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Half Time: 6 months into our first year as a church

It's been 6 months since we became a church, and to celebrate we took this Sunday to reflect on where we've been and where we're heading. You can listen to the talk here, but I wanted to jot down a bit of a list too for those who like to read and consider. #introvertsunite

In Matthew 7, to land the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to "build your house on the rock." As a church that is unashamedly pursuing Jesus, this is exactly what we have been trying to do. We don't want Central Vineyard to be a flash-in-the-pan – we want it to have longevity and health, and so we have spent the first part of this year digging particular foundations that this "Rock" would have us build on:

  • We wanted to get back to the roots of what church is: a gathering of witnesses (rather than a service to attend).
  • We wanted to be a church where everyone knows their own story is important and powerful. We continue to hear great stories every week as we have learned to keep asking people the question, "What's your story?"
  • We wanted to be a church that would bless our city, so we have created our missional expressions together in collaboration. We have launched our first mission expression, Forward.

How is it all going? Well, pretty good actually. Our church has grown substantially over these first 6 months while still holding tightly to these foundational values we have wanted to live out. It's grown so much that we have moments of feeling like the structure we have in place around it all is a bit strained, so we have some exciting developments:

  • We have been able to give Amber Osborn (operations administrator) and Emma Breetvelt (children and family ministry co-ordinator) small part-time salaries for their work in our church team.
  • We have decided that having to finish our Sunday gatherings so promptly at 11:30am (due to having to pack up and hand over to the next hall booking) is now robbing us of moments with God and with each other, so we are prayerfully looking for a new building premises.
  • We are seeing the fulfilment of several prophetic words that have been given to us over the last two years.

Where to next? Well we want another foundation at Central Vineyard to be that everyone knows they are gifted by the Holy Spirit to contribute, bless and play their part in what God is doing. So we have a new journey ahead which is called "Gifted", a series that will explore what it is to be natural, ordinary people of a supernatural, extraordinary God.

Just a note on this; on Sunday we opened up some space for people to listen to God at the end of our gathering and several words were given and emailed in afterwards – it seems our series has already begun!

Watching the church that was in our hearts for the last couple of years form into the Central Vineyard we have today is one of the most exciting things I have ever had the privilege of seeing in my life. Gab and I love where this is all going and we will continue to prayerfully go wherever God's presence is leading us as a family, and keep our hand to digging good foundations for the future. 

Aroha nui,

Dan

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A theology of light and lampstands

Wait, so what's this for?

'Light' envelopes the narrative of the Scriptures. First, light springs forth as the first created thing in Genesis 1:3 and then, like a flashing beacon helping us keep our bearings, it flashes some two hundred more times, before the final beacon flashes in Revelation 22 where God himself is now the light and He has obliterated all darkness.

This narrative of the theme of 'light' forms a grounding theology for how we are to understand what it is to be a missional person; what it is to be a person who lives outward.

Let's start at the very beginning, shall we?

The creation story that opens up the Bible is a story of God bringing order and purpose to what was previously just black chaos. He takes darkness, and creates it's antitheses: light. God goes on to create a perfect creation, a creation that is found perfect not because of an absence of darkness, but because of the complete presence of God's shalom. In this creation He places a tree called the "The tree of life", but we'll come back to that in a little while...

Now, read just a little further and we see it doesn't stay this way. Mankind disobeys God and brings upon itself the result of the disruption of God's shalom, the chaos and curse of death and darkness again making itself felt. But immediately God sets about making it right again.

Let's fast forward a little bit, to where God has chosen a group of people to be His "light" to the world, a motley-bunch called the Israelites who are stumbling and grumbling their way through the desert at the time. God speaks to them one day and tells them He is no longer going to just be leading them from infront, but now dwelling with them, and so they are to build him a house called The Tabernacle. This God-house is to have some furniture in it and like a lot of things we encounter in the Bible, these things have more than one function. A lot of these pieces of furniture are to not just do what they do, but to also be symbols of things that are important.

