Friday, May 14

A Surprising Story

It’s the closing of 2020. An unusual year to say the least, devastating for some, frustrating for all, and overwhelming for others.  So when I look back it’s good to see the hand of God at work, because I know He is up to something in the midst of our turmoil.

When I look back and see where we have come I am regularly surprised at the hand of God in so many unexpected ways.

Before I share this story it should be noted that whilst I have an interest in property investment, I am not a property expert. And whilst I come from a family of entrepreneurs, I do not see myself as primarily that. I am primarily a local Church pastor, determined to see the very best for our church, and devoted to Jesus, determined to ensure He shines in what we and I do.

So this story is more a story of faith, wisdom and patience than it is about property.

Faith is about what God has said.

Wisdom is about “what would God do?”

Patience is about when God is going to do it.

Faith is not the same as positive thinking or optimism. Although optimism is a very fruitful posture. It has been shown that ‘take a person who can’t but think they can, they will win every time over someone who can but think they can’t’

Whilst faith displays itself this way, faith isn’t the same for one core reason. Faith comes from hearing God’s Word. So optimistic or not about a situation, the moment you allow God’s Word to dwell in you about that situation, faith rises. When we move on faith, we see our situation with a Godly optimism.

You don’t need a ‘word from God’ to have faith. Although I love it when He does directly speak into a situation. But without this you have the never failing, always true, ever present Word of God in scripture. Every bit is God-breathed, with potential to speak into any given moment of your day. If we let it faith will rise.

I’ll come back to this later in the story.

Of course not everything happens immediately, even though we are believing for it. God is up to something, He has an outcome in mind, but it may not be for just yet. Maybe because we’re not ready for it and we adjust and change to be ready; or maybe because He is manoeuvring circumstances in our favour that take time.

What I have realised over time is that rarely is an outcome I am believing for simply just that. It nearly always looks slightly or completely different, or the implications of the outcome are different. The nuances of the outcome are extremely important, always surprising and are the great and mysterious hand of God.

It is never worse!

Patience is that waiting, knowing God is up to something, He is going to do something. The question is ‘what will we do in the waiting?’ – remain grateful or complain; remain firm or always wavering; remain at peace that God is up to something or worry about what is going on?

what will we do in the waiting?

Then there is wisdom. When you read the book of Proverbs it is evident that wisdom is not just sensible thoughts, good decision making; wisdom is described as a person. It isn’t hard to conjecture that it’s the person of Jesus. Wisdom comes from a desire to please God, a fear of God, a live for Jesus; it comes from asking the right questions – what would God do, how could He be honoured in this. It is not always about what to do that wisdom is required but how we do it.

The means does not justify the end. That is to say, just because the end goal is good, it doesn’t mean we can go about it any way we like.  That lands people in bankruptcy, marriage problems, unwise purchases, bad leadership appointments.

Wisdom helps you navigate the process well.

All that said …

It was September 2016 we had realised that the building our Amsterdam South-East location was in was getting too small. We had kids meeting in a foyer space; teenagers converting our offices into a meeting space and an overcrowded, over noisy cafe.  Not a bad problem to have. But it needed a solution.

We had already started another location and we were able to plan to get another service in this location off the ground too, this for a while would help us manage the situation. However we needed to expand the place!

our backs were against the wall. 

We looked at our options. As we saw it there were not many! In essence our backs were against the wall.  Not a bad situation to be in. My experience is that this tends to polarise people – they either retreat and accept this is not going to work or they advance with a dogged determination to succeed. We fell in the latter.

The front portion of our building was a brick construction with a foundation that could take the load for a 5 story building, we had 2, so decided we needed to build up another floor.

However, we had little financial reserves as it wasn’t so long before that we had purchased the building and renovated.

But still it seemed good to us to make this the move. We engaged an architect, got some prices and were faced with the obstacle of how much money we would need to raise to do this!  We have a fund raising campaign each year for investing in our buildings. However the amount we would need to raise this year was between 2 and 3 times higher than we had ever done before! And our church were already generous givers!

It seemed a near impossible situation, but we had faith based on a call to expand and a confidence that God was into this. Expansion has been a constant word at the heart of our church – Isaiah 54.

