I never intended to plant a church.
But Port Adelaide, on the coast of South Australia, didn’t have any good Reformed ones. Port Adelaide is an industrial community built around Adelaide’s docks, and I loved it from my first visit. I was born into an atheistic family who helped found the Communist Party in Australia a few generations ago. Their worship centered around things like trade unions, so the blue-collar atmosphere of Port Adelaide resonated with my heritage. I walked around thinking, “I’d love to be part of God’s work here.”
Today my wife (Kathy) and I, and our four daughters, live in Port Adelaide. Acts 29 member Citylight Church Glenelg sent us and a team of ten people to plant Anchor Church Port Adelaide just over three years ago.
Through this time, God has faithfully taught us to persevere in planting gospel seeds and leaving the growth to him.
Port Adelaide dates back to the early 1800s, but it’s sadly broken today. The Port is full of heritage-listed old stone buildings that, until recently, were empty or boarded up. There’s high unemployment, drug use, and crime. It’s on the edge of an area with much street prostitution, and has some of the highest levels of domestic violence.
Different ages, incomes, and ethnicities make up Anchor Church. Port Adelaide is probably the most Indigenous Australian part of the city, so that’s reflected in our church family, too. Our vision is Ephesians 3:8-10; we know that “the manifold wisdom of God” is revealed through the unity of the church. We’ve found it’s harder to bring people together across age gaps than ethnic differences. But God has established real depth in our unity.
God’s Faithfulness, Our Rest
My ministerial learning curve was steep. When we launched, I’d preached fewer than 10 sermons. I was doing full-time study, and we had three daughters under the age of two. A heavy grief hit my family only two weeks into church planting. This all set me on a trajectory of being unable to rest.
One day during this time, I went to a cafe feeling a bit flat. A lady was seated by herself, drawing. She came over and gave me her sketch—a packet of seeds being sprinkled onto soil. She had Matthew 13:1-9 (the parable of the sower) written on the card and said, “God led me here today, and it was for you.” She had also written this: “You are called to sow the seeds. You may never know what happens to those seeds, but if you are faithful, so too will be God. Some seeds will yield one hundred fold.” She gave me that picture and walked out; I’ve never seen her again.
I’ve kept that picture as a reminder of my Father’s amazing faithfulness. Even as he calls us to be faithful, he demonstrates that he’s the faithful One who will accomplish his good work. Because of God’s steadfast character, we can faithfully serve and we can freely rest. That reminder, along with encouragement (and some much-needed confrontation) from an Acts 29 pastor and good friend, has helped me work through a process of learning how to rest. This is just one example of how Acts 29 has helped to shape not only me as a pastor, but also the story of our church.
Having struggled for rest, I’ve now become an advocate of it. The culture and spiritual life of a church doesn’t rise above that of her elders. We can’t take our church where we haven’t been ourselves. If we’re not rested, our church family will not value rest. And true rest is anchored in God’s character.
Serving the Community
Our church meets in a large warehouse, but when we moved in, it needed some work to make it more useful. We built a wall out of a bunch of scavenged doors to divide the space, and for the past year we’ve been running a second-hand shop on one side of the wall and meeting on the other side. The shop pays our rent and supports charities such as Christians Against Poverty, and we’re also seeing its missional impact.
As a low-cost provider of clothes, we were able to keep the shop open when everything else was shut down for COVID-19. We became a place where people came when they were scared and alone. They’d buy something cheap–but as they lingered to chat, it was clear they were lonely.
People thought we kept the shop open because we needed the money, so I’d explain that we didn’t have to pay rent during that period. We wanted to be there. They were aware of our presence and our care, and now we’ve established a high level of trust. We’ve been gathering again as a church the last few months, and we’re bigger now than before we shut down. People who have never come to church before are joining us and wanting to be baptized. God is faithful!
As we rest in God’s faithfulness, he strengthens us to persevere. We see the Lord’s faithfulness in our united church family, in the provision of our meeting space, and in the loving activity of our church proclaiming Jesus to our neighbors.
True rest is possible even as we faithfully work, because we know our Father will do his good work to keep us and expand his kingdom.
Please pray for Anchor Church and Jake and Kathy Swadling:
- Pray for the work with Indigenous people up north, in central Australia, and the hope to one day plant a church among them.
- Pray for them as they launch a local Young Life ministry.
- The owner of the building they’re currently renting is planning to sell, and offered it to Anchor Church first. The building couldn’t be better placed to reach this community. Pray for wisdom as they consider this, and financial provision if the Lord wills.
- Please pray for workers for the harvest, and for financial support.