On Pause? Church Planting during COVID-19

On Pause? Church Planting during COVID-19

How do you stay encouraged when you are church planting during COVID-19? Is it time to press pause? Greg Cassim shares his plans and hopes for the future

Transcript

Greg: I just have a sense that when things do normalise, I think there is going to be a real drive in terms of evangelism. So I think we can really capitalise on that and I think the Lord is actually warming people’s hearts up again. People are really going to be turning to the Lord in this season. If anything this COVID is showing humans that we are not in control, you know?
Blaque: Sure.

Introducing Greg Cassim

Blaque: Welcome to The Gospel Coalition Africa Podcast. My name is Blaque Nubon. Thank you so much for joining us for this episode, and on the other line we have a friend of mine. His name is Gregory Cassim. He will introduce himself and just tell us a bit about what he’s doing and then we will get into our conversation. Greg, what’s up bro?

Greg: Hey, my brother, Blaque, I’m good, yourself?

Blaque: Good, man. For those who don’t know you, man can you please tell us who you are, where you’re from and what you are currently involved in?

Greg: Sure man, yeah. So my name is Gregory Cassim, I’m from Durban. Beautiful city in South Africa. Husband of one wife. Got a young kid who just turned one, two weeks ago, and there is a second one on the way, man.

Blaque: What? Well, thank you so much for dropping the bomb while we are on-air, bro.

Greg: Yeah, man! So yeah, God is faithful.

Blaque: That’s good man, praise him indeed bro.

Greg: So yeah, that’s just a little bit about me and yeah. So I’m a bi-vocational minister. And we just planted a brand new church on the first of March, man. So yeah we give God glory for that.

The Impact of COVID-19

Blaque: Yeah, yeah, praise him for that bro, and we obviously want to get into that, just in light of everything that is happening. So, obviously COVID-19 has hit us and it actually started with you guys in KZN (Kwa-Zulu Natal).

Greg: Yes, it has, yup.

Blaque: Can you tell us where you were at when you heard the news? And can you please describe for us just the atmosphere around what was happening?

Working with South Africa’s Coronavirus Patient Zero

Greg: Yeah, it’s closer to home because patient zero, actually works for the company I work for.

Blaque: What?

patient zero, actually works for the company I work for.

Greg: Yeah, yeah, yeah, so we got internal mail just stating that this is what transpired. And then one of the buildings, obviously, they had to do some deep cleaning and quarantining.

Blaque: Yeah.

Greg: And then obviously, just the human nature, people starting to be afraid, you know?

Blaque: Yeah.

Greg: Stressing… we not too sure what is going to transpire because obviously they are watching what is happening in the world. And yeah man. I was at the worst place and just watching things unfold and here we are today man. 150 cases and counting.

Blaque: How did you feel personally? I mean, I didn’t know that the guy was so close to you, in close proximity rather.

Taken by Surprise

Greg: Yeah, well me personally, you know, for the most part, you know, we watched the news and it’s like “Ah! it’s not here at home!” So obviously, the news did take me by surprise, you know what I’m saying, especially that the dude works in the same company as myself! And then obviously, the thoughts run through my mind. “Ay, what if I was at that specific building that he was in, on that specific day?” And then you try tracing your steps and stuff. So yeah it was just the human nature just to like play scenarios in your mind. You know your ‘what-if’ scenarios. But yeah.

Blaque: Sure so are you personally quarantined? Are you at home?

Greg: Nah, nah, nah so it happened in one of our other buildings, so they have multiple buildings in Durban, yeah, so I am not quarantined. So I still work as usual. But at this point in time, we do have the option of working from home. So like one or two days I just go into the office, but for the most part, we are working at home now.

Tent Making: Being a Bi-Vocational Minister

Blaque: OK. You mentioned earlier on that you are a bi-vocational minister. For those who don’t know what that means, can you please just elaborate on that?

Greg: So bi-vocational means that you lead a church and I have a 9 to 5.

Like Paul, we’re making tents and we are preaching the gospel full time

Blaque: Yeah, you tent making.

Greg: So like Paul, we’re making tents and we are preaching the gospel full time. (Acts 18:3)

The Road to Planting a Church

Blaque: And for as long as I’ve known you, at least the conversation about church planting has been one that’s on your lips. And this year you officially opened! And obviously, the process of planting doesn’t start the year you open, but this year you officially opened the doors. Can you briefly run us through from the time you were like “okay God has said I’m planting”, to going to actually starting the process – building a team – to actually launching? Can you run us through that process?

