • I’m relieved that I don’t have to lead the group – maybe I could go shopping instead?
  • I went shopping.

Half way around Myer (trying to get free samples at the cosmetic counters), it dawned on me that the one thing I hadn’t done was pray. I didn’t pause and pray about my response. I didn’t pray for my group. I was so focussed on myself.  I rode a very unnecessary roller coaster. I also realised my emotions and sense of competency are very closely linked to how many people turn up to things.

We’re learning from James:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

It’s indeed a joyful (painful) gift from God when no one turns up to bible study, because my honest knee-jerk questions bubble to the surface. They give me clues as to who I really am – helpful questions I can ask myself:

‘Is my self worth tied to what people think of me?’

‘What does my angry response show about what’s really driving me?’

‘Why are the opinions of others so much more important to me than God’s?’

I hope that all six of my group turn up on Thursday – but if they don’t, I’ll consider it pure joy.

 

– by Cathy Tucker

The big block of butter

Early Sunday morning I had one of those weird dreams. I was in a town I didn’t recognise, but I knew everyone’s names and they seemed to have been waiting for me to arrive. In one house there was a family who all looked spookily similar. They were all smiley but there was definitely tension in the air. We went off to a planning meeting at church, where at one point I stood on a chair to dispense advice to approving nods and murmurs of assent. Then it all started to go super weird…

Suddenly I knew that this one family were all the product of incest – the dad was actually the brother kinda stuff. I should have known this earlier! The next scene was outside. I had a massive block of butter on the road in front of me. I was working hard buttering the road – all by myself – to stop the most violent member of the family getting back into the house.

When I woke up, I rolled over and regaled my long-suffering husband with all the details. To my surprise he didn’t remind me of the pizza I’d eaten late the night before, or suggest that we’d put the winter blanket on the bed a few weeks too early. Instead, it turns out that my crazy dream fits the stage our church plant is currently up to.

We are about to scale-up through the ‘70 regulars’ mark. We’re moving from me knowing everyone and being the doorway to everyone getting involved, to developing a volunteer team structure where I’m not so central. It’s leading to conversations like the one I had at Hub last Wednesday night:

“Hi. My name’s Cathy, you’ve been part of Scots for a while, but I don’t think we’ve met yet.”

I’m relieved but concerned all at the same time – and that explains the two halves of my dream. I’m relieved that I don’t need to know everyone. That as a 70+ body of Christ, we will all play our part in connecting people with church, caring for them, communicating the gospel and helping them to commit to following Jesus. It won’t be the Cathy show anymore. In short, that things are going well – woo! But on the other hand, I’m going to have to trust that people aren’t going to fall through the cracks, and I’m worried that people might think I’m not loving because I don’t know everyone.

So that’s the job for this week. Pray, and keep doing my part, but don’t panic. Trust that our plant is just as secure now with God, as it was when I was more hands on – and maybe put the big blanket away until it’s colder?

The one question I dread

We’re nine months into our church plant at Wynyard, in Sydney’s CBD. I’m developing a pretty good repertoire of answers to the type of questions our particular planting context asks. If I’ve had a decent amount of sleep and I’m on my game, I actually enjoy the back and forth of answering those questions.

But there’s one question that I really dread. In the past week my mum, my son-in-law, an old friend and one of the maths teachers at school have all asked it. My hairdresser even asked me yesterday while I was trapped under the plastic poncho, staring at myself in the mirror:

“How’s the church plant going?”

I don’t like talking to hairdressers at the best of times. I don’t like small-talk. I find it tiring. I don’t like looking at myself in the mirror. It makes me put off going to the hairdresser – it’s not a treat. I’m stressed out by listening to inane gossip and ill-formed social commentary in the salon. So, in the end, I answer that dreaded question by saying the first thing that pops into my head.

“Lots of people are sick ‘cause it’s the middle of winter. But I think it’s going ok.”
On the way home I think about all the other ways I could have answered him. I also think about why I dread that question.

Maybe I dread trying to answer it because, if I’m honest, my emotional response is to feel vaguely scared and worried. I think the answer I gave betrays my fear that our church plant is like a precariously balanced house of cards. Objectively I think it’s going OK, but it’s so raw and new, I don’t feel settled or confident yet that it’s got long-term legs.

Part of the problem is that it’s a huge question. “How’s the church plant going?” How do I measure it? According to what indicators? It’s as hard as answering, “How’s your marriage going?” Umm. Do you mean do I currently like him? Am I irritated by him? Am I being kind to him? Is the sex good? What do you mean?
Maybe the next time someone asks me how the church plant is going, I might try that. I might ask them what they mean. Get them to do some of the hard work of teasing out the question a bit. Open the door to a broader conversation that might even challenge them to think about what success means? At the very least, it’ll buy me some thinking time.

– By Cathy Tucker

Women from the Geneva Push network share their wisdom and experience in seeing churches planted across Australia.

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