Just keep swimming…

The other day I spent a good day in the company of some mates, who are all at different stages of planting churches in similar contexts to us. It was great to catch up and hear encouragements. But it was also great to be able to be honest together about the struggles of planting churches in places like Cleck.

You see we’re two years in now, having launched in September 2017. And the Lord has been good to us. We’ve seen a few people join us from our previous church. We’ve seen a guy who’s recently moved back into the area show real interest in joining us. We’re spending time at the minute trying to help a very new believer navigate all sorts of issues. We’ve built relationships with people from all sorts of backgrounds in the town and valley. We’ve seen some of them show interest in the gospel, and one or two even join us regularly on a Sunday. God has been really good.

But we’ve also seen people break our hearts as well. People who have shown interest in the gospel, and seem to want to know more, only for circumstances or a negative reaction to gospel truth to take them away again. We’ve seen a few Christians show interest in joining us, and then be driven away when they realise we do actually believe and seek to live out what’s in our statement of faith. We’ve worked hard to build relationships with people in the town, only for stuff beyond our control to cut them off at source. We set up each Sunday knowing that, humanly speaking, there’ll be around 15 of us again. And, in it all, the Lord is still sovereign and still good.

So far, so ‘that’s just ministry life’, right?! True…

But our town doesn’t get a new influx of young, energetic people every September. And people don’t move into our town for work. (That little dot there is a full stop folks. No caveats here) And two years in, the dissatisfied Christians travelling out of the town for good reformed ministry, that everybody told us would be here, haven’t exactly been beating our door down. Largely, I reckon, because they don’t exist. And those young, zealous, free & mobile professionals who are desperate to move round the country to help little church plants (so loved of church planting literature)? Well, I’m sure they exist. I’ve just never met many of them maybe…. We also don’t have a long history in the town, or dechurched people looking to return to church, or friendships going back over years…

Which could all sound like a moan, couldn’t it? And perhaps some of it is. Poor little us. It’s alright for you lot in your big churches with your new buildings, and your 15 staff, and your excellent ministry, and your [insert stereotype here]… I’m aware enough to see that in my own heart. But it’s also more than that. It’s not even just yet another appeal for more workers to come and help us.

Because I reckon I’ve seen enough of Uk evangelicalism to know that most of those calls fall on deaf ears. I’ve got enough mates who’ve made them, and I’ve made enough myself, to see that most people act all concerned and prayerful, and then get on with their day. Now I know the Lord can do wonders, and I’m praying he will. But as I tell our folks regularly, we can pray and ask as much as we like. And the Lord might even send us some workers. But the cavalry aren’t coming. They don’t exist. But we’re here. Now. And that’s because the Lord has placed us here. Now. For his glory and the extension of the kingdom.

And so the call of God’s word to us, and to folks in contexts like ours, maybe even to you, is to trust the Lord, and (like Dory) to just keep swimming. We’re here, you’re there. Now. So keep plodding on in gospel ministry. Keep speaking of Jesus to one another. Keep loving one another beyond our capability to do so, as the Lord enables us. To keep building friendships and telling people the gospel. To start new friendships when old ones break down, even through the pain that brings. To pray, and pray, and pray, even when it feels like they’re bouncing off the ceiling. To remember that the Lord never gets the wrong address or the wrong people. To trust him when it seems the end of the road is a long, long way ahead.

My wife and I were discussing the weather the other day (we know how to live!). And how sometimes planting in our context never seems to be too sunny, or too stormy. Nothing too horrendous just at the minute, nothing too exciting either. But how, often it just feels like trudging along in the never-ending drizzle. And being from West Yorkshire, you think we’d be used to that! But it still grinds you down in the end. No coat’s waterproof for that long. No trainers will keep the wet out for ever. But the call of the gospel is to keep going. To just walk on through the rain…

Because at the end of the day we’re not listening for a lark, but, one day, we will stand under the light of the Son of Righteousness. And we’ll rejoice in seeing the glory of God fully in his face. We will be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And maybe, just maybe, the Lord will be gracious enough that we’ll be stood there next to some people from Cleck that we never even met here. But who heard the gospel in the future because, by God’s grace, we kept trudging through the drizzle now. I reckon that’d make it worth getting a bit wet. And if you’d like to come and join us in that, we’d be delighted for some fellow travellers! Bring a brolly!

