Meet a Church Planter: John Ervine, Cornerstone, Rathfriland

FullSizeRenderJohn 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!


Meet a Church Planter: Shaun Abrahams in County Kerry

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This week – part four of the ‘meet a church planter’ series – takes us to the South West of Ireland and County Kerry where Shaun and Tania Abrahams from South Africa are leading a church planting team in Killorglin, not far from Tralee. I first met Shaun through the graduate programme at the Irish Baptist College (Shaun has just successfully completed his MA). He and Tania have been believers since 1990 – both coming to faith shortly before they got married. They have two daughters who are both important members of the church planting team in County Kerry.

Tell us about your sense of call and vision for this new work

After being involved in church planting in Cape Town, the Lord miraculously opened a door in January 2005 for us to come to Ireland as tent making missionaries at Tralee Baptist Church. In 2008 we were accepted into UFM Worldwide as missionaries.

We are leading a church planting team made up of our family and another local Irish family. Our team was commissioned from Tralee Baptist Church on 19th February 2012 to plant a church in Killorglin, County Kerry. This town is strategically positioned on the Iveragh Peninsula and on the Ring of Kerry.

We have a vision for the development of a sustainable church planting movement in County Kerry, Ireland. Our commitment in particular is to strategically plant indigenous, self-replicating local churches that uphold the centrality of Scripture in Christian life and growth and are dedicated to: evangelism, the discipling of believers, the development of competent leadership and the support of missions. We believe in the responsibility of the local church to equip men and women for different areas of ministry. Our church’s philosophy and methodology of Christian education is based on a mentoring, vocational style of ministry training.

Tell us about your church – where is it, when did it start, how is it going

Killorglin Baptist Church is just over two years old. Presently, we meet in an old Methodist Chapel on Market Street on Sunday mornings and on Wednesday evenings. Last year, on 23rd February [NB – on just about the first anniversary of the commissioning of the team], Liam O’ Keefe trusted Christ as his personal Saviour from sin. We were also privileged to baptise two young ladies Agatha and Shannon, in the summer of 2014. The little church plant is developing an honourable reputation in the town and presently we have 21 attending.

What are some of your hopes for the church in 2015?

In 2015 we want to focus on strengthening our core ministry team. Secondly, we aim to communicate the long term vision of the church planting team to the small group that the Lord is calling together at KBC. Thirdly, we are praying for opportunities for outreach and evangelism. Fourthly, we want to communicate to our small group how important our ongoing discipleship, edification and learning about God is for both personal worship and for the corporate worship of our church. Lastly, we are praying that God will send us a young family to join us in the work here in Killorglin.

How would you like to be able to relate to other, more established churches in your community?

We believe the need for a church planting culture in Kerry is paramount to the longevity and future of the existing church in Kerry. We hope to be able to work alongside the few existing like-minded churches in Kerry in the areas of outreach, church planting and training. To achieve all these objectives we believe that establishing and maintaining a spirit of unity and peace between these church groups is important, and must be a goal, in and of itself.

Ephesians 4:1-3  I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Thanks to Shaun for sharing about his work. You can read about KBC on their website.

Check out the previous interviews in the series:

Next week we will be back north of the border with John Ervine and Cornerstone, Rathfriland.

Meet a church planter: Stu Bothwell from Redeemer Central in Belfast

The third church planter we get to meet in this series of posts is Stu Bothwell who works with Redeemer Central in Belfast. (You can catch up with the previous posts that featured Gary Bolton and Lucas Parks).

Stu is 27 and is married to Emma. They’ve just bought their first home in East Belfast and Stu says that one of life’s great pleasures is sharing great food with friends.

StuBothwellStu comes from a family who are passionate about Jesus and is glad to have grown up in such an environment: he came to faith at an early age. In the summer after leaving school he had what he describes as ‘a significant encounter with God through which I felt called to leadership in the church.’ It came out of nowhere and from then he tried out a number of things including worship gatherings and preaching. He recognises that he was ‘winging it’, but he can see how the risks he took have come to play an important part in his story.

After a spell working in a school, Stu studied for (and completed a MDiv at Queen’s (while making a lot of coffees for Belfast folk); during this time he went along to a gathering of Redeemer Central and ‘instantly felt part of the family.’ Redeemer has provided him with a place to work out his leadership calling. There have been plenty of opportunities for involvement and growth – having interned and preached and become part of the leadership team, Stu now works as Missional Communities Co-ordinator.

