Preparing to Plant : Changes


We thought it would be good to share with you on this blog post some of the  changes we have had to journey as we took the step to move to Inverness to set up a new Vineyard Church. So we are both going to share a little what has been happening, what God has been doing in us personally and what we are celebrating! We hope it gives a little insight into the last year for us.

Don’t do it alone

It has without a doubt been the quickest year of my life! I said in one of the last blogs about the early days of starting to work on the church, coming from a large staff team to just me. those first few months were tough, and lonely at points. So I have to be intentional in my week in meeting with folk at church for coffees, having 1 or 2 coffee shops you visit regularly to work, meeting with folk outwith church, having friends to play snooker with or hit afew golf balls. Having connections is vital church planting and they don’t fall on your lap. The Vineyard movement and other churches in the city have been terrific. I can honestly say you can contact any Vineyard church and they are so open handed and supportive, its super special. What has been so important for me also has been that one or two people you can say how you are really feeling, what is going on in your spiritual walk and what Jesus is saying to you personally, not the church. That has been so important for me.

Embrace the crazyness

Alongside Mhairi working 2 long days a week as a nurse, and looking after our two boys 2 days a week (3 and 1) and prepping for Sundays some weeks are a blur, and our teams now understand why we serve such strong coffee on Sundays! ha. But we are OK with that and have learned to go easy on ourselves, but also whilst setting faith filled goals. That’s got to still happen otherwise we rely on ourselves and we just tick along. We want to do our best , but God understands and will move through our best offerings, inspite of the weeks we have had. He is gracious. Nearly everyday since we have moved we have said to each other : We are crazy aren’t we?! And we both agree we are! You need that little recognition of the crazy, sacrificial cost church planting carries, and that there is no earthly reason that makes sense for such an adventure. We actually find it comforting to remind ourselves of that – its not in our strength. The amount of times I have whispered under my breath before speaking on Sundays, before conversations or when looking at the finances: “Its over to you God.” helps us keep the main thing the main thing in these early days. He knows the stresses and struggles and insecurities…And he still uses little old us ! And that’s what makes it worth it, time and time again, he isn’t looking for polished and perfect, he just looks for our obedience.

New season with Jesus

This last year, I have found a new and exciting season in my walk with God. Its like I am rediscovering afresh who he is and who I am in him. And I feel this is benefiting me in my walk as a follower of Jesus, and pastor, husband and father. Still get it wrong, still get the balancing everything wrong but have around me some great mentors, coaches who speak life encouragement and gold into my life. Worship has been the most precious thing for me, and being in the highlands Spotify and an hour roadtrip into the hills is good for the soul and I find so much refreshment in that. So that is exciting and the church…I am biased but its the best , I love it , I love the people, I love seeing people come alive, I love meeting new folk, I love looking out and seeing God so what only he can do. I love seeing our boys toddle off to Vineyard Tots and sing songs of hope the rest of the week, I love hosting and dreaming and scheming with folk that we would never have had the opportunity to meet had we not moved, I love receiving email after email of little God moments, and stories and encounters and encouragements. That’s the biggest joy. And even though we have had some tough stuff I say…..imagine if we didn’t do this?! Even 10 months in, the amount God has orchestrated has been remarkable and we just know it is the beginning!

Here’s to the immeasurably more!

With love,






Preparing to Plant: A different kind of build

We thought it would be really useful to put together a wee series of blogs called “Preparing to plant”.  As we are now around 10 months since moving and a couple of months since starting regular Sunday services, there has been a lot learned along the way that we hope will serve those who will lead a church plant or be part of a church plant in the future. And also so for the many people who are praying for us, to give a snapshot of what we have learned or encountered as we have moved up north.

