Messy Church

If I could go back I would do just about everything differently! I am ashamed to admit how many mistakes I made in those early years of our church. Shame sometimes consumes me when I realise how me people I hurt simply because I was an immature and insecure leader. It breaks my hurt that I am the cause of some people's church hurts story. If I could go back I would take better care of your hearts, I am so sorry. Why did God even allow me to minister when I was clearly not grown up enough? With all my heart I only meant good, I only wanted to build a beautiful church and help many find and know Jesus. How did I go from such good intentions to such a mess? My only hope is Romans 8:28 "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."  I pray that prayer for those who I have hurt and for myself too. Here is another extract from The Tale of a Church Planter to recount the first bit of mess in our church.
It was 2am and we were still sitting in our living room chatting with the two young men that might well have been our future sons-in-law.  Perhaps that was looking too far ahead, but as a mother, I was always on the lookout for potential husbands for my girls.  Very ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I know, but unless you are a mother with young ladies at home, you will never understand the insane drive within a mother to find a suitable match for her girls.

Lorah-Kelly, Jordan, Eric and I sat with the boys and were glad that we had finally met some Christians that seemed to be mature in their faith.  Up until this point, we had struggled along with raising the lost and the baby Christians that were born in our church.  Determined not to build a church on transfer growth, we pushed forward with what and whom we had.  It was a relief though, to think that perhaps God was sending some labourers to us, to help us with our work.

We began spending more and more time with these two young boys and were quite sure that they were sent as helpers to help us stir up our young teenage believers.   Very quickly we began to bond and it wasn’t long before they started bringing their friends and family to church.  We were thrilled, not only were they mature Christians but they were also bringers.

At the same time we started relying heavily on another family that joined us as soon as the church was launched. They too had been Christians for some time and they were also bringing their friends and family to church.  We were growing steadily and everything looked great.  For the sake of privacy we will change everyone’s names in this chapter, let’s call the two young boys Matt and Sam and the family the Smiths.

We also discovered that Matt and Sam, along with their friends and family, were well acquainted with the Smiths too.  It all seemed good, everyone knew everyone and they were all getting along very well.  Everything seemed fine and dandy, people were getting saved almost every Sunday and church was growing steadily each week.  We trusted Matt and Sam with our daughters and allowed them to go out together to socialise.  Great friendships were forming and there was nothing to be concerned about, or so we thought.

It wasn’t long before we allowed the Smiths to host a connect group and to lead in our church.  They truly were a wonderful family and they had been with us from the beginning, so it made sense to allow them to grow into a leadership role.

Matt and Sam started meeting up with our young Christians for Bible study so that they could help them find their way.  We didn’t offer the sort of ‘thing’ they were doing ‘officially’ in our church but we figured that there would be no harm in a bunch of young people getting together to study the Bible and pray for each other.  It was quite nice actually; it took the pressure off of us to keep finding new and creative ways to ‘feed’ our young people.

After some time we noticed that the young Christians were not doing so well.  We could not put a finger on it but the fruit simply didn’t seem good.  A few weeks later, we started to feel concerned - we were alerted to the fact that the Smith’s were hosting a Bible study in their home for all our young teenage Christians.  Again, probably not something that should raise an alarm, but we were concerned because it was being led by Matt and Sam’s father.  Their father was not a member of our church and had openly come against Eric and I as leaders, as well as against the pastor who had released us to plant our church.

We called the Smith’s in for a meeting and lovingly explained our concerns and that as leaders in our church; they really shouldn’t start things up without at least chatting to us about it first.  The content of the Bible studies were discussed which raised further concerns as it turned out that they were being taught exclusively about the end times and the Book of Revelation - not a subject that we would jump into with new Christians.

The Smith’s received what we had to say very well and agreed with our concerns.  According to their own free will they stopped the Bible study at their home as they realised that it was doing more damage than good.  This of course infuriated Matt and Sam’s father as he could not understand why they felt that they had to do this.  He continued to visit the Smith’s home almost daily to try and ‘teach’ them about the Bible and the error of their ways with regards to rejecting his Bible study.  He also made it very clear that Eric and I were not fit to lead a church.  A few weeks passed and we discovered that the new Christians were confused about many things.  They came to us with questions but sadly some of them went back to Matt and Sam’s father for guidance.

It wasn’t long before Matt and Sam became upset with our rejection of their father.   After many long debates in person and very long emails with them, they left our church.  They stayed in touch with our daughters and most of the teenagers and then began stirring the teenagers up against us.  Soon the teenagers started leaving our church too.  Many of them were totally confused and had lost the way of their simple faith.  They had too many unanswered questions.  Questions that really didn’t need answers but the teaching they received blinded them to the simple love of Jesus and opened up a theological can of worms – something they were not ready to deal with.

