Gift of Gifts

I sometimes think that just so long as I don’t forget that Christmas is about Jesus being born into poverty then I’m okay in my spirituality. Let’s not isolate Christmas

You may be familiar with the prayer below, but if not, I hope that it stirs, challenges and excites you as much as it has me in seeing the immensity and the depths of this coming festival.

O source of all good,
What shall I render to thee for the gift of gifts,
thine own dear Son, begotten not created, my Redeemer, proxy, surety, substitute, is self-emptying incomprehensible, His infinity of love beyond the heart’s grasp.

Herein is the wonder of wonders:
He came below to raise me above,
was born like me that I might become like Him.

Herein is love;
when I cannot rise to Him He draws near on wings of grace,
to raise me to Himself.

Herein is power;
when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart He united them in dissoluble unity,
the uncreated and the created.

Herein is wisdom;
when I was undone, with no will to return to Him,
and no intellect to devise recovery, He came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost, as a man to die my death to shed satisfying blood on my behalf, to work out a perfect righteous for me.

O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherd and engage my mind:
let me hear good tidings of great joy,
and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore,
my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;
place me with ox, ass, camel, goat
to look with them upon my Redeemer’s face,
and in him account myself delivered from sin;
let me with Simeon clasp the new-born child to my heart,
embrace Him with undying faith,
exulting that He is mine and I am his.
In Him thou hast given me so much
that heaven can give no more.

Why Plant in Plymouth?

A couple of years ago I typed “churches in Plymouth” into Google. After a second or two the results came in. Beneath the search box was the token map with a handful of red balloon littering the image. What struck me most was that they were clustered mostly on the centre-right of the map.

For a long time my wife and I had known that we were called to plant a church in the west country but where exactly still remained to be discovered. I personally imagined us planting a church in the north Devonshire or Cornish coast in a suitably trendy surfing town. Then maybe I’d finally be cool. I’d get to surf lots and maybe my golden locks would return. Maybe I could refine my hatred for cities and become a self-righteous bumpkin. Maybe.
We did not move to the north coast. We visited and knew, somehow, that God was not calling us there. On a return journey, we came back through Plymouth. We have no obvious links with the city. No family, no history.
I remember feeling apprehensive and a little uninspired by the copious pebbledashing and grey slate roofs on houses packed in shoulder to shoulder, but something in me that I cannot exactly explain was niggling.
It rained hard all the way there but the sky was clearing and the sun began to shine. “This is was God does. He brings light into darkness.” Said Sarah. I felt goosebumps.
We visited the city centre and I was similarly unimpressed with the impersonal, money grabbing and hoarding going on. We traipsed on through the damp pedestrian streets weaving between the burger wrappers and scratch cards into a peculiarly smooth shopping centre. In the weeks running up to this point I had been trying to organise myself onto a short study course. I had been emailing the course administrator trying to get a place in one of the other sites in other parts of the country. I distinctly remember standing outside that ever present hallmark of globalisation and capitalism: Starbucks. I received an email telling me of a study site starting in Plymouth. Now I am not a whacky mystic who is quick to jump to conclusions and interpret every action or event as God speaking directly to me. I do believe he does on occasions and I am a huge advocate of the scriptures being enough and my final authority of God’s speaking to us. But I stood there staring at my phone, my whole body tense, knowing that this was God showing us that he wanted us here. That niggling was getting louder and was becoming unignorable. We continued our reconnaissance and headed in the direction of the sea. As we reached the top of the hill breathless from the walk, immense satisfaction came over me when I saw that sight: A panoramic view of the city, a battleship anchored confidently just offshore, tumbling playing hills, strong, aged cliffs, and a mysterious island in the textured sea bustling with boats. We stood or fidgeted (depending on our age), looking around beneath a vast lighthouse. The rain had stopped, the sun was shining and the wind was blowing hard. God was calling us here.
You may cry what pitiful stuff and dismiss it as mere sentimentality, but we as a family have to hold on to this specific call from God to come to this part of the world. If we did not believe this then I think that it is fair to say that God could have sent us anywhere and we would never have such an affection for an area that wants to see prosperity and joy. If I did not believe that God did not call people to specific places in the world or work in specific areas of society then it would betray the very God so committed to his creation that sent His Son to be part of it, grow as a man and begin it’s restoration by redemption through His sacrificial death.

That was that then. There was a satisfaction and nervous anticipation that we knew where God was sending us. It was at this point I started to look at the lay of the (spiritual) land so to speak and do a Google search.