Technically, Stu did not plant Redeemer Central: that was the work of David and Trish Capener. However there is a strong team ethos and it is recognised that everyone has played a part.

Tell us about your church: when did it start, where is it, how is it going?

Redeemer Central was planted five and half years ago with it’s first gathering taking place in the Capeners’ front room with two others joining them. The first few years of our story can be marked by our outgrowing of one venue and moving into another. So far, we’ve gathered in a front room, the upstairs of a pizza restaurant, a music venue, the Students’ Union and an arts venue in South Belfast until through the remarkable generosity of an ageing Congregational Church, we were blessed with our current home. We gather every Sunday at the heart of the arts, media, cultural and commercial scene in Belfast, in a historic venue that will soon see thousands of students living and studying barely 50 yards from our space.

However, we don’t want to exist as a church that simply gathers. We are passionate about establishing missional communities across the city and beyond. Currently there are nine City:Groups that are cultivating extended family and seeking to bless many geographical and cultural areas of our city with the redemptive story of Christ.

What do you mean by ‘missional communities’?

Missional Communities are groups of disciples who in sharing their lives together, seek to grow in discipleship and live on mission together. They gather regularly both in organised and organic environments and share a collective missional focus, for instance, seeking to bless their common neighbourhood, or an area in society that they are passionate about.

Tell us about your sense of call and your vision for this new church.

We believe God has formed us as a family of worship, welcome and creativity, who rooted in our identity in Christ, are sent to partner with Him as He establishes His Kingdom here. We long to share our lives with each other and share the story of Christ with our city.

We will always be a church family that loves to gather together to celebrate, as well as scatter across our city as families on mission. As we look ahead, we believe God is calling us to see the multiplication of more missional communities and the planting of other churches across Ireland and beyond. However in all things, we long to be marked as family who centre our lives around the presence and the purposes of the King.

What particular desires and prayer do you have for your church in 2015?

In one sense, we want to continue what God has been doing in and through us over the past few years – seeing disciples making disciples, a family of great grace flourishing and Missional Communities multiplying into new communities and cultural groupings throughout Belfast. Particularly at this time however, one key piece for us is seeing the establishment of healthy, life-giving rhythms throughout the whole family at Redeemer. We are increasingly aware of the correlation between intimacy and action. If we long to be a missional people, we must be a people passionate about worship and experiencing the presence of Jesus in our everyday lives.

How would you like to be able to relate to other, longer established churches in your area

We’ve been blessed with a number of significant friendships with other churches since we planted Redeemer. These relationships, across various streams, have been invaluable to us. As we have been blessed, we desire to be a church that blesses others also, with a heart for what God is doing throughout our nation.

In our journey of launching and establishing Missional Communities, we have had the privilege of equipping other local churches who are seeking to make a similar journey. Through leading learning communities alongside our friends, we desire to continue building fruitful relationships and serve the Church in this nation.

Thanks Stu!

To find out more about Redeemer Central, you can contact them via their website.

Meet a church planter: Lucas Parks from Village Belfast

At the start of this year, I’m featuring a number of church planters. I’ve written a bit about whether we really need new churches, and a couple of weeks ago I featured Gary Bolton from the Journey, in Lisburn. In this post, we get to meet Lucas Parks who leads a church called Village, in Belfast.

LucasLucas is 40 (you’d never guess from the photo) and has been married to Su for 20 years. They have 2 girls Averi- 10 & Kenedi-5, and a 3 year old son Lawson. Lucas is from Northern Ireland but moved to the US as a child as his father is American. he and his wife returned nearly 10 years ago where he worked as an assistant pastor in an existing church. In addition to his local church leadership, he currently serves as Country Director (Ireland) for Acts 29 Europe – a global church planting network seeking to catalyse the planting and replanting of gospel-centred churches by assessing, coaching, training, and supporting church planters. Lucas came to faith in his youth, and was called to ministry while doing a one year bible course during a gap year. He then went to seminary to complete a degree in theology.