So, in Exodus 25:31-40, God tells the Israelites the kind of lampstand that is to be in this God-house; and it's very detailed. To help you out, here is what it looked like:

This lampstand tells three key stories to the people of God, reminding them of three important truths:

  1. A lampstand holds light: God is the original source of light and it is what defeats darkness
  2. It's shaped the way it is to represent the 'Tree of Life' that was placed in the Garden of Eden: life in it's fullest comes from God
  3. The light was to reflect out: this presence and life was to shine, not just stay here and be contained

And so off it all went. The Tabernacle was built and found in amongst the various activity of the God-house was this lampstand – the symbol of God's presence, life and mission – for many years until an interesting thing happens in the book of Psalms.

In Psalm 132:17 it says that "my annointed one will be a light for my people." Interesting. Now it's not about a piece of furniture being the place of light, but a shift is taking place to a person. But it doesn't stop there...

In Isaiah 60 we find another bright flash of the light imagery being used:

“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see.
For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.
Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,
but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
All nations will come to your light;
mighty kings will come to see your radiance.
“Look and see, for everyone is coming home!

Something big is coming. It involves an anointed one like David was, and it will change everything. We fast forward a little further and we discover the culmination of all of these things. It happens in the form of Jesus, the One who comes as the new temple, the new God-house, the new lampstand, the new tree of life and then some. In John 8, Jesus declares one of His seven "I am..." statements about himself. The one He uses here?

I am the light of the world.

With these seven words, Jesus declares that He is the embodiment of all that the weirdly-over-detailed-lampstand from earlier was representing: He is now the place of God's presence, God's life and God's mission. Job done, the end.

Oh wait, no it isn't. 

Jesus turns to His followers and He tells them that they too are the light of the world. Now, I don't know about you, but suddenly that one is a biggie. We like Jesus being the light of the world – the place of God's presence, life and mission – but us? Really?

It goes on a little further.

In the last book of the Bible, John is seeing a wild vision of what is going on in God's future-age, and for the first three chapters Jesus sends seven letters to seven churches. Before He starts writing them in chapters 2 and 3, in Revelation 1:20, He refers to them as something:

This is the meaning of the mystery of the seven stars you saw in my right hand and the seven gold lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Lampstands. Jesus calls these new communities in these cities lampstands; Churches are the place of God's presence, the place of God's life and the place of God's mission.

And this is where we sit today.

We have a world that is full of thousands of communities that are doing these three things, churches that are lampstands in their cities, towns and villages. Light, which is the antithesis of darkness, shines from the faithful people of these communities, until the day when Jesus completes His work of making all things new – so new that there is no need for even the sun. 

We are the lampstands in our time and place of history – the people of God's presence, the people of His life and the people of His mission – and you're invited to play your part.

To finish, a poem:

She rises
stretching across the vast expanse of land and sea, confidently assured of her duty:
emitting warmth, colour and light—the essentials to human life
with no definite boundary.

She turns
revealing all: ashamed not of her grandeur or form;
afraid not of facing toward what we deem
dim and dark.

She turns
revealing all: by her boundless beams of light we see more
of the world—its beauty and flaws, and beauty in the flaws
and of ourselves too.

The cold of yesterday burns away, and we bask.

Few of us.

Backs turned and heads bowed
under a harsh false light that contrasts What We Want and What We Have Now
we worship our plans towards no-things we avow ‘sacred’
and our vision of her gets clouded.

She falls
despising her rays and hiding them away
draining the world of its colour until—
darkness.

Oh! What a loss to the world when she does not shine.

But then! — She rises again, stretching across the vast expanse of land and sea:
not craving validation like human forms of divine creativity;
not shining only when she sees
our eyes rest upon her.

And she turns again
revealing her mass and grandeur, as if our attention did not matter to her;
as if the pleasure of one — The Creator — who has no need for suns
was enough.
— poem by Hayley Morrison

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I had vowed that this Sunday wouldn't happen

When I was a teenager, I watched as my parents went through an incredibly painful and hard period of ministry as the pastors of our church. I haven't made many vows in my life, but I remember making a very clear one at the time: "There is no way I would ever be a pastor."

Oh, how I laugh at that now.

