We celebrated as five people gave testimony of how Jesus has changed their lives and were baptised. Timings: Olly 00:00, Leila 01:16, Harry 03:43, Maddie 05:33, Dean 06:55, AJ 09:19.
As far as I can remember, I have only ever known one Paulette. She was already old when we first met. That was when I was eight. So I imagine now she’s very old. In fact, I have it on good authority she’s very much alive and still living with Stanley in a small seaside town just outside of Blackpool.
I first met Paulette in Sunday School. We had recently moved to the area and ‘me and me brother’ were pulled along by ‘me parents’ the first Sunday we were there. And that’s when we met.
Paulette was the Sunday School Superintendent. Week in week out she prepped, cut, stuck, painted, smiled, prayed, encouraged, read and served. And in the words of Mr Moon the vicar, ‘did a little job for Jesus’.
To be honest, she did more than a little job for Jesus. She did an amazing job for Jesus.
For more than three decades she invested into the lives of the children of the little seaside town just outside of Blackpool. And after many years, she’s still asking “How’s Graham? How’s he getting on? Such a handsome young man” (OK, I made up the last bit, but genuinely she still asks after me).
What I am, and who I am today is partly down to Paulette.
“For more than three decades she invested into the lives of the children of the little seaside town”
And then there’s Derek and Barry. Derek now a vicar himself up north and Barry, a civil servant in Blackpool, led the youth work. I made a decision to follow Jesus in my teens. Derek and Barry coached, discipled, nurtured those early years. They led me in to the ‘things of the Spirit’. I remember every Friday night in Derek’s lounge, worshipping and having fellowship together (in fact, I think it was called Friday night fellowship, which seems a very appropriate name). Just a handful of teens wanting to meet Jesus. They helped us meet Him.
It was Derek and Barry who encouraged me to lead worship for the first time (aged 16), to preach for the first time (aged 16), organise a March for Jesus on a double-decker bus through the parish for the first time (aged 16). Along with Paulette, they also did an amazing job for Jesus.
Proverbs 22:6 says this, “Point your kids in the right direction — and when they are old they won’t be lost”. They did a great job in pointing me the right way.
When Belinda and I spoke in the recent Citizen’s series, we used this passage to encourage parents in their role as ‘parents’. There’s a million websites already available on Google letting us know how to be more successful, more loving, more caring, more releasing, more controlling, more forgiving and generally do a much better job than we currently are. Being a parent is really tough. Even harder when we consider the iTech world in which we live. Most parents probably think they are letting their kids down. (There was a lovely moment last year, having just finished Facetiming our son, we turned to each other and said ‘after 19 years of thinking we have failed as parents, he’s turned out OK’ and we high fived each other, and had a cup of tea to celebrate).
At the time, we didn’t want to deliver a talk simply confirming what many already thought, that they were pretty hopeless parents. It really is tough. So we only had two points (it took us forty minutes to say them, but they were really good points). DO try and bring your kids up to love God. And DON’T try doing it on your own.
As parents, we should try wherever possible (with every opportunity that comes along) to model priorities, model making decisions and model mission in a way that points kids in the right direction. Some of that will be about going to church even when it seems you are forever sitting in the crèche looking after everybody else’s children as well as your own. It’s about modelling good choices in life in line with what Jesus would do and what the Bible says. It’s about catching them up in God’s adventure, not just a mum thing, but what God is saying to the family.
And then there is this critical key idea. Don’t try doing it on your own. Whether you are a lone parent, a married couple or a blended family, you don’t have to do this on your own. We are family.
“there is this critical key idea. Don’t try doing it on your own. Whether you are a lone parent, a married couple or a blended family”
There is an old African proverb that says ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. It takes the whole community with everybody buying in to the same belief that we are in this together. In the individualistic society we live in, this idea can easily get lost. But if we genuinely want the best for our children and want to see them grow strong in faith and character, then we shouldn’t be thinking it’s simply down to the parents, it’s down to all of us playing our part, a supporting role with a genuine interest in every child. Why? Because every one of them matters.
