Here is an excerpt from our recent newsletter (sign up by sending me an email letting me know you want in):
“Our trip to the UK in October and November last year was a huge blessing. We returned home excited, inspired, encouraged and hugely challenged by all that we saw. We were particularly blessed by our time in Loughborough with The Crowded House (TCH) family there. We love the folks at TCH. We love their passion for mission, their willingness to ask the hard questions and their love for the gospel, the church and for us.
TCH leadership have, however, been re-evaluating how external church plants best affiliate with them and how best they can operate as a network. In short they thought that it would be best for us relocate to the UK for at least 2-3 years (probably more) for a time of training, assessment, gaining of experience, belonging to the church family and building of strong relationships.
While there was much to commend this suggestion and everything was been discussed in a spirit of love and grace towards us; we do not think moving to the UK for a few years will best prepare us for church-planting in Cape Town. So, it is with sadness that we will no longer be a part of The Crowded House network.”
“As a result we have begun work on developing a vision for what our own network (cue Four31) could look like.”
“More and more it feels as if God is calling us to pioneer something new. There is great value in partnering with more established overseas networks, but we all know that contextually Africa is a very different place. So perhaps God is leading us (read kicking and screaming) to take up the experience and the wisdom of our overseas brothers and sister and forge something new and highly contextual here. Perhaps it is time to stop looking at what others are doing and to start simply asking “what would it mean to follow Jesus here?” “What would church look like here among these people in this place?”
We find ourselves in Loughborough, home to the England cricket team’s high performance centre – if ever there was something badly named this would be it. Loughborough also has the distinction of being the destination for the first ever Thomas Cook package tour… for an evangelical conference to boot! A really old town (mentioned in the Domesday Book completed in 1086), with a beautiful parish church with the rectory dating back to 1288!
What exactly is a “jitty”? Anybody?
I left something rather significant out of my last post, mainly to give myself time to pray and process it. Almost as soon as arriving in Sheffield, taking a shower, having some coffee, I thought it would be good to let people back at home know that we have arrived. When I opened I email I discovered a letter from one of our biggest supporters letting us know that they will no longer be able to support us. Their reasons were completely legit and we wholeheartedly support them in their decision.
However I do not think it is an accident that we got this mail as soon as we arrived in Sheffield, thousands of miles away from home, all set for a time of encouragement, teaching and relationship building. The timing of it struck me immediately as something both sent to teach me to trust Him and his provision, preventing me from running around like frantically trying to fix it, and a time of testing, Satan desperately trying to derail our time here by making us anxious, preoccupied and unable to effectively engage and learn during our time here. Trusting our gracious Father has allowed us to be at peace and rest in his goodness and provision for us, even though the “answer” is far from clear.
What about the trip? I was hoping to post regular updates but travelling with kids is far more hectic than I imagined. And then I discovered I had not brought the right plug for charging our camera so went dark for a few days. But I managed to get what I needed from a really sorted electrics shop in the buzzing country metropolis of Boroughbridge (that’s sarcasm if those not in the loop).
On a totally different note here are a couple of interesting things we have seen so far:
The famous crooked spire of Chesterfield, snapped from the train.
If like me you wondered what that crooked spire was all about here is what Wikipedia has to say:
“The spire is both twisted and leaning, twisting 45 degrees and leaning 9 feet 6 inches (2.90 m) from its true centre. Folklore recounts that a Bolsover blacksmith mis-shod the Devil, who leapt over the spire in pain, knocking it out of shape. In reality the leaning characteristic has been attributed to various causes, including the absence of skilled craftsmen (the Black Death having been gone only twelve years prior to the spire’s completion), the use of unseasoned timber, and insufficient cross-bracing. According to the curators of Chesterfield Museum, it is now believed that the bend began when the original wooden roof tiles were replaced by heavier slate and lead. The bend in the spire (the twist being deliberate) follows the direction of the sun and has been caused by heat expansion and a weight it was never designed for. There is also no record of a bend until after the slate change. An interesting point is that the spire is not attached to the church building but is kept on by its own weight.”
Everyone thought Rippon cathedral was beautiful… well almost everyone!
And now some images from the absolutely breath-taking Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire. Built in the 12th century and abandoned in the 16th century, this ruin is a world heritage site and certainly one of the highlights of things we have seen on this trip.
