Listen: Duncan Robinson chats with Katrina Roe about the failure of a long-held dream.
By all appearances, breakfast radio host Duncan Robinson is living the dream.
He entertains Sydney over the airwaves each morning, creates comical videos for social media, writes an insightful blog, and regularly regales his audience with stories of his gorgeous wife, gorgeous children and gorgeous puppy, his egg-laying chickens and home-grown veggies.
But it wasn’t so long ago that Duncan was crushed by an epic fail: the death of a dream that he’d worked towards for the best part of a decade. He planted a church, and – in a nutshell – it fell over.
The Hope 103.2 breakfast presenter had an honest chat with Katrina Roe about his failure, and how it led to blessings he never expected.
Eight Years in the Making
“In 2008 we moved to America to learn how to church plant,” he explained. “We did that for five years, with the hope of eventually church-planting somewhere.”
After much prayer, in 2013 Duncan and Karly decided to give their dream a go on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. They started working towards planting what they called Mission 6:8 church—named after the Bible verse Micah 6:8, which teaches believers to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God”.
Hope 103.2 is proudly supported by
Yet after more than two years of preparation, prayer and team meetings, sharing with people their faith in Jesus, and having endless coffees to build key relationships—the church closed almost as soon as it had opened.
“We didn’t make connections like we had hoped we would, we ran out of finances faster than we anticipated, we tried to get into relationships that failed miserably,” Duncan said. “And it just got to a point where we felt that God was shutting doors and saying, ‘this is not going to transpire’.”
It was during their third official Sunday service that Duncan realised the church was not going to fly.
“We had three of what I would call a preview service,” he recalled. “We got a band, we organised a hall, we had all the sound equipment. The first one was 22 people, the second one was eight people, the third one was five people—which, essentially, was my family and one other person. And on that day we were just like, ‘I think it’s over’.
“We closed the doors on the church, three services into launching.”
Finding the Silver Lining
Losing his church before it even spread its wings, was a devastating blow. Duncan describes the experience as “an utter catastrophe” that cost tens of thousands of dollars and accomplished little.
“I remember sitting with my wife and going, ‘I’m 37. I don’t even know what I’m meant to do now’.”
Yet he was also able to count his blessings: he still had his family, his friends, and the same gifts and abilities he had at the start—the outcome was just different to what he expected.
“When you come face to face with failure, it’s not nearly as scary as you anticipated,” he said. “It was tragic, but it didn’t feel nearly as bad as I thought it would.”
He also realised he’d made some gains.
“I made some incredible friends, and we connected with people that we wouldn’t anticipate connecting with,” he says. “Yes, it was a big failure, but it was something that we learnt a great deal from.”
The Cold, Hard Facts About Church Planting
Planting a church is, in Duncan’s experience, “way harder than you first imagine”.
“I think you spend too much time focussing on success stories on people who plant a church and have 7,000 people line up to be a part of it,” he told Katrina.
“For every success story like that, there’s 20 or 30 others that have been plugging away at it and have got 10 people in a building. You don’t hear about those [pastors], and they don’t get booked to speak at conferences and events, because people don’t want to talk about the ugly side.”
A large percentage of new church plant ventures in fact fail, and Duncan’s was one of them.
Processing his Pain
After so much hard work seemingly coming to nought, Duncan needed some strong wisdom to help him move forward. He turned to God’s word – particularly the book of Romans, and its encouragement that God is sovereign, and that nothing can separate us from God’s love.
“I think, if I’m loved, I am blessed,” he said. “God’s choice of blessing was different to what I anticipated, and it in no way diminished the fact that I was loved. Grappling with that was probably the hardest thing.
“I thought, ‘Surely, God, you would want another church?’ But His decision and blessing for my life, was not to let me lead it. And that was hard. But it didn’t diminish the fact that He loved me as a son.”
An Unexpected New Chapter
The dust of the church-plant had begun to settle, and Duncan was spending Sunday mornings in the back row of church in recovery mode, when he heard about an intriguing job opening.
“Someone says, ‘there’s this job coming up at [Sydney radio station] Hope, and they’re looking for a guy who’s married, has a couple of children, can speak, and loves Jesus’. And I’m like, ‘I’m qualified!’ This might be the only thing that I’m qualified to do!”
And, if you’re reading this article, you’d probably already know that Hope chose him for the job. But Duncan believes that blessing didn’t come until he’d let go of the broken dream, and looked to God with a sense of trust.
“The all consuming desire to church plant isn’t there anymore,” he writes. “It’s gone, vanished and I’m a little stunned. I also don’t think that is particularly bad. The desire to share Jesus is no less diminished… My desire to be in a church is still strong, I love my community. Though I feel completely in a new season.”
Duncan’s advice to others facing failure, is to accept the difficult season they are in—but trust that God is still at work.
“Just sit with that,” he told Hope 103.2. “Maybe your greatest struggle, sits just before God’s greatest moment in your life, and you just need to sit with that, and wait patiently for him to show up, and show what you were meant to do.”