Reflections from Belfast

BelfastUpdate5 I am headed back from Belfast, where I spent time with our sister church, Village. You can see several updates on the blog from throughout the trip. Here are some reflections on what I learned from my time in Belfast:

Beauty and Brokenness

In cities we see the beauty of humanity more clearly than anywhere else through art, architecture, community, and achievement. We also see the brokenness of humanity in division, poverty, opulence and indulgence. These things are certainly true in Belfast. Having read up on the Troubles and sectarian divides in Northern Ireland, I had a cognitive grasp of what had happened. However, driving through neighborhoods divided by “peace walls” brings a different level of reality to that understanding. There is currently a display at the Ulster Museum called The Art of the Troubles. As all art does, the display brought an emotional weight and reality to bear on my heart. Tremendous strides have been made, but there is a long road ahead in Belfast. The only ultimate hope is Christ’s work in renewing all things in the end. Village has the privilege of being a part of that renewal in their city, bringing beauty from the brokenness.

Foundational Necessity of Community

The DNA of Village and Redemption Hill is strikingly similar. Our cities and people have strong similarities, and the values that shape our churches are in very close alignment. Seeing a church at an earlier stage than RHC was a great reminder to me of the importance of community. It was also a reminder of the challenge we face on maintaining and even deepening that emphasis as Redemption Hill continues to grow. There is no greater witness to the beauty and reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ than the community that is His Church. Experiencing it and being welcomed into it through our brothers and sisters at Village made me grateful for what Jesus is doing in both of our churches.

Stop. Rest. Reflect.

I’m not very good at any of these three things. A funny thing happens when I’m taken out of the frenzied pace of DC and dropped in a new place among new people and no cell phone service, I had to slow down. It was so good for my soul. Lucas shepherded me through our time together while I was here, showing me the beauty of Ireland and the importance of stopping, resting, and reflecting.

Celebrate God’s Grace

For several months now my heart has been reflecting on Acts 14:27-28, “And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples.” Related to the issues above, I was struck again at the importance of slowing down enough to worship God for His work in, among, and through us. It’s too easy to excuse away a pervasive, driving, hurriedness as spiritually inspired. There’s no excuse for not slowing down enough to thank God and celebrate His work.

The beauty of connectedness in the Body of Christ.

I spent the week with people who have truly become extended family. This is just the beginning of the relationship and connection between our churches. Lord willing, we will partner together through the planting and establishment of Village and Redemption Hill and beyond into future initiatives as well. It’s incredible that the gospel transcends culture and that we are knit together in unity by the Spirit worldwide.

Update from Belfast #4

BelfastUpdate4 I’m on a bus headed back to Dublin. So begins the long trek home. I came over to see the work in our partner church, Village Belfast, and to serve and encourage Lucas and Su, their family, the church and its leaders in any way I could. Along the way, I was deeply encouraged and refreshed. My time in Belfast has been a huge blessing to me. In the next post I will list some of the things I have learned. For now, here’s a recap of my last few days here.

On Monday Lucas and I went to a leadership conference at Glenabbey, Village’s sending church. The conference filled the bulk of the day and included teaching and panel discussion with Alistair Begg and Keith Getty. Alistair’s talk was a winding reflection on The Dangers and Delights of a Long Ministry in One Place. He has served now for over 30 years in his church in Ohio. It was inspiring for me to hear the wisdom of a man who has served God well for so long. As the pastor of a very young church plant, I struggle at times to have a long view of the work and make too much of smaller challenges and opportunities. Alistair’s reminders and perspective were hugely helpful.

Keith Getty spoke on music in the church, which makes some sense. He painted a beautiful picture of the importance of music in the church before moving into a section on principles to facilitate worship through music. It is so important to see that God’s people have sung throughout human history and, through their singing, have learned their faith, carrying songs through their lives. Much of what Keith had to say was a great encouragement to me, affirming the foundation we have laid for worship through singing in Redemption Hill Church.

On Tuesday and Wednesday Lucas and I got to work together on structures and an organizational foundation for Village. Village is moving from being primarily a house church into being a small church. The leaders are rightly seeing the importance of greater clarity and purposefulness in the organization of the organism that is the church. So, I worked to further understand the vision they have for how they will continue to build, and then we worked together on some documents to move that direction. These things aren’t the fun or sexy side of church planting and leadership, but they are essential and important.

Tuesday night I was able to join one of Village’s neighborhood groups. It was great to gather for dinner, study the Bible, and to pray with each other. I loved seeing the community in action and hearing reflections on how God was speaking to them through His Word. Then on Wednesday night I had dinner with Lucas a couple of men who are being trained into leadership. Over dinner we were able to talk through what it means to be an elder in a church, how elders interact together as a team, and some of the stories of our journey at RHC.

So that rounds out my trip. I’m so grateful to Lucas, Su, and their kids for welcoming me into their family and their lives for the past ten days. I hope I was able to be a fraction of the encouragement to them that they were to me. I couldn’t be more excited for the folks at Village. They’re in a transition phase right now, but I believe God will do incredible things in and through them in the coming year. The community Jesus has begun to build by His Spirit is beautiful and it will be fun to see that begin to increasingly spill outward. I’m grateful that I, and all of us in RHC, get to stand alongside with our brothers and sisters in Belfast.

