Category: Church Growth

What a snowman taught me about church


So this week I got schooled by a snowman!

As a church planting pastor and a parent of 4 young children I am acutely aware (and thoroughly unapologetic) that I talk about Jesus A LOT and that the vast majority of my illustrative stories involve my beautiful-but-bonkers family. So this week’s ‘message’ includes my kids…and a larger-than-life snowman!

The story begins on Saturday morning with the Fab 4 abruptly waking me up by jumping on me, whacking and screaming the joyous news that “IT’S BEEN SNOWING!!”

I rose (grudgingly) and looked out of the window to see for myself, and sure enough, an army of ninja snowflakes had fallen silently through the night and blessed us with a good couple of inches of the wonderful white stuff. And I knew that this could only mean one thing on a family day…


So we wolfed down our brekkie, donned our fleeces and waterproofs and headed for the ‘big field’.

It’s fair to say that the kids were buzzin as we crunched our way along the pavement, to the excited chorus of voices describing the various snow sculptures they were about to create.

“I’m going to build a snow tiger” said Elen (8), to which Ezra (4) replied “I’m making a snow elephant”.

Josiah (6) announced that his project was to carve out a snow bat, whilst Anastasia (4) was adamant that she was going to create a “snow baby pig” (NOT a snow piglet, a snow baby pig…cos apparently there’s a difference!)

We reached the field and after a few frenzied minutes of “chuck snowballs at dad” they each set to work. In fairness to the big 2, they just got down to business, while the twins quickly discovered that it’s one thing to have a vision, it’s quite another to make it happen…and dad was quickly called in to help.

It probably took about 10 minutes for the big 2 to get bored/frustrated enough to ask their dad for help as well…which left me with a bit of a dilemma – I’ve only got one pair of hands and I was going to need 4 if I was going to be able to offer all the help that was being asked of me.

But then I had a crazy idea… (more…)

Leading a Church and Baking Potatoes


I’ve been thinking a lot about potatoes recently, which in turn has got me thinking about my experience leading a church.

Perhaps I should elaborate…

A few weeks ago Michelle made tea for the family and the food that she served up was jacket potato. And it was GOOD!! I guess I would define a good jacket potato as having a thick, crispy, tasty skin on the outside, with a soft, creamy centre (preferably smothered in melting butter!) on the inside. And this particular potato was all of the above!

In truth that spectacular spud was a far cry from the baked potatoes I used to endure as a self-catering bachelor. Those bad-boys were the polar opposite – the skin was always thin and papery while the centre was hard and glassy.

So what accounts for the difference?

Certainly the fact that Michelle’s kitchen skills are far superior to mine deserves a mention. But there’s more to it than that! The difference, I would suggest, lies in the means by which the potatoes were baked. My bachelor spuds were always microwaved. I was never one for planning ahead so if I fancied a jacket potato I’d chuck it in the microwave and 3 minutes later my solid, glassy, semi-edible spud was ready. Invariably I would try to mask it rankness by marinating it in butter and drowning it on beans, but there really was no hiding the cold, hard truth – it was mingin!

So why are Michelle’s spuds so much better?

In short, it’s because she cooks them in the oven!

Michelle is far better at planning than me, so whenever jacket potato is on the menu she preheats the oven and chucks the spuds in a minimum of 4 hours before munch time! Sure it takes A LOT longer than a microwaved spud, but the end product is infinitely more impressive!

All very interesting…but what the dickens has all this got to do with church leadership?

Well, here goes…

When I planted Hill City 7 years ago I was a cocky, immature 30 year old who thought he had all the necessary skills required to lead a church.

How wrong I was!

In reality, there is so much more to being equipped to lead a church than the ability to draw a crowd and preach a sermon. It’s worth noting that in the “qualifications of an elder” verses in 1 Timothy and Titus the vast majority of qualifications are about character, not skill-set.

And just like a good jacket potato – you can’t develop character in a few microwave moments. Rather what is needed is a significant amount of time in the the deep heat of the oven.

At numerous points during my journey in church leadership, especially during times of trial, testing and personal attack, I have found myself praying this prayer:

Lord God, please give me thick skin and a soft heart!

And over recent years, by God’s grace, I think it’s fair to say that He has been answering that prayer. But here’s the kicker – the Lord doesn’t toughen our skin and soften out hearts for the trials but through the trials!

They are the means by which God toughens us up and tenderises our hearts.

And just like baking potatoes – there are no short-cuts!

The reality for every church leader, despite what they might think about their qualifications and spiritual maturity, is that there are specific qualities and character that can only be achieved by coming through the flames of affliction. (Trainee leaders and Bible college graduates really need to grasp this!) This has certainly been my experience as I have experienced, and continue to experience, times of pain, frustration, confusion, betrayal, rejection and suffering.

