Christchurch, Newport celebrated its 20th anniversary in October. As we look back over the past two decades, we realise afresh that all we’ve experienced and achieved is completely down to one thing alone: the incredible grace of God to us in Jesus Christ.
It’s always a challenge when asked to write or speak about the church for others. The temptation is to ‘look too good, or talk too wise’ and paint a picture that may portray an image that is not the whole story, and make us appear far better than we really are. So firstly, I need to say that Christchurch has all the same struggles, disappointments, heartaches and sorrows that are common to us all. We get it wrong often; we’re weak in many areas; we at times see people fall away; sometimes we run evangelistic endeavours and nobody comes! Yet together with all of these ‘normal’ difficulties, and many more, we have seen God do some wonderful things in us and through us. By his grace we’ve seen lives turned around, sins forgiven and God glorified through new birth.
The church was planted in a bit of trauma! I was leading a church in Cardiff together with a good friend and we were being increasingly effected by a growing understanding of the gospel and all the implications that has on church life. We came to a place where we couldn’t in good conscience continue as pastors there and chose to step down from ministry in that church, leave the city and start a new church in Newport with those who would wish to join us. We were overwhelmed at the sacrifice and loyalty of so many who came with us to build a church on gospel foundations. Many of the people there on that first day are still loving and serving Christchurch 20 years on. We quickly found a home: the old BT telephone storage depot just off junction 26 of the M4, and we’ve been rebuilding and extending it over the years as our needs have changed.
Really only one; and from that one passion comes everything else. Our passion is Jesus Christ and him crucified. There are many new movements and gatherings that are now known as ‘gospel-centered’, for which we thank God; but for 20 years the gospel has been the single focus of the church. Our desire is to love the gospel, enjoy the gospel, teach the gospel, proclaim the gospel, apply the gospel to ourselves and take the gospel to others. It’s what we passionately sing about and always central in our preaching and care for the church. For us, it’s not just the doorway into the house; it’s the house itself, and is as vital to the ongoing growth of the believers as it is to unbelievers.
Our church life
The highlight of our week is the Sunday gathering. As a visitor, a few things may strike you straight away. Christchurch may not be small, but it’s still very much a family. One of the evidences of God’s grace to us is that we have such a cross section of different ages. From a thriving group of ‘older’ folk who set the example in their service and passion for Jesus, to a busy children’s and crèche ministry, we seem to have a wonderful balance of every age group throughout the church. When we gather together, although the sung worship would appear quite ‘modern’ (we are blessed with an outstanding team of songwriters and musicians who keep biblical truth central in all the songs we sing) we hold up the preached Word as the most important thing. For us, that means it’s always an expository message that becomes the focus of the whole meeting, with our singing and prayer in response to that Word.
But as important as the Sunday may be, the church is involved together in many other ways during the week. Whether it’s Bible studies in homes, or teens and young adults gatherings or the myriad of serving opportunities both inside and outside of the church facility, there’s always something going on all the time, especially as we continue to reach out with the gospel into a city we love deeply.
It’s my privilege to lead the church with a pastoral team of seven men who give themselves wholeheartedly to the ministry. The team has changed over the years, as we have planted churches in Bristol, Merthyr and Sydney (yep, Sydney, Australia!) as each plant has been led by men sent from within the team, together with members from the church. We would hope to continue to church plant again as soon as we are able.
I’m often asked by well-meaning folk from outside of the church ‘What is your vision for the future of Christchurch?’ I’ve never really been able to answer. We’ve never had a 10 year or five year plan! If that gives the impression we don’t know what we’re doing, then that wouldn’t be too far from the truth!
We aim to keep it simple. If we have a plan, it’s simply to be faithful to our calling. To continue to hold to the gospel, to care for one another, to become more like our Saviour and reflect him in our lives for the sake of each other and a lost and hurting world, both here in Newport and from here, to wherever the Lord may direct us.
By his grace he’s enabled us to do that for 20 years, and our hope and confidence is that he’ll continue to show us that same grace in the years ahead.