Month: January 2009

What Are The Valleys?

rhonddaI haven’ quite finished my current series on Church-Planting Lessons yet, but I’ve decided to start another little series of posts about one of the most intriguing, captivating and forsaken areas of the UK – the South Wales Valleys. Obviously the Valleys are very close to my heart as I was born here, I live here and I’m planting a church here. But I’m curious to know how the South Wales Valleys are perceived from those outside, especially those from the larger Welsh towns and cities.

Many seem to associate the Valleys with poverty, crime and social disorder akin to the inner-city (with good reason). Some are more prone to focus on the countryside, the breath-taking views (and of course the sheep), and therefore consider the valleys to be more of a rural area. A third opinion regarding this region is that it is a unique blend of urbanised squalor and rural beauty – a bizzare paradox of deep despair and strong, community, marking it as a region perhaps unlike any other in the UK.

So what are the valleys?

I’m asking for a little bit of audience participation from you lot out there in blogville!

Basically how do you percieve the Valleys?

a) Urban

b) Rural

c) Unique

Feel free to comment and add your own thoughts…

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Church-Planting Lesson 7 – Engage Culture

images8On the very first day that we moved into our new house up here, I still remember the pearl of wisdom given to me by one local lady on how to do life on this estate:

“Just keep your head down and keep yourself to yourself and you’ll be OK!”

Good advice if you want a quiet life, but what if you want to plant a church that would be a blessing and a beacon of hope to the whole community? Anonymity is probably not the best strategy. After all, was Jesus keeping His head down when “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood”? (John 1v14) I don’t think He was. In fact hiding away has never been God’s way. The Great Commission is still ringing out the same message to the people of the cross – “Go!” 

Sadly, however, it seems that these days the church is much more inclined to treat her buildings as bunkers to hide in rather than bases from which to launch audacious search and rescue missions behind enemy lines. Rather than looking out of the window and lamenting the tragedy that is 21st Century Christ-less culture in Wales, surely we should be seizing every available opportunity to live out the reality of the gospel in our communities. To engage culture, rather than hide from it!

That might sound fine in principle, but what does that actually look like on the ground? Well this week here in our context it’s meant installing a cat-flap in sub-zero temperatures for an elderly couple on the estate. It’s meant enjoying a lush meal with a beautiful family from our street. It’s involved going to a cookery class for parents (and turning up too late to cook but bang on time to eat!). It’s entailed going out mountain-biking with my mate, being asked by a councillor to join the local Resident’s Association, and dishing out flyers about our new youth club! It’s meant walking my daughter to play group and sweeping up broken glass from the street (it was from Shel’s car after all!) Over the months it’s meant running DJ workshops, setting up an action-group to regenerate the derelict playground in front of our house, and letting local youths chase my dog!

Why? What’s the point of doing all that stuff? Surely as a Pastor I should be locked away in my study (if I had one) praying, digging deep into scripture and steering clear from the filthy pollution of the world in order to remain holy, pure and righteous! There’s definitely got to be time for stuff like that, but there’s also got to be time for rolling up our sleeves and getting stuck into the messy world we want to see reached for Christ!

Personally I want to know what makes people tick! I want to see the world from their perspective and learn how to apply the gospel in a way that’s appropriate to them. Besides, I also just like hanging out with real people because they’re so often refreshingly genuine and interesting!

Ultimately, truth will never change but culture is transient and constantly evolving. We need to stay flexible enough to keep learning from culture, yet passionate enough about the truth to keep living and preaching it authentically! Failure to do either will result in either irrelevance or liberalism.

And they both suck!

Dog Tag Theology

dog tagsPlease forgive the rather random title, but I just wanted to knock out a quick post about a really nice present that Michelle bought me for Christmas, but that I only picked up from the jewellers yesterday – some sterling silver dog tags!

Might sound a bit odd, so if I mentioned that they’ve been engraved with the words ‘love’ on one, and ‘faithfulness’ on the other (with the root Hebrew word on the flip-sides), would that make any more sense? Perhaps not, so here’s why this set of dog tags was such a special gift…

When me and Michelle got married, we moved straight into the centre of St.Mellons estate in Cardiff on a mission to share gospel of the love of Jesus. However, some of the social situations that we were confronted by during the first six months of our marriage were so messed-up that we were often reduced to tears, and regularly felt completely out of our depth. It was at that time that God gave us this scripture that has become the bedrock for both our marriage and our ministry together ever since:

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favour and a good name in the sight of God and man.” (Proverbs 3v3-4)

We’ve discovered that when seeking to pursue a life that is characterised by love, mercy and grace, coupled with faithfulness, truth and justice, the smile of God is always upon you, and the goodwill of those you’re trying to reach is never far away.

That’s why these dog tags are such a cool gift – I get to remind myself of these truths every day as I ‘bind them around my neck’!

Church-Planting Lesson 6 – The Blessing of Back-Up

safe11To the untrained eye it might look like me and my family just got dropped off on this hill-top council estate like a mini crack troop of maverick missionaries, to get on with the job of planting a church with zero back-up, support, strategy or accountability in place. The reality, however is that far from being isolated, we’ve actually been backed to the max, and owe a massive debt of gratitude to A LOT of people, without whom Hill City Church would probably not be alive, let alone thriving! This post is both an expression of gratitude to them, and also an encouragement to anyone considering church-planting to do everything in their power to make sure that when they get into the trenches, they’ve got as much back-up as they possibly need.

Here’s a concise list of how we’ve been blessed by back-up on our little adventure:

1. God – Shouldn’t need to to explain this one! Jesus’ promise to those who step out on mission for Him is “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28v20) Nuff said!