Prompted by God

Greg: So I think, Blaque, it was actually like… there was always a knowing at the back of my mind. But my in upbringing in church, obviously, I was seeing leadership – and our church – done through the lens… through an unhealthy lens basically. And I have been running away from it for a while. And like in the last five years, man, God just started to talk to me and work in my heart. In a sense of “hey, I’ve really called you to do something.” So I was serving at a specific church and then like three years ago I just felt it’s time to leave that place. And I wasn’t too sure what the next step was. And then, it was just limbo for a few months, visiting various churches. And then I found myself like about 18-20 months ago in a more or less reformed type of a setup church. Where the flavour of the church was not necessarily to my liking in cultural upbringing, but the Word was 100% solid. It was sound doctrine, gospel-centred, Spirit-led type of a vibe. And I just gelled, man.

The flavour of the church was not necessarily to my liking in cultural upbringing, but the Word was 100% solid. It was sound doctrine, gospel-centred, Spirit-led.

Finding A Church Support Network

And so I was just sitting in the church and then next thing you know I was called to be on the preaching team and to sit in on leadership. And then yeah! And early last year I just had a conversation with the lead elder in the church and I was like “I feel like the Lord is really telling me to start up something. I’m not too sure about the timing”… but at that point time I had September 2019 in my mind. And yeah man! So the church just took that news with such excitement and they really basically adopted it as well. “Like ey. We are going to stand behind you, we are excited about what God is calling you to do.” And yeah, fast forward, March 2020. The first of March we plant a church. So the church is called, Hope Church and we are based out here in Durban. And then we are part of the greater family of churches, called the Advance Network.

So it’s just been beautiful man, just to plug into a healthy network of churches, where you can just call on brothers. Like obviously when you need direction and you are uncertain about certain things. So it has just been a beautiful journey leading up to now.

Blaque: Sure, that’s pretty dope man, exciting and obviously, a lot has been leading up to this one moment. And then in the midst of all of that COVID-19 hits.

Shepherding a Church Plant under COVID-19

Greg: So 1st of March… excitement, you know. People from the various churches, friends and family, people from the community who hear about the church they come through to the launch. And yeah, it’s popping. And then the first week thereafter, the ninth of March, we get new faces coming in… And yeah it’s just been awesome. And then I think like at the beginning of last week we really started to see okay, COVID-19 is really taking shape here in the country, so to speak and it’s picking up momentum. And then obviously, the President just made the announcement that no more than 100 people can gather.  But we are a baby church, we don’t have that issue. So we still will be gathering. but obviously, we will obviously take safety precautions and stuff. Obviously sanitise people as they come in, elbow greet whatever the case is. As things stand, as of today we will still be gathering like on Sundays and yeah man.

Who would have ever thought that this could possibly be our first Easter having church in front of a screen?

Staying in Touch with the Team is Critical

So we are just being in contact with our people, especially our core team. Just encouraging the guys on the various platforms on a daily basis. And then, on Sunday we will meet because just judging from what we are seeing it, we could be going into lockdown very soon you know. And so that the debate is going around man, at churches are going online. So wow,! Who would have ever thought that this could possibly be our first Easter having church in front of a screen, though? Celebrating Passover in front of a screen that is a crazy thought. You know?

Blaque: Yeah, yeah, and this is what I wanted to ask next, like… So obviously with lockdown have you guys met with the core team to kinda strategise what you are gonna be doing in the next couple of months? Since that’s where we’re at for the rest of the year?

We have been developing our leaders behind the scenes for the past six months. So we’ve got people who are able and ready to lead small groups.

Focusing on the Cell Group Structure

Greg: Yeah so we have that. So I’m assuming… I don’t think lockdown will be like in near future, but I’m assuming they will reduce the amount of gatherings even down to 10 people. That’s what I can foresee. If that transpires, man we are just gonna to push the cell group structure very hard. You know what I’m saying? We have been developing our leaders behind the scenes for the past six months. So we’ve got people who are able and ready to lead small groups. So we are not too concerned about that at this stage. So as I said yeah we will just be meeting in homes, man. So we are just gonna try to keep that ‘incarnational’ ministry thing going on.

