Skip to content

Reflections after 10 years in Dublin

24 September 2022

It’s 10 years today since we moved to the Emerald Isle!

Our first decade in Dublin is over and it is all change for me and for the church in the new decade ahead. Here are reflections from me on the journey so far, with some lessons afterwards. Leanne has written a post-script.

10 years in Dublin

Monday 24th September 2012 – this was the day that Leanne and I, with Jacob (3) and Annabelle (1 and a half) moved to Dublin. With the help and support of lots of loving friends from Mosaic Church in Leeds, we packed all our stuff into a big van and got the ferry over from Holyhead. I remember three things about that day – it was very long, it was very rainy and it was very exciting. As we ate fish and chips that night with those who had helped us move, we prayed for God’s blessing on the journey ahead.

Sunday 7th October 2012 – that was the first time Christ City Church gathered for a worship service, in our home, although we didn’t even have a name at the time! There were 6 of us in CCC at the time, and we had one (non-believing) visitor. I always said to people, “I hope we can keep a 1 in 7 ratio of believers to non-believers” in our gatherings. Leanne soon had to learn guitar as no-one else could lead our sung worship, so all the songs were pretty simple! 🙂

We started the church because we wanted to make a positive difference to the city of Dublin. We didn’t really know what we were doing but we had a deep conviction that the gospel is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). Jesus said that he would build his church (Matthew 16:18) but we knew he had commissioned his disciples (and us!) to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). We believed the scriptures* which taught us that the church is to be an alternative, provocative yet winsome, counter-cultural community where believers are nurtured and discipled, God is worshipped, non-believers can ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ and through whom the cities of this world might be positively impacted. From the very start we always talked about becoming ‘a church planting church’.

So we were small, insignificant and very naive. But we had a conviction and we knew Jesus would be with us in the ups and downs which lay ahead on the journey. We knew we’d get to know him more through the journey, and that he might change us more than we were able to change anyone or anything else! 

Sunday 14th October 2014 – we had our first public worship service, in Filmbase in Temple Bar. It was dark, edgy and right in the heart of the city centre drinking district. Slowly we started to understand who we were and what we were meant to do. I remember one of our first banquets – 100+ people crammed into a sweaty Filmbase on a rainy day, with a local Temple Bar band banging out the tunes whilst CCC and local homeless people danced for joy. A picture of the Kingdom of God!

Sunday 3rd January 2016 – After a brief stint of CCC being homeless ourselves (our kind friends at Immanuel church put us up for four months) we moved into Synge Street Secondary School, Portobello, which became a great home for us. As ever, we met at 4.30pm for three simple reasons. Firstly we wanted to reach the unchurched or de-churched 18-35s in Dublin – those living in the hangover of the celtic tiger crash and the failure of the institutional church, who often have another kind of hangover on a Sunday morning too. Secondly, no other church we knew of in Dublin had a service at that time. Thirdly, I had to finish writing my sermon in the morning as I was also working full time in business :). 

Over the years God has refined us, disciplined us, nurtured us, grown us and brought great people to support the work. It is remarkable, humbling and encouraging. We have tried to live by the mantra that ‘we don’t take ourselves seriously but we take God seriously’. I have drastically failed to live by that many times, but it is a holy ambition.

So what next?

Sunday 25th September 2022 – we multiply into two congregations as we launch our Morning Congregation in Stillorgan. Over the first decade God has been so faithful – providing, protecting and establishing us as a church and this Sunday is the next stage in our journey of proving his faithfulness. It’s not quite a church plant (we’ll remain one church) but we’re starting a second congregation, CCC South, at 10.30am in Oatlands Primary School (Stillorgan). We’ll continue to gather at 4.30pm in Synge Street Secondary School (Portobello) as CCC Central. In time (in hopefully not too long!) we’d love to start a third congregation on the northside of the city.

On a personal note, I also stopped working at HubSpot after nearly 9 fantastic years, and moved full time with the church in April 2022. This had been the potential trajectory for a few years, although I’d still love to keep my foot in that world and there may be a few days’ consultancy down the line. I shared more about this on my leaving LinkedIn post

So what have I learned?

I thought I’d share 10 lessons from the first 10 years in Dublin. They are in some kind of order…I think.

(1) He wants to change me first. When God sent Jonah to Nineveh, he not only was trying to reach Nineveh, he was trying to reach (and change) Jonah’s heart. Jonah needed to understand the depth of his sin, and therefore come to a deeper understanding of God’s grace for him. That has been very true for me. I am still learning and still being changed. Just recently I read Pete Scazzero’s book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and Paul Tripp’s book Lead, which both emphasise the need for deeper inner work, at the level of motivation and desire, tackling pride, idolatry and false identities. God wants to transform us from the inside out through his love, truth, grace and church. I am grateful for all the people God has put across my path to help me in that process of change, no-one more so than…

(2) Leanne is the best wife for me. Being married to me is no easy thing! I know it is obvious to everyone how long-suffering she has been to put up with my restless, often headstrong, ways for the last 18 years of marriage. The marriage vow really is powerful! Church planting has been a team effort from the word go, and it’s not always been easy. It has put strain on our marriage at times, but through it our marriage and love for each other has grown deeper and wider, and together we have learned more about ourselves and God. There is no way I could have managed in the last 10 years (let alone CCC!) without Leanne’s faithful, loving, caring, supportive, truth-telling, willing and hard-working presence alongside me.