But, for now, whatever happens, we keep looking to that day and to Jesus. And we keep trudging on. Slowly, squelching and dripping as we go, but ever onward. Maybe that’s you just like it is us. Keep going brothers and sisters. Because Jesus is worth it. And Jesus is Lord. And he is coming. Soon

A tender beating…

I spent most of yesterday at the Gospel Yorkshire Conference in Dewsbury. I’ve been going to this conference since it began in 2015 (feels like I should, being on the Committee and all!). You can find out more about Gospel Yorkshire’s mission to help churches plant churches in Yorkshire here. One of the churches that’s come out of that mission is ourselves in Spen, so we’re very appreciative of all that Gospel Yorkshire is about.

It was a good day, with lots of opportunities to catch up with mates, and others planting across this massive county. Yorkshire has the same population as Scotland, but is massively unreached with the gospel, especially outside of the major cities and university towns. As I say regularly, on here and elsewhere, we’re in desperate need of people to come and help us. Yesterday we heard from two blokes ministering in Yorkshire in different contexts, Tim Davies from Christ Church Central in Sheffield, and Ian Goodson of Grace Church Wakefield. The day was finished off with ministry from Richard Underwood, of Christ Church Market Harborough. All of the sessions were helpful, but I just want to pick up on a few of the things Ian brought to us as he led us through some of the lessons learnt in planting Grace over the last 8 years. As well as being so applicable to contexts like ours, I think there are massive lessons to learn for the evangelical church. I said to Ian afterwards that his session was so good that I tweeted 90% of it, and I just want to hang a few thoughts on some of those tweetable lines.

Ian encouraged us to think about the ‘average places’. The towns and villages of Yorkshire were there isn’t a city or a university. The places where 3.5m of the 5.5m population of Yorkshire live. He suggested that maybe instead of lionising the quick growing church plants of many cities we should be looking instead to the example set by those in average places. He reminded us that Dewsbury Evangelical Church, in whose building we were sat, had started off with just 4 young Christians who had covenanted together, called a pastor, and sought to consistently and faithfully love their town. Average people, in an average place, doing average ministry, trusting the Lord to give the growth. Getting on for 50 years later, they’re still here, still living for Jesus, and have had a huge impact on their town over the years, as well as planting two other churches in other average towns. Maybe, we need to hear those stories more. And plant those kind of churches, in those kind of places more as well.

Ian also challenged much of the consumer mentality that seems to be prevalent in much Uk evangelicalism. It’s certainly true in our experience, as well as others we’ve talked to, that few people want to sell up and move to get involved in a church plant in the North of England. Especially in an average town like Cleck or Wakefield. That few people would be willing to get stuck into a church on a council estate, deprived area, or place where there’s just not a lot going on. And that’s a discipleship issue. If our student ministry and numbers grow and grow, and yet average places are lacking churches where people might hear the gospel, are we really fulfilling the Great Commission? Or could we be guilty of hoarding our resources, our talents, so that our kingdom might be a bit more comfy. Send us some people. Send some to Wakey. Flipping heck, even send them to Middlesbrough, Doncaster, or Halifax if you have to! Why not move there yourself?! But at least ask the question of whether you’re discipling people properly if you’ve never challenged them to move and take risks for the sake of the gospel. And if you’ve never thought of it yourself….

