How did you become a Christian?
Some of my earliest memories were of church activities in Northern Ireland- holiday clubs, church outings, Sunday school, singing choruses, Fuzzy Felt Bible stories, and the like. Looking back on it now, I realise that it was an extraordinary blessing and privilege, but at the time it seemed normal. In our society today, that sort of Christian upbringing is becoming increasingly rare and I thank God for those early days in the faith.
It was still hugely important for me to have a ‘nailing your colours to the mast’ moment as a teenager. That happened when I was in Sixth Form and the Bible Union at school was allowed to take assemblies for a whole week. Someone asked me if I was willing to sit up at the front of the assembly hall and associate myself with the uncool God Squad. At that moment I knew very clearly that I had to make a decision and declare myself for Christ. I could see my team mates in the 1st XV Rugby team sniggering and making faces, but it was crystal clear to me that we all have to take a public stand for Jesus whatever the cost. Having the background, knowing the churchy lingo and culture is one thing, living it out in the full glare of public opinion is quite another!
Who is or has been an influential person in your Christian pilgrimage?
In my twenties I was very influenced by Richard Bewes the Rector of All Souls, Langham Place in London. I had been going there since I first came to live and work in London and I was always impressed with the personal warmth and Gospel zeal of Richard. His background was one of coming from missionary parents in East Africa and I loved his drive and compassion for souls. He encouraged me to think about what I was doing with my life and to use my gifts and abilities for Christ and His Church. This led me to become a Lay Assistant at All Souls and to start exploring the possibility of ordination in the Church of England.
I have also greatly benefitted from the wisdom and help of my PhD supervisor Prof. Tony Lane from the London School of Theology. Tony helped me to clarify and structure my thoughts about Elizabethan Puritanism and see relevance to contemporary Church issues and debates. Looking through other people’s bookshelves can also be a very instructive experience. Having a godly and knowledgeable guide to good Christian books is a great thing!
What piece of advice would you give young ordinands going into ordained ministry today?
Go for long-term fruitfulness. So often Christian ministry is drip, drip, drip. It is faithfully sowing seeds and praying that the Lord of Harvest would bring the fruit when the time is right. It is so easy to get discouraged when a sermon you spent ages preparing falls flat and seemingly no one is interested. It is hard when you get criticism, fair and unfair, and there are few who give support and encouragement. It is hard when you have had a battering at the PCC, or the church hierarchy have been less than helpful. It is hard to keep going when a young family leave your church for the bigger one down the road. Gospel ministry is hard, but keep going, keep contending for the Gospel with grace and humility.
Sometimes you need to out-live folks, who are holding a church back. Sometimes you need to just stick in there to win the day and to prove to people you love them and are committed to them. Sometimes the biggest changes can take years of prayer, persuasion and perseverance. Like a super tanker, changing the course of a local church and changing its spiritual DNA can take time and seem painfully slow, especially in more rural areas. Go for long-term fruitfulness.
Which is the best book you have read in 2021?
Tricky one this. I think it has to be Harold Senkbeil’s ‘The Care of Souls’. Senkbeil is an American Lutheran pastor and scholar, and this award-winning book is an absolute delight for weary souls and those wanting to investigate the heart of the pastoral calling. Drawing on his upbringing on a Minnesota farm and fifty years of pastoral ministry, Senkbeil does not offer a ‘how to do it’ manual, but more of a spiritual exploration of what it means to look after the flock of Christ. The subtitle, ‘Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart’, gives the real focus of the book. Prepare to be challenged and encouraged in equal measure. You may not agree with his Lutheran sacramental theology, but you cannot fail to learn many good things from Senkbeil’s humble wisdom.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am reading quite a bit around alternative spiritualities at the moment, mainly because I have been painfully aware of just how many local people dabble in spiritualism, mediums, wicca etc. these days. How is the Church engaging with these people and showing them Jesus Christ as ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life’? Are we too afraid to meaningfully dialogue? Would Christians compromise themselves by having a stall in a ‘Body, Mind and Spirit’ fair, for example? Are elements of the environmental/green movement liable to tend towards paganism? How can Christians engage in spiritual warfare yet respect those involved in the occult?
We live in a strange time when there is an increase both in militantly secular/ materialist thinking and an explosion of DIY, pick ‘n’ mix spiritual practices aided and abetted by the internet. What does it look like for the local Christian Church to evangelise in this context? I am sure there are a few articles to emerge from all this.