It seemed a near impossible situation, but we had faith

I projected the vision to the church! “Church we are going to build a 3rd floor” – wohoo great excitement … of course. But now the real work had to happen. Excitement doesn’t always translate into financial capability.

This is where wisdom comes in. We had already begun to access where the money could come from. One of our churches had  a building fund they would not be ready to use in the next 3 years or so, they were willing to lend us the money on a reasonable interest but better than the banks for them. We had one or two other options also. Why do I call this wisdom?

Well, faith acts, and wisdom assesses.

We had acted but were not going to drive our church dry in a desperation for money. We wanted people to give as usual, with conviction, with vision and in faith.  As a result we have seen the church’s giving rise significantly in the last 4 years. However, not nearly by the extraordinary amount we needed. It is wise to think of Godly plans and approaches.

If I am honest I am not a big fan of borrowing short term from others close to your situation (however kind), a bank contract is a lot cleaner, and even then wisdom would ensure you assess your ability to repay that loan so it is not an excessive burden on the church.

So I am feeling a little conflicted whilst doing this due diligence.  Right in the middle of this dilemma we are approached by a building development company, who explained to us that the local municipality is looking to turn this business park into a multi-purpose area with housing, cafes, supermarket, school and more.

Now let’s just hold it there before I go any further.

One of the things that we were not entirely happy with the building was its position. We were not in a residential area. Whilst we knew the building was a good one to pursue, and we had Gods peace on it, it seemed far from perfect in both size and position. In fact I would always suggest to pastors that the location of their church is important. Be near public transport, easy access from the road and in a community that keeps you grounded to your real mission.

We had some of this but not all!

Ok back to the story in hand. So now the municipality is wanting to bring the community to us. 5000 new homes right on our doorstep, and community facilities. The question to us was, do we want to redevelop our plot to help assist with this vision? Oh and in doing so it could be constructed in such a way that you would get twice the space you have now, with 100 plus apartments on the site, the profit of which will pay for the development of your own building!!

Did we want in?! Did we heck!

We did not see that coming. But that’s what happens when we act according to faith and are patient to see what God is up to. I had been slow to activate the other fund raising options due to a little discomfort. In the wait comes the act of God.

Of course we did our due diligence on the company, we did our due diligence concerning the municipalities interest in us. It was all go! We would get a new, bespoke building, with more than double the space, and be positioned as the community centre for this brand new development.

Our original €2million building purchase had turned into a €35 million project, at least doubling the value of our land before any building work had begun!  And we would get a brand new building for free.

Even as I write this I find I have to include every detail because it keeps waking me up to the reality of what is happening!

Now I’m not saying that every step we take will end in an outrageous outcome like this. However, every step we take is for sure a hinge swinging a large door concerning the plans of God. So we should not despise the day of small beginnings, we should not be dissatisfied with what God is satisfied with as He us a greater plan. Rather take the step, abide in Him, and His peace, be patient for greater things yet to come and always you will see the goodness of God unfold some how in some ways.

So where are we at right now, 4 years down the road?

We have signed a contract for the sale of half of the 116 apartments, and an agreement with the municipality.  Building will begin in 15-18 months from now.  And construction will take a year.

Yes, that’s 6-7 years down the path! Did I mention patience! Oh yes … 6-7 years later, complicated negotiations with the municipality, with developers, lawyers and court rooms … but we are there.

By faith AND patience

By faith AND patience … what will you do in the wait? What we did was to hold to our course, employ professionals, stay true to integrity, keep vision alive in the sight of our church AND we did not make it the main thing! 

Just one word of caution to pastors – however exciting the project, however significant, never let it steal from the main thing – winning people to Christ, making disciples and building God’s church, His people. Every project must come second to this mandate.

So we employed a project manager and professionals to ensure I and our staff would not be overwhelmed or distracted.

Obviously I cannot write about the end of this story, as it’s in the making, but by sharing it now, I want to suggest that God is always up to something even in the most difficult, or even strangest of situations. He has never stopped working. There will be a day we will occupy this new building and will be at the heart and centre of this new community, bring hope on every street in a myriad of ways we could never have imagined!