If the UK stats for church attendance are accurate, then in ten years time, most of our current teenagers at Kings will not be following Jesus at all. Something like 70% of the children in our crèche will be nowhere near church by the time they reach the age of 20. What do we do? Simply accept it? Hope for the best? Hope we do better than most?
Perhaps we need a more radical response. So by the time our children finish school and head off to university, they are strong and confident and tough in their faith. For that to happen, we need to dramatically rethink our ‘parenting’ strategy with a huge increase of time and resources being intentionally diverted towards them.
I recently read the findings of a three year study which had been undertaken by the Fuller Youth Institute in Pasadena, California. They were looking for the crucial factors that helped young people develop a mature faith. They came up with three key elements:
Involvement in all-church worship during high school is more consistently linked with mature faith than any other form of church participation.
The more teenagers serve and build relationships with younger children, the more likely it is their faith will stick.
More than any programme or event, what made kids more likely to feel a significant part of their local church was when adults made the effort to get to know them.
If these findings are true in our culture as well, then it’s really important as to how we develop a church that is appealing and relevant to young people and at the same time incredibly intergenerational. How do I need to adapt? What preferences do I need to reconsider? What am I going to do to make a difference?
If it’s true that it takes a village to raise a child, then perhaps in our UK context the ‘church’ should be the village. It takes the church to raise a child.
Have you noticed? Young people love to be involved. I recently spoke with Jasmine. Jasmine is now eight. She has the biggest smile. And because she is now eight, I said her big smile needs to be seen by everyone as they enter on Sunday morning. So she’s now joining the welcome team with her dad.
At Centro you’ll often see James with a bunch of keys. James is thirteen and he knows the Hippodrome better than most. Along with his dad (who pays for the cooked breakfast afterwards), they unlock the building together. James is great at unlocking buildings. It allows hundreds of people every week to meet God. It’s his amazing job for Jesus.
We need to give lots of opportunities. And take lots of risks. And allow for lots of mistakes. And see where they might be in five years time if we give them the chance.
That’ll need huge amounts of encouragement and support, cheering them on along the way. Rooting for them, shouting their name and genuinely wanting the best for them.
It will also need huge amounts of resources and time. And this is where I think we need to get even more radical. Why? Because of a dream.
I’d love to see over the next five years, one hundred new families added to this church. People who don’t know Jesus yet but will have their lives impacted and blessed by Him in the coming years. At the moment, we have two hundred families on the waiting list to come to our parent and toddler group. Wouldn’t it be great if we could open up more doors so they could come in? And then there’s the HUB. A new youth venture started by a handful of Kings members in Shinewater wanting to make a difference in their community. Now every week fifty or sixty young people turn up. What would it begin to look like if we could reproduce this across other parts of Eastbourne and Seaford?
For this to happen we will need to be thinking differently.
It’ll need more volunteers. We’ll need more grandparents, aunts and uncles to many of our children. I love the story of Ann. It’s so inspiring to see the difference one person can make in a young person’s life.
We also want to line up our finances with our vision. In September, we made the decision to divert more of our resources towards kids and families. It turns out we were spending more money on ‘Tea n Biscuits’ on a Sunday than we did resourcing our entire 0-11’s kid’s work. I thought to myself, ‘do we want more cookies or kids?’ If all it takes to be radical is for me to stop eating a biscuit then let’s do it.
We have also made the decision to invest an additional £40,000 per year in the area of families and at the moment, we simply don’t have this money. But we genuinely hope that people will respond to the vision and in faith. If the members of Kings currently not giving started to give just £20 per month (the price of a takeaway) we would double this amount straight away. Seriously. We could double the investment overnight. Imagine the impact that could have.
I look back over the forty plus years and recognise that many people have played a significant part in my life. They showed they believed in me and believed in the gospel. And they believed that I mattered.
I want our kids at Kings to know that they matter. Every one of them.
