The Unexpected Church

These days, Harbor City Church in Sydney, Australia, is a model example of a successful church plant.

But it wasn’t always this way.

“We came out here 11 years ago with a heart for missions, church planting, and college ministry,” said MTW missionary and regional director for Australasia Jim Jung (pictured above, far right), who serves in Sydney with his wife, Claudia. For the first three years, over and over Jim and Claudia would have conversations, make contacts, and gather together a core group. It would begin to look like a church was about to form—and then it would crash. Every. Time.

“That happened two or three times,” said Jim. “Church planting is difficult, man.”

Yet, while church-planting efforts struggled on through constant barriers and challenges, Jim had simultaneously begun to work with college students, a ministry that at first he considered secondary.

But then it took off. “Within that first year I got invited to a conference as a speaker,” Jim said. “Then a few kids wanted to hang out, and I got on a couple college campuses. Then we did a training retreat that became an annual event. It started with a couple of students and then the next year more guys came, and then more, and then more.”

Toward the end of Jim and Claudia’s third year, despite their best efforts, a church plant still had not formed, and Jim had grown discouraged.

“Church planting was supposed to be our primary thing, and I just felt like a complete failure,” said Jim. “I thought: ‘Why am I wasting my supporters’ money? Why am I wasting my time here?’ Even though the university ministry was moving along better than I could have imagined, that was not the primary thing on my agenda.”

Ministry success syndrome
In God’s gracious providence, MTW had recently assigned a pastoral associate couple to the Australia team. Bob and Paige Eickelberg, tasked with pastoring missionaries, came out to Sydney for a visit and Jim opened up to Bob about his struggles.

“Bob had been a pastor of a small church for 20-some years in Baltimore, and he understood the challenges and oppression of ‘ministry success syndrome,’” said Jim. “When I shared with him that I felt like a failure, that I would rather not waste the support of churches and friends by failing to deliver, he patiently asked questions.”

“Jim, are you walking with the Lord?” Bob asked. “Are you making efforts to reach out? Are you seeking to preach and teach and disciple people in whatever opportunities the Lord provides?”

“Yes,” Jim answered.

“Then as far as God is concerned, you are a great success in His eyes, and that is all that matters,” said Bob.

Bob’s searching questions, his wise counsel, and above all his speaking gospel truth was an eye-opener for Jim. He knew the theory, but actually experiencing the love and approval of God in the midst of perceived failure was a life-changing, paradigm-shifting moment.

From side ministry to global movement
That moment, as it turned out, was the beginning of a sea change for the Sydney church plant. A year later the college kids who were 18 or so when Jim began his student ministry work started graduating. They asked him: “Hey, you’ve been teaching us on campus, but you talk about your church-planting work. Can we be a part of that?”

The Harbor City church plant ended up forming around that core group of students whom Jim had started with four years earlier. The “side ministry” had become a church. Now over 10 years later, many of that same core group of students are still a key part of the church plant and prime candidates for eldership in the next few years.

“The church has been around for about seven years, and the college ministry has been around for 11,” said Jim. “And they’ve both been growing steadily.”

Not only does Harbor City now have a growing, thriving church body, their university ministry is on four major campuses and reaching more students than ever. The church has also started a ministry for working professionals. For the last six years, taking advantage of Sydney’s position as a global hub, they have even been sending out short-term missions teams to neighboring Asian countries, forming significant partnerships and spurring on a number of singles and couples within the church to express serious interest in becoming long-term missionaries.

And the little Australian church plant is far from finished. Asked about the future, Jim mentions efforts being made to mobilize Reformed African American churches as missionaries to the Aboriginal people of Australia, his hope to eventually plant a daughter church in Sydney, and a dream to empower Australian partner churches to bring the gospel to the Pacific Islands.

Jim needed to have his eyes opened to see what God was already doing right in front of him, growing a church in His own way and in His own timing. The lesson here? Church planting can happen through many different avenues, even the unexpected ones, when we faithfully follow God’s call to simply make disciples.


Andrew Shaughnessy in Sydney Australia Church planting on Dec 5, 2017

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Pray for missionary kids as they develop friendships with local children to have an impact for Christ.

Give thanks for Harbor City Church in Sydney, Australia, which is thriving with four campuses after years of struggles getting established.

Pray for team cohesion in Perth, Australia, as the team is newly brought together and doing varied and different ministries.

Pray for the next generation of students in Australia, that they would be exposed to the gospel and come to a solid faith in Christ. 

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Pray for Harbor City Church in Sydney, Australia, and their mission to reach Asia. “New Australians”—second-generation immigrants and internationalized young adults of predominantly Asian descent—are the source not only of Harbor City Church’s steady growth, but also of its impact, much of it through its Student Outreach to the World ministry.

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