P.S.  I wish I could bring a bike back with me from the boys at Fellow. Thanks for the shirt mates. Maybe next time...

Update from Belfast #3

BelfastUpdate3 What a whirlwind of a weekend!

On Saturday night one of the members of the Village had an album release concert that doubled as a farewell for many of his friends here. Gentry Morris played, preceded by his friends in the Farriers and the Young Folk. Gentry has been a big part of the work here, leading worship and helping Lucas along the way. He and his wife Liz are headed to Portland, OR, and their church family will miss them terribly here in Belfast. It was a great show and a sweet but emotional farewell.

Yesterday we had the chance to check out a new church plant in Rathfriland, south of Belfast. The planter has applied to the Acts 29 Network and his assessment is coming up in a few weeks. It gave Lucas a chance to see his work on the ground and to hear him preach to his church. We tried to be an encouragement to him as the earliest days of planting are not far behind either one of us.

In the evening Village gathered for worship. They rent out a church hall that sits behind an old Presbyterian church. It was a great turnout in spite of the holiday weekend, which was exciting. Up till now everyone has been sitting around cafe tables throughout the worship gathering. Beginning next week they will have to rearrange things a bit to create more seating in the space. It was a sweet time of worship and celebrating communion together. I had the privilege of preaching on God's call to His Church in the city.

After worship we sped off again to Glenabbey Church, the Village's sending church. The Getty's were performing a concert there. If you aren't sure who they are, think of In Christ Alone. Kristyn grew up at Glenabbey and her dad, Gilbert Lennox, is the founding pastor and still leads the church. They were celebrating the opening of a new building this weekend.

This morning we are headed back to Glenabbey for a leadership conference led by Alistair Begg. In the afternoon Lucas and I will settle in at a coffee shop to focus some time on discussing structures and governance for the Village that will fit the context and culture of Belfast while also maintaining the beautiful distinctives of this church and maximize its missional edge. Pray for clarity and productivity in that time together today.

The Parks' family has been fantastic. I have quickly grown to love them and so many others in this church. While I'm having a great time, I miss my family and church family in DC. I'm looking forward to serving in any way possible over the next few days before heading back home.

Update from Belfast #2

BelfastUpdate2It has been a great start to this trip. The front end brought the most flexibility regarding our schedule, which has been great because it has allowed me to adjust some to the time change and setting here. From here out each day is fairly full. We have been all over Northern Ireland and I have seen everything from castles to cathedrals, from mountains that inspired CS Lewis' Narnia to dramatic sea coasts. Yesterday I was able to tour Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of Northern Ireland, where neighboring hills boast Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals making their claim to St. Patrick. Lucas and Su are the real thing. Their affection for their friends and neighbors both within and outside of Village is fantastic. There is a constant stream of people in and out of the house. Each day and night has been filled with opportunities to spend time with the wonderful people of the Village as well. God has done and continues to do something special here as Jesus builds His Church in this place. I love talking to the people involved in Village and hearing their passion for the Gospel and desire to see the Spirit at work.

On a random note, I received a Facebook message last night that blew my mind. in 2008 I spoke at and led the youth portion of a missions conference in Istanbul, Turkey. A couple of the students were part of a missionary family from Northern Ireland serving in Istanbul. They have since moved back and live less than 10 miles from where I am staying. So, they are going to come out to connect with me and Village tomorrow night. Crazy.

Today we are headed out to Glenabbey Church, the church that sent Lucas out to plant. We will have lunch with some leaders there as they celebrate the opening of a new building. I'm looking forward to meeting and connecting with the pastor and leaders there. Tomorrow Lucas and I will travel to observe a church planter in action in the morning. Then I have the tremendous privilege of opening God's Word to preach as the Village gathers for worship tomorrow evening. Please pray for the Spirit to move through the worship gathering. Pray that doors would be opened in people's hearts and minds and that I might make the gospel clear.


Update from Belfast #1

BelfastUpdate1 I arrived in Dublin yesterday morning after the overnight flight. I slept as much as a man my size can sleep on a plane - so not much. After taking a bus up north, I got a quick city tour with Lucas as we ran some errands, picked up his daughter from school, etc. I had a great time with Su and the kids through the afternoon. I love this family. It reminds me way too much of my own.

Then last night Village's leadership team came over for a meal together and a meeting. It was fantastic. I was able to see the community of this church in action and I got to hear the passion with which these people speak about and pray for their church. I had a beautiful time hearing them share what God is doing here and how they are encouraged. We also talked about areas for growth and next steps as they continue to grow and transition to a new phase as a church family. I am excited to spend more time with these folks over the next week.

Today Lucas and I escaped to the north coast and I saw some of the most incredible sights of my life. Ireland is inexpressibly beautiful. Tonight I'm headed to hang out with several of the folks from the leadership team at, where else, a pub.

Thanks for praying for me and for the Village!