Not many will have the privilege of meeting Paulette, Derek or Barry. But I did. And looking back, I am very grateful. They invested hugely in me. They saw very little in the way of return. I never thanked them. Probably never showed any appreciation. At eighteen I simply got up and left. But now, nearly thirty years later, I have this opportunity to express my gratitude to them and to the many others who have helped me along the way. And in some small way, I also hope it will inspire the next generation of Paulette’s and Derek’s and Barry’s to do exactly the same, and do an amazing job for Jesus.
by Graham Marsh
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I was given this verse in the first few years of being a Christian. I became a Christian when I was 18 and I had plans. Plans to find a nice guy, get married, have kids and settle down. However God had other plans for me and little did I know what these were over 20 years ago.
Both before and after I came to Eastbourne God put older women in my life to help me, guide me and become spiritual mums to me. I still value this today. This journey started about eight years ago when I felt the nudge from God to return to youth work. To my surprise I was welcomed with open arms and started serving in the 11—14’s. I went to my first Newday and on the way to an outreach event in the back of the coach Jez asked me if I wanted to “look after” the younger girls, take them under my wing.
At the time I wondered what I could offer these girls. I had loads of doubts, what do I talk about, do they actually like me. However, after trying to find a way out by looking for another job in another part of the country I embraced the opportunity and arranged for them to come round for lunch.
To my surprise they came, ate my food and didn’t get ill. We watched DVD’s, played “lets dance” and they sat in my bath! Meeting up together continued for about a year and as they were about to go into year nine we set up a girls group as part of ID each week.
“I can honestly say without someone like Ann, I don’t think I would be this far in my Christian journey.”
For about an hour we would spend time getting to know each other better and talk about issues that were important to them. My heart was for them to grow into young ladies who knew and loved God, who had an identity and security in God and not in how they looked, in social media or in relationships. The world puts so much pressure on young people to conform to the norm and loving God is “not cool”. At that age knowing who you are is not easy anyway.
I pulled in other people in the church to help me and we had some good evenings discussing what it is to be a young Christian lady in today’s world. One memorable evening was the wedding dress night where we all dressed up in loaned wedding dresses and talked about what marriage is and staying pure until our wedding night. Over the year I got to know the girls so much better spending quality time with them.
At the end of year nine they were due to move up to the older group True. They didn’t want to go, wanting to remain in what was familiar to them. However, I knew they were ready and I agreed to go up with them at their request to help them settle in.
I was going to return to the younger group, however, God had “plans to prosper me and not to harm me”. After first being really unsure I would fit into this group as a leader, I loved it. I kept my girls and we continued to meet as a group for the next two years as part of True.
I remember one evening following a talk about God the Father in church I felt God wanted to show the girls what this means practically. So I asked the mums of the girls to get the dads to sit down and together write a letter to each of them which I gave out next time we met. It was another of those stand out nights for me. A good gage for me is tears, and we had a few damp eyes that night.
There have been many memories…
I’ve baptised 3 of them
I’ve cooked for them
I’ve been to Romania with some of them
I’ve watched DVDs with them
We’ve shared meals together
I’ve done 7 years of Newday with them
We’ve made cards together
We’ve drunk loads of tea together
We’ve toasted marsh mellows together
I’ve played “lets dance” with them
We’ve shared experiences of Africa together
We’ve shared ice cream on the beach together
We’ve done car treasure hunts together
We’ve laughed together and we’ve cried together
By being part of their lives and other young people’s lives I have stepped out in spiritual gifts and God continues to teach me and challenge me.
I have been with my girls and their families both through the good and the not so good times. There have been many challenges over the past few years and at times I’ve wrestled with God about some of the situations that have arisen. I’ve prayed for and with them and basically “done life” with them.
“I would like to thank her for what she has done in my life and many others. When I’m older I definitely want to do the same thing”
They have all flown the nest now having travelled to the other side of the world to serve God or starting their second year at University.
