Posts tagged ‘Church Planting’

February 10, 2014

Thrill of a Lifetime

Roller Coaster

I remember the first time I went on a roller coaster.  It was at a theme park in Western Sydney back in the late 1980’s.  It was fast, scary and thrilling and when it came to an end I just wanted to do it again.  The one thing that sticks in my mind the most is that first hill. You slowly clack up the steep climb and seem to hang for an eternity at the top until whoosh you’re accelerating down the drop.  Your stomach is still somewhere at the top of the coaster. The rest of the ride is good too no other part of the ride can compare with that first hill.

This time next week Catherine and I are launching a new church.  We feel like we are on the crest of that first hill.  We are about to go over.  Between the two of us we have contrasting emotions.  I have my hands in the air and a big grin on my face.  Catherine is not grinning and her hands are gripping the bar very tightly.  But regardless of how we feel about February 16 there’s no stopping this ride.

What is certain is that there are many twists and turns to come, we can’t see them now but it will be an exhilarating ride.  We can’t wait.

As far as we can tell we are well placed to spend our first year growing and developing as a healthy church.  We have prepared the path to  launch by holding three monthly services, which have let some people come across us and work out that they want to be involved.  I don’t think that this would have happened if we had gone straight into weekly services.

So we can count on a core of people who will attend on the 16th and likely be there the week after as well.  We can even put a number of them on various rosters and rely on them to do various roles around the place.  This makes things a whole lot easier, especially granted that we have arrived in this town not knowing anyone, and with no “core team” working under us.

Most of all we have the deepest of convictions that we were put on the planet to do this work.  The sense of God’s calling is so strong that we would walk over broken glass to make it work.  There is no turning back for us.

In ancient times and in the Middle Ages if an invading army arrived by sea the generals would sometimes make a statement to their soldiers to burn the boats after they had landed.  It made the point in a dramatic way that there was no going back.  That they’d better win their battles, because retreat was not an option.  I can’t think of anything I could do to symbolically burn the boats, but mentally I feel that we have done that.  In my mind NorthernLightsChurch and the ministries that will flow from it will be our life’s work.  There is no going back.  If it’s tough then we press on and persevere.  It was tough for the apostles, for Paul and for many of the early Christians.  They persevered, and they prevailed.

We won’t face the obstacles that our spiritual ancestors faced in the first century but we carry the same message, and we will persevere in spreading it, just like they did.

So in just 7 days we launch.  By God’s grace we will hold thousands of services over the years that come, but only ever one launch.  If you are in Halifax don’t miss it!

John and Catherine xoxo

January 12, 2014

No Room at the Inn

untitled
NLC has experienced a massive breakthrough this week. Since arriving in Halifax, West Yorkshire, UK just 5 months ago finding a venue in which to hold services has been challenging. Our needs as a church have been monthly up until now but after February 16 we go to weekly services. We have had no idea where they were going to be held. Venues that have sufficed for the monthly services have other commitments already booked in and are just not available week to week. On 29 August John and I wrote a list of 13 things we wanted in a venue. They were:
 * Monday to Sunday Access
* Chairs
* Sound System
* Extra Room for Kids Ministry
* Toilets
* Stage
* Car Park
* Street Access and Visibility
* Regular booking – no exceptions
* Good Price
* Kitchen Area
* Atmosphere
* Projector
On November 29th I attended a prophetic night at New Beginnings Christian Centre which has itself received an amazing breakthrough for a venue and the main speaker said that God ‘had made room for them’ in Halifax. This phrase caught my attention and I felt the same was going to be true for Northern Lights Church. I came home and John and I prayed/declared together that ‘God would make room for us’ in Halifax just as He did for the birth of the Lord Jesus.
Just this week a Local Charity phoned us. Their building is another part of a building we have hired twice for monthly services. They were wondering if we would be interested in hiring their venue every week for our church. John met with them and it is a perfect fit for NLC. Of the 13 things we prayed for their facility fulfils 12 of them. The only thing they were unable to provide off the list was a projector but New Beginnings Christian Centre had already lent us one a number of weeks prior. We have been very grateful for the support and generosity that Pastor Stephen Greening of NBCC has been to Northern Lights Church.
Northern Lights Church thanks God for his provision of a venue. We thank Him and give Him all the Glory for ‘making room for us in Halifax’.
Over and Out,
Catherine xoxox
December 20, 2013

Second Service!

