At the end of 2011, David Cunningham returned to the US with his family and Peter Bradbury became the full time pastor of Christ Community Church. Prior to his leaving, we sat down with David and asked him to talk about the history of the church. What follows is a pseudo-transcript of that conversation, but if you just want the essentials, here is the summary:
Brisbane is a long way from Griffin, Georgia. What brought you to Australia?
DC: In 1998, I joined Mission To The World (MTW) to come to Australia for campus ministry. There was already a team at Griffith University and we were invited to join the ‘small but important work’ at The University of Queensland.
When did the idea of a church plant in Brisbane come up?
DC: Well, as university students involved in our ministry began to graduate we realised there was a need to further help them grow into lifelong labourers for Christ.
A church home is important when you think about building a labourer for God’s kingdom. You have four years on the campus but you need much longer than that. You need a relationship with a church that students can come into and grow as young workers. It’s essential if you want to have a big impact.
We looked around at churches to partner with, but most of them were a long way from the uni. We had about one hundred students involved; we had to do something.
Yet other good reasons to plant became obvious when we began to ask, “Is Brisbane saturated with Bible-teaching, mission-oriented, gospel-focused churches?” So it was a mix of good opportunities and difficult circumstances.
And you put up your hand and said, “I’ll be the pastor!”?
DC: No, we asked someone else and I was going to be the offsider. When he took another opportunity, everyone turned and looked at me. I was headed towards becoming a pastor, maybe in the US, but as this came up, we thought, “Maybe this is what God would have us do.”
We didn’t commit straight away, but had a furlough in the US. We put our possessions in storage with a shipping company, because if we got over to the US and stayed, we could just make a call and it’d be ready. That’s how much in limbo we were. But as soon as we returned to the US, and I started interacting with churches and people, I knew my heart was in Australia. Within weeks, we were like, “No, we’re going back.”
Who made up the Launch Team of Christ Community?
DC: There were nine staff members from Uni-Impact, a church-planting couple from MTW and a young engineer on the Launch Team. We met for a number of months forming the purpose and values of Christ Community. It was a vocational ministry dominated team, but it was a team that I’d put together by my invitation only.
Then the Core Group formed upon the invitation of the Launch Team members, either through personal meetings or through dessert nights. Almost every one of the Core Group had a personal relationship with somebody on the Launch Team.
So is Christ Community a Presbyterian Church?
DC: From the start, we’ve been Presbyterian in conviction, so part of our consideration was “Do we call ourselves Presbyterian?” That would at least give some identity to people who hear about us. But there were barriers to putting in ‘Presbyterian’ if we were not part of a Presbyterian denomination at a local level.
Are we affiliated with any group or denomination?
DC: We’re a member of The Fellowship of Evangelical Churches of Australia (FECA). We said at the start, “We’re not going to pursue any denominational link. Let’s see how we’re shaped and formed – what that looks like – then put that template up against the others around and see if we can benefit them and they can benefit us.” It took a few years for us to get to that point, but once we did, to get into a denomination is pretty tough. We sensed a partnership in terms of a friendship, but searched out fellowships and came to choose FECA.
As an independent church, how are we constituted?
DC: Well, I was in the middle of a church plant and I had no time to write a constitution. We adjusted one for the purposes of incorporation with clubs and societies – the least convoluted way – and it serves us fine. It was a lot of work, and one of those things that, as you go, you learn more about.
There came a point in 2009 when Christ Community decided to plant a new church. Was that a goal from the start, to plant churches?
Our hopes for expansion weren’t exclusively tied to church planting, but just to any ministry that God might provide through us. The idea for expansion was always there and we were happy to be many small healthy works rather than having a mega-church. It takes a combination of people, opportunity and money, in some measure, to see the gospel go to Brisbane.
So church planting is one vehicle that seems to have sharpened a bit over the years. 10-13 years ago, the difference in health, spiritually, in the evangelical world is, to me, incredible from what it was to what it is now. The networks, the focus on church planting, is fantastic now.
(Getting off topic) Back in the mid-90s, James Montgomery Boice came over and all they could get was 45 people. He was a big name then. Now, I go down to Sydney and sit with a thousand pastors for the Oxygen conference with John Piper. Man, God has been at work – a deep, wide, progressive work – and it’s been great to be a part of that.
How was The Geneva Push involved in planting Christ Community West?
DC: We were looking around for networks that Luke could be part of. The Geneva Push was just coming into being and I think that Luke was one of the first to ever be assessed. It’s been great for Luke and it is good for anyone who plants to have some network like that.
Geneva Push is not a denomination and has no direct connection with Christ Community West. It is more connected with Luke than the church. It is care for Luke, a network for Luke, and it is alongside the care that Luke receives from Christ Community itself. It’s a great network.
[Brian Phillips enters the room, “Is that recording?” then leaves again…]
Now you’re handing the church over to an Aussie pastor…
DC: Yeah, I remember Pete came to Christ Community and I said g’day to him. He was a Telstra guy, just moved back from Melbourne. I met him downtown for lunch and if you told me in those days, “Hey, this man is going to be the pastor – he’s going to be the one that you’ve been praying for – there’s no way I could have envisioned that.” God’s the one who has really provided and as I began to recognise his work, I thought that I’d better pay more attention to this one. It was neat to see how He provided.
With Luke, we tied in with him early and invested in him. He went to college and served at other churches, but we kind of always felt like he’s in the family and we’re going to get him back. You could see that from far off. But with Pete, we didn’t have that long relationship, but in the past number of years we could see that he was going to be the one to take this over.
Listen to David Cunningham’s Farewell, closing the first chapter at Christ Community.