Following Directions and Making Plans
By Brad Dickson, Matthew Glock, & Gerry Seed
“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) This verse underlines the connection between the choices we make and God’s leading.
Over the last 10 years, a church-planting movement has taken root among the Brethren assemblies in France. This is God’s doing. He worked through the dreams and plans of the men and women who accepted His call to make disciples and start new gospel works by joining with others.
There are about 200 assemblies in France. Among them, 120 work closely together. Many of the missionaries in France sent out by US and Canadian assemblies have served the assemblies in this network.
In 2013, only three active projects existed among these assemblies. Since then, 26 new projects have started. Among them, five have developed into mature assemblies with recognized elders while two have been disbanded—thus leaving 22 projects in various stages of development. All this is God’s doing.
When we look closer, we see that God sovereignly moved the hearts of many believers to take the Gospel to new neighborhoods and cities. Some of the projects resulted from an assembly sending out a team to a nearby town. At other times, a recognized church planter gathered a team and moved to a town that needed a new work. At the heart of each project is a team of disciples joining together to make other disciples in a specific place. The members planned their way, and God directed their steps.
We can observe two initiatives that God was pleased to use to contribute to this church-planting movement. One involved planting a church that would have a regional impact. The other initiative involved forming a church-planting commission that would serve the Brethren assemblies.
A regional strategy for assembly growth
In 2011, Brad and Catherine Dickson in collaboration with Philippe and Marie-Christine Perrilliat (GLO Scotland) began to dream of how to plant a church that would have a regional impact. Two years of reflection, discussion, and prayer led them to lay out a four-pronged plan for France’s Provence region and its five million inhabitants: planting a local church, starting a student outreach, strengthening ties between the 22 existing assemblies, and establishing a program to train future church planters. They chose to start in Aix-en-Provence (commonly called Aix), a university city that is also the geographic and historical center of Provence.
Planting a local church
The Dicksons and Perrilliats gathered a team of about eight other people. They understood that planting a church goes faster and better with a reasonably sized team. Some of the team members were temporary interns from Bible schools; others were self-supporting tentmakers, like Priscilla and Aquila. Such a team is already a minichurch. The relationships between its members are a powerful manifestation of what the Gospel produces in people’s lives. Together, the church-planting team accented discipleship and Bible training. Now, 10 years later, there is an encouraging assembly of around 60 people, which is a good size in France, and three young men have been named as elders (all of which enabled the Dicksons to move to another project in 2021).
Starting a student outreach
The team also began ministering to the 40,000 students in Aix, which became an important part of the project. Through the help of many French and international believers, the team purchased space just one block from the university campus, and they transformed it into a coffee shop that reaches students.
Working with students has been key to the assembly’s growth. It has also contributed to the regional strategy: saved young people from the outlying areas converge in Aix to study, and they return to their home churches as trained disciples.
Strengthening ties between existing assemblies
When local assemblies are too isolated, they miss out on some forms of ministry that a group of churches can better accomplish. One such ministry is training. Although each local assembly must train its own future leaders, there is an added blessing when 20 or 30 eager young couples from different assemblies gather to profit from several qualified teachers over a
weekend. The trainers bring their expertise, which is certainly a benefit, but one of the biggest bonuses is the relationships of mutual help and encouragement that develop among the future leaders.
Establishing a church-planters’ training center
The team’s goal was not to plant one church but to give momentum to a church-planting movement. They adapted a two-year curriculum that combines classroom training with an on-the-field apprenticeship. The program is now in its third cycle and has produced several new churches as well as helped a few local teams revitalize their struggling assemblies.
The role of the church-planting commission
There is still a dearth of evangelical churches in France. In 2013, the newly formed Council of Evangelical Churches in France (CNEF) brought together representatives from 10 of the major evangelical groups in France. Together, they considered how to best pursue the goal of one evangelical church per every 10,000 people.
The reality of that vision meant multiplying the number of gospel-centered churches in France by roughly three. Five representatives from the Brethren assemblies, including Matthew Glock (in Paris) and Gerry Seed (Nantes), participated in that project, which was spread over three years.
Following the initial CNEF meeting, the group representing the assemblies decided to meet regularly by Skype to pray and reflect on the work of planting new assemblies in France. The challenges were great: the number of new churches had become stagnant over the past few years; the foreign missionary input had dwindled considerably; and the number of full-time French workers, although increasing, was still too inadequate to maintain the developing work. Prayer was our only hope—and our most efficient tool!
The group has continued to meet faithfully every Thursday morning for an hour of prayer and discussion. The composition of the group has changed over the years, but Matthew and Gerry are still involved, along with Philippe Perrilliat (in Aix) and two national full-time workers Naina Andria (Rennes) and Timothée Hégé (Saint André). These meetings have led to numerous initiatives that encourage a renewed vision for planting new assemblies in France.
In one of our early projects, we gathered the leaders of the assemblies in southeastern France and presented a series of three seminars on planting churches and the need for a missions mindset. As the leaders illustrated the history of their assemblies, it became clear that all our assemblies are rooted in church-planting efforts and that if we are to make progress in spreading the Gospel in France, we must return to that missionary mindset.
Since then, several new works have been launched in the area, and there is a renewed effort to work together for the progress of the Gospel—as seen in the establishment of a local fund that helps newly planted churches.
On a wider scale, the group organizes an annual, three-day seminar for the church planters working with the assemblies. At the end of January 2023, we brought together 32 church planters and team members from 17 projects. It was a time of spiritual refreshment and stimulation.
The biblical model
Over the years, the church-planting commission has observed time and again the simple truth of Proverbs 16:9: “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” We are amazed by how God leads.
We are seeing in other regions of France the same dynamics present in Aix-en-Provence—that is, a church planted in a central location with a vision to multiply and a desire to strengthen existing churches. This vision is patterned after the apostle Paul’s third missionary journey, where he took up temporary residence in Ephesus and spent three years preaching and teaching the Gospel. The result was “that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 19:10)
In the past 10 years, we have seen five projects develop into mature assemblies with recognized elders, and another 22 projects are in various stages of development. God is at work. Although modest in many respects, the assemblies are making an important contribution to the growth of the evangelical church in this secularized country.
Thank you for praying with us for this church-planting movement. May many come to faith in Jesus Christ, and may many new assemblies gather to proclaim the glories of the One who called them out of darkness into His glorious light. n
Brad Dickson is commended from Fairhaven Bible Chapel in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; Matthew Glock is commended from Plano Bible Chapel in Plano, Texas; and Gerry Seed is commended from Bethany Gospel Chapel in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Originally published in Missions magazine, May 2023. For more content, sign up for a free subscription (US) to Missions at CMML.us/magazine/subscribe.