I did not know much about Plymouth. Neither my wife or I had any links with the city. So I was intrigued by the cluster of balloons on the right of the map.
The next time we popped down to Plymouth we visited a church service. Then went on to spend the afternoon with some of these amazing church folks where I heard a little bit about the side of the city that lacked red balloons. We learned that it was underdeveloped, there was more unemployment and it had a lot of the accompanying issues of social deprivation. We heard that there was over a 10 years difference in average life expectancy from the from one side of the city to the other.
This explained the deprivation of little red balloons on the map of the local churches. It seemed that the side of the city flanking the river Tamar had all but been forgotten by some of the churches.

That was that then…again. Over to the west we go. Only people here don’t call it the “west side” of like you are some sort of American gangster from…the West side. People in Plymouth nearly exclusively refer to their neighbourhoods; Devonport, St Budeaux, Keyham and so on and so forth. The next thing we had to figure out was where to live. Rental property searches ensued within the postal code area of PL2. God brought us to a house fairly central to the area we felt called to be in. We have a lovely house and feel so blessed by God to have our children in the school that they are and have the neighbours that we do.
There are churches here and I thank God for them. I have had the opportunity to spend a little time with some of their people. They are typically smaller congregations with an older average age. And as such perhaps lacking energy to engage the world around them.

We have moved here to be a part of what God wants to accomplish, where energy levels seem to be sagging and the population growing. We are for the good of this area. For the people in this area. For the the mission of God in this area. For the name of Jesus in this area.
Please don’t think that we think that we are going to be the saviours of this city and these people. That we think we’ll be the ones who move into an area and finally do church properly. Sorting everyone out and at the same time being the trendiest to be seen associated with.
We are not the saviours. But we will show people who is.

Why Plant Churches?

…Or rather why are we planting a church.

Before moving, when I mentioned to people that we were moving to Plymouth to plant, or start a church a lot of people asked things like; “have you got a building?” Or “what…are you…like, building the hall?” Many times I had to resist violent urges welling up and reply graciously with a calm “no, not really.”
If you are to mention the football club Manchester United to anyone, most people would think of the athletes, clad in red, following a small sphere rolling around a field. Or boystrous fans screaming at the ‘ref’ or some other player. Or perhaps a man with a blotchy red face looking as stern and as burdened as if he has the life of tens of thousands in his hands. Very few would immediately think of Old Trafford or a football match per se. Their thinking would be directed to the people who embody the club. The ones wearing red. Or screaming. Or organising.

So it is with church. It is not a building or simply a service that you attend on a Sunday. Church can be found in the eternal plans of God. A people group. The People of God. Disciples of Jesus. The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Existing to bring the very presence and power of God into the world. Constantly pointing to the love and glory displayed at the cross and resurrection.

“But there are plenty of other churches around. Why not just join another church and help them out? Why do we need another church?”

When we were living in Belfast for a time. The leader of our church there quickly sold me the idea of church planting in a very heavily churched city in a country where nearly 1/2 the population is “churched”. I remember him saying that he wanted to do church differently. I know that sounds rather arrogant, but his point was that a lot of people’s understanding of what church is, has nothing to do with what they think they are as people or what they think they want. Or to put it another way, the church is answering questions that no-one is really asking.

The church we envisage to plant will hopefully connect with people who might not be reached by another church. Research has suggested that new churches are more effective at reaching new people with the transformative power of the gospel.
We wrestled a lot with whether or not to assimilate into another church. But we really felt called to the city, particularly the west side of the city where typically people are more deprived and their are fewer churches at work.

A lot of times during these first few months, I have worried that this has been a huge mistake and moving here has amplified the horror of my own arrogance. As if I needed to move my whole family to plant a church because God is busy elsewhere and needs me to step in and cover for Him. Time and time again, His goodness has gently reminded me of the overwhelming privilege that the reason we are doing this is precisely because God is here. In Plymouth. In the churches. Us being here is but a small part of what God is doing.
Why not join another church? Because we as a new church can move with the gospel into new areas and introduce new people to a mighty Jesus. We are here to compliment what the other churches are doing.

