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Question on Christianity, life and books

Mark Burkill

1. How did you become a Christian? I had been searching for God in my teenage years, even being attracted to Buddhism. I had very little Christian understanding although I grew up in an era when one came across certain Bible stories at school. In my second year at university I was invited by some friends to a mission being led by John Stott. To my friends’ surprise I went to virtually every evening of that mission. I cannot recall anything particular from the mission talks, except that one was from John 20. Following the mission I was followed up by a local minister. When he gently challenged me to follow Christ I can recall a sense of ‘giving in’. There was no reason not to. I did not really grasp what exactly I was responding to until the months that followed, but I knew I was wanting to be on Jesus’ side.

2 . Who is or has been an influential person in your Christian Pilgrimage? Of course it is hard to say in one sense because there are many, but on the other hand there is one individual who did influence me massively at a key moment in my life. That individual was James Ayre who was Rector of Cheadle in Cheshire from 1961 to 1988. I was his last curate and he passed to glory nearly 30 years ago. Today it is probably hard to imagine how inexperienced one could be when ordained. There were very few trainee type posts in existence then to gain ministry experience prior to theological college. So I arrived at Cheadle as a curate in 1984 with an immense naïvety about people and having preached very few sermons. My Rector was therefore an enormous influence because despite some idiosyncrasies, he loved people and preached in a way that brought the Bible to life. I really dread to think where I would have ended up if I had not learned so much from him in those areas.

3. What piece of advice would you give young ordinands going into ordained ministry today? I believe that it is important to be realistic about what ministry is like. In some ways the basic challenges one faces never change, however the particular issues which arise in each generation do. Wider society is more secular than when I was ordained and that will generate considerable hostility to faithful congregations and their leaders. On the other hand I think ordinands today are far better trained and prepared than I ever was. In the end we should be encouraged that a genuine love for Christ and the gospel will be sufficient for us. And young ordinands with that real love for Christ and his people can be assured that being a pastor is a great privilege and joy as one is dealing with people at the deepest levels of their lives. We must not expect the Lord to be predictable in the way He will work but we can trust Him wholeheartedly and know that sometimes He can use us in surprising ways.

4. Which is the best book you have read in 2021? The importance of reading history is consistently underestimated. It brings a perspective to current challenges which is valuable for all Christians but especially ministers. I will therefore go straight to Gerald Bray’s book called ‘The History of Christianity in Britain and Ireland’. I found it gave that wider perspective that I mention above but it does so much more. It is a relatively easy read and can therefore be commended to many. It is also very thought provoking and comprehensive. It questions many of the modern assumptions about Christianity in these islands which are in the air we breathe. It questions the assumptions that are made by secular society, by people within the Church of England, and by evangelicals of all shades (both in and outside the established church). I will probably try and reread it in 2022!

5. What are you working on at the moment? I retired in 2021 but I am finding plenty of Christian ministry to do in retirement! In particular I am doing a lot of reading about leadership. It is good that there are many wise words being spoken and worthwhile books now being published but I believe there is a gap in our understanding of the fundamental theology of this. We need to see how being a pastor is related to our understanding of God as Triune and our being made in the image of God. I believe this also helps address some of our deficiencies in the encouragement of female ministry in our churches. There are many ways in which our problems and sinfulness have been highlighted as leaders but unless we get this basic theology right we are in danger of lacking confidence in the God given responsibility to lead in various areas of life, especially churches. One day I would love to do some digging into the thinking behind the 5 Marks of Mission which we encounter so frequently today. But I am not sure when I will ever get round to that..

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Mark Burkill is chairman of the Latimer Trust. He has written various books which you can find here

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