Sorted Youth Tract

sortedFor those who might be interested the Sorted youth tract that I wrote several years ago while in St.Mellons has now been published by the Good Book Company.

It’s a very simple tract that’s designed for street-based youth work/prison ministry and seeks to explain the gospel by breaking down 6 Bible verses alongside strong urban imagery. It’s available from:

Church-Planting Lesson 2 – Let God Write The Script

scriptOnce we had made the decision to obey God’s call to move to Trevethin with a vision to plant a church up here, all of a sudden I started getting incredibly excited. It felt like God had handed us a blank sheet of paper upon which the epic Hill City Church story was going to be written. The problem was, I thought I was the one who got to write the script.

How wrong was I?

One of the scriptures that God had given us regarding the call to go was Jesus’ command to Saul when he got converted: “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9v6) In other words God was simply asking us to be obedient and go, but the finer details of the script were going to be written by Him in His own perfect timing. Unfortunately, however, I have a problem – I’m a bloke. Therefore my default position is arrogance, pig-headedness, impetuousness, stupidity and an illogical tendency to think I’m always right! It’s not my fault – it’s genetic (at least that’s my excuse!)

So anyway when things with the church-plant weren’t happening as quickly or as smoothly as I wanted I was all too quick to try and force God’s hand (which is both foolish and impossible!) and try to make things happen my way. In other words I didn’t trust God to write the script, so I felt obliged to take over.

What a pleb!

Because I’m a grade A idiot I tried (unsuccessfully) to book meetings in a centre on the estate before we’d even moved there, tried organising outreach events before we knew a single person, and sought to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s of the church’s vision having spent minimal time praying to, let alone waiting on God for inspiration! If I’d had my way we would have been meeting in a building 18 months before we eventually did, with no contacts in the community, no strategy, no people to serve alongside us, and no foundations in place. In other words I scribbled a whole load of rubbish all over my nice fresh piece of paper.

So I thank God for His sovereign tippex!

In His divine wisdom and patience, God graciously thwarted my vain attempts to call the shots and gently enforced His good, pleasing and perfect will for the building of His church on His hill. It’s like the scripture says “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19v21) The doors God opened were the right ones at the right time. The contacts we have in the community were divinely ordained by Him. The church has grown at just the right rate in just the right ways for us as a family. Basically, God knows best!

Earlier this week I was chatting with my mate James about how ridiculous it is to try and write God’s script for Him. He laughed in agreement and said “I know mate. And my script’s just bunk as well innit?”  How true that is!

I am learning (slowly) though I’m still a bloke. However, I’m a lot happier for God to hold the pen now!

Bible Overview – What Happened To The Tattoo?

bible-overview3This morning I went through the usual routine of seing the postman coming up the path, wrestling my dog to the ground to stop him trying to jump through the patio doors to kill the aforementioned postman, then releasing the (frustrated) dog and collecting the post once the postman was safely off the premises.  This morning the book I’ve been eagerly awaiting finally arrived on my doorstep – Bible Overview by Steve Levy. 

Curiously, however, upon closer inspection I realised that my copy is strangely different to that advertised on Amazon.  The Book advertised on Amazon has on its cover a bloke with a Bible poking out of his back pocket and a tattoo on his arm.  My copy however has the same bloke, same Bible, same buttock and same arm – but no tattoo!!!

My copy without tattoo!!

I’m just intrigued as to why the tattoo has disappeared (the sanctified airbrush no doubt!) Personally I’m a little disappointed as I felt the original cover said that this was a bloke who has been saved from the streets (and has the scars to prove it) yet had discovered that the Bible is just as much for him as it is for any other Christian. I’m not sure it says that anymore, which is a shame as I know Steve personally and know he longs to see the roughest and toughest come to Christ and is committed to helping people like that get connected to the Bible that he loves, believing strongly that it’s for them too!

That said I reckon it’ll still be a cracking read!

As for the mystery of the disappearing tattoo – I can only speculate.  All I know is that as a Christian with tattoos myself, I’m just a little reassured that the bloke’s tattoo on his left arm (back cover) managed to make it through the editing process!!