501px-Berchem,_Nicolaes_Pietersz__-_Paul_and_Barnabas_at_Lystra_-_1650“God sends to gather and he gathers to send.” Gerard Kelly

This month Northern Lights Church held its second “monthly service” in the lead up to our launch on February 16 next year.  It was a great time with lots of new people.  We get people to fill in a “welcome card” to give us there details, and on it we ask for people’s first impressions of the church.  The word that appears most often in that section is the word “friendly”.  I am so pleased about that – because we are building a community of people who love God and share in life with each other.  Our name comes from our location in the north of England, but also from 1 John 1:7 which says, “But if we live in the light, as God does, we share in life with each other.”  If we are sharing in life with each other then we will create a friendly atmosphere.  It won’t have to be forced or demanded, it will just naturally flow.  That’s already starting to happen, and it is fantastic to see and feel.

What God is doing at our church is gathering a congregation together.  We will reach out to our community and share the love of God with them.  God will call people to himself and build the church.  This is happening because God has sent Catherine and I out from Australia to do the work that he has called us to.

This is God’s pattern.  He sends to gather and he gathers to send.  I like the verse in Ecclesiastes where Solomon says there is a time for everything, for gathering and scattering.  In the early church they gathered in Jerusalem.  Then they were sent out because of persecution.  They gathered in Antioch and built a great church.  Then they sent Paul and Barnabas out on a missions trip as the Holy Spirit directed.  The process goes on and on throughout church history – God gathers to send and then sends to gather.

God has given me a picture of this church as being like a bowl tipped slightly on its side.  A tap is feeding a stream of water into the bowl.  The bowl is overflowing and a stream of water is spilling over the side and leaving the bowl.  That’s how I want the church to be – a bowl with a stream flowing in and a stream flowing out.  The stream flowing in represents new people who are finding faith in Jesus.  The stream flowing out represents people who we are able to send out to spread the word further and start new works, new churches, and do great things for God wherever they go.

My focus is not on the size of the bowl, it is on the size of the streams.  May God give us a continual stream of people finding out about Jesus for the first time.  And may he give us the grace to train and develop them as disciples so that they can accomplish great things when they are sent out, as the Holy Spirit leads.

If you want to pray for the work that God is doing here in Halifax then pray that people would hear and respond to Jesus, and commit their lives to him.  And then pray that God would help us train the leaders that we need to send out to further his kingdom.  Because that’s really all that we are trying to do.  I expect that it will take us the rest of our lives to do it!  What a wonderful calling – I am loving it.

John

P.S. The picture is Paul and Barnabas preaching on their travels in Lystra (Nicolae Berchem, 1650)

November 19, 2013

Kick off for Northern Lights Church!

Blog logo bit bigger

We have started!!  What a thrill it was to hold the first ever church service for Northern Lights Church on Sunday morning just gone.

We had 23 people present, and there was a great atmosphere.

What was the most encouraging to me was when we had a time in the middle of the service for people to say hi to one another, so they did.  That doesn’t sound too remarkable, but seeing it happen it occurred to me that all these people had a connection to us, but they really didn’t know each other.  But as they spent those few minutes saying hello I realised, “this is the start of a new community.”  That’s central to our whole vision, even to our church name.  The bible says, “If we are in the light, as he is in the light, then we share in life together.”  Those few moments were the very start of that happening.  Still more encouraging was that half an hour after the service had ended almost no one had left.  People were still talking and enjoying each other’s company.  And enjoying their cup of tea, of course.

The people who came had a mixed background, some Catholic, some with no real church history to speak of.  But what was very encouraging was that I think only 4 of them apart from our selves were in church last week.  So that’s plenty of people who were not connected with any local church that are open to making Northern Lights Church their home.  Not all will, but some will, so that is great.

In the Purpose Driven Church Rick Warren makes the point that the modern trend of starting a church plant with a team of 30 odd means that the leader can get too busy looking after the needs of those 30 people, so they focus less on the community they are trying to reach out to.  Rick started with himself and his wife, so there was no other option.