But he didn’t just have challenges for wider evangelicalism. We’re praying Matthew 9 prayers for our church this year. And while that means we are praying for more workers to help us in this harvest field, it also means that we’re praying that the Lord would give us soft hearts like Jesus’ heart of compassion. That he would give us grace to just do it and get out and sacrificially serve each other and our valley by sharing Jesus with them. And Ian wanted us to see that that’s not going to happen overnight. That seeing gospel fruit in the average places will take time. But that doesn’t mean we can let up. Planting churches in average places like Cleck & Wakey is a long, slow, slog. A constant putting one foot in front of the other, trusting the Lord. That long, slow obedience in the same direction. Ian’s encouragement to us was to keep going, even when it’s knackering. Because Jesus has promised to go with us and before us.

And he had one last challenge for those ministering in university towns. Don’t forget your brothers and sisters in the average places. For those students who leave average places to go off to university towns: don’t forget your home. Come back. Sacrifice for Jesus. That his people here might know him. And in the midst of the average places, Jesus might be glorified.

As Richard Underwood said later in the day, ‘Thank you Ian. I’ve never been beaten up so gently and tenderly.’

If you’d like to help in an average place, why not check out Grace Church Wakefield . Or if you’re prefer your beatings a bit less tender and with Yorkshire vowels, do give us a shout. Yorkshire desperately needs more gospel workers in average places. Perhaps we need you. Why wouldn’t you want to check it out….?!

Back to school…and the future!

Yesterday was a big day in our house. My son went off to high school for the first time. He’s quite the nervous soul, and so the last couple of weeks have been a bit lively! Not only have we had the joys of spending a ridiculous amount of money on compulsory school-branded clothing, and equipment he won’t use that often (over £200, even with buying the cheapest stuff we could find!), but we’ve had occasional tears, grumps, and the odd nightmare.

It was a long time ago that I first went to high school (probably well before some of his teachers were born!). But I still vividly remember the six weeks of anxiety about the stories of heads being flushed down toilets and what Year 11s did to little Year 7s behind Faggee’s Corner or on the Cage Walk. But I also remember that there turned out to be nothing to them. And I also remember my years as a high school teacher, and know that generally kids settle in quickly, get used to a different way of working, and most importantly make new friends fairly quickly.

5 years I spent in this place. Happiest days of your life…apparently!

So, as he went off in fear and trepidation yesterday morning, I was thinking about the friends he might make. And it struck me that over the coming weeks he might meet people who will be his mates for life. People who he has, as yet, never set eyes on who might be the guys he drinks in the Malt Shovel with in 40 years, or the blokes he works with, or the people he turns to when life falls apart down the line, maybe even someone he might walk down an aisle with one day.

You see, that’s Cleck. So many of the people I meet in the town have lived here all their lives. They grew up here. They all went to the same school, unless they went off to the grammar school in Hecky (by definition a minority). They’ve all known each other since they were 11, or 14 at least if they’re old enough to remember the middle school system. They all know each other’s mums and dads, and different family situations. They all remember that thing that happened when they were 16, and what she did to him when he said that to her. They still hang round together, not on Facebook, or Insta, or even on Friends Reunited! But in real life. Their best mate is still the fella they met in the classroom way back when. Lots of them are married to one another. Very often, it’s even generational. Families have lived here for as long as anybody can remember. Not only did they go to school with their best mate, but their dad went to school with his dad, right back to when their great-grandads worked in the mills together.

Cleck in 1900… Dark and satanic according to some poet or other

You see they’ve got history. Long history. Involved history. And that means that planting, and being, a church here might be a bit different to places where people tend to be a bit more socially and geographically mobile. There’s probably lots of things it means, but it means at least that we’ve got to rethink our timetable for growth. On the other hand, it means that setting up a solid little church invested in the local community could, by God’s grace, do great good over a very long time.

