Amsterdam: Praying for a Breakthrough

by Susan Thorson, CTC 

In the summer of 2003, a group of reformed churches from Amsterdam sent a letter to Redeemer Presbyterian Church. It was a request for help. The pastors of these churches feared that if the spiritual climate stayed as it was, the day could come where there would no longer by any reformed churches in their city. They wanted to plant churches, but they knew they were very much in need of training, coaching and vision.

Redeemer City to City answered their request for help and has since walked closely with them and their city. But Amsterdam is struggling.

Bas van der Graaf is a local pastor of a church in Amsterdam. Bas was just recently in New York for the Network Leaders Forum (NLF), and he spoke of the ongoing challenges in Amsterdam. “Amsterdam is a very, very secular city—it’s very, very hard soil. We were early adopters of Redeemer City to City’s training model. We planted many churches, but we are in a period now after 10+ years where some of our church planters are in danger of burn out or just feeling disappointed and discouraged.”

Their churches have members, but most of these members were already Christians when they came to these church plants. Bas explains, “We succeeded in bringing Christians together in a new place, but only a few people from the outside were reached. We have not seen many new converts.” He repeats, “It’s hard soil, so we are really praying for breakthroughs by the Holy Spirit in this secular context.”

Bas was glad to receive information on training at NLF. “What was helpful for me was again hearing about training—how to organize training, and also how to organize movements and networks, because in Europe that is one of our challenges. Until now, the movement in Europe has been a movement of inspiration. We have had conferences, but we didn't have organized training. It is starting now. We will have our first Train the Trainer event in April in Madrid. But I take with me a lot of ideas that help me to move further and to think more in organizational terms about training and network building.”

When he thinks about where future church planters should consider planting in Amsterdam, he responds, “I would advise that they listen very carefully to the context. When they start listening to God, to their context, to their own heart – they can identify when it’s a good neighborhood. We have learned to take much time for thinking and praying. We need that in our culture.”

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”

I Corinthians 3:6

Bas van der Graff.jpg

Bas van der Graaf, Network Leader and Pastor

Madrid Train the Trainer

Tim Coomar -  Athens, Greece

In 2008 I attended a six-week intensive church planting training course at Redeemer Church Planting Center in Manhattan, New York City. It was a formative experience in numerous ways, helping me to take many ideas that had been floating around in my head and put them in order. I went away confident that I had the tools and training to return to Greece and plant a church. For someone with no formal pastoral experience at the time and no clue what church planting (or who Tim Keller) was before I arrived in New York City, this was no small feat.

Yet, despite the inspiration his preaching and written materials provided, it was not so much Keller directly (we only had one two-hour session with him per week) but chiefly the trainers, who made the training what it was. In particular, I remember John Thomas and Mark Reynolds having that rare combination of being both knowledgeable and accessible, despite having very different styles as trainers and individuals.

Since then, many things have changed. RCPC has morphed into Redeemer City to City, our church plant in Athens has been launched and is now four years old, and Tim Keller has become a household name. One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the invaluable input of the City to City trainers behind the scenes. This was pressed home to me yet again during the ‘Train the Trainer’ course I attended last month where Mark and John, the very same trainers who had trained me initially back in September 2008, came over to Madrid to teach us how to become trainers ourselves. What follows are some very brief reflections on how TTT affected me and what I feel I have gained through the experience:

AFFECTIVE

One of the principles that drives the training is the simple observation that ‘you teach how you learn’. Thus, in order for us to learn how to teach, we were once again immersed into that same ‘affectively sensitive’ educational environment that had proved so helpful for me the first time I was exposed to it in 2008. Having been convinced by the method, this is now how I will seek to teach.

EFFECTIVE

By the end of the training, I felt I had the tools to map out a training course, think like a trainer, and get to where I needed to go. None of these elements were clearly in place in my mind beforehand, even though in Athens we had already been running our own version of an incubator course for two years.

TRANSFORMATIONAL

While the general principles regarding how people learn were incredibly helpful, it was clear that the TTT training went further than a bunch of useful secular principles regarding education. The City to City DNA was evident throughout. For example, in terms of educational principles, we were told that the goal of learning was more about behaviour change than just the accumulation of knowledge. Yet, at the same time we were never allowed to forget that since it is the Gospel that brings about this change, ‘it’ must always remain the chief concern of training. However good a relationship we build with our trainees, nothing can replace the Gospel in its power to affect the change that is required in their lives.

LEARNER CENTRED

In the end, I realized that becoming a trainer has less to do with mastering and delivering material and more to do with ‘being there’, ‘being there for others’ and ‘being engaged’. These are all Gospel competencies and demand a certain level of spiritual vitality in the trainer. In other words, in order to train others effectively, I need not only to be a capable church planter but, above all, a godly one. Only then does it cease to become about me and start becoming about building up truly competent church planters for the future.

Network Leaders Forum

From March 7 - 9, 2017, 75+ church planting network leaders gathered from around the world in New York for Network Leaders Forum (NLF). The purpose of this event was to help leaders of church planting networks be equipped to lead their network through providing helpful resources, best practices and opportunities for collaboration. CTC hosts this event every 2 years and it has taken a different form each time as the CTC network continues to expand. We praise God for new relationships that were built, collaboration that was prompted across regions, and the many Godly leaders that are stepping up to lead in the CTC family. 

 

Reflections from the event By Andras Lovas, Budapest

Nearly three weeks after my return from New York this is the first time I have sat down to consciously reflect on how NLF has impacted me. I found that our time together has given me four real and enduring gifts.

Courage

My vision of what God wants to do in Budapest has been strengthened and enlarged. I was encouraged to dream big for his glory. Since the Biblical story ends in victory we are free to risk failure. This encouragement has started to take shape - I see names of people to meet and steps to take outlined in my notes.

Focusing on God’s goals

As new ideas were forming I started seeing my ministry with new eyes. I realized that my calendar leaves me no time for networking in the city; to meet new people and share the vision of our network. It is easy to concentrate on more structured and goal oriented forms of ministry such as training, developing teams and materials and mentoring church planters. But God needs me more available for his goals.

Forming significant relationships

At NLF you run into people you do not know well all the time, which I sometimes find a bit frustrating. You listen to the story of a new person, something God is doing somewhere, and share your own story. Again and again. The sheer numbers mean you can only develop more significant connections with a few. But these occasional deeper relationships are God's gifts. They provide humor and joy as well as opportunities to pray for each other’s life's depths and learn from each other.

Experiencing God's universal church

At one of our prayers the leader asked us to recite the Lord's Prayer aloud in our own language. As one prayer followed after another we reflected on the One who created all the peoples of the earth. It provided a foretaste of the day when all God's redeemed people from all nations and languages will glorify him in the new world. What else is church planting about than the hope of this new world in our Lord Jesus Christ?