ACR: Thanks, Sophie for chatting to us! Firstly, we have to ask: Why did you decide to travel 35km from Rockdale to Leppington every week to help with a church plant in a garage?
SN: Our family has been so blessed by church over many years, so when we heard that many Bible-teaching churches needed to be established in the South West Growth Area of Sydney we thought this could be a way our family might be able to be part of blessing others. We were never going to be in any full-time vocational ministry, or learn a language and go overseas, but surely we could commit to travelling the M5 motorway on a regular basis!
I felt a little surprised that I did not see more hands going up around me of those offering to serve in this way; it made me contemplate how easily we get too comfortable where we are. Then my rebellious streak got kindled even more when my own family thought I was joking when I raised the idea of leaving our church and being involved at Hope Church – but surely we could at least try this?! Though I knew we had to make the decision as a family, I started not just proposing, but attempting to convince them of the benefits! It took us over 12 months to make a final decision, but the sweet upside-downness is that God has blessed us so much more through our involvement than we have been in blessing others!
ACR: Can you describe what church is like in a garage?
SN: It is a very nice large garage and it is a very versatile space, though we have now well and truly exceeded capacity!
ACR: What does it look like for your family now on a Sunday? On a Wednesday night? A Friday night?
SN: Sundays are pretty full-on as between us we are involved in the tech team (husband Lars and son Zeke 22y) and Kids’ Church (son Hal 16y), so we need to have left the house by 7:05am most Sundays. This just means we need to go to bed early the night before, and some weeks this is a real struggle! We are at church for both 9am and 10.45am services and morning tea usually morphs into lunch at church, so we have got really good at inviting ourselves to other people’s homes! We are usually home by 4pm, then we crash!
On Wednesdays we need to allow more travel time as it is peak hour when we leave to go to help run our Hope Group Bible Study from 7-9pm. Yet this group has been the most incredible blessing to us; as a group mostly in the 50+ age range, we have been privileged to be able to dig deep into their wealth of buried treasure amassed through many years of clinging to Jesus whilst the waves crash at them from every angle. The way we as a group of people have been able to keep hold of each other and keep dragging each other back onto the lifeboat has been incredible. Often our 10-year-old son Elias comes with us (as Wednesday night is often a night out for the older kids and their commitments) and I am thankful on his behalf that he gets to be a part of our group.
On Fridays it is also another rush to get out of the house and onto the M5, as our 16-year-old son Hal has been part of establishing Hope Youth. This has been great for us on a few levels as while he is at Youth, Elias usually finds someone to hang out with and I (sometimes Lars too) get to visit people locally – once again, expert at using our non-local state to ask for refuge! This has been great for building relationships outside of our small group, and something of a bonus as I often feel that not being local, we don’t get the incidental time to meet up with others from church.
ACR: What sorts of ministries are you involved in, especially as you’re not living in the parish?
SN: As well as the things already mentioned, our son Hal has been able to be part of our ‘Leaders In Training’ program which has been a huge blessing to him, as he now enjoys being part of leading Kids’ Church. We have been able to be part of running some training programs for our members in Bible reading and evangelism. Hope Church has also been able to run a Community Carols event for the last 3 years which welcomed about 4000 people at the 2019 event, where celebrating God’s gift to us in Jesus was able to be front and centre – our family has loved being a part of this! Though I continue to teach SRE Scripture in our own local school at Rockdale, I have also been able to help with occasional classes around Leppington – the need for more SRE Scripture teachers in what are likely to end up being the biggest public schools in NSW is huge!
ACR: How have you included your children in this venture? What impact does it have on them?
SN: As you can see the kids have been woven into all aspects of church life – clearly it had to be a family decision. Yet once again, God’s astounding blessing has been that as we have incorporated them in to all these aspects they have been so much a part of the team, and continue to have the most astounding church-planters (paid and non-paid!) invest deeply into them too as we have planned and attempted and evaluated and shared tears of joy and deep tiredness and pain together with so many at our church. This, together with the opportunity to rapidly work up your learner-driver hours!
Our daughter Freya (21y) was able to help with running preschool Kids’ Church for the first year we were established, but now serves back in her own (our previous) church.
There have been things that have been hard – Sundays have been hard for Elias (10y) as we are still looking for ways for him to be happy serving at two congregations. Our eldest son Zeke has struggled with not living closer to church and church friends and Hope Group Bible Study – We are continuing to pray for these works in progress!
ACR: What have been some of the other costs you’ve had to take into account?
SN: For a while we had an unreliable car, so investing in something a little more reliable was important! Currently the M5 toll has a cashback scheme, however that may not last for too much longer!
I guess factoring in the extra time required to travel is also a cost. Occasionally one of us needs to travel out to Leppington by public transport (we are a one-car family) so that requires time too.
I don’t think there has been anything else costly – our time and money are not our own – we were bought at great price by Jesus.
ACR: What is it about the gospel that causes you to commit to this church plant?
SN: We know the grace of our Lord Jesus, that though He was rich, He became poor and this is just one of a billion opportunities to sing His praises.
ACR: Can you describe some of the joys – to the church and to you?
SN: Possibly my biggest joy has been the opportunities to constantly marvel at God’s faithfulness clearly demonstrated in the lives of so many hundreds of new people I have met over our church-planting journey so far. There are faithful saints who just keep trusting God’s promises despite all that is broken around them, whole families understanding the grace and mercy in Jesus for the very first time and learning how to live for Him, battle-weary Christians revitalised as they hear anew the call to throw themselves into serving and sharing Jesus, Christians who have endured very poor teaching over many years who now rejoice (often for the first time) in faithful exposition – we marvel each week at God’s provision for each of these, and rejoice in his unending mercies despite the struggles of this world.
ACR: What have been some of the challenges?
SN: One of the main challenges has been one that many churches experience – some brothers and sisters wonder why they are not connecting and growing well, but they attend church only once a month and won’t commit to others by way of a small group. It’s just so worth investing in your church family!
Not living locally means it can be harder to invite people to church; this is hard for us as adults and also for our kids.
This has led me to start wondering if there is a possible limit to our time here – should there be a point where our family as non-locals should withdraw from the core (and thus from being part of Hope Church)? Or another option is that we become locals! A third possible option is that we think of ourselves as being ready to mobilise to do it all again somewhere else in the next couple of years and start planning for what part we might play in equipping others to do it with us, as clearly one church family in one large garage is not going to reach the whole of Sydney’s New South West!
ACR: What would you say to someone who might be considering a similar thing?
SN: I think one of the best questions to ask is the one asked of us by our previous minister as we discussed our decision-making with him: What are the reasons you would you go and if you don’t go, what are the reasons you would stay? Asking this helps you think through your motivations in regard to church, which is critical. The other critical thing is to ask if you can be fully committed to the others in the team you will work with, as this commitment is real and is what keeps you coming back! Gospel work is relational from start to end. Other than that – as you are able – as Colin Buchanan says, do the Jesus Hokey Pokey and put your whole self in.
ACR: Thanks again, Sophie!