You see, planting a church in a place like Cleck simply will take a long time for lots of reasons. But the fact that nearly everyone knows nearly everyone, and always has, plays a huge part in it. As a church we’re all incomers. Some of us are even incomers to Yorkshire. Even my wife and I, who’ve lived all our lives within a 7 mile radius of Cleck, are still in many ways outsiders. And that means that deep relationships are going to take longer to grow. We’ve not got that history, we’re not from round here. Many people already have a huge network of relationships, whether family, or mates, or whoever. And therefore there’s less people looking for new friends, or new opportunities to get out and do stuff. It means getting into our community is going to take longer. And so planting here is going to be very different to planting in a mobile town or city where people are coming and going all the time. It’s going to take longer, it’s going to be more labour intensive, it’s probably going to be more frustrating. We’re going to need more support from outside, both in terms of people and finances. We’re going to have to be patient, and keep going even when it feels like nothing’s happening. We certainly won’t be self-sufficient, or self-funding, any time soon.

A place of memories for all who grew up here… The old school building

But it also means that, long term, there are huge opportunities here that might not exist in more mobile places. Because in 20, or 30, or even 100 years, by God’s grace we’ll still be here. Maybe not all of us, or even any of us. But, if the it’s the Lord’s will, then Spen Valley Church will. And, God willing, it will be full of people who grew up here. Who went to school here. Who have invested their entire life in this town. Whose mates are the people they met in Year 7 or even in Reception, or even before that. People who are simply part of the huge, complex, tangled web of relationships that make up Cleck. Who those around them have seen grow up, have seen go through the process of coming to know Jesus, be baptised, and get stuck into church life. People who have lived out the transformation of life that comes with knowing Jesus. People who are part of the very fabric of this town and are determined to proclaim the gospel of Jesus to those they’ve loved all their lives. Who demonstrated the keeping power of God in one place, in front of the same people, for 70 years. That’s just not possible in areas where people stick around for 3 years, or even 10, before moving on. That’s just not possible in places where all the kids go off to university and rarely come back. But I reckon that here, it just might be.

We’re still a million miles from that yet. But we are praying that God will be gracious in getting us there one day. That he might take a group of incomers and make us part of this place. That he might bring us more incomers willing to come and be part of this town for the sake of the gospel. And that he might use that process so that people might come in and know the rest that comes with belonging to the family of God in Jesus…

There’s nowt as queer as (Yorkshire) folk!

I am middle class.

There, I said it. Cue rejoicing from my mate Ian, who’s been trying to get me to admit the fact for the last 8 years! You wouldn’t believe the pain it caused me to write it though.

What a real northern, working class man looks like! Or so he reckons…

But why should it? I grew up in a semi-detached house that my parents still own. They were both teachers. I, and both my brothers, went to university. I did a post-graduate course, and became a teacher. I married a teacher. I bought a house. So far, so middle class. But if you’d have asked me what class I was, there would only ever have been one answer. And it would have gone summat like this: ‘Not middle class!’

You see I grew up, and have lived all my life, in industrial (and then post-industrial) West Yorkshire. And my formative years were during the 1980’s and 90’s (when industry was becoming increasingly post-). And in those days round here, it was us against the world. We were Yorkshire, we were working class (even when we weren’t), and we were ‘oppressed’ by middle class southerners. Whatever the truth was; that situation, this place, was crucial to the identity of so many Yorkshire people of my generation.

Billy Casper: a Yorkshire stereotype with more than a grain of truth to him…

We knew who we were against. We knew who we weren’t. The chattering middle classes. The shandy-drinking inhabitants of middle England. The ‘South’: out to get us. Out to destroy our jobs, and then our heritage with their culture & customs, their weird vowels & cut glass accents. This mythical beast even had a name. It’s just hers wasn’t a name you said out loud round here back then. It’s still sometimes a risk. Whatever else we weren’t, we weren’t ‘privileged middle class southerners’. Even though, looking back, some of us were much more privileged, or middle class, than we’d like to have believed.