2. Sending Church – Right this one’s massive for us! For those who didn’t know Highfields Church in Cardiff became my home church when I became a student in 1995 and has been ever since. After I graduated I worked with them for 2 years reaching out to young people on the streets. Furthermore, when I went to St.Mellons (6 miles up the road) I was sent and supported as one of their missionaries, as was Michelle when we got married. So when I approached the elders about the call to plant a church in the valleys it was business as usual as far as our status as missionaries was concerned.

There’s obviously loads of different strategies for church-planting, and one of the more common ones is sending a team of 20-30 people to create a ‘critical mass’ and make sure that multiple areas of ministry are deliverable from the off. However, we just felt that parachuting a huge crowd of ‘foreign’ middle-class Cardiffians into a valleys council estate context might not have been the most culturally sensitive or effective way of reaching the community. That’s honestly not a slur on middle-class people by the way – just an honest appraisal of the situation! We just wanted Hill City Church to be as organic and as true to the local context as possible, so it was agreed that we would go up alone, move in and start small. What that doesn’t mean, however, is that we were cut adrift. Below is just a very short list of the various ways that the Highfields mother-ship has supported us in the mission:

Prayer, Finances, Pastoral Care, Administrative Help, Website Support, Coffee, Friendship and the Provision of 2 amazing Ministry Apprentices…

In short I love Highfields to bits. It’s not an exaggeration to say that without them, we might have started strongly but we would have definitely crashed and burned by now without the blessing of their back-up!

3. Waleswide – Dave Ollerton from the Waleswide church-planting movement has been a really good friend to Hill City, especially in the earliest stages of the plant. His wisdom advice and probing questions really helped us as we set about laying out our Vision, Distinctives and Theological Foundations. He also spoils my dog which is nice!

4. Family – We are so blessed to have Christian parents and siblings who not only understand our mission, but actively support us in it! We have been completely overwhelmed by the gracious way that they have helped us out in so many practical ways. From cooking us meals to looking after the kids. From regular, committed prayer to words of wisdom. I genuinely can’t imagine how different this church-plant would have looked without the silent, sincere and sacrificial support of our amazing families!

5. Friends – Finally, we have so many ‘friends’ who have also gone above and beyond the call of duty to draw alongside us and give generously of their time, tears, treasure, prayer, passion and provision. These friends include our amazing supporters who pray like crazy, always ask how we’re doing and who help us to survive each month financially. Other friends include the scores and scores of individuals (too many to list but you know who you are!) who have visited, helped and blessed us in so many precious ways!  Several churches have also got behind us and encouraged us in our mission – Christchurch, Pillar, Beacon Church, Rumney Chapel, Ebenezer, New Life and Oasis, to name a few!

To everyone mentioned explicitly on this post, as well as all those referred to more broadly, I want to close with the words of Paul that echo perfectly how I feel towards you for all you’ve done to back us up and help us stand:

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1v3-5)

Criminals, Cars and Answered Prayers

car criminalI woke up at 5:45am yesterday and was on my way to pray with my mate James when I noticed that Michelle’s car lights were on. As I got closer my heart sank as I saw that one of her back windows was smashed, the driver’s door was open and the dashboard had been pretty much smashed to bits! A very messy (and very poor) attempt to nick her car for a late-night joyride had clearly failed, leaving me and James trying to stick a black bag over the fractured window in typically strong winds and rain (it’s amazing how gaffa tape can hold the world together when it’s dry but can’t do jack when it’s wet!)

The police came but found nothing incriminating. My mate who’s a mechanic said the damage was too severe to justify getting it fixed (it was an old, albeit immensely reliable car!) So with heavy hearts we had to kiss goodbye to Michelle’s beloved VW Polo today – no insurance payout (excess was too much!) Literally a perfectly good car 24 hours ago, now on the scrap-heap (May she rust in peace!)

The mad thing is that me and Shel had been chatting and praying hard about whether or not we could justify having two cars on the road at the moment. Running 2 cars isn’t cheap, and in our case not always 100% necessary. Plus I love my bike and need to lose some chunk! So without even realising it, some little criminals became an answer to our prayers. We’re now a 1 car family again and I’ve got a seriously steep hill to be cycling up on a regular basis.

Our prayer now is that whoever did this to Michelle’s car will one day encounter the grace of God. We want them to see their sin for what it is, then see Jesus for who He is and be transformed by the power of His gospel. We’d love to have the privilege of being the ones who get to convey that grace to them, to explain that Jesus bled for their offences so that they could know forgiveness and new life. If God can answer our prayer for whether not we should have a second car, surely He’ll answer our prayers for whoever did this to get a second chance in Jesus.

Would you pray that with us?

Thanks.

Standard Issue – Daily Devotions for Ruffnecks

Standard IssueAbout 4 years I took a bunch of love-able rogues from St.Mellons away to a Christian camp for a week. It was an awesome camp, through which 4 of them professed faith in Christ. Obviously I was buzzin, though it soon became apparent that discipling a bunch of completely un-churched ruffnecks from an inner-city council estate isn’t the easiest of things to do. While I was 100% committed to helping them to live all-out for Jesus, and to get them stuck into studying the Bible for themselves, there just didn’t seem to be much stuff available for young people like this lot.

So I wrote some stuff myself.

Standard Issue is a collection of really simple daily devotions from the Bible that is aimed specifically at youth from the streets and proved a real hit with the boys in St.Mellons. Therefore, I’ve made all 12 weeks worth of material available for free on line at: http://standardissue.org.uk. You can either read the devotions online or download them as PDFs to print out as A5 booklets. On top of all that there’s also a bangin’ tune about the Scriptures called ‘The Good Book’ by Christian UKG artist, Sammy G, that you can listen to on the homepage too.

If you or anyone you know is working with marginalised youth or young offenders, please feel free to check out Standard Issue.