Where I have had no/little margin (e.g. in the home or for our family logistics) she has picked up the load. She has protected us from bad or skewed decision-making or priorities so that our home has also been a great place for Jacob and Annabelle to grow up, and receive all the love, attention and care they need to flourish into who God is making them. We have a very happy home and family because of Leanne. As a church-planter, you cannot put a price on that!

(see below for Leanne’s post-script)

(3) Bivocational church planting has so many benefits in a city. I left HubSpot at the end of April so for nearly the whole of the first decade I was working full-time in  business and doing church work alongside. That I was measured on ‘targets not time’ was vital to create space for church work. I reflected at the start of the journey on some of those benefits, but here are a few more;

  • You can live sustainably in an expensive city – money is not a pre-occupation as it is for many church planters
  • You can learn from the city – whether from the general culture or business disciplines
  • You meet 100s of people – I mean 100s. Over the years I have met 100s of people. Aside from the few colleagues that have become long-term friends, you create a web of relationships and working in the city centre means you can easily grab coffee/lunch with all types of people who work in other businesses or happen to be in town.
  • You have dozens of evangelistic opportunities – my dual-identity and role naturally led to dozens and dozens of conversations about the church and often to the gospel. Many friends came to church (even just to see what it was and laugh at me).
  • You can disciple people better – because I have an understanding of the ‘real world’ and its pressures, brokenness, intensity, temptations etc I could disciple other Christians in the workplace far more effectively. I was a pastor that ‘understood’ and could relate to their experience.

(4) City centre church planting requires patient and flexible entrepreneurship within parameters. The city is complex, intense and expensive, so for church planting to work in cities one must be patient, flexible and entrepreneurial.

  • Patient – it will take time for a church to get established as a healthy self-sustaining church – at least 5 years, if not longer. For example, we still do not have elders appointed in CCC, though we have very well-functioning leadership, staff, trustee and advisory teams. Some things take longer than expected!
  • Flexible – having plans is good, but responding to what God is doing, connecting with the people he brings along and seizing the opportunities as they present are also vital. For example, I never imagined I’d stay in the workplace so long! So one must be both proactive and plan, but also be re-active and respond. At different points I have got this balance wrong, on different sides.
  • Entrepreneurial – both in ‘entrepreneurial resistance’ which means you persevere and keep going towards the goal despite setbacks and disappointments, but also through a ‘try it and see’ mentality where you are willing to give things a go, fail, and try again. It’s easy to get discouraged in church planting or become stagnant. Cities move too quickly to allow stagnation, so you need to remain entrepreneurial and ‘go again’. Kathy Keller has some great reflections on this in a recent article.
  • Parameters – all this needs to happen within some biblical parameters that guide what a church is and does, and must do. There is lots of flexibility, plenty of opportunity for contextualisation, and lots of things that we assume are biblical but are actually just preferences or previous experiences that can be changed. Nonetheless, it’s Jesus’ church and we must do things his way.

(5) Gathering, discipling and training young leaders is the key focus. Before we had even launched the church publicly and were meeting in our home we had an ‘intern’. A brave soul (Christian Hacking!) decided he could come help and learn whilst we figured things out. And since then we have had 15 interns/apprentices (or student interns) and three of them are on staff with me now 🙂 If we’re going to be a church planting church we need to make disciples and raise leaders. Since I was not taking a salary for my church work for so many years, this gave space (and freed up money) for others to take on church roles and be paid. Leanne and I have always been ‘the old ones’ in church (that is starting to change now, which is nice), so it has been nice to see people a lot younger than us grow in the gifts and shape the church.

(6) Dublin is a tale of two cities. As leaders we have talked a lot about this in the recent years and I have written about this elsewhere (here and here), but to understand ministry in Dublin you have to understand what it means to reach two cities – the transient residents and the long-term residents – which require different approaches when it comes to community formation, making disciples, and sharing the gospel. The two types of residents have different needs, challenges and opportunities. Over the years we have encouraged/envisioned many in CCC to stay in the big bad city for the sake of the gospel, and to make life-decisions and count the cost, to do so. Not just to ‘take from the city’ and then leave when you have got what you wanted (career progression, visa update, university degree) but also to ‘give to the city’ in a way that might cost you. This is what it means to ‘love the city.’ Praise God many people have done that, whether for a limited time or for the long-term. The two-city dynamic within Dublin is one key factor in why we’re starting a morning congregation in Stillorgan, and God-willing, another in the northside in the coming years.

(7) Hurling is the best sport in the world. A few weeks ago (at the tender age of 40!) I got to play my first championship match for the Kilmacud Crokes and it was a great honour and joy to do so. I wasn’t very good and we got thoroughly beaten, but I enjoyed every minute. Learning, coaching and playing GAA has been one of the highlights of the last 10 years, and one of the many delights of Irish culture and society that I have loved. I came to Dublin to make a positive difference, but the city has made a positive difference to me…and this is just one example.

