Church Planting

Proverbs Day Fourteen | Graveyard or labour ward?

By | Blog, Church, Church Planting, Death, Discipleship, Foundational, Holy living, Holy Spirit, Life change, Wisdom

I often think that the place the church meets should be regarded as less 'temple' and more 'mountainside' or 'public square'.

The reason is that the more I read the New Testament the more I read about crowds, noise and mess.

Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest. Proverbs 14v4 (NLT)

If we want a good efficient and effective harvest, then we need a strong large oxen. Does anybody seriously imagine that the stable where the oxen is kept will be clean! The mess is an indicator for an abundant harvest.

Graveyards are quiet, tidy and dead! Everybody stays where they and does what they are suppose to do. Everything is neatly labelled and the flowers are beautiful! But it is dead. Whereas the labour ward is full of blood, poo, screaming, pain, pain relief and joy! Whilst it is packed with noise, mess, it is also overflowing with new life!

1 Corinthians 14 verse 40 encourages the spiritual togetherness of the church to be done in a fitting and orderly way, but that is more about ensuring the "oxen" are all pulling in the same direction than anything else. So don't let that instruction rob us of a harvest reaping church!

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. Proverbs 14v4 (ESV)

The labour and the fruit

By | Catalyst Festival, Church Planting

I am returning home from the Catalyst Festival – 4 days of living and worshipping the Lord amongst 3000+ people for four days. Last year when I travelled home from a similar camp for teenagers I had a discussion with Darby and Jake. I asked them how all these churches came to be. Darby correctly answered “Somebody planted them”. This method is how Christianity has been growing all over the world since A.D. 33. The Catalyst ‘experience’ is the fruit of much unseen love and labour – not just by hundreds of faithful volunteers and church members in the months and weeks beforehand – but also with the blood, sweat and tears of obedient church planters across cities, towns and villages in the UK.

In The Hill we are sowing a seed that will become a strong and healthy oak tree for God. It will take time, and include days of pain and others of pleasure (rather like camping!!) but in the end we will all say it was worth it and it will be a blessing to others.

As we drive home (Hannah is driving, just in case you are wondering!) and I write this post, I just received a text from somebody in the last church. I share the contents of it as an encouragement to US ALL – what we are ALL doing to build the church will make a real difference in people’s lives:

“Hi Robin, just wanted to thank u n Hannah for the personal sacrifices u have made with jobs, finances & family (and continue to make) with church planting. It is because of couples like u that me and my family r so blessed with Gracechurch. Just wanted to encourage u. Praying that God continues to both protect and bless u.”

May we continue to advance the gospel and the planting of local churches across Wales and beyond. It is a privilege to serve God church planting.

Following Jesus… Everywhere not just somewhere

By | Church Planting, Life change, Provoked Within, Uncategorized, Witnessing, Worship

In my previous blog entries I have cited two pieces of poor advice that I have been given over the years. The first related to sung worship, the second related to giving as an act of worship.

Here is the third and final memorable piece of poor advice I have received in relation to starting new churches:

If you choose not to meet on the occasional Sunday, your church will not spend any more time with those who don’t know Jesus and your people will just see it as a week off.

My first response to that is that is it not my church, but His church. They are not my people but His people. I have sweated for the church, but I have never bled for it. I have led the church but I am not the Head of it. I am part of the body of the church, but it is not my body – the church belongs to Jesus.

My second response is that the church does not only exist in a specific time and in a specific place. We are the church everywhere, not just somewhere. We do not cease to be the church because we don’t gather together in a room between 4pm and 6pm on a Sunday. We are the church 24/7, 365 days a year. We don’t have a minute off from following Jesus, never mind a week.

When Jesus challenged the religious people about their traditions he warned them that by their unquestioning allegiance to certain habits they were at risk of nullifying the very Word of God that caused these traditions to be created.

The Bible makes it clear that the first believers met regularly and did not stop meeting together. But it does not explicitly state that every church met every week at the same time and in the same place. Common sense may dictate that this is useful, but it is not essential and in some respects it may even be harmful.

Harmful!! Let me explain… I am always amazed how many people see a coming together of the body of Christ as a meeting which you simply attend, perform certain habits or traditions and then go away again. It is not that. It was never intended to be that!

The coming together of the church, whether public or private, is first and foremost a family gathering. It is a time where we encourage, stir up, pray, teach and worship together. The reason it can become harmful is that people may take the gathering for granted (the church will be together when I need it and who cares when I don’t). Gathering together is something we should cherish, value, look forward to and miss when it does not happen.