I was reflecting on what God has taught me by being part of these young ladies lives and I see it as a journey, from being an older sister, to a cool aunty to actually a little glimpse of what being a mum is like.
I can’t profess to say I know what being a parent 24/7 is like at all (well apart from Newday when I am checking they have drunk enough water, slept okay, encouraging them to go to bed a little earlier, giving them a hug when they are all emotional), but I do feel proud when I see what they have become; and how they are developing as they become more independent.
I am still in contact with them (social media and text messaging isn’t all bad) and still continue to be part of their lives albeit in a different way. I got my first Mother’s day card this year. So what does the future hold? Well I now have my new girls and it’s exciting to see what God is doing in both their lives and mine.
I want to say thank you to the girls for loving me and being part of my life, their parents for letting me be part of their daughter’s lives and to God for putting people in my life who I can learn from and have shown me what it is to be a spiritual mum. I don’t think I have done too badly at this. My plans may not have worked as I expected, instead God has given me a hope and a future in a way I could not have imagined.
Q: What’s the single, most influential factor in keeping our teenagers at church? A: When the adults spend time getting to know them.
Serving in the youth can change the whole course of our teenagers lives. Contact us to find out more, or come and chat at the Info Point on a Sunday morning.
27 stories of how God is at work in the lives of ordinary people at Kings.
‘Dinosaur’. That’s what my three year old replied with when I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. My five year old’s answer was a little better: ‘astronaut’, he said. I was pleased with that answer. He may not know it but he comes from a line of astronauts. When I was 10 I announced to the world that I too was going to become an astronaut someday, and I’m still expecting it to happen. The way I see it, Tim Peake is 43 which means I’ve still got a good ten years or so before it becomes an unrealistic goal. It may be too late for me to be a professional footballer but my astronaut days are still ahead of me. Or maybe not.
There comes a time in everyone’s life, doesn’t there, when the question ‘what am I going to do when I grow up?’ turns into ‘what am I going to do today?’ When the ‘somedays’ become ‘todays’. But let’s not miss the connection. The grown up you is simply the sum total of the today’s you. Growth, you see, is cumulative and the lesson is simple: we should live today with that day in view. But what is ‘that day’ for you? What do you want to become and how are you going to reach it? Consider how we grow as Christians.
In John 15 Jesus introduces the theme of Christian growth with the words ‘I am the true vine,’ and tells us that growing occurs not as a result of hard work and determination but naturally and deliberately as we trust him and stay close to him (15:5). Spiritual growth, like biological growth is both a natural process and a deliberate one. Let me explain what I mean but considering the key role that perseverance and other people play in our development.
John 15:5 ’If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.’
This has to do with deliberate growth. Andrew spoke recently on a Sunday about the difference forming good habits can make in our lives. Aristotle famously said “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.” True as that is, we know that for a habit to really run its course it needs to last longer than a few weeks or months. It requires perseverance.
I love how the epistle of James opens: “consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). Did you spot that last bit? Perseverance when it’s done with us will leave us mature, complete, and lacking in nothing. Another translation uses the word ‘perfect’. I’ll take ‘perfection’ over being an astronaut any day. ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Perfect. You can’t argue with that.
“we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit”
Jesus then rounds off his message on growth with the words ‘My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.’ (John 15:12)
The watching world ought to be able to spot Christians by their love for one another and since love is a verb, they ought to be able to see our love by the way we express it. Having said that, loving others is not just a good gospel strategy, it’s also the way we grow. If perseverance is the deliberate form of spiritual growth then being in Christian community is the natural way it occurs. One writer puts it like this:
“Just as the single most formative experience in our lives is our membership in a nuclear family, so the main way we grow in grace and holiness is through deep involvement in the family of God. Christian community is more than just a supportive fellowship; it is an alternate society. And it is through this alternate human society that God shapes us into who and what we are.”
Think about it for a second. You are the way you are, in large part, because of the home you were raised in. I have my issues and not your issues because I had my parents and not yours, and that happened naturally.