Using the Technology Available

And if, it does come down to total lockdown, then obviously we gonna have to go to the technology of Facebook, the Instagram, the WhatsApp messages.

Blaque: Yeah.

It’s a beautiful thing when you go online. Because you are reaching not just your own audience, you are able to reach the masses. So there is some good in that

Greg: Pre-recording messages and sending it out to the people type of a thing. And it’s also a beautiful thing in a sense because you are reaching not just your own audience, when you go online. You are able to reach the masses. So there is some good in that.

Hopeful in the Face of Challenges

Blaque: That’s good, bro. Personally what feelings did you have? Do you have any wrestles with the Lord? Were you like, “Yo man, how can you call me to do this and now you allow this to happen”?

Greg: A lot people having been asking me the question they are like, “Dude, you just planted a church, man”. So obviously now is the time when you start picking up momentum. But personally, I’m actually very hopeful. I just have a sense that when things do normalise, I think there’s going to be a real drive in terms of evangelism. So I think we can really capitalise on that. And I think the Lord is actually warming people’s hearts up again. People are really going to be turning to the Lord in this season. If anything, this COVID is showing humans that we are not in control. You know?

I just have a sense that when things do normalise, I think there’s going to be a real drive in terms of evangelism.

Blaque: Sure.

Blessed in our Time of Preparation

Greg: So I think, people are gonna be warming up more to the gospel. So we’re just gonna prepare ourselves and ready ourselves. So as soon as thing normalise and we can get out there, we are gonna ramp up our evangelism like in a very strong way. So yeah, I’m hopeful. I’m not too concerned because we don’t have a building where we are paying like exorbitant figures for rental and stuff.

Blaque: Sure.

Free from Debt & Financial Pressures

Greg: It’s like a pay as you go type of a thing. So we don’t have money tied up. Because there’s also that aspect you have to think about. We don’t have people on staff. We don’t have rentals that we need to pay. We don’t have any outstanding bills, you know? Everything we started out with is obviously debt-free. So in that sense it’s a blessing, in that sense. And there is no one individual that’s is dependant on the church for like an income of sorts. So I think we are kind of in a good space, when you look at it from that angle. So yeah, obviously there is a concern for the people, especially for the newborns, the newborn saints that have just come in. So we are really just trying to keep touching base with them on a more regular basis. And just trusting Lord man.

What to Preach in a Pandemic?

Blaque: That’s good bro. And I think just before we end off… So what sermon do you preach to your people? When all of this is happening? What conversations are you having with your core team?

Focus on Jesus

Greg: So it’s a brand new church, right? So we just started thing this, ‘All things Jesus’ series, right? So my first sermon was talking about ‘Who is Jesus?’ And going to the book of John.

Blaque: Yes.

Greg: And then last week I spoke about ‘the Purpose of Why Jesus Came’ to destroy the works of the devil. And just really glorifying Jesus and really painting a picture of who he really is.

A Message of Hope

But I think this Sunday, man I think we are just going to switch it up a bit man, just preach a message of hope. And just preach about Jesus speaking to the disciples, man. “Let not your heart be troubled.” (John 14:1) You know? Just preach against anxiety and, you know, just to leave it all at the Lord’s feet in these times of uncertainty. Obviously, some people in our team they might be affected employment-wise. There’s just a whole lot of things going on. And so it’s just a matter of encouraging people.

Hopefully that seed grows in their hearts and they just come to a place of trust the Lord in the midst of this

Because Jesus warned us against worry, you know? It’s like each day has it’s own sufficient evils, you know? (Luke 12:22-34) So it’s just a matter of functionally believing that. You know we can say “amen” when the preacher speaks, but functionally, is that thing operating in your life daily? So it’s just a matter of just like reiterating that. And hopefully that seed grows in their hearts and they just come to a place of trust the Lord in the midst of this. Because we are all in uncertain territories. There is no preacher alive, that I know, that has preached or led a church through a pandemic! So plant a church that is three weeks old and this is transpiring! This is like uncharted territory, you know what I’m saying? But it’s also dope material for a book, man! One day! On planting a church in the midst of a pandemic.

Blaque: Yeah, yeah.

God is Sovereign

Greg: But God is there through the whole process. I just think there’s going to be a lot of testimonies that are going to come out of this. Obviously, there are trying times are here, but God is sovereign and God is in control, man.

