The Bible is full of references to shepherds and the care of sheep but very rarely dairymen and the care of cows.
In one corner of England, on the edge of the Forest of Dean, Counties worker Tim Cracknell with his wife Katrina are part-time dairy farmers and full-time evangelists and have seen a remarkable mini-revival around them.
The couple, who live on the farm where Tim was born 50 years ago, have just celebrated the eighth birthday of a local church which, in 1999, had effectively died.
Tim says: ‘It was a 1920s gospel hall built, in a mining community, without foundations – literally. When we re-opened it, our congregation was six ladies in their 80s. We now have around 100 coming through the doors, including children’.
Outgrowing the building
It hasn’t always been an easy journey. The building itself was full of asbestos and had been erected on the cheap. It cost the church £150,000 to make the building fit for modern-day use and sort out the asbestos. And in a former coal mining area, money is always tight.
Ironically, the congregation is now so large that they have outgrown the original building and moved main services to a local school hall, but still use the old hall during the week. The Lord’s provision, close work with the community and the work of the faithful, decades previously, has led to the huge growth at the Forest of Dean Community Church.
‘As we re-launched the church, we began to see a trickle of people come through the doors. Typically, the story was very similar. They had attended Sunday school in the 1950s or 1960s, which they had enjoyed. They had married non-Christian partners. But there was something missing in their lives, they knew they loved God but hadn’t set foot in a church in 35 years’, said Tim. They began returning to God and his church. The other major work in the church was community outreach, providing services such as toddler groups and a drop-in centre, often leading to practical assistance to those who needed it – repainting a school room or providing help through a food bank – and street pastors.
Along the way they have seen people transformed by God’s salvation.
When Duncan Murray first walked through the church door, his marriage of 15 years to Linda had ended in divorce. Everything had gone wrong for them as a couple, including attempted suicide. God worked so wonderfully in their lives that after five years of separation they remarried.
Tim said: ‘We are now in the process of appointing Duncan as our second church worker, briefed to be our ‘community pastor’.
On another occasion, a young lady who came one Sunday said that she was going to commit suicide that morning but when she saw the church banner outside the school decided to come to church instead. Two years of pastoral support from members of the church followed, even though she did not come back to church.
Then in February this year she returned to church with her mother. After the service she said she wanted to be sure that she would go to heaven and she came to the Lord. She and her mother are now part of a group of six people going through Christianity Explored each week on a thrilling journey of faith.
Conversations about planting
Tim is keen to share his experiences as a church planter and an evangelist with other church leaders. Having heard how the gospel hall died a slow death from the late 1960s to the end of the century from a series of poor decisions, he says leaders have to work closely together, must not shy away from tough conversations with themselves and each other, and must constantly be seeking God’s guidance.
‘Sometimes in the church we have had well-intentioned people who either didn’t share the vision the Lord had given us or the theology we have, or who claimed to be Christians but showed little or no fruit of the Spirit in their lives and cause havoc.
‘And we have to resist the “we have enough people now” syndrome, when the reality is that there are tens of thousands in our area without Christ. So we need to keep on being unselfish people, to reach out to the lost and accept the changes in our church that this creates.’
‘My passion and heart is to say, as church leaders we need to make the right decisions. It’s not about being popular – this is tough, but there is no greater calling in the world.’
Tim can be contacted on 01594 824076 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org