I think one of the major things God has spoken to us about is building, and that the church planting journey for us has meant how we grow, begin and build as a church community looks really different to our past experiences. When we first moved to Inverness, one of my biggest challenges was that first Monday morning -the transition from a large bustling life giving church staff team of 20+ people, to me sitting down at the end of our parents spare room , with a desk and a chair from the garage. This was my “office”, and Inverness Vineyard was up and running. I know that not everyone planting churches will have had that experience but wherever you have come from, things will look dramatically different. That example highlighted for me very early on, that this was going to be a different experience to anything that had went before us. And that journey has been quite challenging for me, to adapt to new surroundings and to carve out a “new normal”. Things slowed down, emails were abit quieter, phone not as busy, it was like someone had hit reset on the life we were used to! It felt hard, but more importantly even at this very early stage a significant God moment, a call to get the sleeves rolled up and get connecting.

This has extended into all the areas of Inverness Vineyard, where previously we would have structures/policies in place to support ministries, events, ideas, we are now in the position where the structures need to be built from the beginning and the policies need to be written. Where we would propose budgets for our ministry areas  previously we now look at the church as a whole, every part and and every penny. Where we would collect our Sunday resources on Friday from the church office, we have had one or two mad dashes to our 24 hour ASDA to get grape juice for communion or gunge for Vineyard Kids. The build looks very different.

And after an initial panic at the magnitude of that, we are good with it. Alot of the initial panic came because I am a visionary, ideas man, and have lots whirring around my mind in terms of where we can go and who can be involved. Thats my kind of building….that is still there but with church planting, but  I realise the foundations need to be right. So right now, its what can we build that can stay built, that will remain upright , that will stand the test of time and who are the key people that will go the last minute dash to ASDA, check the policies and crunch the numbers to support us. The right people are so important in the early build, they set the groundwork and right now we are finding that so important. As we continue to grow and increase momentum we are trying to increase the number of people we release to take stuff on to look after a piece of the building project.

We learned so much from our time at City Church Aberdeen, they have been amazing at supporting sending stuff our way and we have taken many great ideas and structures and will continue to be in touch – but Inverness Vineyard is a different build. Its bespoke, its uniquely God breathed and its going to look different, and we are SO excited about that! To see where God leads us, what is to come and what he will use in to further his kingdom. Its been a learning curve, but one that we wholeheartedly believe God will use for Inverness Vineyard to play an innovative, significant part in being a part of the revival of the Highlands.

We are ready, bring on the next stage!

With love,


Inverness Vineyard update: 9 months after moving


We thought its about time we gave a little update on all things Inverness Vineyard. We just can’t quite believe its 9 months since we moved and upped sticks to Inverness. So much has happened, some we had planned for and some surprises (which we have become accustomed to as church planters!). There is a real sense of momentum the last few months, the last two families waiting to move have now sold and bought houses, we are meeting new people on a weekly basis with lots of folk exploring or re-exploring Jesus again which is just the biggest joy – God most definitely has a plan as we take our baby steps into the city.

After having a really great couple of months at our breakfast drop-in RISE we felt a pull to take that next risk step as a wee church. We are constantly reminded we are to continue to be people of faith. The very risks we took moving, changing jobs, making new friends, is to be embedded into the culture of the church and the people we gather – comfortable, settling and consolidating is a no-no! At RISE we were gathering anything between 10-25 each Sunday morning, having lots of fun but we sensed the Lord leading us to exploring starting Sunday services. There was a couple of reasons for this. Our Thursday night meeting was outgrowing our living room, 20+ folk worshipping standing on couches and squished up to windows and using all our posh mugs (easter egg mugs had to be used!) was fun but wasn’t creating space for more. Secondly we are incredibly passionate about and believe wholeheartedly in the gathered church environment – times of worship, digging into the bible, our children consistently having environments to encounter God- we have seen time and time again these are the spaces and places where God break chains, restores and changes lives.

So on 29th April, we launched our very first Sunday service! It was an absolute blast, lots of folk turned up which was just lovely, and all our equipment worked! We have started a series over summer called “Keys to the Kingdom”, journeying through the parables Jesus taught, and asking God through these stories what would he have us do in Inverness. Our teams have been fantastic, stepping up in every way, loving and supporting us wholeheartedly with launching services, and looking to take things from us to better support us. These services are twice a month at the moment, which feels right just now in terms of teams and the demands of that, we are going to see how that develops over the summer.

