God’s Promises & The Vision of a Church Plant (with Stef Liston)

Stef Liston planted and leads Revelation Church in North London and is part of the team that leads the Relational Mission family of churches in Newfrontiers. In this hangout, Stef uses the story of Abraham to look at the way in which God's prophetic promises can shape the visions of our church plants.


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The Promises Were Key for Biblical Leaders

  • Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness and this gave him perseverance with God's promise.
  • The prophets understood the promises and called people back to them.
  • Jesus himself understood the promises from what God was saying and how the Spirit lead him.
  • Paul's life was shaped by a promise that he was a chosen instrument to reach the Gentiles and would suffer a lot.
  • In Acts, the steering column of a church was a mixture of Old Testament promises, clear sayings of Jesus and prophetic utterances.

Promises & Church Plants

  • As our steering columns, we have the Bible and charismatic utterances. We should be pumped with dreams and visions.
  • In the church plant phase, God is making  promises to the leader(s), and others are recognising and gathering to that.
  • In the early stage, a church plant exists primarily in the heart of the leaders. When people hear them speak about it, they need to get the flavour that God is in it. This is very compelling to people.
  • It is actually quite a new idea for every church to have its own vision statement.
  • Where a vision statement is a contextually relevant way of articulating the great commission plus a concise way of expressing the promises of God, then this is great. Anything beyond this puts you on thinner ice.

Lessons From Abraham

  • Abraham was shaped by a promise. He was a pioneer who went out when there was nothing there.
  • In Genesis 12, he was given a promise without much detail (Go to the place that I will show you, and I will bless the world through you), but he went with what he had.
  • The sense of what God is saying has to be clear, but it doesn't have to be detailed.
  • There comes a point when you have more faith to go than to stay.
  • God's original promise to Abraham got him caught up into the global picture.
  • The temptation for the church planter is to get consumed with their church plant. This can be unhealthy. We are part of something global because Jesus is building his church.
  • As Abraham went, he was given new promises and confirmations that gave things further shape.
  • This is God's way of keeping us dependent on him for what comes next.
  • Church planters want to have some big and comprehensive vision to talk to people about, but we need to be satisfied with what we have.
  • We don't need to be salespeople in order to be fruitful for God.
  • The promise that Abraham had been given wasn't to be fulfilled for 400 years. This helped him to live peacefully as a nomad.
  • This long-term perspective of the promises gives peace to do unexpected things and not to do expected things, and gives peace to live out your calling.
  • God has got a shape for a church. It's his church, not your church.
  • Abraham learned through the Hagar incident that you can't bring about God's promises by yourself.
  • The Lord fulfils his promises. Our role is faith and patience. This is very active role. 
  • Abraham had a promise that caught him up into deeper and deeper devotion. He wanted to ensure that Isaac didn't go back where he had come from. It was an almost scary urgency.
  • When we live with a sense of divine urgency as church planters, we don't get to give up. We didn't start it. He calls us and until he tells us that our role is done then we keep going.
  • Abraham never knew how the promises would be fulfilled, he only knew who it would be that would fulfil them.
  • When God asked Abraham to offer up Isaac, this would have been impossible if he had been focussed on the how rather than the who.
  • When a church plant is built on the promises of God, it is on very safe ground.
  • Abraham lived his life based on God's promises, so it was a success (he couldn't judge it based on his accomplishments, because he didn't really accomplish anything). All he did was to believe God and keep going - and that is enough.
  • Abraham's vision was eternal. There is an eternal city that is being built, and this is the vision that the promises truly serve.
  • There was an inter-generational component to the promise that allowed Abraham to build in an inter-generational way.
  • We tend to think in a very 'now' way, but we should think more about the legacy that we leave for spiritual sons and daughters.

The Importance of Keeping the Promises Primary

  • Both scriptural and prophetic promises should be central.
  • This will keep a church plant dependent on God. Learn to pray in the promises of God.
  • This will keep the life of the church spiritually dynamic. It moves you beyond degenerating into only doing things that are manageable. You want there to be things in your church that are inexplicable without God.
  • As leaders, it will keep you straight - trusting in God rather than in 'impressive' people. It will keep you talking to God.