Over the years I have noticed that by occasionally pausing the weekly gathering of the church and not meeting it actually increases our desire, our need, our purpose and our pleasure of being together. It brings freshness and also honours those who serve week in and week out (who rarely ‘miss’ a Sunday any other way). It allows people to plan times away or to visit family and generally brings a freedom in coming together, rather than an expectation or compulsion. So maybe for many it does feel like a ‘week off’ which is exactly why rest is needed, because coming together should not feel like something you need time-off from!!

We do not expect the time between 4pm and 6pm to always be occupied in the company of those who do not know Jesus Christ. But what it does mean is that we are reminded every time our weekly habit is disrupted that Jesus Christ came to save those who are lost and are more and more unlikely to walk into a church meeting to find their way.

Finally if you still need another reason to occasionally pause from meeting as a church may I suggest this. Every time we don’t meet, go somewhere public (you could do this on a Sunday morning just as much as a Sunday afternoon). Observe how many thousands and thousands of people are not in a church meeting – let’s assume that they can’t all be Christians ‘skipping’ a church gathering – and therefore are more than likely people who do not know Jesus Christ. Let that reality motivate you to mission and to making friends with those outside of the church as much as those within it.

Where are we on 21 April 2013

By | Blog, Church Planting

This afternoon we had a great time together as a church family. Part of the time together was Robin sharing as to where we, as the Hill, are today and where we feel we are heading tomorrow and what is important on route. This was recorded, but as it was a more informal setting it is not available unless requested. Please email if you wish to hear the recording.

Following Jesus… budgets not baskets

By | Church Planting, Life change, Provoked Within, The Bible, Uncategorized, Worship

In my previous blog entry I mentioned that I have been given three particularly memorable pieces of advice that I have whole-heartedly disagreed with. The first was in relation to sung worship in a Sunday meeting. Here is the second:

If you pass the offering basket around on a Sunday you will double the income of the church.

I have absolutely no doubt that this is true and certainly tempting. Money is extremely useful in building the church! But deep down I reject the thinking behind it 100%.

During the last blog I quoted Jesus from an account in Mark 7. In this part of Mark’s account he explains that the religious types had got their knickers in a twist (okay I am paraphrasing!) about the fact that the followers of Jesus were not washing their hands before eating. They considered this as an offensive rejection of tradition designed to honour God. In fact Mark observes that this hand washing habit was but one of many traditions they clung to. Jesus challenged their motives and explained that by holding on to these traditions for the wrong motives they had rendered them powerless in the lives of people and in the eyes of God.

The passing of an offering basket is a long standing tradition in many churches. It arises out of wanting to make giving a part of the worship. There is absolutely no problem with that and in some respects it makes complete sense, but like so many other things it is at risk of becoming a meaningless habitual expression of worship.

My answer to the advice quoted above has always been “yes, the bank balance may be healthier, but the discipleship will not necessarily be”.

In The Hill we have always chosen to have a box where people can freely give a financial gift in a Sunday meeting, and next to it is bank account information should people wish to give by standing order. But we have never chosen to pass a basket around.

Our reasons are as follows:

1. We do not want visitors feeling obligated to give in anyway, and we do not want the poorer amongst us to be trapped into giving a £20 note because that is all they have in their pocket (I have never seen anyone take change back from the basket!)

2. We believe generous giving requires considered heart-motivated budgeted giving and so people don’t need a basket to remind them. We should have already come prepared with the cash and the cheque, or planned thoughtfully before we set the standing order up. Giving money as an act of worship starts in the home when you plan your budget (in the same way we plan and save for most other significant draws on our bank balances). We want this kind of worship to be considered, taking into account all obligations, including that of giving generously to the local church.

3. We want people to think through what they do, why they do it and how much they do it with, not just grab the loose change in their pocket as if God is a busker or the mission of the church is like a charity to be encouraged or helped along.

I wish to state again, there is nothing wrong with the basket idea in of itself, but we must maintain our traditions with the right motives and in ways that do not contravene the heart of God or forsake it altogether.

Following Jesus… a heart not a hard seat

By | Church Planting, Life change, Worship

This is the third time I have been involved in the roller-coaster activity of starting a new church. The first was nearly 15 years ago in the West Midlands, the second was about 7 years ago in Worcestershire and now I find myself in Swansea. Throughout this time I have been the recipient of wise advice from many people and I am genuinely grateful for that. However, I have also received advice that I completely disagreed with and have chosen to wholeheartedly ignore. Interestingly, I have three memorable ones that have caused me to be provoked within. I am going to share about each one in a separate blog.

The first bit of advice was related to corporate worship in a Sunday meeting:

If you choose to use chairs that are less comfortable then you will find your sung worship times will improve as people will sit down less.