Blaque: Indeed, man. Well, that was Gregory and just seeing and hearing how God is working in his life, particularly with his church plant during these trying and crazy times. It is certainly encouraging. And hopefully you are encouraged.

Encouragement for Church Planters Today

If you are a church planter and you have already started, as Greg has. Yo, focus on Jesus, keep to the plan, encourage those that God has called you to. There is something vital, that Greg said, that if you have started don’t feel like, “wow this must have been a mistake, I shouldn’t have been doing this.” Trust in the Lord and believe him and his promises to carry you through these times.

Keep Looking to God

If you are in the process of planting and you’re still gathering your people, just formulating your team, getting the DNA of the church, I think, yo trust the Lord. Continue building with those God has called you to be with and continue with the plan, alright? And stick to it as well. And just make sure that you are looking to Him. He is the one who is building the church as the scriptures tell us. “If he does not build the house then we labour in vain.” (Psalm 127:1) So He is the one who is building. It is a privilege that we can come alongside Him to build.

God is the one who is building the church as the scriptures tell us. “If he does not build the house then we labour in vain.”

Singing Off

Thank you so much for listening. Hopefully, again you were encouraged and that you would share this with others who need the encouragement. Especially, that most of us would be in isolation right now and we just need that word. We need to hear a voice to encourage us. We need to hear somebody that is going through a similar thing that we can also feel an encouragement. So please share with those that you can share it with. We’ll keep updating you guys, and we’ll just keep on interviewing other people, so we can get more stories as all of these things unfold in this time that we are in right now. So thank you again. Grace and peace.

On the 1st of March 2020 Greg Cassim officially opened the doors to Hope Church, Durban. Two weeks later the Coronavirus hits South Africa. Fast forward another week and there are bans on large gatherings, social distancing and imminent national lockdown. This Church plant had been years in the planning – why, oh why did it have to launch now? Greg Cassim shares how he has continued church planting during COVID-19 and how he is coping in the midst of the pandemic-driven uncertainty.

“I just have a sense that when things do normalise, I think there is going to be a real drive in terms of evangelism. So I think we can really capitalise on that and I think the Lord is actually warming people’s hearts up again. People are really going to be turning to the Lord in this season. If anything this COVID is showing humans that we are not in control, you know?”

The Road to Church Planting

“In the last five years, man, God just started to talk to me and work in my heart. In a sense of “hey, I’ve really called you to do something.”  Early last year I had a conversation with the lead elder in the church and I was like “I feel like the Lord is really telling me to start up something. I’m not too sure about the timing”… but at that point time I had September 2019 in my mind. And yeah man! So the church just took that news with such excitement and they really basically adopted it as well.

I feel like the Lord is really telling me to start up something. I’m not too sure about the timing

The 1st of March we plant a church. So the church is called, Hope Church and we are based in Durban. We are part of the greater family of churches, called the Advance Network.

Church Planting during COVID-19

So 1st of March… excitement, you know. People from the various churches, friends and family, people from the community who hear about the church they come through to the launch. And yeah, it’s popping. And then the first week thereafter, the 9th of March, we get new faces coming in… And yeah it’s just been awesome. And then I think like at the beginning of last week we really started to see okay, COVID-19 is really taking shape here in the country. How can we continue church planting during COVID-19?

 

Staying in Touch with the Team is Critical

So we are just being in contact with our people, especially our core team. Just encouraging the guys on the various platforms on a daily basis. Churches are going online. So wow,! Who would have ever thought that this could possibly be our first Easter having church in front of a screen?

Who would have ever thought that this could possibly be our first Easter having church in front of a screen?

‘If, it does come down to total lockdown, then obviously we gonna have to go to the technology of Facebook, the Instagram, the WhatsApp messages. Pre-recording messages and sending it out to the people. And it’s also a beautiful thing in a sense because you are reaching not just your own audience, when you go online. You are able to reach the masses. So there is some good in that.

Encouragement for Church Planters Today

If you are in the process of church planting during COVID-19 and you’re still gathering your people, just formulating your team, getting the DNA of the church, just trust the Lord. Continue building with those God has called you to be with and continue with the plan. Just make sure that you are looking to Him. He is the one who is building the church as the scriptures tell us. “If he does not build the house then we labour in vain.” (Psalm 127:1) So He is the one who is building. It is a privilege that we can come alongside Him to build.

God is the one who is building the church as the scriptures tell us. “If he does not build the house then we labour in vain.”

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