John Ervine is leading a new church in the middle of Rathfriland, County Down. John is married to Julie and they have three children ranging from 8 to 3 years old. John became a follower of Jesus when he was twenty. Before then, he knew parts of the gospel – his grandparents took him to church – but he never really understood the full extent of it, what it meant to be a disciple and what being a Christian looked for all of life. Looking back, John believes that God was at work in him from quite an early age. The process is ongoing and John is ‘forever thankful to be on this journey.’
Tell us about the church:
The vision for Cornerstone church, which is part of the Acts 29 network of churches came through a core group of people – really four couples – dreaming of what the local church could look like and how it could impact and shape the community around us. This vision began to solidify around two and a half years ago when I began Belfast Bible College. It was around that time we felt God speaking to us about planting a church. The church is located in Rathfriland, however we see the reach of the church going much further than that and what we would love to see is the whole of South Down being reached with the Gospel. We started our weekly gatherings at the beginning of May 2014 with I think around 14 adults and as many kids. Over the first 9 months of the plant God has been so gracious towards us and in spite of our failings he was worked among us. We are currently gathering in a building known locally as the Market House, which was a complete answer to prayer and for which we are hugely thankful. Currently in our weekly gathering we have around 45-50 adults and around 30 kids most weeks. We also have smaller groups that gather through the week called 26:8 groups (as Isaiah 26:8 is our mission statement) in people’s homes of around 10-15 people in each group. Our hope for these groups would be that this could be a place where people be discipled through Bible study but also enjoy the love and care that should come with being part of a church family. Also a few of the girls from the launch team also run a drop in for parents and children on a Friday morning in the market house. This has been a great way to build relationships with people in the area and has been a valuable way in which we can minister to the community.
What about your sense of call and vision for this work?
For around eight years Julie and I have felt that God has been leading us toward full time ministry of some kind. Over this time we have been looking for what God wants us to do. For around the past three years we have felt a burning desire to see the area that we are living in now (South Down) reached with the gospel. We see the best and most effective way in doing this is a fresh expression of local church. Through reading scripture, Haggai ch1 v 7-9 has been a particular conformation for the core group which speaks of rebuilding the temple, also through prayer and seeking advice from friends who we trust we feel that this is where God is wanting to take us and while it was and still is scary the final decision to plant has brought a lot of peace. It has been quite a long journey to where we are now with many ups and downs but God has always been guiding and directing and we are very excited about what he is going to do through this church plant.
Our vision for this plant is that it will impact our community on every level. On a Gospel level we desire above all things to see the transforming power of Jesus reach people who would never have normally connected with any church. We also want to see those who are committed to following Jesus discipled in a manner where they see the whole of life through Gospel lenses and are able to apply the Gospel to every situation that life throws at them. We desire to see lives transformed by Jesus and therefore filter into every other avenue in society. I recently heard Matt Chandler say ‘what we need is new hearts, not to be better people, this will then transform our communities’. We do want to see people set free from debt, people released from the power of addictions, the barriers of religious difference broken down, relationships restored but we are vividly aware that this will only take place when Jesus captivates the hearts of people.
What are your hopes for 2015?
As a church moving into 2015 what we desire above all things is to see God move in the lives of the people of South Down. Simply put we want to see Jesus make more disciples and in turn those disciples making more disciples. In 2014 we have been blown away by the ways in which God has moved and really we want to simply go where he will lead in 2015. Hopefully 2015 will see the development of a couple of partnerships for us as a church. We have for a long time admired the work of CAP (Christians against poverty) and are moving toward some more solid links with them in 2015 where we will hopefully be running some courses in conjunction with them. Also a highlight for us in 2014 for us was being able to partner with the local regeneration group in some of the Christmas festivities and so we would love that partnership to develop and from that be able to serve the town and community around us.
How do you relate to other churches around you?
Before we planted we did meet with some of the local ministers to outline what we felt we were being called to. These meetings went really well and we have endeavored to maintain these relationships. What we as a church would love to see happen in the future is ways in which the local church leaderships and churches could come together for times of prayer for the community and if there are any ways in which we can serve this community alongside other Gospel centered churches we would love to do that!