“You don’t even have anyone with you. What about resources, money etc.”
That’s absolutely right, I am working, we have nothing really and I feel like time is stretched too. I think that there is a misplaced expectation that church planting should be left to the ‘big’ churches with people, money and resources. These churches should not be left on their own to thrust leaflets into peoples hands, croak the gospel in to peoples lives and place sweaty palms upon people and pray. All of us, wherever we are have the opportunity and power to take more ground for the gospel! It is so exciting and there is so much joy (and risk) to be experienced in starting something new. There is though, a more sublime reason for church planting.
Ultimately what it comes down to for us is being obedient to God. To be involved in introducing people to Jesus, showing His power, to see people strengthened, maturing and  seeing every aspect of their lives eventually affected by God. That is thrilling to us! We want to gather up and run with His mandate given to ‘go and make disciples…to the ends of the earth.’
It has always been his intention to have a people for Himself. It is seen all through His great story in the Bible. He has gone to extraordinary lengths to.
He has not stopped.

When the first people took matters into their own hands.
He loved them and kept them.

When the people of Israel turned from Him again and again and again.
He went after them.

Or when Peter the disciple betrayed Him 3 times and claimed that he did not even know Him.
He did not stop.

Or even when, on the cross, His own heart did stop beating…

He will not stop establishing a people who are distinctively His, transforming the world around them, committed to each other, following Him and joyfully leaving everything else.

He gave up everything for me, and has given me everything, he will never left me go, he has no limit on what he can call me to do. That is why I am/we are so excited to be doing this with Him…

In the coming days I hope to share with you a little more detail on what we want to be doing and our story to Plymouth.

There are many great articles on why to plant churches. The best one I know of is “Why Plant Churches” by Tim Keller and can be found here: reviveaus.com.au/pdfs/Why_Plant_Churches-Keller.pdf. Most of what I have said is adapted from that paper.

Georgie Porgie Puddin’ an’ Pie

Plymouth Header

This is my first attempt at this so please be patient. I am wading into altogether dangerous and turbulent waters of the blogosphere. I am not a writer nor even a thinker. I am but a masquerading bricklayer. My fat sausage fingers will most probably mash this keyboard attempting prose. Expect grammatically errors and spelling mistakes, so I say again. Please be patient with me.
I am hoping to use this as a platform for news and information about us (for those who are interested) and sharing some thoughts on church, church Planting God and life in general.

In October we took the biggest step of faith yet. We moved! Not down the road but 3 and a half hours away to a new city where we knew no-one.
We took 2 young boys and a baby to a new city with no friends, no family and no babysitters! We took them away from all of that.
Why?

For a well paid job?
A thriving church community?
Family?

No.
The Gospel…Jesus!

We love our neighbourood  and our street; ol’ Georgie Porgie Puddin’ an’ Pie. The boys enjoy their school and their scarlet donned comrades.
Sarah is amazingly strong and outgoing befriending many of the other heroic Mums and women, rarely turning down an opportunity to meet new people.

7 months in, we have not done a great deal in some peoples eyes. We haven’t got 50 members, regular meetings, set activities or teaching agendas.
It is slow, sometimes tiring, sometimes frustrating but this is the start of the Gospel being planted here in Stoke, Plymouth.
We could have shot straight in and committed ourselves into another church community or set up a Sunday meeting and gathered a few Christians to attend but we want more than that. We want to be faithful to a calling that God has put on us.

For people in Plymouth (as in much of the UK) church is just one of many other options of “things to do,” particularly on a Sunday morning. Along with perhaps a jumble sale, watching their children play sport or even nursing a hangover.
Being a Christian is never just a way for personal fulfillment nor simply individual spiritual experience, but a dim reflection of a profound, timeless community that is found in God Himself.
It was this same relational, communal God who went to the furthest points of isolation and loneliness to bring people into His community.
In a city of nearly 300,000 people and instant communication, it is a tragedy that so many people are lonely and already busy. So no, we are not intending to gather another body of people around a common interest with activities to do that we must juggle with our other responsibilities. But rather be the body of Jesus affecting the world around us. It’s here we are privileged to allow God to work out His mission of creating a deep and vibrant community that is committed to Him and who love, share and care for each other. Supporting each other in the mundane things of life, sharing our responsibilities encouraging each other and challenging each other. We’ll embrace the mundane day-to-day frustrations, delights, tasks and interactions. Because God is interested in our lives desperate to move in the connections and commotions in our lives to the “praise of His glorious Grace.”

This is our call.

May I ask something of you?
A serious request for you to pray for us here. Please pray for God to draw people to this church plant, excited to embrace this vision of His church. And please pray for provision for us.
I would love for you to come with us on this journey. Which may mean reading this every so often or maybe even coming to Plymouth to join us! Either way, I’d love to hear from you.
(I hope to get better at this writing lark as I go. Thank you for you patience.)