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Renewal Christian Centre, Solihull: new leader, renewed mission

"Discipleship will remain at the heart of all we do," says new lead pastor the Rev Jonny Lee

Having relocated from the North West to the Midlands to teach PE and English, the Rev Jonny Lee found God breaking into his life as he rediscovered his faith.

This led to a series of encounters, including getting caught on the school’s CCTV praying around the grounds at midnight, witnessing to sports teams in local pubs, and spending all his waking hours reading the Bible. Jonny’s love for people, sport, reading and travel always taught him to enjoy the day he’s living in, and prepare well for the future.

Twenty years later, after leaving education to take his first position as a youth pastor, where he saw significant growth in the ministry in Birmingham, Jonny has consistently found the next step, at the right time, into more and more church responsibility. 

With his wife Louise and daughter Ava, Jonny was originally taken on by Renewal Christian Centre, Solihull, to add value and strength to the existing staff team, but, as he shares in this interview, he’s honoured by the privilege of subsequently being asked to lead such a significant church, succeeding the Rt Rev Dr David Carr OBE

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Congratulations on your appointment to the role of lead pastor in March. Your predecessor David did an incredible job growing the church, so you may feel like you have big shoes’ to fill.

David joined Renewal 47 years ago, when the church first opened its doors. He served for a long time and the legacy of Renewal is something fairly intimidating to follow. But I hold in balance the trepidation of following something that has been so successful, with the excitement of carrying on the good work and moving the vision forward. To take on the challenge to lead a church like Renewal leaves me excited but pondering, Who knew?”, as I certainly didn’t expect this. But God has known all along. 

Renewal does have a great legacy, yet it talks about there being more to do.

Over the past 47 years, the church has grown from four people to a congregation of more than 1,600, fed thousands of people through our Helping Hands food distribution ministry, and seen hundreds of people commit their life to Jesus. The gospel must be an ongoing movement, as churches often settle and build a monument to what God has done in the past. I would like to believe we are about to see a whole new chapter of Christians equipped to live out the gospel.

This mission is not finished, as we fully intend to carry on the work of the ministry in a way that honours the past and serves the future. Too many dismiss what has gone before, and others hold on for too long. Renewal’s clear mandate to make disciples in the heart of the nation has not changed, and we continue to have a distinct responsibility to represent Jesus and to share the good news that He can set you free. We have something so good in Jesus, why would we not want to share it as far and wide as possible!

The word renewal’ suggests progression. As each member of the church is being renewed, we hope that they experience a regeneration of personal and corporate renewal. We want to be a church where people find new life in Jesus and grow in His likeness. We want to ask the questions: When did you last experience something new in God? When did we last do something fresh? 

You said that the church has a distinct responsibility to represent Jesus and to share the good news that He can set you free”. What does freedom mean to you?

My brother lives near Washington, D.C. and on one particular visit we saw the Vietnam War memorial which is inscribed with the words: Freedom was not free. Freedom to me, from a Biblical perspective, is not a feeling, or a time frame, where I am doing what I am supposed to do; it is discovering a whole life change where everything broken inside and about me are being put back together. 

Jesus releases me from everything that has weighed me down. When He paid the cost for my life, I get, as a result, to walk in the freedom that He has won for me: free from the pressure of living a legalistic routine to earn His love and acceptance, into a life lived under grace and favour that I don’t deserve. Jesus put up with the shame of the cross, so freedom could be ours. You appreciate the freedom more, when you appreciate the cost. 

What kind of change would you like to see within Renewal and the wider community?

The world is going to be changed by our witness and example, not our opinions. I believe I am called to mobilise the church to move forward with one mission: to lift up the name of Jesus wherever they are and not to be afraid to do so. We live in confusing times, and it is our responsibility to communicate with clarity to engage people in their everyday world. We must not lose confidence in God’s ability to change lives. Our opportunity is to get people to a place where the Holy Spirit can change them. 

Somebody recently shared with me that after years of searching for meaning in their life, coming to Renewal, understanding what Jesus has done for them, means they have never felt more alive”. When the community around us sees the authentic church in action, through acts of worship, giving and service, by genuine people carrying His love and presence into every part of our society, my hope is that our witness will be so magnetic, that others will believe that this is what they are looking for. The gospel is good news and has the power to transform lives and our communities. May the area we live in be so enriched because we exist there. 

What challenges does Renewal face in accomplishing its mission? And what do you think needs to be done in order to surmount these?

There is little doubt we are going through one of the biggest generational, political, social and cultural shifts for decades, where I think people are looking less for what is attractional and more for what is real. We have to create churches that are so authentic that they are able to connect to people’s lives. The challenge is to do so without compromising on what we believe to be the truth of God’s word. We need to be genuine, engaging storytellers, who can convey the message of the Bible in a language and context this generation can understand. It is a delicate balance, but one we should attempt to get right.

It’s clear that Renewal is community-orientated; I’ve got a real sense of your heart for those who don’t know Jesus yet.

Working to advance the kingdom of God encompasses so much more than what happens within the walls of your church. We want to be outward-facing, impacting people through Christian action and service in every walk of life, reaching across every boundary to see God’s kingdom come.

Renewal was once labelled as an extra emergency service’ by a councillor in Solihull, as we have sought to serve the community in whatever way we can. If we are to see thousands of people in our locations across the heart of the nation, we need to get out of our comfort zones and serve people where they are and where God is already at work. A comfortable church needs a less comfortable future. Our mission is to reach real people in every walk of life, in whatever way we can. 

You mentioned earlier that Renewal has seen significant growth under the leadership of David, so you will have heard or known first-hand many testimonies. Is there one that’s particularly special to you?

Many people have stories of how God has set them free from deep addiction and of lives turned around after desperate circumstances, including some miraculous healings, and these never fail to move me. Personally, I have loved one of our recent testimonies of someone who had decided to come to a service after they had been away from church for more than 30 years, after a particular family situation. During that service they committed their life to Jesus and from then on, they have not missed a week. They are now bringing members of their family and friends who vowed to never step foot in a church, and the impact is far reaching. 

Photo: The Rev Jonny Lee with Bishop David Carr and Archbishop of York, John Sentamu

About the author

Naomi joined the Evangelical Alliance in 2018 as editorial content manager. Positions with publishers and within the marketing and communications faculty of a higher education institution, plus stints as a reporter, have enabled the media and cultural studies graduate, who has an NCTJ diploma in newspaper journalism, to hone the necessary skills and qualities to serve members well.

See more from Naomi Osinnowo

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