Church-Planting Lesson 1 – Be Sure Of Your Calling

Church-planting seems to be all the rage at the moment. However, while church-planting might be fresh and exciting at the outset, the reality is that if God hasn’t called you to plant – frustration, fatigue and ultimately failure are the inevitable outcome.

compassWhen we first felt the call of God to leave St.Mellons and start a work up here in Trevethin, we were so settled and happy where we were that we basically told God “If this is what you want us to do then we’ll go.  But please can you make it really, really obvious to us?!”  The last thing I wanted was to uproot my family and move churches, friends, ministry and location on a whim.  Over the following months, God did speak and He did so in several ways:

1. Scripture – God drew our attention to several poignant scriptures that spoke almost audibly into the situation.  Perhaps the most striking one was my ‘stumbling across’ the passage that God had given me when He first called me to ministry as a teenager:

“It has always been my ambition to preach the Gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written: ‘Those who were not told about Him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.'”
Romans 15 v20-21

God gave lots of other scriptures to me and Michelle over the following months that proved crucial once we had made the move to Trevethin and started the church.  The reason that I would call them crucial is that feelings change but scripture doesn’t!  When things got tough, lonley, fruitless and frightening (as they often do) the enemy started chirping in our ears telling us to jack it all in and quit.  At that point the feelings of invincibility and unshakeable faith that were there at the start had long gone. However, those same scriptures that God had given us were still saying the same thing, reassuring us that we were in the right place and providing for us an anchor that held us (and continues to hold us) steady through the storms of doubt and despair.

2. Prayer – Obviously we prayed a lot too.  I still remember one of the most emotional and powerful prayer times that me and Michelle have ever had was when we prayed about the prospect of leaving our beloved St.Mellons to plant in the valleys.  We shed genuine tears, wrestled honestly with God and ultimately offered our lives afresh as living sacrifices for Him to do through us whatever would bring Him the most glory.  I think that was the night when we truly became 100% available to God and felt able to explore the challenge of church-planting with fresh energy and faith. 

3. Conviction – A massive part of our journey towards planting a church was simply the gradual dawning of deep-rooted personal conviction that it’s what we should be doing.  This started small with a hint of vision and perhaps a touch of faith that seemed to come from nowhere initially.  Was it a good idea or a God idea? I guess it became apparent that this was a godly conviction when rather than dwindling or subsiding, the  conviction grew steadily stronger, taking over more and more of our thought life, prayer life and decision making.  It was a bit like the rising of the sun in the morning – climbing higher, shining brighter and becoming more apparent as the day rolled in.  Eventually the burden was so strong and the vision so clear that we had to respond.

4. Counsel – We also sought advice from wise Christians whose opinions we trusted, both from within our peer group and our families.  Furthermore we spoke to church leaders from our local church in St.Mellons and our sending church, Highfields.  Finally, I met with as many church leaders from the Pontypool area as I could contact to chat and pray the issue though with them too.

As we sought counsel from all these different sources, God’s will did start to become clear to us, and we felt able to press on with more focus and more confidence.

5. Circumstances – Finally, as God led us through scripture, prayer, wise counsel and conviction of heart, as if all that wasn’t enough, He also started to orchestrate a lot of things in and around our lives to make it clear to us circumstantially that we were barking up the right tree.  There were lots of little things in St.Mellons that just seemed to tie off loose ends and draw a natural line underneath all that we had been involved in up to that point.  However, there was also some big stuff that happened – not least the provision of the perfect house for us!

I still remember it clearly, we were prayer walking around Trevethin one Monday night (as we were now doing on a weekly basis) when we discovered a large derelict playground with nothing but two rusty old benches left in it.  As we sat down and prayed I felt led to pray that God would establish a place of worship in that specific part of the estate.  When we finished praying I looked over my shoulder and one of the houses behind us (overlooking the park) was for sale.  I phoned the next day and was informed it was sold subject to contract.  It was just as well as we weren’t in a position to move at that point anyway.  However, 4 months later when that sale had ‘conveniently’ fallen through, the house came back on the market and we jumped on it.  That house is now our home, the place where both our homegroups and house church were born, and therefore a place of answered prayer where  worship was established on the estate!