This Sunday we have a very special celebration happening; we are being commissioned into the Vineyard Churches of Aotearoa NZ family, and with that, Gab and I are being commissioned as 'real' pastors. I had vowed this Sunday wouldn't happen.

I am so glad that my teenage vow hasn't eventuated. Just last Sunday at our weekly gathering we heard several stories of what people had experienced during our Prayer Week. If I had seen through my vow, I would never of had the pleasure of hearing these stories of God-at-work right now amongst us. It's an incredible privilege to watch firsthand the new and fresh activity of what God is up to.

We'd love to have you come and celebrate this special moment with us. We have Lloyd and Victoria Rankin, the national directors of the Vineyard, coming to share and lead our commissioning, and then straight afterwards we are want to invite you to stay for a big picnic lunch outside, our shout.

We're set to celebrate, and we'd love to have you there. 



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2015 Wrap-up

Well, what a year. When we began 2015 we were meeting monthly in our lounge for a BBQ, some worship and prayer.

Then we started doing a gathering in a cafe.

Then we decided to do it in a church hall in Mt Eden, and took a punt on moving to a Sunday evening.

Then, as of seven weeks ago, we began doing that at Auckland Normal Intermediate hall on a Sunday morning – oh, and just to add to the workload, doing it every week…

When we began 2015, I never thought this is how we would finish, but as I look back (which is a great thing to do at this time of year) I am thankful to God for such a good year of growing this plant into what it is. What a ride to have been on!

There are some great stories from 2015: we have had people share with us that they have found “home” at our church; we’ve heard stories from people of God-encounters during our gatherings; we got our hands dirty when we collectively gave three big trolley-loads of food to the Auckland City Mission for our Christmas Mission and I just heard a story this Sunday from a guy who has been sharing about Jesus to a young man at his work. That young man has made a decision to begin trusting in Jesus and our guy and his wife bought him a Bible this week. Exciting things have been happening, and I’m sure they will continue to do so.

In 2016 we will be launching our kids programme and we are excited to have people keen to play their part in what God is doing through us. There’s already people putting their hand up to lead new community groups, grow our experiences in worship, serve the needs in our city, and be generous in hospitality and connecting with people…

But hold the horses, that’s for next year, and we aren’t quite there yet. Now is a good time to be present to what we are in: a precious moment for a good rest.

Now is a good time to be present to what we are in: a precious moment for a good rest. We hope you enjoy a good breather over the Christmas and summer break. May you be present to what the Lord is doing as you reflect and we hope to see you back for a great year at Central Vineyard on Sunday January 17th, 2016.

We hope you enjoy a good breather over the Christmas and summer break. May you be present to what the Lord is doing as you reflect and we hope to see you back for a great year at Central Vineyard on Sunday January 17th, 2016.

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Pre-Launch update

Today is quite a special day, because as I write this, it's been exactly one year since I finished working at Shore Vineyards. It's been 365 days since I sat down at my dinner table on the morning of September 1st 2014 and realised I didn't have my old job to go to, because my future was now as a church planter. It was a future of the unknown if I'm being completely honest.

Fast forward to the Sunday night just been: I’m nervously watching people go forward to the communion table because judging by my maths, the 50 or so cups that we had setup wouldn’t be enough. What a good problem to have...

A lot has happened since then. Back then it was just Gab, a couple of friends and myself who were beginning to pray and dream about (what would become) Central Vineyard. We would get together around our dinner table or meet on the couches in our lounge. It was quite manageable.

Fast forward to the Sunday night just been: I'm nervously watching people go forward to the communion table because judging by my maths, the 50 or so cups that we had setup wouldn't be enough. What a good problem to have... (Thanks to those in our team who caught me eye and held back.)

This pre-launch period that we are in at the moment is some of the most exciting days I have had leading church. My continual prayer for God to "send workers for the harvest" are being answered. Terrific people who want to give this a go are showing up and putting their hands to work. Our team is working well together, growing in love for each other and sharing our lives more and more with each month that goes by. Our venue in Mt Eden is getting some great comments from those coming along. There's something about being in an old church, but doing it in a new way that has always been appealing to me. I love the sense of standing on the shoulders of great work already done by generations of saints in our city. Although we don't know if we'll be staying there when we launch this church into weekly gatherings, it sure is a great place to be at the present moment.

