A few weeks ago I was chatting with a friend of mine who is also involved in church planting. During the conversation he made a comment that both broke my heart and blessed my soul at the same time. He asked if my experience of church planting had been the same as his – sent on mission by a church that had promised to champion his cause and back him all the way, promising resources, mentoring, accountability and a much-needed sounding board for vision and ideas whenever needed. What he had actually received, however, was quite different – broken promises, isolation and frustration. While I was both encouraged and inspired by my friend’s faith and stamina, I have to confess that what he shared really bothered me. It bothered me because that’s not how it should be for those who are sent on mission. And it bothered me because it’s a million miles removed from my own experience of church planting. We were ‘sent’ in every sense of the word, and as such while our church planting adventure has been incredibly challenging, we have been backed and blessed all the way.
Let me lay out what being ‘sent’ has looked like for us:
1. An awesome sending church
Our sending church, Highfields in Cardiff is the most mission-minded church that I have ever personally experienced. They invest passionately and purposefully in mission and I believe that this is one of the many reasons that they have know the blessing of God over them for so many years. Certainly one of the values that we have inherited from Highfields at Hill City is passion for mission, both home and abroad.
2. Elders who were willing to take a punt on a punk
When I approached Highfields’ then senior pastor, Peter Baker, and shared my burden to see a church planted in the Welsh valleys, he didn’t dismiss the idea out of hand as many might have. I was a young, impetuous, unqualified, tattooed, skateboarding punk in his 20’s who would have been politely advised to forget it by most church leaders. However, PB and the elders of Highfields were willing to consider it. That blessed me more than I can ever say.
3. Wise counsel prior to planting
Before saying they’d support the vision, 2 of the elders visited the estate with me to spy out the land, to pray and to dream. They asked probing questions, gave great suggestions and rather than making me feel like I was clueless (which I was) they made me feel like God was in this venture (which He was…and still is!) Following this site visit I was asked to spend several sessions with the elders as they further helped to prayerfully shape what a church plant like Hill City might look like. Their commitment to walk this through with us right from the start before anyone else even knew what was brewing was so valuable.
4. A proper biblical sending
I can still remember our sending service. The church was packed. Our families were with us. Myself, Michelle and Elen (then just a year old) were able to share the vision with the church, we were prayed for, the elders laid hands on us and we were commissioned to plant Hill City Church. This was book of Acts stuff and there was no other way we would have wanted to have left. We didn’t feel released, we felt commissioned. That’s powerful!
5.Meaningful, sacrificial support
Having agreed that God was in this and that Highfields should send us out on a church planting adventure, we soon learned what support looked like coming from a truly gospel-hearted church. It looked like a commitment to profile us as missionaries, just like the ones in China, the Philippines and beyond, and to commit to praying for us every month along with all of their other missionaries. It looked like generous, sacrificial financial support by church members who loved the Hill City vision. It looked like an open door to hang out with PB each month to pray, to be kept accountable and to share the burdens and blessings of pastoring a fledgling church plant. It looked like people regularly visiting us on our estate to pray, to encourage and to even help us decorate our new house. It looked like a dear friend with strong financial gifts helping me to file my tax return form each year! It looked like being given regular opportunities to feedback to the church about the mission and to share our needs, our victories and other matters for prayer. It looked authentically Christian. It looked…and still looks…incredible.
6. Ongoing support
Although we are now 6 years into the adventure and Hill City is no longer a fledgling church plant, but rather a vibrant and growing young church, we feel as loved and supported by our Highfields family as we ever did. And even though PB has now moved on, the support remains as strong. Every month I get to hook up and hang out with my mate, Andy, who is one of the elders and a VERY good friend. He has picked up where PB left off – not just asking questions about our ministry, but also asking about our marriage, our family and our practical needs. We are SO blessed! Just before the evening service last night I was at Highfields again feeding back to a packed out coffee lounge. They listened intently and prayed for us fervently. I left with a giant bag of chocolate for my kids and a (timely) generous gift for the family.
What I’m so aware of is that our sending church is not just committed to our ‘project’ – they are committed to us! To our family. That’s priceless. It’s precious and so liberating! We don’t feel the need to be fake. To jazz up stories that sound impressive to give our supporters what they want to hear. We can be raw and real. We can weep. We can share how hard and soul-destroying things have sometimes been. So often they have wept with us as we ride the roller-coaster together. However, we can also share the joys and the highs of salvation and growth and answered prayer. This has caused them to celebrate with us, knowing full well the cost of such moments. They are true partners in the gospel. They share our pain. They share our joy. And I have no doubt that they are with us for the long haul because they’ve been with us all the way!
As I mentioned earlier, I have learned so much about mission and what it means to be sent from Highfields. This is of huge significance for us as a church as we strongly desire to be a church who also send. In January we sent our friends Ben and Lois to plant a church in the Rhondda. While they are now working under a different church organisation, they are still part of our heart and part of our adventure, which is why we are BUZZIN to be joining with them next Sunday for a time of praise and worship in their new church building. Similarly, we were equally excited yesterday to welcome our friends Simon and Sarah (and their humungous family) to join us at Hill City. They are with us for one reason only – so that we can help prepare them to be sent out on mission to plant churches in another part of the valleys.
My prayer is that we will be as courageous and faithful a sending church as Highfields have proved themselves to be, so that we might also see the fruit of faith and gospel adventure beyond our own patch, for the glory of Jesus.
Thank you Highfields for your great encouragement, gracious support and godly example.
We love you.