Mining Gold in the City of Grace

by Hennie Swart and Stefan Cronje
Shofar Johannesburg

Hennie: Most of the people who came to Johannesburg in its early years came here to find treasure, and so did I. Two things about the city of Johannesburg surprised me – the first was how suddenly God called me to Johannesburg and the second was how quickly I fell in love with the city and its people – they are the true treasure of this city. Something that did not surprise me about Johannesburg was the great need of its people. Some have obvious needs of which they are keenly aware, and others have less obvious needs, of which they are blissfully unaware. But one thing is for sure: Only Jesus Christ, through His Church, can meet all of these needs. That’s why Jesus said, ‘I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it…’ (Matt 16.18). And that’s why church planting is such an important part of Shofar’s vision.

Stefan: When the thought of moving to Johannesburg popped into my head for the first time, it was with unexpected excitement. I remember thinking, this must be God, because why would anyone be excited by the prospect of a life in Johannesburg? However, after about three years in Johannesburg, God, being the good Father that He is, disciplined us around the attitude of our hearts towards our season in Johannesburg. We realised that we had been living in anticipation of the next thing. We had failed to be fully present in the here and now, which meant it was difficult to fully commit to anything, especially to building meaningful relationships for the long-term. We learned that, in order to bear fruit, one needs to be planted; in order to be effective at whatever we commit ourselves to, we need to be fully present and engaged.

Hennie: As I considered the city, I realised that we had a lot of work to do. The City of Johannesburg has a population of about 5 million and the greater Johannesburg Metro has a population of over 8 million, making it the largest city in South Africa. It also has a growth rate of 3-4% per annum, which amounts to 20 000-25 000 people per month. The church in the city was not growing nearly as fast as the population of the city, so if we wanted to help reach the city we would have to plant churches – local churches that could contextualize and embody the Gospel to the diverse communities in Joburg.

Stefan: Sandton is the business hub of South Africa and hugely influential in the economics and commerce of our country, our continent and beyond. With that, as with most major cities in the world, comes a great deal of materialism, busy lifestyles, and an inability to ‘switch off’, to rest. An inability which often, as a natural consequence, leads to a break-down in healthy community and relationships outside of work, isolating people in the midst of the hustle and bustle. But Sandton is also beautiful in its cultural diversity – a truly cosmopolitan city. I love the excellence this part of the city embodies, and the can-do attitude of its people; people here are hungry for growth and expansion.

Hennie: I had a bit of a problem, though: I am by nature a rather cautious person and my natural risk aversion did not sit well with the rather risky business of planting churches. God knew my weaknesses when He called me to Joburg, though, and He gave me the grace to deal with the problem. He gave me this grace in three ways. First, God helped me to realise that, even though planting churches was risky, not planting churches was even more so. Research has demonstrated over and over again that the best way to reach new ethnic groups, new generations, and new inhabitants in a city, is to plant new churches in that city. If we fail to do this, the church would never grow as fast as the city.

Second, God gave me an easy way in. Because Shofar Johannesburg had started in Woodmead in the North, before moving our morning services South to Roosevelt Park, we already had a strong district, with many small groups in the Northern region between Sandton and Midrand. Also, Pastor Heinrich Titus, who had led the congregation before me, had already cast the vision of planting a church in Sandton before I arrived. God then led us, through three independent prophetic words from three different people, to start ‘worship evenings’ in Sandton. Because we had these worship evenings only once a month for the first year and then twice a month for the second year, we could steadily build up our volunteer capacity to the point where we are now ready to start with weekly services in August 2017. With this easy way in, God made it possible for even a risk-averse “slow-poke” like me to be part of a church plant.

Third, God gave me great leaders to work with, leaders like Stefan and Lauren Cronje and the great people in their district. Sandton is full of very gifted people and some of them had been saved and planted in Shofar Joburg. Lauren comes from a corporate background and Stefan still works for a consulting company. They have led the Sandton district for the past three years so they understand the culture of Sandton and know how to apply the truth of the Gospel to it. Stefan has a strong pastoral anointing and Lauren a strong prophetic anointing, so they make a great team. After God confirmed to them that He had called them to lead the plant in Sandton, we ordained them as deacons. We plan to soon commission the whole district and officially send them to plant the congregation in Sandton. When that happens, Shofar Johannesburg will multiply into Shofar Sandton and Shofar Randburg – two congregations with their own unique cultures, which are part of the same church in the city.

Stefan: Lauren and I knew that eventually the plan was to plant a congregation in Sandton, but it suddenly felt a lot closer to home when we were asked by Hennie to head up the plant. It was a daunting prospect for many reasons. Firstly, ever since I started my walk with God, I received seemingly conflicting messages around the context of my calling – was it primarily in business or in ministry? I have a passion for both, and have privately and through others, experienced God speaking to me about both, but what would that look like practically? Through God’s patient and gentle leading, I realised the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and can take on different forms in different seasons.

Secondly, for our family, the timing of the church plant could not have been more inconvenient. We just bought our first house, just had our second child, and the third quarter, workwise, is usually a hectic one. God assured us that He would surround us with the people we need as support, and that we will experience His all-sufficient grace at a new level. We now understand it is not a task to be tackled in our own strength!

Thirdly, and perhaps the biggest obstacle, were my own feelings of inadequacy. There was a specific afternoon, when I felt especially confused and weighed down by the prospect of heading up such a significant kingdom development. I started to feel physically nauseous as a result of my overwhelming sense of inadequacy. I found an empty spot in the house and God started encouraging me in such a profound way. He told me that He is not intimidated by my inadequacy for the task, but that He would be my strength in the process. It felt like He reminded me of spiritual fathers and giants in the faith who many of us know and how, when He had called them, they said yes. That ‘Yes’ always comes with personal sacrifice, but with a willing heart God can impact culture and raise up leaders for the kingdom’s extension here on earth. I clearly experienced God asking me the same question, “Will you go for me?” That question, knowing it was God who called me, and that with His calling comes the promise of His presence, gave me the courage to continue, and immediately the sense of inadequacy was replaced with a profound sense of peace.

Over the last few months God has opened our eyes afresh to the beauty, simplicity and redeeming power of the Gospel – may we never lose our sense of wonder of the Gospel, and its working power in our lives and those around us! The Sandton congregation will be a Gospel-centric community where we can, with authenticity, explore our journey together in getting to know Him better and becoming more like Him. God has been speaking to us about how the Body functions well when all the members work together in unison. We know that God has sent, and will continue to send, specific people to Sandton with specific gifts, and together these gifts help the church community to be effective in ministering His saving love to the people of Sandton.

The vision God placed on our hearts for Sandton is actually best captured, and wonderfully confirmed, by a poem written by a friend of ours, who is also a zone coach and intercessor in the Sandton community.

By Dorette Vermeulen

Love came down, in human form
And paid the price by cross and thorn
He rose again by light of third day
Ascended to heaven; our debts He did pay
He pours out His Spirit, on all who believe
Gifts of faith, tongues and prophecy
Gifts to glorify His name, the Body’s edification
Inside each of us, the Author of all inspiration
Let’s use what we have and make His name great
Every knee shall bow, our glorious fate
Saved and redeemed, it’s His love that compels us
Glory to Jesus in all His righteousness

Hennie: Please pray for us as we continue, by God’s grace, to plant churches in the City of Johannesburg. Shofar Sandton will be our first fruit and will therefore in many ways set the trend for how we plant churches in the city. We need many more communities of grace to mine the true gold of this city – its people.

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