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Q&A: Tim Chaddick

Tim Chaddick and his wife Lindsey moved to the UK from California with their three daughters to set up Reality Church London. Editor Ruth Jackson spoke to Tim about family life, church planting and evangelism

Ruth Jackson: How did you become a Christian?

Tim Chaddick: Both my parents had become Christians in the 1970s, but not long after I was born my dad got really sick, became bedridden and much later died. As I grew up and as my dad’s health declined, I was confused and conflicted. I didn’t have faith, hated God, and struggled with all those classic suffering questions.

I was invited to a youth event even though I was 19, so it was kind of awkward. I absolutely hated it. They were throwing T-shirts from a T-shirt launcher, and they had Switchfoot play­ing. I didn’t know who they were, and I thought: “This sucks.” But the message was so powerful that it didn’t matter. It was there that I became a Christian.

I went to Bible college, where I met the woman who I would marry. We’ve been married 16 years now, which is crazy. She was born and raised in a very conserva­tive environment and loved Jesus from an early age. In an opposite manner, I had been sexually promiscuous very early on, to the point where I had paid for an abortion around the time I was 15 or 16, and I was doing drugs. That fact that Jesus saved both of us was amazing!

RJ: How did Reality LA start?

TC: Pretty much from the beginning, regardless of what ministry was going to look like, my wife and I both wanted to see people come to faith. So by the time Bible college finished, we sensed that call to go into ministry and plant a church. Some years later, after I’d got ordained, we joined Reality, which was kind of a new movement in southern California.

They asked where I’d want to plant a church and I said San Francisco (the area where I’m from). They asked about LA. I said, “I hate LA”; there’s just ongoing rivalry! They said to pray about it. It was Hollywood in particular they wanted me to plant in, and at the time I thought, “Hollywood sucks! Why go there?” But God made it really clear that we were supposed to move there and plant a church. We were there for almost eleven years, and it was the craziest decade of my life: going from a handful in a living room to all these stories of people getting saved.

“All ministry flows from intimacy. We must be with Jesus before we work for Jesus”

I hate the promoting of church numbers thing, but our particular story shows a point that I would love to share. There was a student named Chase. He loved Jesus, everybody respected him and he had loads of friends. He would come every Sunday and would bring his friends. Then he got into an accident, cracked his skull open, went into a coma for six months, and then he died.

During those six months, everyone he knew who was either a super jaded Christian or not a Christian, all of a sudden – I mean, I know we throw around the word ‘revival’ but it was crazy – it literally went from 50 people to 150, 200 people. In fact, at Chase’s memorial 1,000 people showed up! From then, it was this amazing time, full of a lot of difficulties as well, but it just kept growing. Everyone is reading these church-planting strategy books, and I’m like, put that one in there! I’m not saying strategies don’t matter, but as we all know, if God doesn’t move this thing isn’t going to work.

RJ: How did you end up in London?

TC: We started coming to the UK in 2001 for Creation Fest. I was in a really cheesy Christian band when I was a new Christian, then I was asked to help start a new band with people from Calvary Chapel and we came over to help them start Creation Fest as a filler band. We’d go into schools and all that stuff. We ended up here almost every year, doing ministry partnerships and whatnot, and made lots of good friends.

Years later, everything was going great at Reality LA, but we – or I – was having this sense of God saying: “Your time is done.” We started a process of praying and calling other leaders. London was on our heart every day, and there were a lot of crazy Holy Spirit moments that would take too long to share.

RJ: How do you navigate being a dad, husband and pastor?

TC: I think self-awareness of what my tendencies are. I’m a highly relational person, and there are pros and cons to that. I need to make sure that I’m not just going to meet with every single human being under the sun, which turns into a 13-hour day and I’m not home with my kids. My wife helps me tremendously with that. I think self-awareness of: what am I going to be most prone to?

But there are also structural issues. I’ve seen some whose culture is very much shaped by a post-Great Depres­sion work ethic, some of which is amaz­ing. You work hard and provide. The downside is being emotionally unavail­able and working overly long hours. In my early ministry experience I saw some of that, where it was ministry before family. When Reality started, we said we’re never going to get it right but, as much as we can, let’s put down some values. So one of our phrases – I know it can be cheesy to have slogans – is: “All ministry flows from intimacy.” And “We must be with Jesus before we work for Jesus.” It’s no-brainer stuff, but we wanted to say: “This is how we do things so we can keep each other accountable to this.” So our marriage and family comes before our ministry, and if we’re not doing it right there, that should disqualify us from our ministry.

When we started, people turned up to pray every week, and when they sent us out to plant it was very much like family. We started using this term that will never catch on because it’s so weird, but instead of ‘church planting’ we call it ‘church birthing’, which, as a metaphor, is messy. It’s costly, it’s labour-intensive, it’s emotional.

It’s important for me to structure quality time with my family and honour it. Each one of my kids is so different, so every Friday with my eldest we get tea before school, and that’s something we’ve done for six years now. I do a similar thing with my other two. And Friday night is film night, where we invite the kids around from the estate and give them pizza. Travelling is always there, but that’s the exception not the rule. I’ve found that my kids are much more accepting of the exception when the rule is: “This is what we do.”

RJ: How do you encourage faith in your children?

TC: Even in LA, when the church was big, we never had a church building. We met in schools. My kids have never really associated church with just a physical location. They really do know that the church is people, and it’s having an open home in terms of integrating my kids with the people we do ministry with, so it’s not just like there’s church over here and we do our thing over here. They’re the people we have over for a meal, or the people who might babysit. So we create an ecosystem where they see that church is in everything. All of our kids are definitely going to struggle one way or another with aspects of ministry, but when its ‘so-and-so’ or ‘that couple’ rather than just an institution, it humanises it a bit more.

“We need to create an environment where we address the questions young people have”

RJ: How can we reach young people who aren’t Christians?

TC: Some of this probably has to do with my own personality, but I appreciate candour; people being very upfront. I hate bait-and-switch. I hate anything that is: “We will do this to draw them in and then, oh, the gospel. Surprise!” I’m really passionate about saying it like it is.

My 13-year-old has invited kids around several times to our church events, and I love that she’s adopted that. She’s like: “Yep, church is going to be very different, but I think actually you’ll be surprised.”

I think building relationships with people is where you can have that cand­our. So I love any local presence ministry when it’s on an estate, a school or any general area; finding those people, build­ing that relational credibility.

There is so much pressure of: “I’ve got to make this amazing”, “I’ve got to make this awesome”, “My talk has got to be hilarious”. What if we were like: “Hey you should come tonight; it’s not going to be that exciting, but we’re going to tell you about Jesus and how he died for you. It’s going to be the best thing for your life and you should just come.” Put that on a card and colour it pink! Give it to somebody and see what happens.

Asking questions and addressing the questions they have, as much as is possible in every environment, is just so good. Giving a voice to those questions, it makes them feel like maybe there are some answers here. Whereas with more polished, slick ministries where it’s all fine and fun, young people are like: “My family is an abusive family”, “Life is hard”, “Please give me something here”. So it’s about creating that environment where you are addressing the questions they have.

Tim Keller said: “Contextualisation is not giving people what they want. It’s giving God’s answers (which they probably do not want) to the questions they’re asking and in forms they can comprehend.” I’m not just giving what you want. I am trying to answer the questions you have, but in a form you can understand. I find that resonates across the board: kids, youth, adults.

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