Eric and I were grieved.

Months later, the Smiths, and all their immediate and distant family, and their friends, left our church too.  They too became confused and found it difficult to find their way forward in our church.  A chain reaction had started and anyone linked to the chain ended up leaving.  We went from what we thought was a thriving, flourishing church to a struggling church with few left in attendance.  We had lost at least sixty percent of our congregation. Sadly, most of them didn’t even go on to join another church, they simply went back to worldly things.

During this season, we took a great deal of counsel from our pastor.  He very wisely advised us of every step we should take and we followed his advice to the letter.  In fact, in one meeting Eric actually wrote down every word he said and regurgitated it word for work to a couple that we were told to discipline.

Our mother church encouraged us every step of the way and gave us all the support they could, which is why it was a real shock when they too cut ties with us.  Three weeks notice was all we were given to set up a new church and take over all the bills.  If ever we felt totally confused and alone it was during the November of 2009.   It was the end of a very difficult year, we had worked hard, seen many saved but lost too many people when the ‘wolf’ attacked.  We were still wounded and recovering from this horrible process when the bomb of abandonment hit us.  Our mother church was not happy with our numbers.  In a nutshell, we had not grown sufficiently and were not producing enough income to sustain us.  They wanted to pull the plug on the church.

Shocked and horrified, we considered the way forward.  We were given a choice, either we closed the church down completely or we went back to being a connect group and found a way to transport everyone to our mother church each Sunday.  The third option was to continue on our own.  Our pastor said he would release us with his blessing and no hard feelings.

The first of many storms had hit. We felt abandoned and bewildered. When considering the faces of some of our congregation and their stories and how much they loved church, we decided not to close the church but to continue on our own. Realistically we could not transport everyone to the main church each Sunday, so one way or another we had to continue. And so D7 Church was born - the same church just a new brand and completely independent leaders who had to make it on their own.


The Tale of a Church Planter

King's Church was official born on 7th September 2008 under the watchful eye of our senior pastors. Leading a church was interesting. Mostly good at first, in fact I very clearly remember waking up each morning feeling on top of the world, wondering how life had become so good. Yes there were challenges but the joys of leading and building a church far outweighed the difficult spots. Eric and I were blissfully happy and so were our children. Everyone was flourishing and thriving. Our church was growing steadily, young people were growing in their faith and our lovely street people were getting to know Jesus too. Church didn't hurt - it was just as church should be, or so I thought. Looking back on those days now as I recount our story to you leaves me with a smile on my face. There really were a few years where things were truly great. You can read our full story in detail in my book, The Tale of a Church Planter. Here is a little extract with one of our many rewarding stories:
“He made it!” That was the remark I made to Eric when I read Ewen’s very first blog post. His post was rich with love for Jesus and gratitude for what He had done in his life. My heart swelled with pride. Ewen was turning eighteen and I felt as much pride for him as I did for my own children.

I first met Ewen when he was fifteen years old in 2008. He dropped in to see what was happening at our Friday night youth group when we were meeting in the community centre. Clearly he was a trouble maker. That night, I also noticed a display of deep cuts all over his arms. The image is still vividly imprinted in my mind as I knew that those bleeding wounds on his arms represented the state of his heart.

Many teenagers came to us with heart wrenching stories full of hurt and confusion. The first time I met Ewen, his manner and body language made a clear statement that he was not to be messed with. His foul language and rough exterior combined with the cigarettes, drugs and alcohol defined him. Worst of all I could see that he really believed that this was his true self. After a few incidents at youth I began to dread his return, it was clear he was there to make trouble and assert himself as a ruffian.

The first time I caught a glimmer of hope was when I ran a session on identity and Ewen surprisingly participated. I spoke of the confusion that I saw the young people dealing with and delved into the fact that they didn't really know who they were. As I spoke I saw Ewen's eyes well up. He nodded continuously as I described what I saw in the lives of young people and then he spoke of his inner turmoil. I had to hold back my tears. Behind his rough exterior was a heart of gold suppressed by anger and confusion.

That day changed my life, I began to pray for him and begged God for his salvation. It seemed impossible that someone so rough would soften enough to allow God in but when I prayed I placed the picture of his teary eyes in the forefront of my mind. On the 21st September 2008 God answered my prayer. It was our very first church service and Ewen was our very first salvation, our precious first fruit. Even now as I remember that special day I am overwhelmed by God's goodness and mercy.