We’re tasting God’s presence as we worship and minister, we’re seeing community slowly form as strangers become friends and family, and my favourite thing is watching people excited about playing their part and using their gifts.

We're tasting God's presence as we worship and minister, we're seeing community slowly form as strangers become friends and family, and my favourite thing is watching people excited about playing their part and using their gifts.

We have one more pre-launch gathering scheduled in for this month on Sunday, September 27th. Depending on what we sense the Lord is leading us in, and how things go this month, we might hit the "launch" button in October, or we might loop in this pre-launch phase for a little longer. Whatever we do, we'll be letting people know during September, so stay tuned.

Please keep praying for us – hold us in your hearts and ask God to give us eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to believe for what He is leading us in.

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SHORE VINEYARD SENDING SERVICES THIS SUNDAY

In September 2014, I stood in front of Shore Vineyard churches for the last time and was decommissioned as the assistant pastor. Gabrielle and I were being released to begin our explorative journey of what it was to plant the church God was putting on our hearts. We didn't know what it was going to be like, but we were willing to give it a shot. 

Over the coming months our Central Vineyard church plant has slowly emerged. People have signed up and plans have formed. God began showing us what direction to head in and we have started to head there and see what happened. We are now well on our way in this journey – it's not just a hunch anymore, but a reality.

Which brings us to this Sunday: we will stand in front of our Shore Vineyard family again, this time not to be decommissioned to investigate, but commissioned to go and do what we are now doing: planting Central Vineyard.

In the book of Acts is the story of the birth of the Church. Jesus issues the visionary orders that they will be filled with God's Spirit and they are to "go to the ends of the earth." This all becomes a reality by the explosive act of God's Spirit creating a strong gathering of believers in Jerusalem and then, through the persecution of the believers, the church scatters out into the surrounding regions where these scattered-ones don't stop sharing this new Good News and making more believers...

...who form more gatherings. The way the church spread was by the gathered ones becoming the scattered ones, who then made more gathered ones who joined in God's work in that other place. It took being grounded somewhere, but also the uprooting of being sent out.

Our church roots are with the gathered ones of Shore Vineyards, our fantastic church family who have grown us up to be the people we are today, and bitter-sweetly, this weekend we will be with this family for the last time. This Sunday, our SVC family will do like the prophets and teachers of Antioch did in Acts 13:3, who "laid their hands on them and sent them on their way", releasing Paul and Barnabas to go and do what the Holy Spirit was leading them to do.

We know that the Body of Christ is one of gathering together, but also being scattered elsewhere to be salt and light. As John Wimber used to say, “we want to be change in God’s pocket, and He can spend us however He likes” and this is how we are choosing to be spent.

We are proud of our roots. We love Vic and Fran, our pastors who have equipped us and raised us up. We love the countless amount of people we have served alongside in all kinds of ways over the years – many of them are close friends still today, and we will miss doing the work of the Kingdom with them all. There is the sad and painful cost for us in being uprooted and sent, and it's that we don't get to do this with this family anymore. But this is what it looks like to be in a movement of churches that values multiplication – we know that the Body of Christ is one of gathering together, but also being scattered elsewhere to be salt and light. As John Wimber used to say, "we want to be change in God's pocket, and He can spend us however He likes" and this is how we are choosing to be spent.

So we look forward to being with our Shore Vineyard family this Sunday, as they bless us to be sent on our way to go make our new family, Central Vineyard. If you're a friend who is going to be there, we look being with you then and receiving your blessing to go.

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Winter Update

Last week we were in the middle of our fourth monthly gathering at Crave cafe, when one of our team led us all through a prayer time after the worship. James invited us all to get into small groups around our tables and to either pray for a) each other, or b) our church plant.

For the next five minutes I was blown away. I listened gratefully as the room buzzed with the prayers and petitions of people praying for us and/or each other. It's sometimes hard to know how "planting a church" is going, it can be quite immeasurable. But in this moment of planting Central Vineyard, this moment of a room buzzing with prayers, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. We are witnesses to a great thing; Christ is building this church and there is no turning back now.

