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Guest Post – Dai Hankey – Sunflowers

It was as we were travelling home from our Sunday morning gathering last weekend that my eldest daughter, Elen, told us that she was starting to find Hill City Church too big. This was the first time, as far as I’m aware, that the growth of Hill City Church has affected any of my kids in a negative way. 

I guess if any of the Hankey crew has a right to be feeling speed-wobble at the moment, it would be Elen. After all, she’s one of only three people (myself and Michelle being the other two) who has been part of the Hill City adventure since its inception back in 2007. When we planted Hill City we literally spent the first 5 months doing proper church services (just the three of us…and our dog) in our living room, and I’m talking a full worship session and a 45 minute preach! My reason for kicking off the church plant in such a crazy tiny way was the thought that, barring death or divorce, the church could only grow!!

And grown it has!

The house church phase lasted for about 12 months, peaking at around 20 people before we moved into our local community centre. We experienced both rapid growth and painful decline during our 5 years at that centre, and when we responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to relocate to Pontypool Active Living Centre last year, we were at around 50 people. Then came the most recent move to Pontnewynydd Chapel last month – a venue that is currently set up to seat around 75 people…and we are already bursting out of it.

Amazingly Elen is the only member of the church who has been with us through every single stage of the journey so far, and in fairness to her, she’s not the only one who is struggling to get to grips with the current growth spurt (we’ve had new faces and a growing congregation pretty much every Sunday for the last few months). Myself and Michelle, as well as many others in the church, are hard-wired for deep, meaningful relationship and it’s fair to say that this is currently becoming increasingly difficult to experience at the Sunday gathering. It’s not as cosy or familiar as it used to be! A growing congregation is certainly not a bad thing, but if it becomes the main thing then that is a problem! Anyway, by God’s grace, Hill City is about a lot more than just the Sunday event and we are blessed to be able to enjoy more intimate life-on-life relationships in our local gospel communities and through various other friendships that we invest in during the week. But we also feel what Elen felt – that there’s loads of new people and there seems to be more of them every week. (This also presents pastoral issues that the elders are working through!) Following our launch service on Easter Sunday (when we’d had to put out extra seats out for all the people who had come) we joked as elders that it was already time to start looking for a new venue (again!) Now, while that’s not necessarily true, in reality if we keep growing at the rate we are then something will have to happen, and soon.

Which brings me on to sunflowers…

unnamed-1Obviously burdened by what Elen had said on the way home from church, Michelle shared something with our kids last night that was so insightful and prophetic that I felt I needed to blog about it.

She had recently planted some sunflower seeds in the garden with the kids. The adventure had started with them all planting tiny seeds in their tiny colour-coded pots a few weeks ago…

and watering….

and waiting…

and watching.

It wasn’t long before the seeds started to sprout and shoot and grow until yesterday the little plants needed to be re-potted into larger pots. Michelle beautifully explained to the kids that this re-potting was vital if the sunflowers were going to continue to flourish and grow. She explained that as the shoots got thicker and taller we may need to start putting sticks in the soil to support the weight of the head and that those sticks might need to be replaced by garden canes as growth continued. She then brilliantly applied this sunflower analogy to church planting, or more specifically, our current situation at Hill City. Just like no one one plants sunflower seeds without expecting them to grow, neither does anyone plant a church without the same desire and expectation. However, just like a growing sunflower requires structural and environmental changes to support its growth, the same is true of church plants. Suffice to say that much of our “re-potting” at Hill City Church has been in order to continue to grow by God’s grace. However, if I left the analogy there I would be doing Michelle a disservice as her conclusion was the best part!

“At some point,” she explained to the kids, “your sunflowers will stop growing. They won’t get any bigger. They will have reached the size that God wants them to reach and they will die. But what will happen then?” She asked them?

“Seeds!” Came the excited response.

YES!!!!!!!

In fairness to my wife, she is a genius! She had just managed to articulate to my kids (aged 3-7) something that I have been wrestling with for weeks – sunflowers are brilliant and beautiful and it’s bonkers how big they get – but it’s about so much more than just that sunflower! The bigger the sunflower gets, the more seeds it possesses which means the more fruitful it will become.