Having now had our first service I can see what he is saying.  We do have a team to some extent in that we have borrowed 4 people from other churches – a keyboardist / worship leader and his friend, and a young couple who helped with numerous smaller jobs.  They were all fabulous.  We had so many people attend who had made a connection with us at some point over the last 3 months that we have been living here in Halifax.  In fact there was no one present who had not!

For the next service we will definitely do a better job of letting the community at large know about our meeting, and we will start to get more people attending who don’t have that connection with us.  When that is combined with those who do have that connection then we will be well placed.

I cannot express strongly enough that Catherine and I are so committed to this church.  We are in this for the long haul and by God’s grace we will build a church that will stand the test of time.  The Halifax Minster, the oldest church in town has been holding services on the same location for over 900 years.  My dream is that in a further 900 years the Minster will be celebrating its 1,800 year anniversary while Northern Lights Church celebrates 900 years of its own.  I love one of the prophetic words that we have been given which was that what we will build will be “like an oak tree, and an oak tree is something that stands for generations.”  I believe that, and I look forward to our second monthly service which will be on December 15.  I can’t believe that I have to wait 27 days to go again – I wish it was tomorrow!

John

November 10, 2013

Countdown to the First Service

Bigger NLC FLYER

We are exactly one week away from our first service at Northern Lights Church.

The venue has been booked. The flyers have been designed. The website has gone live. The Halifax Courier is coming this week to do a story on us. The 10,000 flyers have been printed and will be delivered to 10,000 homes reaching possibly 25,000 people this week. The Sermon is being written, prayers have and will be prayed, fasting will probably occur and the launch team will be briefed and released.

There is only one thing that we really care about when it comes to this first service – that God comes! If we are without His presence then we have nothing. We would be like a McDonalds without hamburgers. A KFC without chicken. A pub without beer. God loves the church – it’s his chosen vehicle to move around in. The Church needs lots of different things to grow and be successful but it only needs to lack the presence of God to become a clubhouse of well meaning. We are desperate for the real deal. The holy and tangible presence of God. What does that mean? Isn’t God meant to be everywhere all the time? Yes he is. To be blunt when you are on the toilet he is there with you. The difference is that he doesn’t reveal his presence to you in that moment.

God is with us always but He doesn’t always reveal His presence to us so we must be ruthless in going after him with a hunger that will not be satisfied with anything less than the real deal.

An Open Letter to God

Dearest God,

We invite you to come to not only our first service on November 17th, 2013 but to every service, every meeting, every retreat, every home group, every baptism every kids group and every conference that Northern Lights Church ever holds or opens its doors to. We acknowledge that this is your house and we are your people. We promise to make you welcome and to let you interrupt any and all of our plans. We want you to be free to move upon the hearts and minds of all present and change the lives of anyone including us. We acknowledge that without you we are nothing.

Will you please come God?

An Open Letter to Halifax, West Yorkshire

Halifax, we have fallen in love with your stone buildings and lush green trees. We love that mail comes on a Saturday and that you don’t have mosquitoes. We love your radiator heating and the awesomeness of your insulation. Most of all we love your people. We have been inspired, encouraged and enriched by every person that has come into our home for a meal or a cup of tea. We love the people that employment has bought into our lives and we love our neighbours who don’t have a choice. We love the friends from school that our daughter has made and we love the people that we have met from Churches all across Halifax. You are all doing an amazing job for the Kingdom of God. In return Halifax, we have give you our big Australian hearts and lives. We put it all on the line and hold nothing back from you.

Finally an invitation for you to become a part of the Northern Lights Family.  If you are not already part of a church family then we invite you to come to Northern Lights Church on November 17, 10:30am at the Southwood Club on Birdcage Lane. Come and hear what God has done for you and respond to Him. It will change your life. We expect God to do great things in every service. Don’t miss out. See you then.

Cheers,

John and Catherine

September 26, 2013

Attracting People, Keeping People

gestureAs a church planter I’m very interested in getting people to come to church. Every pastor is interested in getting people to come to church. But many of them have an existing congregation and can simply rely on a steady stream of new people who have connections with existing congregation members. They possibly don’t have to do anything deliberate in this area at all. In contrast, Catherine and I have no congregation at all (except for our daughter!) So we are 100% reliant on attracting new people. So how do you go about that?

