Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Building up the Body in Britain: A guest post by Brett McCracken

One of the tensions of any healthy church is the tension of gathering and scattering, of strong community and robust mission; or as we often talk about at Southlands, of winning “home and away games.” Managing this tension is not easy but it is biblical. Jesus set the model for it early with his disciples. Mark 3:14 says that Jesus called the twelve for the sake of interpersonal community (“so that they might be with him”) but also for mission (“and he might send them out to preach”). Discipleship is always about gathering and growing together but also scattering and sending out on mission.

That is why Southlands sent a team to the UK for 12 days earlier this month, ministering to churches far away from “home.” Even when things are busy on the homefront (in this case with the launch of the Whittier community!) it is important to keep a perspective on what “home” really means in the kingdom of God. One could argue that, as all believers’ true “home” is their heavenly inheritance, winning “home games” is actually any success we achieve in building up or expanding the family of God.

 As our team of 11 from Southlands worshipped alongside brothers and sisters in Christ in the UK, living in their homes and enjoying long meals with them, this sense of redefined “home” was felt strongly. We may not share national citizenship with them, but we share a heavenly citizenship and a sense of being pilgrims and aliens in this world, together. We are the same family, the same team. Our victories and losses are shared.

While in the country we spent concentrated time with two partner churches. The first was Cornerstone Church in Newcastle, a church that has been dear to Southlands for as long as it has existed (planted by Southlands members Drew and Tammy Davis). Pastored by South African expats Mike and Esole Duff, Cornerstone occupies a floor of an office building in the center of Newcastle upon Tyne, a large university town in Northeast England. The second was Jubilee Community Church in Maidenhead, just outside of London. Pastored by Stuart and Louise Otto, this church was originally planted by Charles Spurgeon in 1873.

Though both Cornerstone and Jubilee are small by American standards, they are large and lively by UK standards. We were heartened and impressed by these churches’ passion, efficiency and hospitality. Our Southlands team served in a variety of ways during the weekends we spent with each church. We led workshops on topics ranging from discipleship and evangelism to marriage and parenting. During Sunday services Alan preached and our team led worship, prayed and ministered to people in a variety of ways. At Cornerstone in Newcastle we helped put on a Friday night concert/outreach event in a pub in the center of the city. At Jubilee we were able to help serve and facilitate a conference of British church planters associated with the Advance network. The Holy Spirit moved strongly at both churches while we were there, both in individual lives and in catalyzing change for the churches as a whole.

The churches we spent time with proved to be counter-examples to the prevailing narrative of the UK being a “spiritually dead” nation where churches are all empty. Contrary to that often overstated diagnosis, the churches we visited were quite alive and bearing much fruit for the gospel. One church we visited briefly in London was Holy Trinity Brompton, a British megachurch and the birthplace of the Alpha  program. Pastored by Nicky Gumbel, HTB has a vibrant presence for Jesus in a very secular city. It was no coincidence that the first stranger we had a conversation with in a pub in London had not only heard of Alpha but had attended an Alpha group in London (twice). 1 in 3 Londoners knows what Alpha is. Amazing!

Though it was costly to send a team of 11 Southlands leaders (including two elders) to the UK on the same week that Southlands Whittier was launched, it was also a beautiful picture of the healthy functioning of the body of Christ. The UK trip was about one part of the body working to make another part of the body healthier. And the whole body (Southlands Brea/Fullerton/Whittier, Jubilee, Cornerstone, etc.) emerges stronger from it.

We see this model in the New Testament: Paul writing to churches and gospel partners in various parts of the world, encouraging them in faith and ministry, addressing areas of unhealthiness and laboring to strengthen the whole body of Christ. And that is what we sought to do on this trip.
One great thing about the trans-national, cross-cultural diversity of the body of Christ is that believers from different backgrounds and from across oceans help other believers see things they might not otherwise see. Travel in general is one of the best ways to gain perspective on one’s home context, and the same goes for ministry-centered travel. This was certainly true for us. From the UK church we come home inspired to be as “all in” as they are, efficient and lean in operation, persistent in service even when major “wins” are few and far between. And the UK church gained new perspectives and insights from us as well, with reports of gratitude coming back from various folks we encountered. 

“Home and away” ministry is never easy, but it’s always rewarding. Whether down the street or across the ocean, may we always see the benefit in building up the body of Christ.


  1. It was a pleasure and a privilege to have you all come and serve at Cornerstone so humbly and lovingly. I know I truly appreciated the openness and desire to build relationships that I felt from every member of your team, you didn't see this as a chance to swoop in and minister first aid to a smaller (and therefore inferior) church but as an opportunity to build cross continental relationships that will last and to support the kingdom plans and gifts God has in store for the churches here. Thank you all.

  2. Thank you for this, Andy. So good to be be with you all again.