Since then God has done amazing things in Ewen's life, too much to begin to write here. At school the teachers wrote him off. Almost daily he was in some sort of trouble and his grades were so bad that they didn't expect him to finish school. It wasn't long before the teachers were gobsmacked by the change in Ewen and more than that they were shocked by his improved grades. I guess you could imagine their reaction when he announced his plans to go to university! What the teachers had written off, God had declared a ‘future and a hope ’ to. Ewen has since achieved the grades he needed to get into the school he wanted. No teachers’ words define him now. The word of God is the ‘light to his path ’. Ewen knows who he is and that he is called to do significant damage to the darkness that nearly killed him. His testimony is powerful and his influence in this nation will be too.

Yes, God did change Ewen's life, but more than that, Ewen has changed mine. I love him as my own son and am a very proud mama. To add a cherry to the top of the cake, Ewen wrote the most beautiful song on our debut album which I had the honour of singing with Lorah-Kelly. It’s a powerful song written by a truly grateful heart.

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
- Galatians 6:9

But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:13

That day, his eighteenth birthday, was one of those special days, the day where I reaped a rich reward. I confess I did grow weary; perhaps I did lose heart a bit too. There were many sleepless nights praying Ewen through rough patches during college. At times I wanted to give up but I couldn’t, there was always that ‘what if?’ What if he was only one day away from victory? What if he really needed our love and support for just a little longer to make it? What if something really bad happened to him because we lost heart? What if he was intended to be the prime minister of England and we let him slip away? The ‘what ifs’ lined up and suddenly the small sacrifice of prayer didn’t seem such a big deal after all. So we prayed, we loved him and every now and then we had a few awkward chats too.

The reward for me that day was to see him celebrate his eighteenth birthday knowing deep down inside of my heart that he had made it. He is safe. He pulled through the dark times and I am utterly convinced that he is going to be all that God wants him to be! I don’t think the verses about growing weary meant that we should not grow weary. Growing weary will happen. If we are working hard, there is no escaping weariness. No, for me, the not growing weary is of ‘doing good’. You will get tired but don’t stop. Don’t stop doing good even though you are tired. Keep doing good despite the weariness.

This is one of many amazing stories that made our life rich and full, we were happy and were seeing other people find joy and freedom too and it was great! Little did we know that sadly, this wasn't to be our real life, only a short season before a long season of storms.


The Flood and a Church Plant

Church was awesome! Our children were happy and loved it. Lorah got baptised. Daniel was born. We started leading a home group, which was awesome and meant less travelling too. One day, out of the blue, Lorah asked I we could lead a youth group like I did in South Africa. When she was little a did a lot of children and youth work and even though she was young it obviously had an impact on her. I immediately responded yes. It made sense to me and if it helped her make friends at school then why not.

The Flood was born! It was a structured youth group that we help on Friday night's at our home. It started with just four girls and then they requested that the boys come along.  Gulp! I was a bit nervous to add boys to the mix but agreed and the following Friday we had twelve children (one of them named Samuel Beard.... who is now our son-in-law, but that's a whole other story). From there it grew and grew until we were averaging 25 children a week in our apartment. We enjoyed cooking and eating a meal together, some open question time, games, some sort of Bible teaching and of course music as many of the children played an instrument or sang. It was amazing, we love The Flood. It wasn't long before we outgrew our home and annoyed the neighbours too much so we moved our little youth group to a local community center and continued to grow to fifty plus children. At one point we had 112 young people on our database and many of them were accepting Jesus when we shared the gospel with them.  It became obvious that we needed to disciple them and although we were taking some to church with us on Sundays we simply couldn't get them all to church.

One Sunday we arranged a meeting with the pastor of our church and asked if we could set up a Sunday discipleship group rather than attend the evening services so that we could care for these young Christians. After a good discussion we left the meeting with permission to plant a church! What!! To this day I have no idea how that happened but it happened. Our pastor asked us to send him a written proposal for the church and a proposed start date. I guess he didn't expect the massive document that was emailed over to him within a week, perhaps he didn't expect us to get back to him at all. But we did and proposed a September launch date to which he agreed.

That was it, Eric and I were about to become church leaders! We worked feverishly around the clock trying to get ready for the launch. Our pastors didn't really offer any guidance or get involved at all but we knew that they were available if we needed them. One amazing man from our home group was immediately appointed the youth leader and agreed to take care of our children. Eric of course was a brilliant guitarist but other than that we didn't really have a worship team. So when we needed a singer Lorah offered to do it. She had never done anything like it in her life but knew that someone needed to step up and do it so she offered. Sam played drums so he offered and then some of the boys from our youth group quickly learned to play some guitar and bass. Within months we had a worship team.