Now, I think that over the years I’ve seen a bit of a bigger world. I’ve actually met some southerners. I’ve seen southerners work their guts out for the sake of the gospel in Yorkshire. I’ve come to realise that whole swathes of Yorkshire, especially in the cities and bigger towns, now have plenty of Yorkshire folk in them who we would have written off as ‘southern’ growing up. People who would quite happily identity themselves as middle class. I’ve seen that Yorkshire folk are not some monocultural entity. More importantly, I’ve realised that the urgency of the gospel need in Yorkshire means we’re desperate for people from all over the Uk (and the world) to come and help us. The vast, vast majority of Yorkshire people, the people I see every day, are going to hell. And anybody who is willing to come, to commit to love Yorkshire folk, and share the gospel with them, will get a red carpet welcome from me. Even if you do drink shandy, and eat hummus.

And yet. And yet…

If you were off to share the gospel with folk in an unreached people group somewhere around the world, you might approach fitting in with a bit of trepidation. You might want to get to learn people’s cultural differences, and adapt your approach to ministry and life slightly. To learn a lesson from a bloke from Barnsley, that most Yorkshire of all Yorkshire places, who taught us all what contextualisation looks like.

Tha needs to do stuff different when you’re an incomer. I’ll tell thee that for nowt…

And vast swathes of Yorkshire are just like Cleck, and the Spen Valley. Post-industrial, almost unreached for the gospel, with their own unique view of the world and what life should look like. And in desperate need of sacrificial Christians to come and meet them where they are. People who are willing to get past the fact that they will be known as incomers all their life. People who are willing for ‘posh’ to become a prefix to their first name, simply because their vowels have too many ‘r’s in them. People who are willing to get out of their comfort zone to share Jesus with old school Yorkshire people. People who are willing to humbly learn from those of us who have lived here all our lives and whose own worldview has been shaped by growing up here. That we might, together, reach these people with the gospel.

After a visit in 2014, Kevin Deyoung wrote up 10 lessons he’d learnt about England. Number 10 said, ‘There’s England and then there’s Yorkshire, which everyone from Yorkshire and not from Yorkshire seem happy to acknowledge.’

We know we’re different, we even delight in it. And maybe, just maybe, that’s precisely why we need your help…

So Pastor, what are you doing today?

A few weeks ago I spent far too much time on Twitter. Now my wife would probably say that I spend too much time on Twitter about 349 days a year. But the other week I managed to crack out 49 tweets in one thread. Let’s just say that’s a few more than normal.

It all started when a couple of friends asked me recently what my week looked like. The old joke that a pastor is invisible 6 days a week, and incomprehensible on the 7th still comes out occasionally. Maybe it’s just because I preach rubbish sermons! See what you reckon here. But I think it’s mainly because to a lot of people, whether church members or people outside the church, at least the first half is true. It can be very tempting for pastors to spend the majority of their week locked up in the study working hard on sermons. Even when people do see their pastor during the week, they don’t always know what he gets up to the rest of the time.

So, in part to answer my friends’ question, and to help others understand what ministry really does look like in a post-industrial Yorkshire mill town, I decided to live tweet my week. Check it out here. I wanted to show my friends (and anybody else that cared to listen) that, in our context here in Cleck, a pastor who spends his entire week in the study is going to make minimal impact for the kingdom of God. He might preach sermons that make Spurgeon look like a loser, but unless he engages with real people day to day he’s going to be preaching awesome sermons to a very select few. I also wanted to challenge some views of what is and isn’t pastoral ministry that I’ve encountered over the years. To suggest that we should maybe have a bigger view of what being a pastor involves. That hanging out with mates in the pub, at the football, or in a café is as much pastoral ministry as preparing a sermon.

I hope the thread shows the importance I place on spending time with people. Investing in church members to help equip them to disciple one another, and share the gospel with their friends. Investing in those who aren’t yet trusting in Jesus to build relationships, and show them the awesome person of Jesus. Just being a normal human being, who spends time with people, laughing, talking, mithering, and getting on with life together. You know…like Jesus did. Jesus: the glutton and the drunkard, the friend of tax collectors and sinners.