Therefore if you want to grow as a Christian, belong to a church; serve in a church, be part of a group (there are dozens to choose from in this booklet), pray with other Christians, listen to people, teach people and be taught by people. Get to know people well enough to be honest with them about your shortcomings and listen to them be honest about theirs. Christian character isn’t formed in a vacuum; we can’t simply go away on a retreat, read a book, get prayed for, or go to a conference. Christian growth occurs by being with and by being around people.
“Christian character isn’t formed in a vacuum. We can’t simply go away on a retreat, or visit some monastery”
The True Vine
So how do we grow? Both naturally and deliberately, by being with people and by persevering over the long haul.
Here in John 15 Jesus says ‘I am the true vine’, and in so doing he conjures up references in the Old Testament where God’s people get described as a vine. The difference is that whereas they’re accused by God of being a corrupt and fruitless vine, Jesus is the ‘true’ or ‘fruit bearing’ vine. Jesus lived his todays with his Father’s plan in constant view and the one glimpse we get of him as a child makes this clear (Luke 2). He didn’t go around making idle boasts about being an astronaut or a dinosaur; instead he prepared himself for a life of devotion and obedience to God. And the difference between him and us is that he actually did it, whereas we only say we’ll do it.
How can we be confident we’ll grow and bear good, lasting fruit for God? Because we’re not left to go it alone and try hard on our own. Instead we can know confidence, hope and joy by being a branch attached to the true fruit-bearing vine of Jesus. He is both our inspiration and the one who makes it all possible.
When I was five my parents split up so I went to live with my grandparents, and my aunt and uncle. I suppose I was quite spoilt. I had riding lessons, pony lessons and even had ponies bought for me. From the age of six I was only ever going to be a jockey.
I left school when I was 14. Only weighing 5st 7lb, I was tiny. I went straight to the racing stables and started living my dream quite quickly. I rode a winner on my second ride at the age of 16. At 17 I was being interviewed on TV and featured on the cover of Sporting Life. Suddenly I had a rather high opinion of myself and took arrogance to a new level.
Pride was welling up in me, and being fed. I was living away from home and so I never had anyone overseeing me. At 19 all I had ever done was racing, gambling and the like. And then, as I was walking down the road with a friend of mine, I looked across into a shop and saw this amazingly beautiful girl.
She was laughing and smiling. There was just something special about her. Everybody else sort of faded into the background. I’d never met this girl but I turned to my friend and said “I’m going to marry her”.
This was the most beautiful woman in the world and I was a short and skinny jockey. What if she said no? Being so arrogant, I decided I wouldn’t ask her, I would tell her. Fortunately she said yes! And we saw each other everyday from that time on.
“I rode a winner on my second ride at the age of 16. At 17 I was being interviewed on TV and featured on the cover of Sporting Life.”
As I was getting older I was getting too heavy to ride. You really need to be under 7 stone, perhaps 7st 4 max. I was about 8. Pauline cried when she saw me one time as I had made myself so ill from under-eating. The dream had come to an end, and I realised it was time to do something else.
We got married and I had all sorts of jobs. I was into music and in the evenings I was playing in bands. That led to doing music professionally. And again, the recognition was there. We worked with a lot of cabaret acts, like Jim Davidson, and I discovered what they were earning doing stand-up comedy. And I thought ‘well I can do that!’
So I went into comedy. Again, I found a lot of success and my ego was being fed. I got with a lot of top agents, top of the bill again. But unfortunately a lot of the mid-week shows were stag shows — ‘gentlemen’s shows’ with strippers. It was never really my scene. I had never been to a stag show until I had compered one as a comedian. It’s not a nice environment, but I thought ‘it’s just a means to an end. When I’m on TV as a superstar I won’t have to do that’ — you can see how arrogant I was!
This was going on for about three and a half years, and I was becoming more and more uncomfortable with these shows. I would repeatedly have conversations with myself saying ‘you shouldn’t be doing this’. And then one night I realised this was more than just me talking to myself. It was actually God speaking.
