Sligo18: Re-opening the wells

Monday 9 July

Mark Harvey.jpg

Mark Harvey has been the Rector of Shankhill parish in Lurgan for just over a year having served previously in Monaghan and then for many years in St. Mary’s, Ballybean.  Here is a summary of his seminar at #Sligo18.

My overarching theme is the idea is that wherever God has placed you, we need to get to know the story of what God has done in that place.  Not revisiting the past but recognising that God is the God of the past, present and future. 

The scriptures are peppered with prophets crying out to God saying, “You’ve done marvellous deeds in the past, renew them in our day.”

It can be a challenge to seek to bring renewal to a church that has already experienced renewal.  If at one stage in the history of the church, there was an obvious flow of God’s river of life, a sense of vibrancy that appears to have stopped. 

Genesis 26:18:  “Isaac re-opened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham had died.”

Water is “life”.  In Ireland, we are not used to valuing water (because we usually have so much) but at the moment with the hosepipe ban we have a little understanding of the importance of water.  In biblical times, enemies would stop up the wells to stop a family or clan from flourishing.

Wherever you are, do some research

This has become more important as the years have gone on.  Spend time finding out about the place where God has called you.  Get a picture of what God has been doing in previous years and previous generations.  Where has there been life?  What has the Lord previously sown into this area?  This is not about re-visiting past glories (not “it was much better then”).  This is a work in progress.  We also need to recognise that there will be seasons of blessing that naturally come to an end.  But there are times and situations where we need to ask ourselves, is this a well that has been “stopped up” or blocked in some way.

I took up my first parish in St. Patrick’s church in Monaghan.  There was something interesting in the history of Monaghan.  Most of us are familiar with Elim Pentecostal movement.  That church was born out of a prayer meeting in Monaghan!  Within a stones throw of St. Patrick’s church, a river of life was opened.  I began to ask, “If God birthed something here that carried His life, could He do it again?

Our time in Monaghan was relatively short but during that time, once we started to preach the gospel and to encourage people to respond to the Lord we saw people coming out of the woodwork.  As we sought to help them to be open to God, we saw shoots of new life begin to appear.

I clearly remember finding out about the history of the place.  The prayer meeting happened in the Temperance Hall in the centre of Monaghan.  There was a well of life that had risen up.

After a season working for CMS, we moved to St. Mary’s Ballybean, a huge Loyalist housing estate on the edge of East Belfast.  It was essentially a church plant in the 1960s when the housing estate was built. As a new housing development it was a new opportunity and a new start.  The clergy had freedom in that new environment to try new things.  There was a huge influence from the charismatic movement of the 70s and 80s.  St. Mary’s became a Church of Ireland church that was doing stuff that no other C of I was doing.  It was good because it was pushing the boundaries but was a bit “out on a limb.” In the late 80s, Graham Kendrick wrote a book called 10 worshipping churches and St. Mary’s was one of those 10.  There was a vibrancy in those 10 that was impacting the community around it.  But, it proved a blessing and a curse to be recognised like that.  The church experienced a traumatic time (a split) and a lot of younger ones left. 

It seemed in the aftermath that this well of life, that had been so vibran and alive, became blocked.  We arrived there in 2005.

The word that my wife, Joanne got was “restoration.” Now as I look back, I see that it was a time of restoring something of the life of God, under God’s good grace and seeing the well unblocked. When we left the church, something of that vibrancy had returned - and all the glory goes to God.

We moved in June to Shankill parish in Lurgan, which is a very different kettle of fish and yet with similarities. St. Mary’s celebrated its 50th anniversary but in 2025 there would have been a church in Lurgan for 300 years.  Over that time, there have been many seasons of life and growth.  Missions happened with hundreds coming to faith.  It was a church that was always seeking to bring the new life of Christ.

Bishop Ken Good was one of my predecessors in the 1990s. That was a season of blessing and growth .

The building is enormous.  Today it “only” holds 1,000 but when it was built in the early 1860s its capacity was 1800.  Why was such a large church built?  This church was opened following the Ulster Revival and it had such an impact.  They knocked down the church and built this one.  Over 150 years ago, there was a season of renewal in this church, all the churches in the area were experiencing similar things. 

Prayer is vital

This is not rocket science.  It is easy to get caught up in doing stuff!  It is really important to gather your people to pray.  If you are not doing that, then it will not last.

 At the same time, make sure you are digging a deeper well in your own life!

Expectancy

If you are a member of a church, how expectant are you when you go to church?  Do you believe God is going to do something?  As leaders, are we expectant? We need to grow that sense of expectancy that God is going to speak and transform us.  God is at work and He will move in our midst. 

See the book Holy Fire by RT Kendall.

Modelling

Encourage your folks to go to places where that sense of God is really tangible.  Having been involved in New Wine since it started, it has been important to me.  Whether it is events or conferences or other churches, for those of us who are church leaders, leadership is key as we step into these places where we want to see His life released in fresh ways.   Lead by example!

Why do wells get blocked?

Let me suggest four reasons:

  1. Fear - sometimes we go so far but we are afraid of going any further in case we might offend people or it will be misunderstood.  It is very real for many.  Sometimes we come to events like this and get blessed but don’t take it back to our churches.  Fearing the consequences of stepping out.
     
  2. Opposition - people oppose new things.  In the very early part of the Bible story, we find that at work. God is moving His people forward and there is opposition coming in.  Too often we can personalise the opposition.
     
  3. A lack of vision and clarity in leadership - We need to spend some time seeking God’s direction and then stick to it.  Know where God has called us to go and then go.  We need to impart to our people a real sense of vision and direction and clarity. 
     
  4. A lack of wisdom in leadership - we have a massive responsibility to exercise wisdom.  It doesn’t all happen overnight. 

Do we reopen an old well or dig afresh?  It might be both!  It is a subtle distinction between where God has been at work in the past and it has been blocked or where God is doing something completely fresh.

Trust God

When you get a sense of God’s leading and what He is doing, trust Him to do it and don’t try to take the tiller of the boat yourself and try to make it happen.  Trust God to do what only God can do.