It’s also worth noting as well that it’s a loving God who controls the heat. Some of the issues, situations and struggles that I face in leadership today would have destroyed me 7 years ago – my skin would not have been tough enough to endure the pain and my heart would have been too hard to respond with grace instead of bitterness.

But it’s amazing what 7 years in the oven can do to a man! And how awesome it is to know that all of my trials are serving a purpose. God is using them to transform me into the man and the leader that He wants me to be.

Here are a few scriptures that I have found helpful on this:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(James 1 v 2-4)

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
(1 Peter 1 v 6-7)

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5 v 11-12)

You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.
(Luke 21 v 17-19)

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
(Romans 5 v 3-5)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
(2 Corinthians 4 v 7-10)

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12 v 10)

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
(Hebrews 12 v 7-11)

So in conclusion, a good jacket spud is thick skinned, soft at heart and perfected in extreme heat!

So is a good church leader!


2 Farmers + Acts 1


There’s an old tale about two farmers whose crops were in desperate need of rain. They both cried out to God in prayer, asking Him to send the much-needed rain. But only one of them then went out into his fields to prepare them for the rain when it arrived. The question that this story presents is simply this – which of those farmers truly had faith?

That story came to mind as I was reading the first chapter of Acts last week. As a church planter and a bloke who just loves exciting stories I’ve read the Book of Acts A LOT of times. However, I’d never noticed this sweet little nugget in chapter 1…until now!

Chapter 1 begins with our Saviour promising His disciples that a special gift is on the way:

“Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (v4-5+8)

Jesus then steps onto His epic cloud elevator and ascends to heaven, leaving His disciples to wait for the ‘gift’.

Acts 2 then famously charts the spectacular arrival of that gift – the Holy Spirit – on the day of Pentecost and from that moment on it was game on! The church literally explodes and the world is never the same again.

But where’s this nugget I’m banging on about?

It’s found in the bit that happens between the promise of the Holy Spirit and the arrival of the Holy Spirit:

“Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile. When they arrived, they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying. Here are the names of those who were present: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (the Zealot), and Judas (son of James). They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus. During this time, when about 120 believers were together in one place, Peter stood up and addressed them. “Brothers,” he said, “the Scriptures had to be fulfilled concerning Judas, who guided those who arrested Jesus. This was predicted long ago by the Holy Spirit, speaking through King David. Judas was one of us and shared in the ministry with us.” (Judas had bought a field with the money he received for his treachery. Falling headfirst there, his body split open, spilling out all his intestines. The news of his death spread to all the people of Jerusalem, and they gave the place the Aramaic name Akeldama, which means “Field of Blood.”) Peter continued, “This was written in the book of Psalms, where it says, ‘Let his home become desolate, with no one living in it.’ It also says, ‘Let someone else take his position.’ So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus—from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.” So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they all prayed, “O Lord, you know every heart. Show us which of these men you have chosen as an apostle to replace Judas in this ministry, for he has deserted us and gone where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and Matthias was selected to become an apostle with the other eleven.” (v 12-26)

Let me summarise what’s going on here – Jesus had promised the much-needed Holy Spirit to come and empower the early believers for the task of turning the world upside down with the gospel. In other words, Jesus had promised them rain! The believers’ response was to faithfully prepare their fields.

This is what that looked like: “They all met together and were constantly united in prayer (v14)

It was out of this of togetherness and prayerful unity that Peter spoke to the disciples regarding leadership. He explained that Judas’ betrayal and grizzly demise had left their leadership structure weak and in need of strengthening. After a prayerful game of Rock, Paper, Scissors Matthias became Apostle number 12. With the leadership situation addressed, the field was now ready for the ensuing monsoon! By the end of the following chapter the church had grown by some 3000 people and the church was off to a flyer!

So what’s this nugget teaching us?

I guess it’s simply this – if we are seeking God to move in power, to save to the uttermost, and to unleash the Holy Spirit in our midst and in our generation – I guess we need to be doing more than simply talking and praying about it. We need to be preparing for it. Are we identifying, raising up and releasing leaders who will humbly serve, lovingly lead, faithfully disciple and courageously commission others? It’s a challenge for all church leaders, church planters and gospel ministers. But it’s a challenge that we must rise to in faith. (For your prayers, it’s something that we as elders are looking at with real purpose at Hill City right now!)

So let’s follow the example of the 2 farmers and the Acts 1 believers:

Pray for rain.

Prepare for rain.