When stuff like that happens you just know that God’s in it with you!

In conclusion then, I know that God has called us to be doing what we’re doing.  If He hadn’t we’d definitely have found something else to do by now – something easy, safe and comfortable.  But by His grace we’re still here – living and loving the adventure of church-planting in the South Wales Valleys.  God’s written an awesome script for the life of Hill City Church, and as I’ll look at in my next post – His scripts are always better than ours…

Hill City Church – The Story So Far…

So as we crack on into 2009, thought I’d just reflect a bit on how the Hill City church-planting adventure’s going…

hcc-logoThis time last year we’d been on the estate for 4 months and were running a Tuesday night home group which had about 6 people coming (including us), half of which were travelling up from Cardiff to support us!  We were doing church as a family on Sunday mornings, which was nuts – we had a preacher (me), worship leader (Michelle), a Sunday School (Elen) and security (Boaz the dog!) For several months we did church like that, worshipping, breaking bread, studying the book of Joshua and loving life and Jesus together as a family.

In February we felt led by God to push the boat out and open up Sunday church in the house.  There were 6 of us in the first week, and 4 of us the following week!  Had we got it wrong?  By God’s grace – no we hadn’t.

Over the next few months things started to move quickly, with community involvement increasing, new families joining and by the summer we had reached breaking point in our living room as the 20 number was breached.  So we had to take it to the next level and go for a building.

We had used the Cold Barn Farm Community Centre several times for outreach events and I had also helped run several DJ workshops there.  Furthermore, the manager and his family had become really good friends to us, so when the need for a building cropped up, it seemed the obvious place.

We asked, permission was granted and we held our first Sunday meeting there on 21st September 2008, with 35 in attendance!  As well as the weekly Sunday services, we’ve also held further outreach events at the Barn including a Christmas event that saw 75+ people come.  Furthermore, we are due to start a new weekly youth event there next month called Trevolution, as well as lots of other exciting community initiatives in the pipeline.

Have we got it sorted?  No!  But by God’s grace Hill City Church has grown 10-fold in the last 10 months, and at times it’s been hard to keep up!  We’ve had times of immense blessing, heart-crushing disappointment, tears, laughter, gritted teeth and intense worship!  Faith has been stretched, prayers have been answered, saints have been strengthened, the lost have been reached and Jesus has been glorified.

I’ve learned so much about both God and myself in the last 12 months that I thought I’d start writing some stuff about it all, so over the next week or so I’m going to share my Lessons Learned in Church-Planting with you.  Hopefully it’ll be as helpful, humbling, challenging and encouraging for you as it has been for me.

Stay tuned…

The Sanctified Rant

sanctified-rant3So here goes, my second attempt at doing a blog. 

I don’t really know why I’m doing it cos I don’t actually like blogs, they’re generally time-consuming, often annoying, yet occasionally they can be inspiring. 

So what’s the sanctified rant all about?  Well basically I just like to rant!  It’s how I generally communicate which some appreciate and others despair of.  However, what the rant’s not going to be about is writing a load of negative or critical stuff about all sorts, cos life’s too short and if I’m going to spend time writing anything it’ll be to God’s glory and for the benefit of others.  Too many blogs, indeed too many people seem to know who and what they disagree with and build their identity around that.  Personally, I know who I believe in (Jesus Christ) and what I know is eternally pure and true (the gospel) so I think I’ll focus on that!

I want my rant to be sanctified (and sanctifiying).

So here’s what you can expect:

You may find hilarious episodes from my family life as a husband to a beautiful wife, a father to two amazing kids and the owner of a freakishly hefty dog!  There may be honest reflections of the trials and triumphs of our church-planting adventure on Trevethin – a hill-top council estate in the South Wales Valleys.  There may be scriptues that I’ve found helpful, sermon notes I’m shaping, song lyrics I’m working on or books/videos/MP3s I’m loving!

The sanctified rant might not necessarily be appreciated by some as I’m not a suck-up and I do tend to speak my mind, but it’ll be from the heart and it’ll be sincere.  If it’s a blessing to you – then praise God!  If not – then praise God – cos He’s worthy of praise regardless of what I type!

Let the rant commence…