I also wanted to model to our church’s members what it looks like to get stuck into people’s lives, in a way I don’t normally. A fresh nudge that the gospel calls us to live as a family; in and out of each other’s houses, spending time chilling together, opening the Bible with each other, and pointing one another to Jesus. A fresh call to sacrificial use of time, energy, and cash in getting stuck into relationships with people around our town and valley. In fact, since then, I’ve started sharing my weekly google calendar with the church’s members, so they can see what I’m up to and be praying. And so they will, hopefully, be inspired to get out and spend time with people themselves.

Because here’s the thing: I can spend my time with people all I want, but there’s only one of me and 17000 people in Cleck. And it’s only as we as a church get stuck into our town; sacrificially, daily, lovingly, that we’ll show people the true beauty of the gospel. Even if all our church do that, and we’re very slowly getting there, we’re still only 14 in a valley of 50000. We need more workers. We need people from both inside and outside of Yorkshire to look at the need here, and commit to come and get stuck in. To join us in this joyful, happy, exhausting slog that is the work of making disciples where very few people know Jesus.

And, because of that fact, I also wanted to nudge the wider evangelical world. To start a conversation, however small, about what ministry looks like. About how we reach people with the gospel. About how we invest in people. But to also nudge maybe just one person to see the need. To commit to praying for our gospel needy area, both here in Cleck and around Yorkshire. To maybe even consider joining us in this mission. That here, in the Spen Valley, where for the vast, vast majority of people Jesus is not named or known. That here, the gospel might turn the world upside down.

Big hopes for a Twitter thread I know. But then, who’d have thought 120 terrified losers, hiding out in a spare room would ever have any impact on the world…

The one with the racists…

There are some things in life that you think are just ‘wrong’, right?. We’ve all got that list in our heads in some form or other. I’m not talking sin or illegal. I’m talking cultural habits that people around us love, but we hate with a passion. You know the kind of thing I mean: watching Strictly, barn dances, socks and sandals, dance music, eating hummus, supporting Leeds United (ok, that last one should be illegal!)… It tends to be summat and nowt, harmless, a bit of banter that brings colour to life. But what about when we start to do the same with people? You see, that can get a bit more tasty.

Wrong, wrong, wrong! Just wrong…

Because, as I stated to explore last time, Jesus was well known in first century Judea as a wrong ‘un: a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. If ever anybody fell in with the wrong crowd…

I mean, tax collectors were bad, right? They screwed their own people over for a slice of the Revenue’s pie. They rejected God’s covenant for the instant gratification of a cut of their mate’s giro. And sinners were called sinners because they were…well, you know, sinners. They broke the Lord’s commandments flagrantly and without shame. Often in their very line of work. And yet it was to these people that Jesus gave his time. To Matthew and his mates that he became a mate (Matt. 9.9-11). Them that he came to rescue (Matt. 9.12-13).

Matthew’s house: surprisingly similar to Spoons in Cleck…

As I said last time, I’ve been thinking carefully recently about what it means in our context to follow a Saviour who came for tax collectors and sinners. A Saviour who was a friend to those society rejected. And I’ve come to a shocking conclusion. I reckon it means I too should be a friend to tax collectors and sinners. To invest in them, love them, show them Jesus. Nuts, eh?!

And here’s the thing: I don’t primarily mean my mate who spends his working week in the HMRC offices. Because in our context it means I’m going to have friends who don’t fit into our societies’ nice little boxes.

You see, I am a friend of racists. Proper, open racists. People who won’t buy stuff because Asian people are selling it. They might look over their shoulder before they say it. But they’ll say it all the same.

And I’m a friend of junkies. Of alcoholics. Of people who shout, and swear, and smoke, and fight. Of people who are…well, you know, sinners.

That’s not because I’m special. I’m not some hardcore Christian, specially gifted to reach those who a large, and vocal, part of our society rejects. My friends are just normal people. They’re sinners. Like you, and like me. It’s just their sins are not always the respectable ones that our society accepts.