Tell us about your sense of call and vision for this new work

As I was working in an established church in Co. Armagh I was spending more time amongst Belfast’s young, emerging creatives due to my brother being a musician. I was attending gigs and meeting loads of people who would ask what I did for a living. They were always surprised when I said a pastor! This almost always led to a conversation I would end up having dozens of times about how they were interested in spirituality, Christianity or Jesus, but put off by their perception of institutional church. I realise some of their issues with the church were false perceptions, or an excuse to live however they wanted but there were also enough real issues that it started to bother me that there was a whole subculture of young people who were open to the Gospel but found church too entrenched in our troubled history, or in a commitment to unnecessary traditions over Gospel clarity. We felt God calling us to move to Belfast and get involved in the lives of these people to plant the Gospel and let a church organically grow from that work. we want to be a church that makes sense as we practice the way of Jesus in community as we are committed to Gospel fidelity and clarity.

Tell us about your church – where is it, when did it start, how is it going?

We started with 6 people in my living room, and after 2 years of studying the bible together, and developing missional communities that have rhythms of practicing the way of Jesus together we launched Village Church Belfast publicly in February of 2014. We currently rent the hall from Cooke Presbyterian on the Ormeau Road, though we are looking for a new venue that would allow for further growth and a morning meeting time for our central gathering (we currently meet at 5pm). We have 3 missional communities that meet throughout the week and have about 50 adults involved regularly in the life of our church. We have new people most weeks, and are encouraged by God’s presence among us.

What are some of your hopes for the church in 2015?

That we would continue to build upon the foundation God has laid so far. We started with almost exclusively single people in their 20’s, but a lot of them have gotten married at Village and are now having kids – so caring well for children and families, as well as single people will be important. We would also like to see our demographic get a bit more “mature”. We love that our church is filled with young people in their 20’s and 30’s, but we look forward to the day when I’m not the oldest person in the church… we would welcome some older, wiser saints! Also as we are now establishing a more public presence in the community, we are praying for opportunities to serve our neighbourhoods as we join God in the renewal of all things. We continually personalise Jesus’ prayer that it would be in Belfast as it is in heaven.

How would you like to be able to relate to other, more established churches in your community?

The other churches on the Ormeau Road have warmly welcomed us, and we have a good relationship with them. All the ministers meet monthly and they have welcomed me into that fellowship. I guess I would like all new church plants to have a relationship that is mutually beneficial with established churches. We as a plant have much to offer in ways existing churches (which are often in decline) can learn mission and ways to engage culture in meaningful ways to see the Kingdom of God grow. Existing churches in turn have resources, hopefully a good reputation and know the history of the community. I think willingness to partner or cooperate together where possible could serve both churches and the community well.

To find out more about Village, Belfast, you can visit their website.

Meet a church planter: Gary Bolton from The Journey Church

In April 2014 I posted on whether we really need new churches. You can read what I wrote here – hopefully there is something for all sides to learn, whether the the new churches or the more established churches.

In the early part of this year, I’m planning to post a short series of articles introducing a number of church planters. Today, the series kicks off with Gary Bolton from The Journey Church in Lisburn.

Gary BoltonGary is 36 and has been married to Kathryn for 14 years. They have five children. Neither Gary nor Kathryn was a believer when they first met, but they both came to faith within a few months of each other around 17 years ago. Gary has been preaching for 16 years and between 1998 and summer of 2014 he worked with Revival Movement Association. He has an undergraduate degree from the Irish Baptist College and is now working on an MTh through QUB. Since September he has been employed full time by the Journey Church in Lisburn.

Tell us about your church – where is it, when did it start, how is it going?
The Journey Church began meeting in Lagan Valley Leisureplex on a Sunday morning from January 12th 2014. However, for about a year and a half before that we met as a very small group for a midweek bible study. The first year was particularly tough with no numerical growth – it was tiring and at times discouraging. However, I always had a deep conviction that growth and development would come. During the summer of 2013 our numbers were doubled and from this time forth our church has steadily grown. During 2014 it was a particular joy for us to baptise 5 ladies in the Leisureplex swimming pool – this was a great evening of testimony and rejoicing.

Tell us about your sense of call and vision for this new work
Since my conversion I’ve always had a sense of calling to church leadership which I worked out over many years. The small seed for church planting was sown in my heart during July 2011. A short time later I received clear direction from God through His Word. I watered this seed with prayer and counsel before stepping out in faith with a small bible study in September 2012. Our vision is to be relational, intentional and missional – see our website for a more thorough explanation of this vision.

What are some of your hopes for the church in 2015?
To continue working hard at the missional aspect of our church life. The Journey has a wonderful sense of community and love and we want our non-Christian friends to see and experience this love and hope that comes through Jesus Christ. Our main goal in 2015 is to become more prayerfully focused in our evangelism.