As we launched Sunday services, we have also launched 3 small groups which replace the big all together Thursday meeting. “Doing life together” is the strap line for our groups, we feel really excited by the guys we have leading those groups and how loved and welcomed people will be. We have also launched “KindNESS”, which is our church movement of generosity. At Easter we went out armed with 100s of creme eggs, and the end of the June we are out again, just to connect with people in Inverness, and bless them and see what God does with our small acts of kindness. We also have an amazing link up with Gateway which is a charity which tackles homelessness and poverty. And I have been involved with Clachnacuddin FC, a fantastic highland league football team where I am the new chaplain which has been great, though they haven’t needed my football expertise…yet.

So as you can see alot has been happening! Lots of joys, but not without the challenges. I think as church planters, we would value your prayers for finding the sweet spot of balancing everything. So much is happening already which we are in awe of God and SO thankful, but we want to add what God wants for Inverness, not what we think Inverness needs. Its so so exciting, but also has its demands with a young family. We had the sweetest moment one Sunday evening after one of our services putting our 3 year old boy Joshua to bed, when he said “Mummy, Daddy, I loved church today!”. If we can navigate the road of parenthood and planting (perhaps a future blog!), taking risks and pursuing Jesus and our boys can say that each Sunday night at bedtime, we will be doing just great! Lots to celebrate and we have found it useful these last few months to intentionally mark the moments, celebrate the breakthroughs, chat about our encouragements so that when the wobbles and attacks come, we remember what God spoke so clearly way back over 10 years ago and we are exactly where he wants us to be!

With Love,

Thomas & Mhairi

Inverness Vineyard Church: Calling

Our story and calling in becoming church planters has been eventful! As we begin planting Inverness Vineyard church, we look back to 2006 when we started dating in Inverness,  and when we eventually married in 2009 in the city,  we knew even then that God had spoken to us about returning one day.  So we trusted God with this word, and kept it at the back of our plans until he would see otherwise. And decided as a couple we would embrace the adventure, and see what God would open up for us as a couple, and made a choice to be open handed and available.

Its a dangerous prayer to pray because a year after being married came an opportunity to become youth pastors with City Church, a one year fixed contract, which would mean me (Thomas) leaving my job as a mortgage adviser. We debated many an evening, came up with ways to make both jobs work, until it became apparent it was one or the other. I remember so clearly us in a small room with the church leadership team and Mhairi receiving Psalm 23 as a word for her “The Lord is my Shepherd…he leads me…he guides me…” We both excitedly wiped away the tears and said: Let’s do this!  What we learned as a couple early on was that being all in can be a scary, vulnerable prospect but when you begin to see Gods provision and direction after taking the step there is no better place to be.  3 years later we had another “all in” decision to make when City Church became a multi site church, when we were asked if we would lead a church site in Ellon. It was honestly never in question, we moved to Ellon a year previously and fell in love with the town, even though we felt out of our depth (recurring theme!) we knew it was right. And so came 4 of the best years we have ever had seeing countless people come to Jesus, becoming parents to 2 brilliant boys and seeing a small group of 18 adults and 4 kids grow in number, impacting and loving a town for Jesus.

Then about a year ago, we started to get abit unsettled. Our Ellon site was thriving and full of life and countless God stories, we were settled in a lovely home, there was nothing to suggest things were going bad and we needed to go. But church planting was being spoken about more and more and our hearts were beginning to be pulled towards the thought.  We had an instance being prayed for at the NLC conference in 2016 in Nottingham,  were  there was a call to anyone who thought Church planting could be part of their journey. We knew returning to Inverness one day would be great, so responded. Why not?!  Then the man praying for us had worked in Inverness for 20+ years and with tears in his eyes said : “For your first service, I will be there, cheering you on.”  I remember walking back to my seat, shaking and blubbing and laughing, knowing this was the start of another chapter. Then word after word (some awkwardly from our own church family!) further re-iterated the call to move north to Inverness. It was happening….

