She Is A Pioneer – Tania’s Story
It started at a prayer meeting. We were sitting in a circle of plastic chairs in the back room of our church. All the regulars are there: Laurel and Patricia – our praying matriarchs, Daryn the worship leader, our senior pastor Melinda and another dozen or so from church. We’d sung a few songs, listened to a devotional – we were halfway through.
It came as a random thought in my head and my first impression was that it came from God. I knew it wasn’t me, because I hadn’t been thinking about it that day or the day before. The other reason I suspected it was God was because I had no idea what it meant.
Till the soil.
What does that mean?
The one thing I knew was that tilling had some association with farming, so like Sherlock with his eyeglass, I started hunting for clues in my Bible. There was Jesus preaching about sowing seed, Job losing his field of crops, a shepherd and some sheep – but nothing on tilling. What does tilling mean? What soil should I be tilling?
After ten minutes of fruitless searching, I gave up. Couldn’t have been God after all.
When the meeting was over, a friend came over to chat: “I had a vision of you while we were praying,” he said; “I saw you on the edge of a new field that hadn’t been tilled yet.”
I nearly grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him.
Between my friend, my pastor and the dictionary, I learned that tilling is what farmers did to prepare the soil for planting. The vision spoke of a new field that was fertile and ready to harvest.
God was calling me to a plant a church.
You would have thought I’d be excited about how God had spoken; how clearly he had communicated his plan for my life. Isn’t that what we pray for?
Instead, his words filled me with dread.
Though I’d been preparing for full-time ministry ever since God had called me at 26, my plan had been to work in my home church where I’d been trained. There, I had a host of wonderful friends and leaders who believed in me and gave me all the support I needed. Why would I leave?
Besides, I’d seen how difficult pioneering was. I’d watched those zealous pastors with their grand plans and mighty vision go out in a blaze of glory and six months later, they’d be stacking empty chairs. Church planting was risky and prone to failure. What’s more, I had hardly any experience. At church I’d only led our young adults group, taken small group Bible studies and preached a few times. Maybe a few other skills that I’d learned as a schoolteacher, but that was it.
Oh and I was single, and everyone knew that only married people planted churches. In our denomination, it was the men who led and the wives who followed. I’d never seen a single woman plant a church before. How could God be calling me to do something so challenging without a husband? Even the church planting textbook we’d used at College listed under Essentials for a Successful Church Plant; “A pastor and his wife.”
I told God that, but it seemed he hadn’t read the manual.
A year later I found myself in the thick of pioneering a new church and as it turned out, it was even more difficult than I imagined. A scenario borne of conflict, meagre resources and barely enough to call a team; all in St. Kilda, the ‘red light district’ of Melbourne. No-one believed it was worth taking on, no-one except my pastor – and God.
Later when our church was flourishing, people would often tell me what a good job I’d done. As our church grew, they’d pat me on the back and tell me how brave I was – but I knew better. I knew how much I’d shrunk in fear when he first called me; how I’d spent that first month in tears coming to term with what God was calling me to do.
Courage they say, is not the absence of fear, but facing your fear and doing it anyway. For me that meant saying a simple ‘yes’ to God’s call. In the end, planting my church became the most rewarding and defining experience of my life. I learned that when God leads, he provides. When we push through our doubt, we find gifts and talents we never knew we had. And when we follow God’s plan, we discover who we really are.
Tania Harris is a pastor, speaker and founder of GodConversations.com, a ministry that equips people to recognise to God’s voice. Be equipped to hear from God through her range of free resources including podcasts, blogposts and eBook: The Easy Way to Hear God’s Voice by subscribing to the Resource blog at godconversations.com. You can also find Tania on Facebook and Twitter. When not ministering, Tania is most likely to be found kayaking on Sydney Harbour or climbing a really high mountain and skiing down it! Hillsong is her church home in Sydney, Australia.