Reap the harvest.

Ministry Update

I’m feeling super -blessed at the moment as we’re enjoying bucket-loads of God’s grace as a church right now and so I just wanted to knock out a quick post to keep you posted on some really exciting stuff that’s has been happening / is happening / is soon to be happening at Hill City Church.

1. Trevolution Link-Up
As I type, our Hill City team is in West Mon Comprehensive school starting their first day of group mentoring with young people from the school who are considered to be at risk of exclusion. The Link-Up project is incredibly exciting and we are grateful for the opportunity to serve in this way. Should the group mentoring work well, the team will potentially go on to deliver one-to-one mentoring with other young people too.

Please pray for the guys as they go in – that they will connect quickly with the young people, that they will serve them well, that God would bless our partnership with West Mon and that gospel change will be occur.

2. Fight Club

Next week, we launch Fight Club. What is Fight Club? Here’s what the church website says about it:

Fight Club is a all about training men. We meet on Wednesday nights
for a lock-in at the local gym. The first part of the evening is spent
together in physical training. The second is all about spiritual
training – Bible study, prayer and fighting side-by-side as we wage
war against the sin in our lives – and there’s no holds barred.

Fight Club is strictly for the men of Hill City Church who love Jesus
and are committed to living lives that please him. It is not an
outreach initiative. Fight Club sessions are intense and the things we
wrestle with are raw, real life issues. However, what happens in Fight
Club stays in Fight Club – so the stuff we deal with as brothers goes
no further.

Please pray that God would raise up the men of Hill City to be strong in all the right ways.

3. Caring for the Elderly
Last Friday we had the first meeting of our team who are looking at establishing a ministry to serve the elderly members of our community here in Trevethin. The ministry is in its very early stages (it doesn’t even have a name yet) but as Christmas approaches we already have several opportunities to get alongside these precious people at this poignant and potentially difficult time of year.

Please pray for the team – that God would bless them with gospel unity, creativity and open doors to serve.

4. Baptism celebration
Nothing is more exciting in the life of a church than seeing God’s saving hand at work – and we have seen just that again recently. Therefore, we are going to be holding our second baptism service of the year on Sunday 4th December…but this one is especially exciting! Why? Because for the first time since Hill City was born we are going to be able to baptise right here on this estate. The venue is going to be Cold Barn Farm and will be followed by a quality munch-up! I ain’t gonna lie – I’m seriously buzzin’ about this – why not come and celebrate with us?!

Please pray that God would bless this special day, and even add to the number we get to baptise one the coming weeks.

5. Christmas at Hill City
Christmas is always a great time of year to reach out to the lost, so we intend to make the most of the opportunity. Here’s some of the stuff we’ll be up to:

  • Tuesday 6th December: Providing refreshments and hosting Cosy Kitchen for the lighting of the community Christmas Tree.
  • Sunday 18th December: Hill City Christmas Family Service at Cold Barn Farm.
  • Thursday 22nd December: Community Carols by Starlight event (with festive buffet).
  • Sunday 25th December: Christmas morning gathering at the Hub.

Please pray for the gospel to be presented clearly and powerfully, for Christ to be exalted and for the lost to be saved.

I’m so aware of God’s goodness and kindness to us as a church. It’s only by His grace that we continue to grow and to take fresh ground.

Glory to God!

Thus Far: The Last 12 Months at Hill City

At our recent Vision Sunday I played a little video that I had knocked together telling the story of the last 12 months at Hill City. It’s been quite some ride!!

The video seemed to bless and encourage many, so I thought I’d post it up here at the Rant too.

Hope it’s an encouragement to you too…

Baptisms 2010 – Video Celebration

I’ve knocked together a little video to commemorate the Hill City Baptisms 2010 service last Saturday. The footage was captured on my iPhone (thanks Hannah) and as you’ll soon realise – I’m no video whizz. However, I didn’t make the video to win as Oscar, I just wanted to capture something of the immense joy that we all experienced that night as we baptised Allan, Margaret, Donna and Nicole.

Hopefully it succeeds in doing that.

Hope it’s a blessing to you…

Hill City Baptisms 2010

Just a very quick post at the end of a very exciting day.

Basically, some things are worth ranting about (as the title of this blog suggests!) This evening’s baptism service is definitely one of them!! 5pm on Saturday 27th November 2010 is a date that will live long in my memory for all the right reasons! It’s the day on which I baptised 4 very special people in the swimming pool at Pontypool Active Living Centre.