And so here we are, a couple of months in, rolling our sleeves up and ready to get stuck in for the next season ahead. We just couldn’t be more excited.  We have had our challenges along the way, but the God stories make it all worthwhile – thats why we do what we do, why we battle, why we persevere, why we don’t give up, why we have tried to say Yes more often than No. We love Jesus and his church and want to see many more encounter him. Mhairi and I often chat about our older years (in our 80s God willing!) when we are sitting having a cuppa, reflecting. We didn’t want to be saying: “Imagine if we had went to Inverness….” we want to be sitting with a glass of bubbly celebrating reflecting all that God has done in this city saying: “Imagine if we didn’t?!!”

If you take one thing from our story and calling, please let it be to say YES, be all in for Jesus and take some risks for the kingdom, you will almost always feel out of your depth but he will never, ever let you down. Who knows where you will go and what adventures he will take you on.”You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” 1 John 4:4

With love,
Thomas & Mhairi

Inverness Vineyard Church: 3 Month Update


Hello everyone,

Here’s a wee update 3 months into our church planting adventure, the quickest 3 months of our lives!  After getting to know a small core team over September, we felt Gods prompting to get going in gathering. So, in October we launched two weekly gatherings. RISE is our Sunday breakfast drop in at a local school, with a heart for friendships to be built and for opportunities to share about Jesus. We have seen new people from all backgrounds visit us every week from the local community, from as far away as Tain, which has been amazing – we love how something like breakfast can connect with a community.  Jesus loves to meet people over their coffee and croissant!

Our Thursday evenings are called ORIGIN, we dedicate this space to worshipping together, opening the Bible and praying for each other. These have been such precious nights, and it feels like these evenings are increasing in significance and will be the place where big dreams are birthed and chains are broken … bring it on! For Christmas, we have a carol service planned as well as an acoustic cafe evening at a local coffee shop partnering with Gateway (The Highland Homeless Trust). The entry ticket to the evening is bringing a food hamper which will be given out to those in need in the city. We are thrilled to be meeting a practical need in the city so early on in our journey, and are excited for future opportunities.

It’s been an exciting few months getting to know the city, other charities and other organisations to find out how we can stand alongside them, cheer them on and join in to serve and love the city. We have also shared many coffees  with other local church leaders to introduce ourselves, hear more about the amazing work they do, and establish strong friendships. Inverness is served by some fantastic kingdom-minded leaders who have inspired and encouraged us in our early days.

Our vision is that Inverness Vineyard Church is a place where people come alive, and we have so loved that we get to play our part, only 6 weeks in. Its amazing what God can do with a little, and we know as the church grows and we enlarge the tent, that we will look back at this season of new beginnings rejoicing in the faithful few in a small living room, to impact the many of Inverness and the shire.

So there we go, only 3 months and what an adventure! W e wouldn’t change any of it for the world, and we’re so glad we took the leap of faith. Here’s to 2018.

With love,
Thomas & Mhairi

Useful Resource

For anyone sensing a call to participate in the adventure of church planting, it’s important to absorb as much wisdom as possible. There are lots of theorists, and many idealists, but wisdom from practitioners wins every time.

Twitter recently threw up a podcast that I’ve found really useful. I haven’t listened to all the content, so I can’t vouch for it all, but the content by Terry Virgo and Geoff Surratt was brilliant.

Why not check it out?

Broadcast Church Planting Podcast

Essential Training

We want to set up all our church planters to win. And so we have developed a brand new course for potential church-planters that, in our church context, we believe will equip you with the minimum skills and experience that you would need to plant a Vineyard church, and give you a good start in church leadership. We are unbelievably excited about it. It will help you get off the starting blocks in the best way we can conceive of at present. Clearly further coaching and training (and perhaps study) may be required as your leadership journey progresses.

The link to our course, the City Church Leadership Academy is here. We find it very hard to imagine releasing and commissioning any church planters who have not engaged with this course on some level.  The course is open to anyone over the age of 21 from any church, subject to selection, and there are full-time and part-time options.

Why plant churches?

So my friend Andrew McNeil sent me this amazing paper by Tim Keller, that I’m sure we’ll come back to a LOT. Here’s the first paragraph for your delectation:

“The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else–not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes–will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This is an eyebrow raising statement. But to those who have done any study at all, it is not even controversial.” Tim Keller

What kind of churches will we plant? (Part 2)

So…. why, if Jesus loves all kinds of churches, are we only planning to plant ones that carry the Vineyard DNA and immediately become card-carrying members of our movement?

The answer is that we want all the churches that we plant to thrive. The dream is for a growing number of growing, healthy churches to be established in our generation, that will outlive us and serve their communities for many generations to come. We believe that planting Vineyard churches will give each church a really great start. Here’s why we believe that:

Track Record
The Vineyard movement has been established for 40 years, and has grown from a handful of churches in California, to a gloriously diverse group of around 2,400 churches around the world. The Vineyard knows how to plant healthy, growing Vineyard churches and draws from all those years of experience every time we plant a new church.

Quality Assessment
Having learned much from the successes and failures of church plants over the years, the Vineyard has developed an excellent discernment process for potential church-planters. This means that if anyone in our church family feels called to plant a church, the Vineyard brings a huge amount of expertise to the table to ensure we only release people when (and if) they are ready.

Great Training
There are a number of pieces of the training jigsaw which will come from our Vineyard family. A Cause to Live For, Hub, Vineyard Institute (theology), Church-planting intensives (like boot camps) are all easily accessed.  Of course there are also about 120 other churches in the UK and Ireland family from whom people can learn.

Expert Oversight and Coaching
One of the main reasons that we joined the Vineyard in the first place was because we couldn’t imagine how City Church could be solely responsible for loads of other churches. The glory of belonging to a church-planting movement is that all pastors and church-planters have the opportunity to be overseen, coached and mentored by people who have been there, seen it and bought the t-shirt.

Perhaps the most significant reason is much less about pragmatics, and much more about belonging. For many years our church was independent. And whilst we didn’t feel lonely (because we had friends) or vulnerable (because we were fairly self-sufficient), we did often reflect on a longing for a wider family. Since joining the Vineyard we have LOVED being part of a family. We have been the recipients of all kinds of encouragement, blessing and banter (as well as some pretty direct conversations) that only happen in families. We want that for all our church plants.

What I’m really saying is that if we were to send out anyone to plant a church which was not to be a Vineyard, we could have little confidence that it was going to thrive. On the other hand, by planting Vineyard churches we give each one a great chance of health, growth and longevity.

What kind of churches will we plant? (Part 1)

I was sat in on of our church services recently, and I was struggling. I couldn’t put my finger on what the problem was exactly – to be honest, I was probably just tired (and therefore grumpy).

To me, the songs all sounded like they’d been slowed down – as if the wrong speed had been selected on the record player. It probably wasn’t the A-team of worship bands. The guy behind me was singing VERY loudly and horribly out of tune. There was all kinds of disruption happening in  the room – a guy on the other side was very drunk and causing a bit of scene; a baby was screaming at the top of her lungs.

I remember saying to myself, “I don’t know what to make of this today, but I don’t like it.” And I’m pretty sure that Jesus responded, “I LOVE it.” He apparently wasn’t phased by the tuning of the chap behind me, nor the drunk guy on the other side. He just loves it when his people worship him. I realised then that our preferences aren’t his preferences. I might prefer middle-of-the-road 90s soft rock worship. Others may choose choral evensong or Gregorian chanting. And Jesus loves it all. He sees beyond the melodies to the heart. He loves the diversity and variety of the Christian church which, come to think of it, reflect his nature.

Having said all that, for very practical reasons we are only planning to plant Vineyard churches: churches that carry the family DNA; churches that join the movement from their inception, that belong to our family.