At times we're feeling like grown-ups already. We've had great things to celebrate such as a couple in our leadership team having their first baby and friends who have been in a season of being prodigals who have given their lives back to Christ. We've also had some hard and painful things to go through already as well. What was it that Paul said in Romans 12? "Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who are weeping." Yeah, we are getting that one.

Now, a word on what's next. On July 5th we are being released and sent from our sending church, Shore Vineyard. On that Sunday we will be prayed out and commissioned as a team, and from that Sunday onwards we'll be looking to turn up the heat on Central Vineyard church plant and get it ready for the spring months of 2015 to launch it publicly and properly. We'll be planning to start gathering regularly together (rather than just our once-a-month) and making our preparations to become a fully-operating commissioned Vineyard church. It's all very, very exciting.

And now, a word of thanks to some people. For those who are praying with and for us, thank you. We are feeling very loved and led by the Father, Son and Spirit in all of this, and we know it's because of people like yourselves who are praying. For those who are financially giving to us, thank you. You gift is helping us to do church and bless people around us as we need to. For those who are inviting people and sending people our way, thank you for believing in us and what we are doing to trust your friends and family with us.

We look forward to what is going to happen over the winter as we take the steps of planning for the spring – the season of new life, quite literally. Our new life being the intended launch of our church community and playing our part in the loving and serving of Auckland city.

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Benchmarks | Inventive Hospitality

There are a bunch of moments in the Scriptures where authors are writing to new communities of faith, giving them some benchmarks to aim for as they live out following Jesus together. For this blog series we are taking some of these benchmarks and seeing what we can learn from them in our own journey.

Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
— Romans 12:13, The Message

Last week I got on a plane and headed to Australia to attend a conference. I was with a friend who had done most of the organising of this trip on my behalf (thanks Andy...) and he had lined up a place for us to stay for a few nights with some friends he knew. I didn't know these people, they were strangers – and I also didn't know that these strangers were about to school me on what it looks like to welcome a stranger.

"I'll be comfortable, if you're comfortable." Those were the words that Tim said to me as we introduced ourselves to each other, and boy, did I end up feeling pretty comfortable. Offers to "help yourself" to everything in the fridge rung out; questions of "what are you up to?" were genuinely listened to with stories traded of where we've been and what we've done; more offers to "help yourself" followed by helpful advice for the next day's adventure were then followed by more offers of "help yourself – mate, do you want some ice cream?"

Yes.

It's amazing to me how such openness to serve someone can take one from being a stranger, to becoming a friend. Every offer of a beer, or a question of "how did you sleep?" was like a drawbridge that was lowered into my world, inviting me to cross over into theirs.

I'm not good at being a stranger and I don't like staying one when I can help it. At Tim and Cand's place in Curl Curl, I didn't stand a chance.

Here in Paul's letter to the Romans he is describing what a life of worship looks like – a life where we point to the glory of someone else. In amongst all kinds of advice is this line that I have made a personal manifesto of how I want to live my life: "be inventive in hospitality." If I could rewrite this, it would say, "be creative and bold in serving everyone with what you have."

Now, a slight tangent for a moment.

A buzzword in church-circles these days is "community". Everyone seems to be "aiming" for it. The problem is, when we make a word like "community" the focus of our communities, we keep aiming for our ideal of it and never really hit it at all, and we end up selling ourselves short and think that just by having a potluck dinner once every couple of months we have "it". But, if we start to break it down into little chunks – little benchmarks like Paul is doing here – and do those things, suddenly one day we look around and realise we have found community as a result.

It's one of those tree/fruit kind of things. "Community" is the fruit of a tree of "service", not the other way around.

Radical service of people with all that you have, whatever that is, is always going to help build community. It will include people and it will humble others. It will use gifts and resources that are in abundance, and it will require sacrifice of things that are tight. It will make some mess, and it will do some tidying. It will love, and it will be loved.

And when all this inventive hospitality of strangers settles, we look around, and we realise that we are now surrounded by friends.