(8) Sea swimming keeps you fit and sane (especially in covid). I am one of the most privileged people in the world in that I have a sea-view and can run to the sea in 18 minutes and enjoy one of the many fantastic sea-swimming spots in Dublin. This is a great joy for me multiple times a week, and was certainly vital to my health and wellbeing in Covid.

Sea-swimming and the GAA (#7 & #8) as well as working as a team with Leanne (#2) fit into the wider category of ensuring that, as a leader, I have remained physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong over the first decade. These have meant that I am not running on empty but have been replenished and revitalised. Alongside daily habits of Bible-reading, prayer and journaling, and other rhythms of sabbath (Saturday was always off), retreat days, fasting, reading, conferences, meeting with brothers and sisters my age and older etc, the Lord has protected me from me, and protected me from burnout or lacking vitality in ministry. On the whole I have remained fresh and known great joy in life and work, family and ministry.

(9) Pay attention to whom God brings across your path. I have hinted at this already, but it’s important to have your eyes open to who might join the church, become leaders in the church, be key ‘people of peace’ within the city, be open to receiving the gospel, or helpful older mentors/friends to guide and instruct you. This also includes people where there might be challenge or difficulty. God can teach you as much through them as those you ‘click’ with when it is all plain sailing. As ever in God’s kingdom, it’s not usually the ‘likely’ people who become key builders with you in the ministry. Growing in discernment as to who are the people who ‘get it’ and have the character and commitment to partner/build with has been an important lesson along the way.

(10) To God be the glory. It sounds cliche and what I am supposed to write but I mean it. When I consider all the things I have done wrong, all the ways I lacked wisdom, grace, sensitivity or purity of motive it reminds me that it is God who has enabled and built all that has happened in Dublin. When I consider areas of weakness, key people who kindly helped me, and when I failed, the only explanation is that God has been faithful in building his church. So to him be the glory in the first decade, and in the next.

… … … 

*These are the scriptures that have particularly guided our thinking on the church and its role in the city – Genesis 12:1-3, Exodus 19:4-6, Jeremiah 29:4-7, Jonah 4:11, Matthew 5:14-16, Acts 2:38-46 & 1 Peter 2:4-25. Much of this is under the influence and teaching of Tim Keller.

If you’re interested I was recently in a 2-part podcast series with 2 other ‘Brits Abroad’ who had church planted around 10 years ago into the European Cities of Amsterdam and Stockholm. 

… … …

Leanne’s Postscript

24th September 2012 does indeed feel like a lifetime ago. We have gone from a very small motley crew of believers meeting in our home in Dublin with two very small children sleeping upstairs to a church which is about to multiply into two congregations, officially launching 10 years and one day later, a teenager who has just started secondary school and another who will be following quickly in his footsteps next year. There have certainly been many challenges along the way as the ‘pastor’s wife’ (eugh – really dislike that title!). I have resisted the urge to become a traybake extraordinaire though so that’s one thing I guess…

And as Steve enters this new season as a full-time pastor, my role as a hands-on stay-at-home Mom will also morph into something else, although I’m not quite sure what that’ll be just yet!

The changes ahead can seem daunting when looking at them straight on, with perhaps a looming sense of ‘here we go again!’. However, when looked at through the lens of what God has done over the last 10 years, we go again with faith, with hope and with a right sense of expectancy – that God will build his church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. Surely there will be ups and downs, triumphs and challenges ahead. But we are trusting in our good God that he goes before us – as the breastplate of St Patrick says which inspired us 10 years ago and continues to inspire us still…

Christ with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ on my right,

Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down,

Christ when I sit down,

Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through belief in the Threeness,

Through confession of the Oneness

of the Creator of creation.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Tim Larner permalink
    24 September 2022 10:09 am

    Great to read the broad sweep of your decade in Dublin (and your amazing send-off from Hubspot on LinkedIn). It’s wonderful to see what God has done with the faithful few who met in your home to impact the city. Looking forward to what the second decade brings!

    • 26 September 2022 1:52 pm

      Thanks Tim. I remember fondly and was very grateful for your visits to our house church in the vulnerable early days. Lots of love to you all

  2. Steve Brown permalink
    24 September 2022 3:19 pm

    So wonderful! God is so good! Love you guys

  3. michael jennings permalink
    27 September 2022 6:25 pm

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for passing on to me Leanne’s and your reflections on a decade of church planting ministry in Dublin. Congrats on the 10-year milestone! What a journey!

    I really appreciate your humility and convictions. I’m happy for you that you can now invest full-time in your ministry.

    Jen and I think of you guys and pray for you.

    Blessings, Mike

    Michael Jennings Fort Wayne, IN


    • 28 September 2022 9:25 am

      Michael, how nice to hear from you. I hope you and Jen are both well. Thanks for the note and for the prayers – MUCH appreciated!

  4. 28 September 2022 4:35 pm

    Interesting Post

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: