The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Austin Walker talks Keach

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 18 July 2015 at 09:17

Posted in Interviews

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Pilgrim Radio interview

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I was interviewed a few days ago by Bill Feltner of Pilgrim Radio about Life in Christ: Becoming and Being a Disciple of the Lord Jesus. The interview is scheduled to air tomorrow (Wednesday 19th February) on “His People” at 2:30am, 12:30pm and 9:30pm PST. You can listen to it here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 18 February 2014 at 18:00

Posted in Interviews

Twinterview: Guides and gateways

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This twinterview turns to two bloggers who are technologically-engaged, known for their attempts to bring Christian principle to bear on this brave new world, and who act as gateways for all manner of material that sits at the intersection of these and many other issues. I particularly appreciate, in both of these gentlemen, their readiness to plough their own furrow, not bullishly and arrogantly, but faithfully and humbly, writing out of conviction and not jumping on bandwagons because those bandwagons happen to be flying past with lights flashing. They also help others guard their time and their priorities from the often enslaving attractions of technological tools.

So, we welcome Tim Challies of überblog fame and David Murray of HeadHeartHand (preacher, lecturer, blogger, film-maker, author, etc.) to the world of the twinterview. There are fewer questions than usual – a trade-off required before my invitations were accepted – but I hope that you will the answers sufficiently penetrating and full to make it more than worthwhile. I am grateful to these brothers for sparing their time for this exercise.

As usual, neither interviewee saw the other’s answers until both sets of responses were in, and there was no collaboration or collusion. The answers are as given, and I have not commented on them, either in terms of interest, agreement or disagreement. The responses are edited only lightly for form, and the content is the responder’s own. Please feel free to engage politely in the comments section.

Previous twinterviews can be enjoyed at the links below:

1. How did you get to know one another? What do you most appreciate about one another as friends and fellow-bloggers?

Tim Challies: David will probably have a different story to tell, but I believe that he and I interacted a little bit via social media, but then first met when I made a business trip out to Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary to discuss a new web site. Obviously this was a few years ago when I was still in the web design business. I met David at that meeting and I guess we pretty much hit it off right away.

There is a lot I appreciate about David as a friend. He is one of the most caring people I have met, one who is genuinely thoughtful and compassionate. He is also humble, a guy who is far more widely-read and far more capable than he tends to let on. And he is serious but not too serious; he has a zany and understated kind of humor that surfaces now and again. And then there is that amazing accent.

David Murray: I was not long in the USA when I heard of some popular Christian blogger called Challies. I started reading and enjoying his writing, and found his daily A la Carte selection of links especially helpful in getting to know the North American church scene and culture.

When Puritan Seminary decided to re-vamp our website, Tim’s name came up and we invited him to do the work. When he came to Grand Rapids to get the website specs, we met face to face for the first time, and got on well. We also found out that Tim’s Dad and I had studied in the same Seminary in Edinburgh.

We next met up at The Gospel Coalition Conference in Chicago in 2009 I think, had a meal together and I interviewed him for the Seminary blog. We kept in touch regularly after that, mainly over email and Skype, and a few times face-to-face including a meal we shared together with our wives in Canada.

Although Tim and I are quite different in many ways (Baptist v Presbyterian, 30-ish v 40-ish, Newish Calvinist v Oldish Calvinist, Canadian v Scottish, etc.), we do share a number of things in common – including our interest in how to use and not abuse technology, a passion for practical theology, and a deep concern to see the New Calvinist movement continue to grow and mature (as well as learn from it ourselves).

 I have a deep respect for Tim as a believer, as a husband, as a father, as a Pastor, as a writer, and in other ways too. I’ve probably learned far more from him than he ever has from me. I admire his doctrinal clarity, his writing gifts, his focus on the church, his care for his wife and family, and his love for Christ. I’ve learned most from him in the area of being transparent and vulnerable. That kind of honest openness is risky, and doesn’t come easy for a Scot, but it’s a beautiful trait that requires a lot of faith to exercise in such a public way.

2. What would make you stop blogging? Do you see any technology or platform that is likely to render the blog obsolete any time soon?

TC: I have thought about this one a fair bit over the years, and at this point cannot imagine too many scenarios in which I would give it up altogether. However, if I found that blogging was having a negative effect on my family or on my ministry to my local church, I know I would feel compelled to quit or at least to scale back. I prioritize those things far higher than blogging and hope I would have the strength and integrity to follow through. I trust my wife and my fellow elders to keep me accountable and to ensure that my priorities remain in place.

As for blogging, it is not going away in the near future. I suppose we may give up the term blogging at some point, but the simple act of common folk writing down their ideas and posting them to the Internet is not going anywhere. The little people have a voice and they are not going to give that up. Not only that, but we have learned that we do not need and do not want professionals to shape all of our ideas; we want to have a voice of our own.