This is my second trip to visit The Crowded House in Sheffield, this time Jo and the boys are with me. We have paid hardly anything for this trip, we are really excited and more than a little bit nervous about three and a half weeks in a foreign country (make that another continent!) with two very busy under fives.
Two planes, two trains, a taxi, a whole lot of waiting, being caught in rush-hour at King’s Cross Station and very little sleep we arrived in Sheffield Tuesday afternoon.
A much needed shower, pizza for supper and a very early night followed! Discovered though that our hosts only drink decaffinated coffee… going to be a rough morning!
Went for a walk in the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Wednesday morning, it was really beautiful and the boys got to run, shout, chase each other and pretend to be bears. This northern industrial city surprises me more every day I spend here.
Wednesday evening the mini-conference that Jo will be mainly attending while I look after the kids began. They call it a house party, but that just conjures up, for me, images of Tim Chester dropping some rhymes while everyone chants “throw your hands up!” Apparently it is acceptably understood by British Christians though….
And our hosts bought us some real coffee… true gospel hospitality
Wednesday evening I did, however, get the opportunity to go to a men’s event with Gavin Peacock (former QPR, Newcastle and Chelsea footballer and TV football pundit), who spoke on Biblical Manhood. Although as you can see from the picture below he was fascinated by my explanation of the 4-3-3 system in the modern game.
“God asked Adam, ‘Where are you?’, the Second Adam stepped up to answer and take responsibility.”
“A man can cry & be afraid but a man cannot whine, complain & blame”
“The call to manhood is not a call to be macho but a call to be mature”
“What is it to be a man and not a woman? A defining question of our culture”
“We’re called to be leaders by virtue of the fact that we’re male. It isn’t a competency issue; it’s a design issue”
“Be watchful, stand firm, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love”. (1 Cor 16:13,14). God’s Word to men”
“Overcoming sin in your life isn’t an effort thing so much has a faith thing.”
This is a great little clip that the guys in Sheffield put together describing our life and vision.
We are hoping to be a part of this conference when we go over to Sheffield in June for a time of refreshing, relationship-building and talking about church-planting.
That is if our struggles with the Department of Home Affairs can be resolved in time… We would value your prayers if you could pray with us for this. Basically we need his amended birth certificate to be completed before we can get his passport before we can buy tickets before we can get visa… and we only have a month and a half left…
Having said that if you are able to get to Sheffield UK over this time this conference will be well worth it. Here is a bit of a blurb from Tim Chester’s blog
Discipleship can easily be forgotten when churches focus on mission. Or it can be reduced to a series of courses and programmes that fail to engage with every day life. The Trinitarian Life: Church and Mission in the Light of the Doctrine of God is a chance to explore the theology and practice of missional church. Together we will explore how we can root discipleship in the life of the Trinity.
How can we encourage one another to know God?
How can we make disciples who make disciples?
How can we shape church life for mission?
Whether you are a church member or in church leadership, this conference will equip you to think though discipleship in light of who God is, enabling our practice to be shaped by our theology.
Speakers: Steve Timmis and Tim Chester
Plus break out sessions lead by church planters within The Crowded House will provide opportunity to interact and discuss issues relevant to your church.
You can find more information here.
Great little video clip with 3 very different people talking about what living as a community on mission looks like for them. The mom, the entrepreneur and the student…
I met a couple of these folk when I was in Sheffield in 2009 and enjoyed a couple of meals with both Belinda and with Phil.
Two interesting “factoids”:
1. Belinda (the mom) and her husband Guy’s house is looking better than I saw it last time. I had gone round to Tim Chester’s place for what I thought was another friendly chat about church and mission and my experiences at TCH when before I knew it I down the road at Guy & Belinda’s new house, lugging wood, rubble and other junk out to the soon-overflowing skip. As Tim reminded me, everybody loves the idea of community until you actually have to live like community. Lesson learnt.
2. Phil (the entrepreneur) is an Irishman who does not like beer??? But he does have the most seriously awesome basement (?) workshop/ lab/ lair to take over the world!
As I pursue simple, missional church in Woodstock – one of the most common questions is – what do you do? Or what does that look like? Now to be honest I am not entirely sure how to answer that question. In part because I think people feel the need to box and define things neatly with programmes or titles, and as I am learning, with organic church that is not so easy to do. And in part because I am not sure “what I do.” Each week looks different, has different rhythms and priorities. Each week has space for planned and unplanned activities – and the amount for each differs from week to week.
