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How Funded Theological Training Shaped and Strengthened Me as a Church Planter

Rhys Gronow

In 2013, I felt an undeniable call towards church planting. After a period of reflection and discernment with the Lord, my wife and church leadership, I found myself on a journey to plant in the beautiful town of Barry, South Wales a few years later.

Over the previous years, I had accumulated practical experience serving in leadership roles within church contexts and had the honour of serving as a Chaplain at the University of Gloucestershire. Enthusiastic about theology, I had delved deep into popular theological books and had also embarked on academic studies with Westminster Theological College. However, as I got started with the work of planting, one thing was abundantly clear: despite my passion, I lacked a comprehensive theological education.

I realised pretty quickly that when one steps up to plant and lead, a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of scripture and theology becomes really important! Questions arise, such as,

"What exactly do I believe about salvation (soteriology)?"
"How do I comprehend the work of Christ?”,
"How do I navigate church governance and pastoral theology?"

and many more questions besides! It became evident to me that while my enthusiasm and practical experience were strengths, my theological grounding needed reinforcing.

With a desire to learn more, the glaring challenge and most significant obstacle was a financial one. Married with two young children, how could I possibly afford further theological education, not to mention the time commitment it would demand? Balancing church planting and academia seemed almost impossible.

It was then that Ben Franks introduced me to an incredible opportunity: funding that would cover tuition fees alongside a living stipend, at a college that supports part-time study. After prayer and a fair bit of paperwork, I applied, and to my delight, I was accepted to receive the bursary award.

Fast forward to today, and I'm on the cusp of entering my fourth year at the Union School of Theology, working part-time towards a BA in Theology. In the past years, I have immersed myself in studies ranging from Systematic Theology, the Pentateuch, Paul’s letters, the gospels to Missional Practice and Ministry Skills, whilst also having the privilege of serving as the Student President for two of those years.

The richness and depth of what I've learned have been transformative; deepening not just my knowledge but also my worship. My understanding of God has expanded and deepened and the ripple effects on my calling and service as a church planter has been profound. Thanks to the funding to study, the quality of my teaching and preaching has seen a marked improvement both in content and delivery. Theologically I am also much clearer on many issues of doctrine, which in turn has led to a deeper well of passion for God’s word. In short, I know the church community I lead has been blessed and better fed thanks to my time at Union so far. All possible due to the bursary award that I received.

For anyone standing at the crossroads I once stood at, a call to church planting but contemplating whether to seek financial support for theological education, let my journey serve as a testament. Dive in. The growth you'll experience will not only benefit you, but also the congregation you lead. Your investment in theological education, underpinned by financial aid, is an investment well made. It's a win for you and a bigger win for the community you will lead.