At Central Vineyard, as a church plant, we are preparing to walk this kind of adventure of strangers becoming friends. The call for everyone to be open to inventive hospitality – both giving it, and receiving it – will see us forever in a good direction. In stealing the words of my new friend Tim, "we'll be comfortable, when you're comfortable."

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First gathering wrap-up

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The last time we gathered last year, it filled up our lounge and we had a hunch that we wouldn't be able to keep meeting there due to size. So this week we gathered at Crave Cafe on Wednesday evening and it turned out we were right: we wouldn't have been able to fit this in our lounge anymore.

We had 30+ people come to our "taste-and-see" styled night where we just wanted to be ourselves as a church expression and see who might find a place that feels like "home". Together we enjoyed some great coffee (thanks Heather, the great Crave barista who hosted us!), our team led us all wonderfully as we worshipped together, prayed and listened to the Spirit for a while. I spoke on "learning to walk: community and Kingdom" and to finish we came to the communion table.

It was pretty amazing to see something that has lived for so many months inside our hearts, minds and journals start to come out and become tangible, and it feels like the start of something good.

We want to say a big "thank you" to our growing team who are making all of this happen, and to those who are supporting us. We are so grateful.

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Benchmarks | Him first

There are a bunch of moments in the Scriptures where authors are writing to new communities of faith, giving them some benchmarks to aim for as they live out following Jesus together. For this blog series we are taking some of these benchmarks and seeing what we can learn from them in our own journey.

Don’t grieve God. Don’t break His heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.
— Ephesians 4:30, The Message

Stories inform us of where we have come from, and for this Benchmark I want to draw on a great story from the history of the Vineyard. John Wimber was a busy, tired and broken man who had become “internally bankrupt" while working long hours as a church growth consultant for Fuller Seminary. One night as he lay exhasperated in a hotel room the Lord drew him to read Psalm 61 and then spoke to him these life-altering words:

John, I have seen your ministry and now I am going to show you mine.

This phrase sums up the ground work that the Vineyard movement was started on; a group of tired and weary people who humbly sought the Spirit’s work rather than their own – a  group who wanted to see the Lord’s ministry at work before them. This is the right-way-round way to do it and this order has been around for a long time.

In the Prophetic books of the Bible, the prophets are constantly urging the people of Israel to return to Spirit-first living, Jesus heralded this way of doing things, and here in Ephesians 4 Paul echoes it again, laying it out as a benchmark for the new church of Ephesus. He says to them that they should be people who don’t miss putting the work of God up at the front-end of all the proceedings in their lives and their community. It’s a big deal, so he uses a powerful phrase, in a similar way to the prophets: don’t grieve God.

Perhaps a parable might help thread this out a little more.

Now, imagine for a second you are a father or mother, and your teenage kid wants to start playing a new sport – the same one you played and still love as a fan. You have helpful tips ready to give, you have some training in mind to help them build their skills, and most of all you are looking forward to hanging out with them more because of their involvement with this sport. All of this will give you joy.

One day you are waiting in the car for them to finish practice and you get a txt: “I’m making my own way home with so-and-so’s dad. See you later at home."

In the kitchen later that week, when you ask them about how that weak spot of their game is going, you get the reply, “Well, so-and-so’s dad says it doesn’t matter, so I’m just forgetting it for now."

A few weeks later they haven’t even told you where the game is that week. You get a txt late that afternoon asking for you to come pick them up and when you get there they are a little pissy with you that you are so late and left them in the rain.

Your plans of mentoring them and seeing them enjoy the sport you love has now become a new reality: you’ve become the back-up position for when their other plans don’t work out.

To put ourselves first and treat God as a back-up plan is to miss a big point; it’s getting the order wrong. In grieving the Spirit, we are grieving the work God wants to do in us, through us and with us, and that’s a gift we don’t want to neglect.

In this journey of following Jesus and planting this church, we know there's lots of wonderful ministry we could do, but in choosing humility, we want Him to show us His ministry first – and to continue to do so – because the last thing we want is to treat the Lord as our back-up plan.


 

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