One of the things that I love about being the pastor of a small, community church like Hill City is that we are a family. I can genuinely say, hand-on-heart, that I love every one of the guys I ‘dunked’ tonight. Each one is a person I’ve laughed with, wept with, prayed for, suffered with and loved through so much. It’s an honour to share life with people on that kind of level, and an even greater honour to baptise them!

We’ll be producing a little video in the coming days and putting the audio of the testimonies up on the Hill City Church website too, but in the meantime, here’s just a few things that made the evening so special.

Allan’s story: Possibly the most well-known and recognisable character on the estate and one of the first people I met in the street after moving up here, it took Allan a couple of years before he finally came to Hill City, but once he did found a spiritual home, a loving family and above all – a wonderful Saviour in Jesus! Allan loves Hill City. Hill City loves Allan. It was such a joy to baptise him tonight.

The story of the Davies Girls: It was Christmas 2008 that we first met the Davies ladies! 3 generations of the same family attended our Christmas outreach event together and they’ve been part of the Hill City family ever since. In that time God has been powerfully at work and it was fantastic to hear their stories of God’s grace tonight.

Margaret testified that since joining Hill City she had moved from a religious belief in God to a beautiful relationship with Him. After her testimony she led the church in a wonderful worship song that she’d written. Her daughter, Donna, then testified to how God has redeemed her from a life that had been damaged by a legacy of domestic abuse, and there was hardly a dry eye in the house when her 11 year old daughter Nicole spoke of how that abuse had affected her and how she had cried out to God to save her in the middle of it all!

So powerful!

We then proceeded to the pool where along with my co-pastor, James, I had the honour of baptising Mr.Trevethin, followed by 3 generations of one of my favourite families!

Such an awesome privilege.

I loved it.

They loved it.

The church loved it.

Above all, I’m convinced that God loved it too!

Glory to His Name!!

God Is At Work

Last night was awesome! It was one of our prayer-focussed HomeGroups, and I have to confess that after a ridiculously busy day I hadn’t really done a great deal to prepare for it. In fact it’s probably fair to say that the only thing that I did do was ask the Holy Spirit to turn up and lead us.

And I’m so glad that He did!!

First of all He lead me to Psalm 103v2:

“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits”

This led us to an impromptu time of intentionally focussing on the goodness of God in our lives and worshipping Him for it! That in itself was profound as for all present it caused us to lift our eyes to God and our voices in praise. This very naturally led into a time in which we gave space for one another to share stories of how we’d experienced the grace of God and the power of the gospel in our own situations.

This was the bit that just blew me away.

The first story was that of a lady who testified to the victory that God had given her over a smoking addiction and the battle with temptation to drink too much alcohol. This was followed by stories of answered prayer from previous homegroups in issues such as health, finance and gospel witness in the workplace. We also heard several people confess that they had just known a deepening in their walk with God and growth in their character. I was especially excited by 2 other stories. The first was of a bloke who had simply told a colleague that he would pray for a tough situation he was facing, only to see his prayer answered and his colleague acknowledge it as answered prayer. This opened a door for the gospel for the first time. The second was another answered prayer of God’s grace to a lady who has just had a second baby and had been feeling quite overwhelmed. The answered prayer came in the form of renewed joy and fresh energy that manifested itself in the form of a spring in the step and all the washing getting done!

Now I know for some that some of that stuff might not sound that dramatic or exciting, but for me – it was both beautiful and inspiring! I loved it because it said that God’s at work in our midst! I think we often get so focussed on the big, flashy and unmissable moves of God (and there’s nothing wrong with all that) that we can overlook the simple, daily evidences of God’s grace to us! God does save, heal, deliver and transform, but let’s not miss the ‘smaller’ miracles of answered prayer, spiritual growth in a believer and a pile of freshly washed clothes!

I’m hungry to see God do so much in and through this crazy young church, and I’m more convinced than ever that God is on the move in our midst!


Beach Baptism Pics

OK so it’s a week after the event but I’ve just got hold of the first photos of last week’s baptism at the beach, so thought I’d post a couple up here, along with a quick report:

Basically it was one of the best days of my life, hearing the incredible testimonies of 3 such amazing people and then taking the celebration down to the beach where their very public baptism was witnessed by a core crowd of around 60, with hundreds of other beach users looking on (some even standing on rocks for a better view!)

The whole church pulled together brilliantly taking care of the cooking, the games, the towels and everything else that was needed (except for the numb-skull who gave everyone the wrong directions to the beach…oh that was me!!!) The baptisms themselves were so emotional and beautiful and the 3 guys all confess that it was an amazing moment for each of them. I think everyone who was there couldn’t help but me moved by such an inspiring day!

All in all an awesome day for both me as a pastor and for us as a church.

Here’s some pictures:

beach baptism09