Following Directions & Making Plans

by Brad Dickson, Matthew Glock & Gerry Seed

Brad (Canada), Matthew (USA) and Gerry (Canada/UK) serve in France.

Over the last twelve 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. In 2013, only three active projects existed among these assemblies. Since then, 27 new projects have started. Six of these have developed into mature assemblies with recognised elders while two have been disbanded – leaving 19 projects in various stages of development.

When we look closer, we see that God sovereignly moved the hearts of many believers to take the gospel to new neighbourhoods and cities. Some of the projects resulted from an assembly sending out a team to a nearby town. At other times, a recognised 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 working together to make other disciples in a specific place. The members planned their way and God directed their steps. God used two initiatives to contribute to this church-planting movement. One involved planting a church that would have a regional impact and the other was the forming of a church-planting commission that would serve the brethren assemblies.

A Regional Strategy for Growth

In 2011, Brad and Catherine Dickson in collaboration with Philippe and Marie-Christine Perrilliat (GLO) 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 5 million inhabitants: planting a local church, starting a student outreach, strengthening ties between the 22 existing assemblies, and establishing a programme 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 centre 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 mini church. The relationships between its members are a powerful example of what the gospel produces in people’s lives. Together, the church-planting team focused on discipleship and Bible training. Now, eleven 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. With the help of many French and international believers, the team purchased space just one block from the university campus, which they transformed into a coffee shop to reach students. Working with students has been key to the assembly’s growth. It has also contributed to the regional strategy as saved young people from the outlying areas converge in Aix to study and return to their home churches as trained disciples.

Strengthening ties between assemblies – When local assemblies are 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 the benefit of their expertise and, as an added bonus, relationships of mutual help and encouragement develop among the future leaders.

we see that God sovereignly moved the hearts of many believers

Establishing a church-planters’ training centre – The team’s goal was not to plant one church but to generate momentum for a church-planting movement. They adapted a two-year curriculum that combines classroom training with an on-the-field apprenticeship. The programme has now run for three cycles and has produced several new churches as well as helping a few local teams to revitalise their struggling assemblies. A fourth cycle is in preparation among churches on the French Riviera (Côte d’Azur).

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 ten of the major evangelical groups. 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-centred churches in France by roughly three. Five representatives from the brethren assemblies, including Matthew Glock in Paris and Gerry Seed in Nantes, participated in the project 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. 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 for 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 in Rennes and Timothée Hégé in Saint André. These meetings have led to numerous initiatives that encourage a renewed vision for planting assemblies. In one of our early projects, we gathered assembly leaders from southeastern France and presented a series of seminars on planting churches and the need for a mission mindset. As the leaders illustrated the history of their
assemblies, it became clear that all of them 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 organises an annual, three-day seminar for the church planters working with the assemblies. At the end of January 2024, we brought together 30 church planters and team members from 16 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 the verse, ‘A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps; (Prv. 16:9). We are amazed by how God leads.

In other regions of France, we are seeing 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’ (Ac. 19:10).

In the past 12 years, we have seen six projects develop into mature assemblies with recognised elders, and another 19 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 secularised country.

Pray with us for this church-planting movement. May many come to faith in Jesus Christ and many new assemblies gather to proclaim the glories of the One who called them out of darkness into His glorious light.

Brad and Catherine Dickson, Aix-en-Provence (MSC).
W: msccanada.org/donee/dickson-brad-and-catherine
Matthew and Sylvie Glock, Paris (CMML).
W: cmml.us/m/693
Gerry and Dorothy Seed, Nantes (MSC/Echoes International).
W: msccanada.org/donee/seed-gerry-and-dorothy
W: echoesinternational.org.uk/portfolio-items/france-gerry-dorothy-seed
Adapted from an article first published by CMML,
May 2023, Missions magazine.

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