From his home in Tasmania Mikey Lynch looks at the great landmass above, desiring to see it shift. Through his job as the Student Fellowship Director at the University of Tasmania’s Hobart Campus; his director role with the national church planting movement Geneva Push; and a leadership position with the Vision 100 Tasmanian mission network, he wants to see the spread of God’s kingdom. And not just south of the Bass Strait. “We want to reach Australia – absolutely. And we have a duty to do that – absolutely,” he says.
It’s a big vision. Yet from an historical perspective, Lynch doesn’t believe Australia has seen many outbreaks of revival sparked by church planting and evangelism. Right now he believes our legacy is our Christian academy. “Probably the most sexy thing about Australia, and much of the western world at the moment, is that we can provide theological education to the parts of the world where the gospel really is growing,” he says.
That is a humbling thing for Lynch to say given he has been church planting in Australia since he was a new Christian in his early 20s. It’s doubly modest since, at 32, he’s not taken formal theological education.
He started doing the campus work on the advice of The Trellis and the Vine author Col Marshall who suggested it as a way of “raising up a generation of church planters”. Lynch says of the university ministry, “We’re not a church. We’re not going to minister holistically to everyone. We’re a missionary organisation, and our task is to involve students in mission now. But it’s also to put out the missionary call for them to give a lifetime to it.”
To use Lynch’s own words, his ministry is the unsexy kind. Even so, along with his co-directors at Geneva Push, Al Stewart and Andrew Heard, a renewal of evangelical interest in what has been described as the most effective way of reaching people with the gospel – church planting – is being revived. The network led by the three men is named after the city in which one of its theological heroes, John Calvin, carried out much of his ministry. Since Geneva Push was launched in 2009 it has seen 22 church plants established; a figure they expect will reach 50 by the end of next year. The churches span more than 10 networks and denominations, including Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians and Church Army.
Lynch’s passion for seeing new churches spring up arises in large part from his profound encounter with biblical preaching in the 1990s.
Having grown up as an “upper class atheist”, an early turning point occurred when he was 15 and studying at Scotch College in Melbourne. There he heard the Sydney evangelist Ian Powell speak on “hell and the gospel”. “I remember being really shaken and really struck as he spoke,” Lynch says.
At the same time, however, he was becoming an “enlightened rebel”. “I increasingly was reading philosophy, listening to the grunge music of the 90s, and asking those questions: ‘What’s the point? Why be good? Why get good marks? Why fit in?’” Lynch found most people didn’t have strong answers to his throbbing uncertainties.
Towards the end of high school, with his head swimming in George Orwell and his relationship with his parents breaking down, Lynch, who had moved with his family to Tasmania, saved money by busking as a juggler and left home. He took the Spirit of Tasmania back to Melbourne, chasing a young woman. “That was a weird year,” he says. “That was a year when I was beginning to see that the most alternative, artistic types who I met were just the same as everybody else.” He was having what he calls a “non-Christian realisation of original sin”. “That year there were a lot of pretty sad relationships and betrayals.” Then, months later, a phone call from his dad informed him his mum was at the end of a battle with cancer. Lynch arrived home just in time. “I’m very thankful to God that I got to see her before she died,” he says.
His mother’s death drew Lynch back to Tasmania. And not long afterwards one of the most dedicated atheists he knew had a conversion experience “while on acid, at a rave, and now believed there was a God”. It was the first step in what would turn into a Christian revival among Lynch and his friends.
The “converted” atheist began critiquing the cynicism of their 1990s sub-culture – showing it up for its inconsistencies. Lynch became “very intrigued”. What eventually interested him enough to attend a Bible study group on Romans with his ex-atheist friend in the home of a Christian philosophy lecturer remains a kind of mystery. “Obviously,” says Lynch, “the friendship contact was a big thing. I think strangely enough the conservative church thing wasn’t a put off.”
For Lynch, preaching by David Jones and Peter Woodcock at St John’s Presbyterian Church in Hobart stands out as the clincher that moved him to put his faith in Christ. “They preached long, passionate, culturally-engaged, ironic sermons,” he says. The word of God “captured” him and his friends. “Before that point I’d always thought: Christianity might be true, but what then? You become a Christian and then start playing indoor soccer and listening to U2 and going to youth group? It’s almost like the Christian life didn’t match the Christian message. But with these guys there was a battle – a fight against hypocrisy and religious legalism. And there was a giving your whole life to the gospel, and that made more sense.”
In the months that followed, around 30 of Lynch’s friends became Christians. “There were,” he recalls, “these line ups for baptism.” Lynch joined the line. So did Nikki whom he led to Christ when she was a teenager. A couple of years later they got permission to marry, even though she was underage.
At the same time the unity in the church began to disintegrate. Some welcomed the conversions with joy. Others opposed what they saw as a ruckus asking questions such as, “Why are they bringing non Christians in who are bringing their pet dogs and pet rats with them? Why are they wearing bare feet?” Around the same time, key leaders began to fall off the scene. The philosophy lecturer left his wife as well as the faith. The contract of Peter Woodcock, an evangelist from the UK, was not renewed, forcing him to leave. And David Jones took time off for a broken leg.
Eventually it was decided a splinter group from the church would plant a new congregation led by Jones. It became Crossroads Presbyterian Church. Six of the young enthusiasts became the elders and planned the inner-workings of the community. Within a couple of years, Lynch, at 23, was made the senior pastor and attempted to lead a congregation of “mates and family”, as his wife was finishing high school. During the period of revival, many had given up on worldly ambitions, choosing to serve God with their whole lives (Lynch had memorised the entire book of Romans while taking night shifts in a pizza shop). But as time went on and the church became more established, leading it got more difficult. “It became harder as time went on because early on you’re so drunk with the buzz of it all, and you’re so swept up in it. At 20, 21, 22, 23 you’re so young and naive. And you don’t realise that what you’re doing is crazy, you’re just kind of doing it,” Lynch says.
But God was working powerfully.
It was evident in the counter-cultural way the young converts threw themselves into ministry. “By God’s kindness the bunch of people that we were was extraordinary in terms of self-discipline, capacity and motivation. While we were doing our degrees we were also motivating ourselves to study theology, read, mentor, write curriculums,” Lynch says. People were becoming Christians, yet there were new stresses and demands Mikey and Nikki had not expected.
Eventually, a few years ago, Lynch moved to the University Fellowship of Christians where he has encountered leaders whose drive has not always matched that of those early years.
That too has been part of the challenge of sweeping into the kingdom through a revival. “As a first generation of converts in any revival—in this case a mini, micro revival thing—you do things which are extraordinary, but which are unreasonable to expect of a normal Christian in a normal season,” he says.
At the Hobart campus, Lynch has had to implement more structure and motivation than he once would have.But he appreciates the regular work of training young Christian leaders for mission.
He believes Australian churches are “open” to reaching the population through church planting. But there may be some way to go.
“There’ve been some amazing successes and a lot of failures—or ordinary-OK-success and OK-failures. The hope of Geneva is to help those churches to be more solid sooner.”