I didn’t hear an audible voice or anything, but I knew it was God. I found myself talking back, saying ‘so what am I going to do?’. But all he kept saying was ‘I don’t want you doing this’. I wasn’t a Christian, but it got so bad that I would be praying for the car to break down so that I would have a genuine reason not to go. But they kept booking me and the money was really good. Then one night, I left it later and later to leave for a show. Pauline noticed that I should have gone and I just said ‘I’m not going anymore’.
In that moment I gave up another dream, another goal that I had studied hard and been working towards. We had three children to provide for, so I ended up cleaning carpets. I had a few conversations with God about that! But the weird thing was, nobody else could have got me to give it all up and clean carpets instead. Not even Pauline.
So we started going to church. Suddenly all this pride and arrogance was lifted from me (well a lot of it, but not all!). That desire, to walk into a place and have everybody know who you are, that was me, but I found it was now completely gone. I’d had this peace which I had never had before. Instead of going out every night and getting back at 4am, I was at home, playing with my children.
From the world’s point of view it didn’t make sense. My friends thought I had gone crazy. My whole life totally changed. I was now cleaning carpets and enjoying it. I’d work all week and earn less than the price of one show. But I had given my life to Jesus, and I knew I had to follow him.
I got very involved with the music in the Anglican church we went to and started serving there. I knew I had changed as I had always performed for my own glory, and to promote myself, but now I was doing it for Him. Unfortunately, when we left our church to move to Eastbourne, we drifted for 16 years. It wasn’t ego or money or anything, we just got side-tracked with our furniture business. But 5 years ago God started calling us again. We came to Kings, and again had this real burning passion to serve and tell people about Jesus.
“I had always associated owning a Rolls Royce with success. And then I got one. After a few weeks I thought ‘what on earth do I want this for’.”
I started doing some mission work in the streets, using music as a way of connecting with people. I often spend time in town, asking God if there’s any way he wants to use me, if there’s anyone he wants me to serve. Just simple things like buying people a cup of tea and taking the opportunities as they arise.
If you smile at people, are friendly and polite, they’ll always respond. We’ve only been stepping out and doing it intentionally the last year or so, but we’ve seen people come to church, do the Alpha course (where we have dinner and discuss all the big questions of life). We’ve seen people give their lives to Jesus, get baptised and join the church. With all of the success I’ve had as a jockey and comedian, nothing compares to the joy and the peace you get when you talk to someone about Jesus.
I’ll sometimes say to my non-church friends: ‘you’re betting your life on this. Shouldn’t you look into it? Just come and see’.
As young lad, and a jockey, I thought I had everything I wanted. But really it was all meaningless. While fame and success is happening, you think it is what you want, because you’ve never had a comparison. I had always associated owning a Rolls Royce with success. And then I got one. After a few weeks I thought ‘what on earth do I want this for?’ The things you associate with success won’t fulfil you. But when Jesus comes into your life, you experience this amazing peace and love. Until you’ve experienced that, you still think you can achieve it in the world.
Looking back I can now see all the ways that God had his hand on me. My only regret is that I didn’t feel like this when I was 15 — I didn’t have this relationship with God back then. I would trade everything, at any point, to experience the peace and love that I have now through Jesus.
“Before I was a Christian I came from an atheist family. I didn’t believe there was a God and had no intention of trying to believe … I remember having this overwhelming feeling that I just have to be prayed for.”
“Don’t hide your lightsaber under a box, put it on a stand where everyone can see it”. A drama sketch illustrating that the message of the gospel should never be hidden away.
Friends and members of Kings are now sponsoring 85 children in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, with the original group of 20 graduating to the local primary school. Here’s a overview of our Early Childhood Development centre, called ‘Inkosi Kids’. For more information visit inkosikids.com
11 year old Eleanor tells her story of how, after a year of not being able to sleep in her room, she was released from all fear and anxiety through prayer. She later prayed for 6 year old Flick, who had a similar story, and who is also now able to sleep at night again.