And I love them. Some of the things they say I disagree with! Some of them we have debates about. But it’s not summat I go on about a lot. They’re my mates. I like them. And, ultimately, it’s not their biggest problem. They need Jesus, and his gospel. And so I don’t want to hold them at arm’s length until they clean up their views on ethnicity, or their bloodstream, or (perhaps most shockingly to some) their language. I want to invest in my friends and tell them of the glorious good news of a Saviour who died that racists, junkies, and nutjobs might be holy and blameless children of their heavenly Father.

You see, Paul tells us that, ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Rom. 5.8) Not after we’d cleaned ourselves up, and gone all respectable. And that means that I’m as needy as they are. The only difference is that, unlike those religious leaders in Matthew 9, because of God’s grace I know I’m sick. In ways that you will never know. And I don’t even want to know what goes on in your head! But Jesus came not to call the righteous (that’d be a one sided conversation!), but sinners. The gospel is for sinners. And unless we’re prepared to stick our messy, sinful hearts into the messy, sinful lives of those around us, they’re not going to hear it.

You’re context might be different. Maybe it’s the multi-millionaire tax dodgers and the crooked bosses who are the tax collectors (literally) and sinners in your community. We don’t tend to get too many of them in Cleck. But whatever our context, the bare facts are these: Jesus died for sinners. Jesus came for sinners. Not for the righteous. If you say you follow him and yet your only friends are the righteous (or those who think they are), then there might be a good chance that you’re doing it ‘wrong’.

To the Pub…

A few years ago, a good friend, who I massively respect, told me that I needed to be careful with my alcohol intake. That the amount I was drinking was a lot for a pastor. That I could end up on the slippery slope to secret excessive alcohol use. To me the princely sum of about 4 pints a week didn’t seem excessive. To my friend, apparently, it was.

The Malt: like Mos Eisley… just without the band…


I don’t tell this story to make my friend seem like some sort of legalistic prude, he was genuinely looking out for me. But I do want to make the point that so often we can fall into simply following our cultural norms in how we think about living the Christian life. And, especially in a place like Cleck, that can have implications for how we’re able to reach the people who live around us with the gospel.


I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about the fact that Jesus was called a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. It all started with a comment from Andy Prime, in his session at the Gospel and Class Conference in London last September, which my friend Matt tweeted.


It struck me as bang on for our folks, not just me, as we seek to reach our town and valley. For the vast majority of people in our town, social life is built around the pub and the chippy/pizza place. That’s where you meet your mates. That’s where you catch up on news. That’s where you laugh at the latest idiotic post about dog mess or bad parking on the Cleckheaton Matters Facebook group. That’s where you relax. Very often the people in the pub, including the people behind the bar, are your family.


And therefore, if we want to share Jesus with people, that’s where we need to be as well. Not just once a week where we all pile in as a group of church people. But regularly spending time where people are at. And spending time with people, chatting, getting to know them, remembering their names and situations. Now, before you shout at me, I am aware that for some people the pub’s not a helpful place to be. We do have to be careful not to cause people to stumble, or lead people where their conscience doesn’t allow.

Spoons: the centre of (retired) life in Cleck…


But in our context, people spend their evenings in the Malt Shovel, the Commercial, and the Rose and Crown. And retired people spend their days in Wetherspoons. And that means I drink a few more than 4 pints a week (along with a decent amount of refillable coffee!) My friend might think I’m in danger of turning into a drunkard. I’m confident I’m not, and I certainly don’t drink to excess (as my wife and Elders will testify as they hold me accountable). But I’m willing for people to call me a drunkard if they want. Because I am building more and more relationships with the regulars in the pubs I go in. They’re slowly starting to accept me as one of the regulars too. And fairly often, we have discussions about what I do for a living, and why I want to follow this Jesus fella. Sometimes that morphs into fully orbed opportunities to clearly explain the gospel, sometimes it doesn’t. But I passionately believe, and am praying, that one day I’ll be baptising someone from Cleck who starts their testimony with, ‘So I was sat in the Malt Shovel one night…’