Next was the preaching.... gulp! Eric and I had never preached yet. EVER. But we put that to the back of our mind and just got on with it. We shared the very first sermon for the launch event, Eric planned to say some things and I would say other thing and together we were hoping for a halfway decent first sermon.

The launch date was set, the band rehearsing their set list, the sermon written, promotional cards printed and the coffee and tea ordered. We were conveniently able to hire the community center where we held The Flood on Friday nights so the venue was set. We were so excited and the launch date couldn't come quick enough. Life was so good and made perfect sense to us as a family. Oh and did I mention that I was pregnant with Amy at that time, she was due in December of the same year. There was no way we could have anticipated the intense roller coaster ride we would go on from that September.

Our church was planted, our baby born and we were having the time of our life! But more about that in my next post...


Marriage and Moving

You never know who you really are until you get married! With all my heart, when I accepted Eric's proposal, I wanted to be a great wife! I didn't know that I wouldn't be and that I still had so much 'stuff' inside of me that needed working out. After all that God had done in my life, I was sure I was okay as a person and had a lot to offer my husband. Well I did offer him a lot! But not the good stuff I had hoped for. He had to put up with a lot of my crap! Sorry there is no nice way of saying it. But that is a whole other story and I am pleased to report that 12 years on I am a much better wife :)

After about 7 months of marriage Eric managed to find a good job out in Cheltenham. We had never heard of this place before and it seemed a whole other world compared to London. After a visit and finding a lovely home we moved. Many of our church friends came over to our London home for a leaving party and since we were already packed up and ready to move the next day they all helped us pack the van too! One amazing friend even offered to drive with us so that she could help drive the removal van back to London for us. We were so blessed with amazing church friends but also found it easy to leave our church. Little did we know what lay ahead and how limited our options would be on the church front.

Almost as soon as we were unpacked we began looking for our new church. The big scary question was how do you find a suitable church? It's not that any church is better than the others but I suppose you do need to find a place that you would be comfortable and could call home. In theory any church should be fine as long as they believe that Jesus is the son of God and came to earth to die for us so we can be reconciled to him. It is not quite like that in reality though. You 'shop' for a church that has a worship style that you enjoy, you check out that you agree with the preaching and even read the statement of faith and see who they are affiliated with to make sure that it's a church that you would deem healthy. We checked out several church websites, disregarded two churches as they had women ministers (why I don't know) and finally settled on a church for two reasons; 1) It was a Vineyard church and we were familiar with that movement, 2) the photo of the pastors on the website looked really happy. Of course we prayed too and asked God for guidance too, we wanted to be where He wanted us to be but didn't get any specific instructions from him.

That was it - we had chosen our church and were keen to settle down rather than visit lots of churches. We got stuck in right away, joined a home group, Eric joined the band and I got stuck into serving the coffee just as I had done at our previous church in London. It was a very small church and we were not used to this as our previous church had about 3,000 people in. It took time to adjust and we did our best to be a part of the church's journey. For some reason we just couldn't settle into church life. On our way back from a holiday in South Wales we visited a church just for fun and fell in love with it! Eric and I both said that it felt like home and knew that it was what we were sadly missing. Even though we tried our best to be good members of the Cheltenham church we just knew that we would never be happy so left and joined our church in Wales.

Every Sunday was a highlight! Even though it took about one hour each way we always thought it was worth the journey. No church in Cheltenham could ever compare to the awesome church that we found in South Wales. It was a bigger church and more like the church we were used to back in London. In time Eric joined the band so we were travelling to church twice a week and then we also joined a home group so were travelling three times a week. At some points when we had team meetings, as we had also joined the Welcome Team, and then we travelled four times a week! I became pregnant and so was too tired to travel back and forth twice on a Sunday for both services so we had a nap in the car in between services so that we could attend both. I remember how much we loved church. There was nothing too big or too small that we could be asked to do to serve our church. During the end days of my pregnancy I remember being so tired that I closed my eyes during all of the worship, not because I was really connecting with God but because I was so tired I couldn't keep my eyes open! But that didn't stop me from making the journey to church, I love it so much and nothing would keep me away.

Looking back from where I am now, I fear never feeling that way about church again. The way I feel today is so far from how I once felt. Can I ever get back to that place I wonder? I guess with God nothing is impossible.