This is utter nonsense! It may appear to improve. Perhaps more people will stand? Perhaps more people will sing? But it does not mean that the worship will be better. Worship is a matter of the heart, and therefore true worship is about what happens in the heart during these times, and less about what everybody can see.

Sure, it is encouraging when everybody around you is passionately singing and being expressive in their involvement. But let’s not kid ourselves, that is not the heart of worship… because the heart of worship is found precisely there – in the heart.

The only way to build a church full of true worshippers is by focusing on the heart not the furniture. Jesus once said to those religious types who were good at external appearances and failed to remember that God measures the heart:

6 Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 Their worship is a farce…” Mark 7 NLT

Taking our own route whilst fighting with the King of Judah

By | Church Planting, Provoked Within

Following today’s talk on where we are heading in The Hill I wanted to take a few moments to remind us of three distinctive elements that have prophetically been placed in this church. These elements are so important that I pray that they will become embedded into our culture and DNA so that we will neither compromise or lose them.

Do what we love and change the world while we do it.
Tear down religion and build faith through grace.
Be ourselves.

Being a church that responds to a prophetic message

By | Church, Church Planting, Provoked Within

Over the past few weeks we have been focusing on a powerful prophetic encounter in the Old Testament, where a man named Ezekiel is shown a vision by God as to what God intends to do with His people. We have then been applying that prophetic message to our present situation:

Bones “Connect”

Bones “Cross the Room”

Here is the story from the book of Ezekiel:

1 The Lord took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the Lord to a valley filled with bones. 2 He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. 3 Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?” “O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.” 4 Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! 6 I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” 7 So I spoke this message, just as he told me. Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. 8 Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’” 10 So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army. 11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ 12 Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the Lord. 14 I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the Lord has spoken!’” Ezekiel 37

Newday fruit starts with small planted seeds

By | Church Planting, Provoked Within

I am returning home from a week away camping amongst 6,500 teenagers, the majority of whom follow and worship Jesus. It is an encouraging and inspiring sight to see young people queue for meetings, run to the front rows and eagerly attend prayer meetings, seminars and times of corporate worship. We witnessed physical healings, salvations and acts of service. Tonight we journey home.

As we embark on our journey I am reminded that the Norfolk Showground this week has been a Norfolk training ground to strengthen, encourage and equip all the delegates for the real ‘match’ (aka mission field) where they live. The challenge for each one of those attending will be to show the same passion, commitment and zeal when they re-enter the arena of daily life in a local church.

Before we left the grounds we stopped the car and I asked the kids how all these churches came to be. Darby correctly answered “Somebody planted them”. This method is how Christianity has been growing all over the world since A.D. 33. The Newday ‘experience’ is the fruit of much unseen love and labour – not just by hundreds of faithful volunteers and church members in the months and weeks beforehand – but also with the blood, sweat and tears of obedient church planters across cities, towns and villages in the UK.

May God raise up more church planters from among the 6,500 followers. May Newday 2013 profile the call of church planting as a vital means to reach this nation, because…

15 …how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” Romans 10

May we continue to advance the gospel and the planting of local churches. It is a privilege to serve God church planting.

Moving a meeting for a match

By | Church Planting, Witnessing

Today we moved our regular Sunday meeting together back an hour. Next week we shall be doing the same. The reason for this is the Six Nations Rugby, and more specifically the Wales fixture list. This raises the question as to whether it is good or wise to move a meeting for a match? Now I am sure opinion is divided on this issue, but at the end of the day opinion has minimal value next to conviction. Here is our conviction:

God wants us to meet (Hebrews 10:25). He is perhaps a little less bothered when we meet, and more bothered as to why and how we meet. Secondly, God loves recreation as much as the rest of life – and rugby belongs to Him as much as anything else (Psalm 24:1). Eric Liddell in the film Chariots of Fire said “God has called me for a purpose, to go to China, but he has also made me fast – and when I run I feel His pleasure”. Thirdly, we believe that the church exists equally for the benefit of its members and non-members. We want as many people as possible to know Christ, and as his representatives we want to be where the people are and to be with them the way Jesus would. Finally we live in a culture and country where rugby is celebrated and enjoyed – and we don’t want to put man-made obstacles or stumbling blocks before them. So for very practical reasons we just did the sensible thing.

The one thing I noticed in this process is the concern and surprise that we may have to such a decision. Concern that this decision is potentially some form of idolatry or will be seen as such. Again, for me it is a matter of conviction – and concern is not the same as conviction. But often the concern is linked to what others will think. This is something that never bothered Jesus, and he was often maligned for being a “friend of sinners”. However, Christians also expressed surprise. Surprise that we could do this, would do this and why we would do it. But in The Hill we are determined to build a church which is always made for mission over meetings.