Welcome to Newtown in the upper Severn valley, in the old county of Montgomeryshire. With a population of 13,000, it is the largest town in Powys. Newtown is a mixture of a traditional rural Welsh market town and an urban area, with several large estates dating back to the 1970s when new housing estates and industrial estates were built and the population rapidly doubled in size.
The church, which has around 100 members, reflects that mix — there are those whose families have lived for generations in the area, and those whose families moved into the area when the town expanded. The church was planted in 1979 when several families felt the need for a conservative evangelical church with an expository Bible ministry. They initially met in a community hall on Sundays and in homes in midweek. By 1987 God had so blessed the work that a building was able to be erected, at the entrance to one of the new estates on a large plot of land that the Lord wonderfully provided for us. We have been meeting there ever since. It has proved to be a great boat to fish from. Situated within easy walking distance of several estates, and with very flexible space inside, it is a great place from which to run children’s clubs, youth clubs, Mums and Toddlers and such like. We have had the opportunity to share the gospel with many people from the area in this way.
Like most churches, Newtown Evangelical has had its ups and downs, its challenging times and encouraging times, but in God’s goodness we have seen significant growth in the last decade.
Source of blessings
It is helpful to look back and try to identify those factors which God, in his grace, has been pleased to make a means of blessing. The first is the loving unity in the church. We are far from perfect, but God has blessed us in this area. We have a strong emphasis on a plural leadership and the unity among the eldership has been a great blessing. Of course we don’t always agree on everything – but there is a real love and respect for one another and it is truly a joy to meet together to pray and to seek the Lord’s will for the church. That unity among the elders has been reflected in harmony in church members’ meetings and in the loving concern for each other when we meet on Sundays and at other times. Please pray for us that we continue to be ‘eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Eph. 4:3), for our loving unity is an essential component of our outreach (John 17:20-23).
A second source of blessing has been a consistent emphasis on expository preaching. As the elders and other preachers in the church simply preach through books of the Bible we experience the truth of Ephesians 6:17: ‘the word of God is the sword of the Spirit’. Expository ministry maintained over many years enables us as a congregation to see more clearly what are God’s priorities and the emphases of his Word – over against passing fads and trends.
A third source of blessing has been an emphasis on prayer. Facing up to the fact that the Sunday morning service was clearly the best attended and most significant meeting in the life of the church, we have aimed to make prayer central to that meeting, by having an extended time of open prayer after the sermon each week. We have prayer in home groups, prayer at the central midweek meetings, twice weekly prayer meetings specifically for our outreach and for those who have backslidden. Feeling our own weakness, it is reassuring to keep turning to the One who can do what is impossible for us (Matt. 19:26).
Proclaiming the gospel
We have faced up to the fact that proclaiming the gospel is the mission of the church (Matt. 28:18-20, Luke 24:46-48) and kept prayerfully seeking the Lord’s wisdom for the best way to proclaim the gospel to our generation. Evangelism is the first item on the agenda at most elders’ meetings. God has been pleased to bless a variety of means including Christianity Explored courses, clubs and camps for children and young people, special services, and a variety of outreach events aimed at different groups ranging from ladies, through sports fans, to the elderly.
Of course, in a church that’s full of saved but still imperfect sinners who are living in a world full of pain and suffering in a society increasingly hostile to our God, we face many challenges. God, by his grace, has broadened the variety of people in the church to more accurately reflect the local community. As He has done so, we have members who live in very challenging situations with a myriad of problems, and so the pastoral issues we are having to deal with have increased in number, depth and complexity. We feel very inadequate and can only rejoice that we serve one who said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12:9).
Mid-Wales is an economically poor area and the recession has resulted in job losses and unemployment for some in the church and a consequent reduction in the church’s income. For several years we were able to support two full-time workers, but are currently going through a period where we are unable to do so. This looks like it may only have to be a temporary measure but it has necessitated a review of what activities we can run and how we organise our pastoral care. We are praying that God will work this for our good by encouraging more people to use the gifts God has given them in service (1 Peter 4:10-11), and also by spurring us all to care more for one another as Galatians 6:1-2, Hebrews 3:12-13 and 10:24-25, amongst many verses, command us to do. It’s not just a job for pastors or elders!
Reaching rural Wales
Like many churches in rural areas we also face the challenge of many of our young people leaving the area for university and often not returning. In God’s kindness we have been blessed with a good number of young adults and young families, but many churches in rural Wales are not so blessed. May I say a word to thriving churches in university towns with encouraging numbers of young adults? Please remember that many of them came from smaller churches in other parts of the country. Do you ever encourage any of your young families to see Wales as a mission field and to sacrificially move in the opposite direction and support the work of the gospel in small and struggling churches in the many needy rural areas of Wales? That does not require them all to become ‘full-time’ church workers, for many it may simply mean consciously seeking employment in an area which will enable them to be active members of a church that is currently struggling to reach out for lack of workers. It is great to see new initiatives to reach the Valleys but don’t forget the rest of Wales that lies north of the Brecon Beacons – much of which is rural. Churches in rural Wales are certainly earnestly praying the other Lord’s prayer: ‘Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest’ (Matt. 9:38).
‘Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness. (Ps. 115:1).