In my experience of church life one thing that rings true is whatever you do to attract people is what you will have to do to keep them. So if we attract people by having the world’s loudest rock band, or the world’s greatest dance troupe, or the world’s greatest singer (and yes, that would attract people) then to keep them we will have to keep putting on those kind of shows. What you end up with is people who like the band / dancers / singer but are not the least bit interested in the Christian message. You have attracted people, but not the kind of people that care at all about what you have to say. We have both seen churches do this, and it is painful to see them then assess, why is no one responding? They don’t respond because they were never remotely interested. They succeeded in attracting non-Christian people, but not non-Christians who were open to the gospel.

I learnt this lesson from Tim Hawkins who trained me in youth ministry. Tim oversaw a youth ministry of 300 high schoolers – one of the biggest in Australia. Every Friday night the 300 kids would attend various groups according to their age. They would play games, have fun, enjoy each other’s company, hear a little bit from the bible and go home. The games were front and centre. If you liked the games you would like the youth group. The problem was not many of those kids cared about the bible bit at the end. So the whole approach was changed. The decision was made to put the bible message front and centre. If you didn’t care for what the bible said then you would not enjoy the youth group. A year or two later Tim was in charge of a youth group of 150 kids who loved God and wanted to hear from his word. It’s not easy to take one of the nations biggest youth groups and halve it. That requires quite some courage. To say in the midst of the decline, “No, this new strategy is right, we are sticking to it” was very bold. However after a few more years again the commitment that those kids had to the gospel meant that they brought their friends, and it was back to 300. However this time it was 300 disciples, not just 300 kids who liked youth group games. Of course making disciples is what it’s all about.

So Catherine and I are working out exactly what advertising we will do to attract people. But you can be sure that we will be putting the gospel front and centre. Not in “Christianese” that unchurched people can’t understand, of course. But we will be making it clear that we have a message that will turn your life around if you will pay the price.

What we need to do is attract people who are open to spiritual things, who are looking for new direction in life, and who are not put off by the thought that a church is a place that might have answers.

We would much rather 20 interested people than 120 uninterested people. Because from 20 interested people you are going to get many people committing their lives to Christ. You will get the start of a great church, a church full of people who love God and want to grow in Him.

The other argument is that if you attract 120 people then it could well be that some of them will happen to respond even though they began to attend because there were things on that have nothing to do with the church’s message. But here’s my view after seeing a number of churches do this over the years – it just doesn’t work. It’s a failing strategy, and yet it remains very popular. It is a huge amount of time and energy for a minuscule reward.

Jesus, meanwhile, simply went to synagogues or wherever people assembled and preached. People were taken by his message. His healings and miracles were the “show”, not a musical performance. Changing the lives of the people who do attend is going to do more to grow the church than anything else.

John

September 19, 2013

The Trip to Wetherby

wetherby

Catherine and I continue to have a strong sense that God has and is going before us here in England. This post is about one of many things that has happened to give us that impression.

We have been making use of Ebay to buy some of the furniture that we need.  Catherine bid on and won some bedside tables, which we then had to pick up.  The seller lived in a town called Wetherby which is a full hour or so from where we are. We possibly ended up spending more on petrol getting to and from Wetherby than we did on the tables themselves, but anyway, we got some bedside tables which are doing a fine job.

We headed out to Wetherby on a Sunday afternoon – the church we had visited that morning was kind of on the way.  All morning I was thinking why on earth did Catherine buy some furniture so far from home?  Why are we going all this way for just a couple of bedside tables that could surely have been gotten fairly cheaply closer to home?  Anyway, it was an interesting drive (perhaps not for our 6 year old little girl, but we enjoyed it). When we arrived in Wetherby we were struck.  It was a sunny afternoon in summer, and the place was just gorgeous.  The bridge over the river was first built in the 1200’s.  There were flower boxes everywhere in full bloom, there was a lovely relaxed feeling and the whole scene was stunning.  It’s not a big town – the population is just over 10,000 – and this is a part of the world where there is a substantial size town every 10 minutes in almost every direction.

I was thinking, wow I know we’ve been called to Halifax but wouldn’t it be great to be here?  Catherine was thinking the same thing.  In fact she was even thinking that we should be planting a church in Wetherby.

Now allow me to give some background. Part of what we want to do through the church that we will plant is plant more churches in Yorkshire.  We have a list of 6 more towns that we feel God wants us to go to eventually.  Right now we are yet to plant any church, so it might be getting a bit ahead of ourselves by planning where all our daughter churches are going to be.  However we want to dream big, and make no apology for having bold plans.

So sure enough just the day after we get home from the trip to Wetherby I find some of our church planning documents and I glance over the list of six towns and there is Wetherby.  I couldn’t believe it.  There would be at least 30 places in West Yorkshire more obvious than Wetherby, but there it was on our list.  And we were completely ignorant of the fact when we were visiting.

There’s a lot of water to flow under the bridge before we plant a church in Halifax, and then years more until we plant in Wetherby, but when things like this happen we feel so encouraged that God is with us and will empower us to do what he has called us to.

John

August 25, 2013

Feeling God’s Pleasure

ukHere are three early impressions of life in the UK…

Firstly, it’s the same as Australia.  I think that I had asked so many people about the differences between the two countries that I was expecting it to be radically different. Since being in England what I have noticed is that so much is the same.  People are more or less the same, life is more or less the same.  I was thinking so much about what the differences would be I really forgot to consider what the similarities would be.  The differences between England and Australia are more at the margins than I thought they would be.

Secondly, I love living in a town the size of Halifax.  Halifax has 100,000 odd people living here.  For my Aussie readers that puts it in the same league as Ballarat, Bendigo or Albury / Wodonga.  I remember going to Ballarat for work once, and walking around the place thinking how much I would love to live in a town of this size but I wrote Ballarat off because (of all things) it is so cold there!  God is showing his sense of humour in sending me to the north of England.  Here there are plenty of people who would give their right arm for a winter as mild as what the people of Ballarat enjoy.  But being free of the congestion and intensity of life in a city of 4 million is something that I am loving.  Some of you could think of nothing worse than doing that.  Some of you might be pining to leave Melbourne, Sydney, or wherever and go to New York or some mega city.  But for me the move to a town that has all the services but not the congestion has gone down a treat.  Now I’m sure that Ballarat, Bendigo etc have their charms, but Halifax – wow. It has green, hills, history, beauty and character on a scale that Australian country towns could never hope to have.  I’m so lucky to have been called to this place.

Thirdly, and most importantly, God has gone ahead of us.  I feel that God is delighted that we have come here because of his call.  My sense is that God can’t quite believe that we’ve done it – that he would put such a big challenge in front of us and that we would embrace it.  It says in 2 Chr 16:9 that, “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”  Right now I have the sense that God sees Catherine and I and says, “Wow – I’ve got a couple here!!”  I feel that he and his angels are going before us and opening doors so that we will build a church that will love God and be used by Him.  I hope that this doesn’t come across as arrogant or proud.  I simply have a sense that that is what God is thinking.  It’s a bit like the Christian track runner Eric Liddell who said, “…when I run I feel His pleasure.”  Right now I feel God’s pleasure.  God made Eric Liddell to run fast.  God made me to plant this church.  That’s what he has called me to do and I feel his pleasure as I get ready to do it.

John

July 17, 2013

Leaving Australia

ozIn just under 2 weeks the Warren family will board a one way flight to the UK.  In recent weeks we have been consumed by the task of cleaning out the house and packing the things that we are taking with us.  The amount of stuff that a 3 bedroom townhouse can hold is simply staggering.

We have also just finished a sort of east coast farewell tour, having just spent time in Brisbane and Sydney.

Life right now is whirl of strong emotions.  It’s quite the roller coaster.  Here are some scriptures that I am conscious of at the moment, some thoughts that are keeping me grounded:

and I (Jesus) assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.” Luke 18:29-30

When I stop to think about it we are making a significant sacrifice.  On numerous levels we are launching into the unknown.  Being a lawyer in Melbourne Australia is a pretty good life.  From an external point of view it offers you a great lifestyle.  One of the most “liveable” cities in the world, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, at the most peaceful and prosperous time in history.  That is pretty hard to improve on. Of course on top of that there is friends and family.  But of course one day Melbourne will be dust.  If I truly believe the bible, if I truly believe that the eternal is more important than anything else then the only thing that I should trying to accumulate is treasure in heaven.  Because this earth will pass away.  The verse I have quoted above makes clear that God rewards those who make a sacrifice for him.  He sees what we are doing and he rewards those who sacrifice for the kingdom.  Right now, that is a huge comfort.

Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations…” Matthew 28:19

Jesus last command is our first priority.  When we have out first baptism service at Northern Lights Church in Halifax I will be in a mood to party.  What a sensational occasion that will be – having travelled all that way in obedience to the Great Commission we will get to baptise someone.  I cannot wait for that day.

Sell your possessions and give to the poor.  Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail…” Luke 12:33

The more I read the bible the more it becomes so obvious that Jesus simply does not care about wealth. When I do the sums I sometimes think about the implications of leaving our jobs here in Melbourne, but this verse reminds me that Jesus simply doesn’t care.  He wants our hearts.  The things of this world will all pass away.  He tells us to seek first the kingdom and not to worry about the things that the rest of the planet is obsessed with.  So this verse, one of the most stark about possessions in the bible, is helping me focus 100% on the kingdom.

In 13 days we will be at Melbourne airport.  Bring it on!

John

 

 

May 8, 2013

Splash! The Baptism Question…

baptismI wonder if you have ever read a bit of the bible, particularly the book of Acts, and noticed that the early church did something very differently to how we do it now?

One of the things that stands out to me is how the early church did baptism.  As a church planter I have to work out how we are going to do baptism.  There are centuries of varying Christian traditions and teachings on this subject – and there is plenty of contention in that history as well.

What stands out to me about baptism in the early church is the incredibly short time between someone committing their life to Christ and them being baptised in water.  I took a closer look this week and discovered the following:

There are 9 instances in Acts of people being baptised in water.  I don’t mean that there were 9 individuals who were baptised, I mean that there were 9 different occasions where someone or some group was baptised.  Of those, 5 of them were definitely baptised on the same day as the people first came to Christ.  They are the 3,000 who believed at Pentecost – Acts 2, the Ethiopian eunuch – Acts 8, the friends and family of Cornelius – Acts 10, the Philippian jailer and his family – Acts 16 and the Ephesian disciples – Acts 19.

Three of the nine were possibly baptised on the same day that they first believed, or possibly later – we can’t know because the texts don’t give us that information.  They are the Samaritans who heard Philip – Acts 8, Lydia and her family in Philippi – Acts 11, and the Corinthian converts – Acts 18.

That leaves one more, which is the curious case of Paul, or Saul as he then was.  I guess that you possibly could say that he was not baptised the same day as he first believed but it is a bit of a hard one to categorise.  He was blinded by God on the road to Damascus, taken into the city where he stayed for 3 days, still blind.  He was then visited by Ananias who prayed for him, restored his sight and he was then baptised.

So with Saul it is not clear to me if he first believed when he was prayed for by Ananias, or 3 days earlier when he encountered Jesus on the road.  So that one is not easy to categorise.  But overall we can conclude that there was a very short time between believing in Jesus and being water baptised throughout the book of Acts.

Which is a substantial contrast to my experience of church life.  I spent 9 years in the Anglican Church and then 17 years in a variety of Pentecostal churches.  In the Anglican Church water baptism was generally not on the agenda much because it was assumed that people were baptised as infants.  If someone older came to Christ then I don’t think that enquiries were even made as if they had been baptised or not.  In my various Pentecostal churches baptisms were done every couple of months, and anyone new to Christ would be encouraged to be baptised in the next group.

Across church history we find that what was done in Acts is very much the exception, not the rule.  Within 100 years or so baptism was delayed until you had done a course, and after a few more centuries the course went for years!  You were not allowed to take communion until you had completed years of study.

So as a church planter I have to decide what we will do.  Plenty of Pentecostals are so enamoured with Acts that they would readily dismiss a great deal of historic church practice.  I don’t want to be so proud to think that the Catholic Church and the accrued wisdom of many Christian leaders cannot teach me.  However I think that on this issue same day baptism has a lot going for it.  Or at least very close to same day baptism.

I’d love to hear from some of you as to when you got baptised, and if it was memorable.  Leave a comment!

John

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