What matters for us at Hill City is not so much our size as our fruitfulness. It is possible to be a huge gathering of excitable people, but if we are not all loaded with gospel-goodness, filled with Spiritual vitality and ready (when the time is right ) to be ejected onto the mission-field, then we are doing something very wrong and Hill City Church church will die when we die. However, if as we grow we manage to retain, and even enhance, our missional DNA, and if we allow God to fill us with His Holy Spirit and load us with evangelistic zeal then who knows how fruitful this church could be?! We would all be on mission – some of us at home, some in work and in our communities. Some of us planting churches or serving as missionaries overseas. One thing is certain – Hill City will certainly live on beyond this generation and bear fruit beyond this valley – and that’s a compelling thought!

So as I listened in to Michelle’s mind-blowing sunflower sermon last night I found myself excited and energised and emboldened. I looked into the eyes of my kids, not least Elen, whose moment of raw honesty had triggered this epic little teaching moment, and I found myself praying for them. I prayed that God would make each of them fantastic, fruitful, faith-filled ‘seeds’ who (at the right time) will be propelled by the gospel into whatever mission-field He has prepared for them. And I prayed that they would experience for themselves the roller-coaster of passion, pain, challenge and joy of living large and dying daily for the glory of King Jesus.

I have no greater desire for them than that.

And I have no greater desire for Hill City than that.

Originally Posted on

Eastern Valley Commandos Launch

Last Thursday evening, around 100 people from all over South Wales gathered at Highfields Church Cardiff for the public launch of the Eastern wing of the Church Planting initiative Valley Commandos.

Highfields leaders Pete Evans and Phil Jenkins opened the evening in prayer and shared how delighted the church was to be supporting Dai Hankey and to be part of the gospel centered Valley Commandos project across the South Wales Valleys. Phil declared his conviction that ‘church planting is the God ordained way to disciple the nations’. He also gave a warm welcome to guests from SaRang Community Church in South Korea, who are helping support the project in prayer and other ways.

Dai then shared about his current involvement in church planting in the valleys and their vision to reach the valley with the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are 1.3 million people in the Valleys and we must long for them all to know Christ.

Finally Jonathan Stephen explained the role of the Valley Commandos Project Team, which consists of Phil, Dai, Steve Levy (Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Swansea) and representatives based at WEST. Valley Commandos wanted to gain a comprehensive understanding of existing gospel work in the valleys and to cooperate with and support existing causes wherever possible. Great sensitivity would always be exercised when new plants were considered necessary. As a theological college, WEST could not itself plant churches – but it could act as a channel for human and financial  resources, a base of operations and a training centre for churches engaged in the work.

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( Picture shows Dai Hankey explaining his work in the Eastern Valley)

The Gospel Coalition Post by Jonathan Stephen

Last year the Principal at Wales Evangelical School of Theology had an article printed in Evangelicals now and also on the Gospel Coalition blog. We are re-blogging this article to inform people about the partnerships between Gospel works in Wales and Korea that has helped start Valley Commandos. You can find the article from TGC Website here, or read it below.

“Wales Evangelical School of Theology (WEST) is a comparatively small institution, whose alumni nevertheless serve in some of the most influential pastoral and academic venues around the world. Students come from many nations, not least from the United States, to study under internationally acclaimed scholars like Robert Letham and Tom Holland.

Reformed, interdenominational, and contemporary in outlook, WEST is the only remaining independent seminary to offer a full spectrum of UK-accredited theological degrees in a country that for its size has perhaps done more than any other to export the gospel to the world.

No bigger than Massachusetts, and with a population of fewer than 3 million, Wales has disproportionately affected the world in many ways. At least four American Presidents and 16 signatories of the Declaration of Independence (including Thomas Jefferson, who drafted it) were of Welsh descent. But when it comes to the things that matter most, Wales has given even more. Just for starters, arguably the most influential theologians on both sides of the Atlantic, John Owen and Jonathan Edwards, both share Welsh names and ancestry.

One of the four distinct nations that make up the United Kingdom, Wales is a land of spectacular mountain and coastal scenery, containing more castles per square mile than any other country in Western Europe. With their Celtic roots, the Welsh were among the original inhabitants of the British Isles, long pre-dating the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. And while all know English today, their ancient language is still alive and well, spoken by around 20 percent of the people.