If I want to follow Jesus, and help others to know him, I’ve got to think through what taking up my cross means. Now let’s be honest, sitting in the pub regularly is not that much of a cross for me. But the quickly suppressed frowns of some other Christians when I explain how I spend my time sometimes can be. The need to get up and out when I’m knackered and would rather just stick Netflix on sometimes can be. Because I follow a Saviour who was willing to be called a glutton and a drunkard, so that his people might meet him and know his grace.


Your context might be different. But, be certain, there is some area where, in order to reach people for Jesus, you’re going to have deny yourself, take up your cross, and sacrifice the good opinion of other Christians. Do you love the people around you enough to get on and do that?


Next time, I want to think through what following Jesus in the second half of that first century insult looks like in our context. Let me tell you about my friend, the racist…

Welcome to Cleck!

Cleckheaton is a belter of a place to live. The bloke who wrote the Mr. Men grew up here. It’s got good transport links, within easy reach of Leeds, Manchester, Bradford, Huddersfield. I can testify that it’s got some great pubs, a place where you can get a banging pie and chips, and a top live music venue (if you like tribute acts!). But perhaps the biggest claim to fame (it’s on all the signs when you drive into town) is that we have the world’s biggest Indian restaurant! Which would be perfect, if only I liked curry…

But Aakash is more than just a restaurant (and if you really don’t like curry, they do a tasty chicken and chips). It stands as a monument to the gospel need of my town, my valley, my county. You see the building that houses Aakash used to house an old Congregational Church. With space for 2000 people, it wasn’t small either. It reflected the gospel life in the Spen Valley that had bloomed in the 18th century revival.   

Now I’m not one to get sentimental about old church buildings. A building is a building. If it outlives it’s usefulness, ditch it. I’m just conscious of the symbolism. Conscious of the fact that the vast, vast majority of people in my town would rather enjoy a tasty korma than taste and see that the Lord is good. Which is probably true for your town or city as well.

But the truth in our town is that, not only do most people not want to hear the gospel, here there’s not much opportunity for them to hear it even if they did. It’s why we planted Spen Valley Church here just under two years ago. Because two years in, the vast majority of people I speak to in the town have never knowingly spent any amount of time with a bible-believing Christian, or heard the good news of salvation in Jesus. And I speak to people in that situation every day. The opportunities to share the gospel with people are seemingly endless, you just have to walk out the door.

But that opportunity brings it’s own challenges. As a church we have 14 members. There are 17000 people in Cleck, and 50000 in the Spen Valley. The harvest field is huge, the workers are very few. If we’re going to take this opportunity we need people to come and join us. To get stuck into life here. To join with us in an opportunity to share Jesus.

But the Aakash has something to say to that as well. Although people in Cleck do go there, Aakash is full when the car park is full. People drive in, have their fill, and leave.

After all, who wants to live in a fairly run down post-industrial Yorkshire mill town? Who wants to come and invest in it’s people?

Maybe people who follow a bloke who came from a poor, northern town that nobody wanted to move to. A bloke who spent most of his ministry walking around two bit northern towns, and had compassion on those very northerners, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. A bloke whose compassion drove him to a cross in order to be the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. And a bloke whose compassion drove him to command his disciples that they should, ‘ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.’ (Matthew 9.35-38)

One of the aims of this blog is to shine a light on what ministry in a small Yorkshire town is like. But also to shine a light on the opportunity there is to share the gospel in towns like Cleck all across Yorkshire and the North of England. To say, ‘Come over and help us’. Because we can shuffle the sheep who already have a shepherd as much as we like. But unless they hear the gospel, those without a shepherd in Cleck, in Yorkshire, in the north of England, are just going to happily crack on with eating their korma…