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.
When 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…