I recently had the chance to visit the States for two weeks as part of a 3-month sabbatical I’m taking this year. It was a wonderfully refreshing trip and I’ve been asked by a number of people from my church whether I’m going to report back on how things went. This post is PART 2 of my attempt to pull together some of my reflections and give an idea of what I got up to.
WEEK 2: Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville
|Bob Kauflin leading Sunday morning worship at SGCL|
While the Together for the Gospel conference was a huge refreshment and encouragement (you can read about that in PART 1 HERE) my second week with Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville (SGCL) was the highlight of my trip. And the reason is very simple: they pastored me.
SGCL started in 2012 as a church plant, but its pastors have been involved in pastoral ministry for many years. It is similar in size to Woodgreen. The senior pastor – C.J.Mahaney – is a preaching hero of mine. I listen to his sermons – and those of the other pastors - regularly and so when I realised that T4G was in the same city as the church they serve, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.
|Being pastored by CJ over lunch was one of the highlights of my trip.|
Sovereign Grace is a network of around 70 churches across the world, however their HQ is in Louisville. Here they have a Pastors College, which trains pastors and church planters, and they also have an active music ministry which produces contemporary gospel-centred songs, many of which we sing at Woodgreen.
|Brian Chesemore, one of the SGCL Pastors, leading communion|
During my nine days with them, I got to worship with them over two Sundays, sit in on some of their Pastors College lectures, meet the students, sit in on some of their mentoring sessions, meet one to one with each of the church’s pastors (usually over meals), and even attend an elders’ meeting. Their kindness and generosity towards me was remarkable and humbling.
On my final Sunday Jeff Purswell - one of the church’s pastors and the Dean of their Pastors College – asked if I would like to address the church and give some of my reflections of my time with them.
|Jess Purswell, one of the Pastors at SGCL and Dean of the SG Pastors College|
What follows is what I said. It’s probably the best way to sum up what the time with SGCL meant for me. I’ve interspersed it with some photos from my time with them.
Jeff has asked me to share with you some of my reflections of my time here with you over the last two weeks. It is my privilege and delight to do so because it gives me the opportunity to thank you for the welcome you have shown me and to commend you for the grace of God that is so clearly evident in your church family.
I first became aware of SG because of the Worship God leaders conferences that CJ, Bob and Jeff have done in the UK over the last few years. These have been such a blessing to me personally. Rather than leaving weighed down by a list of things I am not doing well as a pastor, I have left each one encouraged and refreshed and with a new awareness of the grace of God and the privilege of serving Him.
|CJ Mahaney preaching on Sunday|
So when my elders gave me the opportunity to take a sabbatical I immediately wondered whether a visit to Louisville would be a possibility. And my time here has exceeded all my expectations. It has been so incredibly refreshing and stimulating!
In particular - it has underlined for me three characteristics that I love about Sovereign Grace and that are so evident in this church.
Firstly, allow me to commend you because:
You have HOSPITABLE HEARTS - you model grace
|Out for lunch with the Pastors College students|
I have been overwhelmed by the hospitality you have shown me. One of the most striking ways you have done this is by taking me out for meals. I eaten well in the last two weeks!
In the Bible eating with others is a sign of acceptance and an extension of love. And you have excelled at that as a church! You have shown me remarkable hospitality despite the fact that you hardly know me. And in this way you have modelled grace to me. I will leave Louisville tomorrow with new friends in Christ - as well as an expanded waistline!
I particularly want to thank the Perkins family for opening up their home and their hearts to me. It has been tremendous fun spending time with Josh and Cheryl and their children. Guys, you have been such a blessing to me - thank you so much for putting me up and putting up with me.
|My host family who were such great fun!|
Secondly, I also want to commend you because:
You have SERVANT HEARTS - you’re shaped by grace
The most consistent phrase I’ve heard while I have been with you is this: ‘How can I serve you?’ That is a phrase - and more importantly an attitude towards others - which I have learnt from you and has made a significant impression on me. It is an attitude I will be taking with me back to Worcester.
It was a phrase I became accustomed to in the run up to my visit in my contact with Melissa in the church office. Melissa - thank you so much for your cheerful servant-heartedness in arranging my itinerary and looking after my needs. You have been God’s gift to me.
|Melissa in the Sovereign Grace church office|
Thirdly, allow me to commend you because:
You have BIG HEARTS - you extend grace
I’ve experienced this personally these last two weeks. But while here I’ve seen that this is not just personal to me, it is also part of your spiritual DNA as a local church and as a movement. This is one of the features of your church that is so attractive!
I want you to know how much of a blessing you are to the wider church and I want to encourage you to continue to be big-hearted in extending grace. I say this because I know it involves sacrifice. It involves cheerfully supporting your leaders as they give some of their time to serve the wider church.
When you send CJ, Bob and Jeff to do leadership conferences in the UK or elsewhere; when you support and work alongside Bob in his ministry with SGMusic producing gospel-centred songs; when you allow Jeff and Gary to invest their time in training and discipling men with their wives in the Pastors College; when you support your pastors as they mentor interns - many of whom will go on to serve in churches outside of Louisville; when you do these things, you are extending grace and blessing the wider church.
|A sermon feedback session at the Pastors College|
And that blessing extends to places like the church I serve in Worcester - 4000 miles away - and to the 500 churches that are part of my network of churches in the UK.
So as church members can I encourage you to continue to cheer on your pastors as they lead the way in extending grace to the wider church. I have seen firsthand that you are led well by men of integrity who love you and take seriously their responsibility to be good under-shepherds. Thank you for selflessly sharing them with the wider Church.
I am so grateful to God for you. I have learnt so much from you. I have been refreshed by my time with you. And therefore I feel towards you in the same way the apostle Paul felt about the church in Philippi.
‘I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace...’ (Phil 1:3-7a)
Please allow me to encourage you with these words - particularly from what Paul says in v6:
‘And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.’
We sometimes use this verse to encourage individual Christians who are struggling, but we do well to note that Paul gave this assurance to a church. Paul was sure that the good work God had started in the church in Philippi - would be brought to completion. Can I urge you to remember that in the times of trial you experience as a fellowship.
God will complete the good work he has started in you as a church. His purposes for you will not be thwarted or sidetracked or knocked off course. And a small part of that good work has been to bless and refresh me in my time with you. Thank you SGCL.
|Their hospitality even extended to taking me to a baseball game. As you can see, it wasn't very popular!|