How would you like to be able to relate to other, more established churches in your community?
There are existing churches in Lisburn who have been faithfully proclaiming the gospel for many years and we praise God for them. We want to be an encouragement to other churches and we need their encouragement too. I’ve already made contact with a number of church leaders in our city for fellowship during 2014 and this is something I plan to develop further in the year ahead. Partnership with other evangelical churches is something I desire to see more of across our city.

To find out more about the work of the Journey Church, you visit their website.

Do we really need new churches?

Lisburn needs a new church like it needs a hole in the head!

I remember this expression (or one very like it) in an animated conversation around our dinner table a few years ago. It was spoken by a guest in our house and I am not going to mention the particular church project that was being discussed (though it seems to be doing well!).

It’s an interesting comment and I imagine that it might find echoes in more places than Lisburn (someone told me last year that Ballymena had almost 50 evangelical churches). There are certainly plenty of new churches popping up on the spiritual landscape. Some of them seem to be pretty much independent (though no doubt many of their leaders have some church model they look to), others are part of fairly new movements or families of churches, and there are even some radical ventures on the part of established denominations.

Do we really need all these new churches? Would it not be better to get stuck into working with the many established churches that have already been around for a while? Are new churches not just reinventing the wheel, albeit a more flashy wheel than the old-style wheels? And are the new churches not just magnets for malcontents in established churches?

I have pastored both an established church and a new church (it served a particular niche as an international church).

Here are a few thoughts and suggestions that might help both sides of the discussion:

  1. If you lead an established church, you need to accept that newer (and perhaps younger) churches may be better equipped to reach a rapidly changing and increasingly secularised society. If you are honest, you have to admit that the routines of an established church may become ruts. Vibrancy may be lost under encrusted layers of tradition. Part of your task is to ensure that that does not happen – Semper reformanda. And while Jesus was not critiquing sound, but slumbering evangelical churches when he spoke about patching garments and about what happens when you put new wine in old wineskins, there has to be some point of application that fits 2014. So when a new church arrives on your doorstep, don’t assume the worst!
  2. I wonder if part of the ongoing renewal of established churches might come through being intentional about church planting. Church planting may be one of the best ways to evangelise. The church planters who are sent out will be motivated to see their new church grow and those who are left will have room and incentive to see the empty pews filled up again.
  3. Intentional church planting on the part of an established church is much to be preferred to a painful split.
  4. If you lead a new church (or you are planning to start one), please be respectful of the established churches nearby. It would be great if more church planters followed the example of Paul who wanted to preach in places where Christ was not known, but Northern Ireland is a small place and it might be challenging to find totally new ground where nothing has ever been done. Challenging – and possibly unfashionable – but probably not impossible. However if you are in an area where there are already people who have been maintaining a gospel witness for decades (and their ancestors for centuries before that again), please respect them, even if you think their style is outdated or their views are too narrow. Please don’t blow into town as if this was the first time in 2000 years that anyone had ever announced the gospel in your area.
  5. Figure out what you are going to do about transfers. You will probably have them. Christians who are not happy where they are (and perhaps they have decent reasons) and who are thrilled that you have come to provide them the spiritual care and nurture that they have been starved of (as well as livelier music and the fact that they don’t have to wear a suit and tie). Some of them may have been hurt where they were before and they will need time to heal and grow stronger. Should you take some steps to make sure that they have left their previous church well, where possible? But be careful that you don’t allow your agenda to be set by disaffected Christians. At the end of the day you need people who will get involved in your mission and vision.
  6. Have a clear vision. It will help keep you on track and it will help you handle the people who come to you hoping that that you will be able to implement their vision!
  7. If you are in a new church, remember that in a generation or so, you will be the established church. How will you build renewal into your church?
  8. It would be great if leaders of both could talk to each other. Get to know each other, pray for each other and ask for prayer from each other. You may not be able to condone everything that the other guy does in his church (and it would be naive and unhelpful to play down all the differences as differences of style: some differences are more serious), but find ways of affirming, where possible. Build decent relationships and you might open possibilities of mentoring. Who knows, everyone might learn from each other and everyone might be better off overall!

What do you think? Are there too many new churches? Could new churches and more established churches who actually agree on gospel fundamentals do a better job of relating to each other?

PS – If you think there are already enough churches and there aren’t going to be enough Christians to go around if people start new ones, may I suggest that you revisit the issue of mission.