Missions & Church Planting in the UK
Missions & Church Planting in the UK
Winston Churchill once remarked: “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” Sometimes in our wildly busy schedules we get so caught up in making a living that we forget to make a life by investing in those things that matter most. And there’s nothing that matters more in life than the health and extension of Christ’s kingdom in Charleston and throughout the world. I was significantly reminded of this truth during my recent ministry trip to the United Kingdom.
The spiritual pulse of Britain is faint at best. Fifty years ago over half of the UK would have been found attending a local parish church on any given Sunday. Today, however, only a small percentage of the population (less than 5%) are Bible-believing churchgoers, and over thirty percent claim to be atheists or agnostics. What was once the most industrious and robust missionary sending nation in the world has now become itself the focus of foreign missions.
This past week while in Edinburgh, Scotland and Gateshead, England I was grieved to once again see beautiful historic churches which had been converted into restaurants, pubs, mosques, flats, and community centers. The congregations that still maintain their buildings are more often than not small and diminishing, putting more effort into selling tea and biscuits at their church cafe than proclaiming the gospel and making mature disciples (Col. 1:28-29). The congregation that Marla and I were an active part of while we lived in Edinburgh was recently turned out of their mid-nineteenth century building due to their biblical position on homosexuality. They now meet in a local school ... to the glory of God. The British spiritual landscape is indeed bleak, which is why the work of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales (EPCEW) is shining so brightly.
The EPCEW is a small, healthy, and growing Reformed and Presbyterian denomination that was established in the mid 1980s. There are approximately fifteen congregations located in England, Wales, and now Sweden, with exciting church planting efforts going on in England, Sweden, and Germany. Every minister and congregation in the EPCEW is devoted to the bold proclamation of the gospel through Word and sacrament, and deeply committed to biblical worship, world mission, and serious discipleship.
Last Thursday, in Durham, England, I met with Rev. Dr. Kevin Bidwell, pastor of Sheffield Presbyterian Church, and Rev. Dr. Bill Schweitzer, pastor of Gateshead Presbyterian Church. You may remember that they both filled our pulpit this past summer. It was a joy to renew fellowship with these dear old friends and brothers, and to strategize on the spread of the gospel and church planting in Britain and Western Europe. After our meeting we visited Rev. Brian Norton, pastor of Durham Presbyterian Church for over twenty years. Rev. Norton is currently fighting advanced stages of cancer. It was a profound blessing to spend time with a man who has fought the good fight of faith and is finishing the race well. We went to be an encouragement to him, but he was certainly much more of an encouragement to us! Along with Paul he firmly believes, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). It was a joy to hear Kevin, Bill, and Brian eagerly speak of the wonderful opportunities that lie ahead for church planting in England, setting their sights on Manchester, Leeds, London, and Oxford–– cities where there are millions of lost people and very few churches that are faithfully preaching the gospel and making disciples according to Scripture.
One of the highlights of the trip was participating in the Hexham church plant Bible study on Friday night. Hexham is a quaint market town in Northern England thirty-minutes west of Newcastle. Rev. Josh Reiger recently moved to Hexham from Jackson, Mississippi with his wife and two children in order to plant the church. The core group of 5-6 families eagerly gathered on Friday evening in the Reiger’s living room to sing, pray, and study God’s Word. It was a blessing to teach and encourage the core group from the Scriptures, and to share with them what God has done over the past eighteen months in Christ Church Presbyterian through the proclamation of His Word. They hope to begin worship services in February 2015.
On Saturday we gathered at Immanuel College in Gateshead with representatives from several local churches for a Reformation Day Conference. I spoke on the History and Theology of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) and Jonathan Edwards: Missionary to the Indians (1750-58). It was a delightful day of fellowship and learning. The lunch hour was especially delightful as I got to know several members of the local churches and community.
On the Lord’s Day my assignment was to preach God’s Word in the evening service at Gateshead Presbyterian Church where Rev. Dr. Bill Schweitzer is the minister. The Gateshead congregation is a warm and wonderful place to visit and preach. Much of this is due to the faithful ministry and leadership of Rev. Dr. Bill Schweitzer and his wife Pam’s extraordinary gift of hospitality. I chose for my text, Philippians 4:16-20, wanting to provide some instruction on the nature and practical application of gospel partnerships. Paul’s gospel partnership with the congregation at Philippi (Phil. 1:5; 4:15) was a partnership that bore one another’s burdens (4:14-16), gave sacrificially (v.16-18), fostered the health and growth of God’s kingdom (1:3-11; 4:19), and sought to bring great glory to God (4:20). My hope and prayer is that Christ Church Presbyterian will form vital, deep, and lasting gospel partnerships with congregations and future congregations in the United Kingdom, Western Europe, and around the world!
Sadly, it is true that many churches in the United Kingdom are withering under the effects of liberalism and unbelief. It is true that scores of historic church buildings are being sold and used for alternative purposes. Nevertheless, churches like Sheffield Presbyterian Church, under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Kevin Bidwell, are boldly carrying out the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20) as well as reclaiming historic church buildings for the glory of God. Earlier this year Sheffield Presbyterian purchased Hilltop Chapel, a building that was dedicated to the glory of God in 1629 under the pastoral leadership of Stanley Gower, a member of the Westminster Assembly!
From Cambridge to Cardiff to Durham Christ is building his church through the faithful, Christ-trumpeting, Spirit-filled ministry of the EPCEW. As an extension of the Christ Church Presbyterian family it was a joy to bring warm low country greetings from our congregation to theirs, and to encourage the work of the gospel in Britain and Europe. Thank you for your earnest prayers while I was away. May the Lord continue to cultivate a strong gospel partnership between our churches for the glory of God and the growth of the church. Let us pray for reformation and revival in the United Kingdom.
- Pastor Jon