How to Use the Promises

  • Use them at prayer meetings. Pray 'you said...' prayers. Keep them God-centred, faith-filled and specific.
  • Use them to form the DNA of the church. What you put into the church at the church plant stage will become the culture of the church. We gather to what God has said, not just to human good ideas. The things that you speak about will get into people's spirits.
  • Use them to know what to focus on. In you're not focussed on what God says, then often the loudest voice will set the agenda. Knowing God's promises helps you deal with people who are enthusiastic for specific things.
  • Use them to bring you to repentance.
  • Use them to celebrate as you see God doing the things that he said.

Q&A

1. How do you handle it when someone says that God has told them to do something, but a while later they are not doing it?
  • You need discernment over whether God actually said it or not.
  • Spend time with them exploring what happened.
  • Often God says something and then we add a whole bunch of stuff around it.
  • There is a danger of over-interpreting a prophecy rather than just sticking to what God has said.
  • Be clear. What were the words that were said? What is the image that was given?
  • Don't underestimate people's intelligence, but don't overestimate their knowledge.
2. Can you elaborate on what things should and what things shouldn't be in a church's vision?
  • Some people are very gifted at articulating where they can be in a certain period of time and helping people get there.
  • However, this shouldn't become a model that everybody needs to follow - and it shouldn't be put on a par with the things that God has said.
3. Tell us more about vision being a mix of contextualising the great commission and articulating the promises of God.
  • Fundamentally, we are a commissioned, obedient people.
  • Primarily, we are not called to innovate.
  • What's the vision? It's what God has called us to do.
  • Understand where you are going and what is meaningful in that context.
  • What is on your heart? What has God laid a hold on you for?
4. Does our attitude affect the way we interpret or receive Gods promises?
  • Abraham had an attitude of childlike faith (in contrast to Sarah, who sneered).
  • He was marked by quick obedience in the context of long delay - and is an example for us.
  • He was also very honest before God.
  • This is a great attitude to receive God's promises and to walk closely with him.
5. How do you hear from God about his promises?
  • Confirmation is important. When the same themes or phrases come prophetically from different people independently this confirms the word.
  • When it resonates with something inside this is another good sign.
  • Making space for it is important.
  • You could contact people with prophetic giftings and ask them to pray for you and see if God says anything.
6. What prophecies did Stef Liston reject around the time you moved to plant Revelation Church?
  • There weren't any specific prophecies that Stef rejected at that time.
  • Often when a prophecy comes that doesn't seem to fit, the best thing to do is to put it on the back burner. God can confirm it in his own time if it is from him.
  • We need people to gain maturity in weighing words.
7. What are the benefits and the fallout for companions of people who are living in the reality of 'quick obedience, long delay'?
  • It was a mistake for Abraham to have taken Lot with him (he was commanded to leave his Father's house). It is possible to take the wrong people with you when you are pioneering.
  • This concern is both pastoral and apostolic. The person and work can both suffer when the wrong person comes along.
  • Those people who come who are seeking Jesus' kingdom first will be shaped and sanctified by the process, but they may also be hurt along the way.
  • Be tender with people and love them well because you can't always make the circumstances and trials easier for them.
8. Is it okay if we haven't had many prophetic promises over our church plant?
  • Just go for it.
  • But getting around the five-fold ministries (including prophets) is helpful for us all.
  • Have fun, try lots of things and enjoy the journey.
9. How do you answer strategic people for whom 'I don't know' doesn't always cut it?
  • Honour that type of person and call them in to help you where needed. 
  • When you say 'it's not how, but who', this only works when you are really strong on the 'who'.
  • Share your stories and be released to go on the adventure without having it all mapped out in advance.

Recommended Resources

Stef has also written the following book, which we would highly recommend:

Note - If you buy a book using the affiliate link above, Broadcast will receive a commission from Amazon to help more churches get planted, at no additional cost to you.