So with all that in mind… welcome to the first of the new weekly “A Week in Woodstock” post. This weekly post each Monday (yes I am aware it is Tuesday!) is as much for my benefit as for anybody else’s. It affords me a chance to evaluate my past week, see patterns and trends and hopefully keep me honest too!
I began last week reflecting on a “failed” attempt to get the neighbours round for some coffee & cake on Sunday afternoon. “Failed” because nobody came and I had to eat all the cheesecake! But it did allow me to reflect on my functional belief in the sovereignty of God. I did get to meet some of the neighbours I had not met yet, we exchanged names and pleasantries. The couple next door who were unable to make it did bring round “a welcome to the neighbourhood” gift, and we discovered that their 2 kids are also adopted. Perhaps that is all God intended for now? Becoming a citizen of a community takes time, months, years! And a robust belief in the sovereignty of God reminds me that: “It is better to take gospel initiatives that fail than to fail to take gospel initiatives.”
Monday morning I spent some time with Gert Roberts from Kingfisher Mobilisation Centre, talking through a possible partnership with them. I have been spending time with their staff for some time now and I really like what they are trying to do. They have been encouraging missional church development for over a decade and are now in a number of countries around the world. Their vision is to work with local churches and church leaders to train and mobilize a missional movement of God’s people both locally and globally.
Tuesday morning dawned a cold and dark morning… it was also the beginning of a committment to get together and pray for Woodstock weekly. Six muffins, three people, hot coffee and great encouragement in the gospel and in our call to live Kingdom-centred lives here in Woodstock. Definitely worth getting out of a warm bed for… until next week that is.
I spent the rest of Tuesday morning wrestling with 1 Peter in preparation for my role as pastor to a Scripture Union holiday club in Wellington, outside Cape Town this July. We are also hoping to run a holiday club for kids in Woodstock during the short September holidays later this year. Let me know if you want in.
Tuesday evening was time for the pub quiz. I had no team-mates this week, so I took a deep breath, prayed a prayer and walked up to the Woodstock Lounge. It really does feel like faking it sometimes – drinking beer, having a laugh, answering some questions and calling it ministry? But I got to know some of the regulars – faces I recognised – we had some superficial chat and that was it. Surely I should be doing something more? And yet I hold on to the sovereignty of God – he is at work. My call is to be faithful and available as a citizen, friend, good neighbour in Woodstock. It is God’s fruit to pick!
Wednesday morning was spent with my friend and Intentional Encounters co-worker Colin doing some strategic thinking about the Porterbrook Network – the (UK based) theological training programme for missional leaders that we are trying to develop in South Africa. I have been tasked with establishing a centralised training centre for Porterbrook in Cape Town. Contact me if you are interested in learning more about Porterbrook or check out our website here.
Thursday morning was spent with Caleb from Woodstock Community Church, learning a whole lot about life in Woodstock. Caleb has been here for 7 years and he says people still regard him as “new”. Listening to some of his story was a great encouragement to see a community of believers living as light, trying, failing, learning, growing - all the time radiating an obvious love for Christ and his gospel. I am excited to partner with them in gospel initiatives in Woodstock.
Thursday lunchtime was time for another gathering of the Missional Leaders Network. This blog post was a useful kick-off for our discussions. As we shared ideas and stories I was encouraged to hear that some sense of missional identity and rhythms are starting to happen in Mark’s gospel community in the missional wasteland of the suburbs. I remain convinced that simple church is the simplest and most effective way to reach the sprawling areas of the Cape Flats and the townships surrounding Cape Town. But while that idea has remained a theory in my head I was over-joyed to hear how Phumezo is busy working it out in Khayelitsha, with seeming great success. One of their gospel communities have even begun frequenting the local shebeen!
Saturday Evening was a time of great blessing for us, as had about 20 supporters and friends of our ministry around for dinner. Colin shared something of the vision and strategy for Intentional Encounters, followed by a time of Q ‘n A. It was a great time of real encouragement and blessing to Jo and I. I love that we have a team around us who “get it”! As one person said to me as she was leaving, “I fully support what you are doing. I am happy where I am but what you are doing is so necessary!” And then proceeded to list a number of people they know who though they would never connect with traditional church structures, would probably connect with what Intentional Encounters/ The Crowded House is all about.
Sunday was cold, rainy and time for a well deserved Sabbath. Read Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love”, played with my boys, ate take-aways and watched some episodes of “The Mentalist” before calling it a night.