Christianity came early to Wales, brought by the soldiers and traders of the Roman Empire. Just a few miles along the coast from the present site of WEST, St. Patrick attended the College of Theodosius, founded in the fourth century as a center of theological and philosophical learning. Rebuilt by St. Illtud in AD 508, it became the foremost theological institution in Britain, with at one time as many as 2,000 students attending from all over Europe—including David, the patron saint of Wales.

Essential differences in politics, culture, and language have resulted in a distinct history of the gospel in Wales compared to its dominant neighbor, England. For example, John Wesley’s inability to speak Welsh meant that he largely delegated evangelism of the country to native speakers. As a result, the 18th-century Methodist Revival in Wales, under the preaching of men like Daniel Rowland and Howell Harris, took on a far more Calvinistic flavor than in England.

Indeed, Calvinistic Methodism largely underpinned the remarkable history of spiritual awakenings from 1735 to 1905 that led to Wales being dubbed the Land of Revival. So “reformed” theology in Wales, unlike elsewhere in the British Isles, never generally adopted a cessationist position regarding spiritual gifts. So Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, though widely held to be the greatest Welsh (and British) preacher of the 20th century, was often considered “quirky” in his views on the Holy Spirit from an English reformed perspective—but not so in Wales. (Incidentally, like St. Illtud, Martyn Lloyd-Jones first ministered the gospel just a few miles down the coast from WEST—though in the opposite direction, at Sandfields, Port Talbot).

Today, of course, the Christian heritage of Wales and the rest of the UK has been almost completely overlain with secularism. With ever increasing speed, and apparently breathtaking ease, the major formative influence on our culture over the past two millennia has being virtually airbrushed from our history. With Christian values constantly being undermined by government legislation, it is hardly surprising that true believers often feel themselves to be a very small and persecuted minority.

Good Amid Gloom

But there is good news amid the gloom! Since 2000, evangelical church attendance in the UK has steadily risen, with many congregations thriving and growing. Moreover, Bible-centered believers in Jesus Christ increasingly recognize that the situation is too grim to allow non-essential issues to divide them. As a result, new gospel church partnerships are springing up, with training and church planting high on their agenda.

This, in turn, has fueled a large and ever-growing demand for gifted preacher-pastors and other leaders, capable under God of reviving failing congregations and establishing new ones. WEST is determined to rise to the challenge and foster sound and godly scholarship together with warm and persuasive gospel preaching. To that end, WEST is currently developing working partnerships with like-minded church groupings and other specialist Christian organizations in order to establish a base of operations from which gospel church planting may flow.

There is a genuine sense of urgency among us, because we have a strong sense of being on the world’s spiritual front line, and we’re convinced that the destiny of the gospel in the UK and Western Europe will have ramifications elsewhere. Now, if never before, the time has come for raising up a great band of spiritual warriors who, like the men of Issachar, understand the times and know what Israel must do (1 Chronicles 12:32).

Gospel Partnership

But the main purpose of this testimony is to record, to God’s glory, the way in which by far the most significant of WEST’s gospel partnerships to date came about.

Five years ago, one of our PhD students, Sungho Choi, was helping out at a large international prayer meeting for revival in a very rural part of South West Wales. To his astonishment he found himself sitting next to a woman whose face he instantly recognized from the Korean media.

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Valley Commands Public Launch in Highfields

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Come and hear Dai Hankey at the launch of eastern valleys “Valley Commandos” project at Highfields at 7.30pm on Thursday 30th May.

This is the info released from Highfields Church website:

“In 2007 Highfields Church partnered with Dai and Michelle Hankey to plant Hill City Church in Pontypool. God has blessed that initiative and now we are partnering with Dai, WEST and SaRang Church in Korea in a new surge of church planting initiatives in the South Wales valleys called ‘Valley Commandos’.

We will be hosting the launch of the Eastern Valleys planting initiative here at Highfields on Thursday 30th May, 7.30pm.  Join Dai, Jonathan Stephens, Principal of WEST, and our own Phil Jenkins for an evening of vision casting and prayer as we ask God to move by His Spirit and use this project for his glory. We would love to see you there!”

You are very welcome to attend the meetings and find out more about the Valley Commandos project. A google map to the church can be found here