DM: I do pray about the place of blogging in my life. Although it’s been a huge blessing to me to have to write something edifying most days of the week, and I hope it’s impacted others for good too, I am often concerned about the amount of time it takes each day. I’m conscious of the need to keep it in the right place, and as with everything make sure that it is the Lord’s will for me to do. I do ask the Lord to show me if He wants me to stop it or to reduce its place in my life.

Obviously it’s very difficult to predict Technology. However, I think that blogging will continue to grow, though more slowly. Whatever happens to our culture, I can’t ever see human beings losing the impulse to put words into the public arena, even if only to be read by a few people.

If Facebook ever gets round to writing some decent software that will be more hospitable to blogging, that could have a significant impact on independent blogging sites. However, as they can’t even design good software for their core service, I think blogging is safe for the foreseeable future.

3. You are both fairly intimately involved in aspects of the Reformed and evangelical world of America, yet perhaps standing slightly outside of it by virtue of your origins. What do you think are the challenges of the American context and assumptions of so much theological and practical discussion? To what extent do you discern the existence of a gap between that and different (European/Canadian/other) contexts, and what might be the effect of that gap?

TC: I always get in trouble when I speak to America, so you’re putting me in an awkward spot. But here I go. America has justly deserved her reputation as a nation that believes it knows what is best, not just for itself but for others as well. America is known to walk with a bit of a swagger, whether politically, militarily or spiritually. And to be fair, America has a lot to commend it in all of those regards. Still, when a Canadian hears that a group of Americans is coming to Canada to do a service project or to plant a church there’s often a bit of hesitation, wondering what drama will come from it. What I mean is that America has brought to the world a lot of assumptions that reflect herself, but not necessarily the church in other places; America assumes that American Christianity is the purest, normative form, that it is the real deal and that the rest of the world ought to do things the same way.

I can testify that the church in Canada, a country that shares a border with the United States and which is culturally downstream from the United States, is very, very different. In general, American church planting movements have not seen a lot of success in Canada because they fail to understand just how different we are. We need indigenous church planters just as much as any other country.

Let me offering a peace-making word before I move on: I think we may be seeing a humbling in these areas, especially as we begin to see the failure or displacement of Western Christianity and the rise of Christians in the global south and east.

DM: I feel hugely privileged to live and work in America. I and my family love it here, and hope to spend the rest of our lives here, if God wills. The sermons and books of American pastors have played a huge role in my own Christian life and in my ministry. The major challenge in the American context is to avoid extremes. I think America is a very practical nation, Americans are a can-do people, and like solving problems. However, problems are rarely solved at the extremities. Simpler solutions are found there, but usually not the right ones. The challenge is often to live in the messy middle, feeling the tension of truth, and being prepared to live with the stress of that balancing act. I’m thinking especially here of the tensions in counselling (e.g. what place do we give to the sciences), in preaching (e.g. balance of consecutive-expository, evangelistic, redemptive-historical, application, law and Gospel), and in Christian living (balance of external v internal, activism v piety, law v Gospel, etc).

4. Taking into account any nuances from the previous question, what do you see as particular dangers or challenges to the church in the West at this time? Would you care to suggest potential remedies?

TC: I would suggest that one of the greatest dangers to the church today is thoughtlessness. The first book I wrote was about discernment and that remains a burning topic to me. It continues to surprise me how many Christians there are who have not been taught how to think biblically and who may never even have been told that there is such a thing as biblical thinking. That’s tragic. We can only live like Christians if we think like Christians.

After I wrote my book on discernment I wrote on technology and came to see that there’s a growing danger hidden in our technology that may lead us to even more thoughtlessness by way of busyness and distraction and obsession. It seems that just as many Christians have begun to identify the problem—we need to think like Christians—we’ve filled our lives with gadgets and gizmos that are going to likely to keep us from the kind of deep thinking we need.

DM: (1) Antinomianism. Can only be fixed by a Christ-centred covenantal understanding of the Old Testament. (2) Preaching becoming too academic and less evangelistic. Remedy is to remember that unless hearers are born again they are going to hell forever. We need much more of a “burden for the lost.” I think on the whole that Pastors are spending too much time with books (and the Internet) and not enough with sheep. Solution is simple – get out of the study and visit the sheep – and seek the lost ones too. (3) Militant homosexuality is not going away. The trajectory of media, educational, political, and judicial, intimidation is worrying. Acceptance of gay marriage is usually followed by hate-crime legislation that eventually is interpreted to prevent any criticism of homosexuality. The church will need to hold firmly hold to the immorality of homosexuality without unnecessarily provoking legal and other consequences, as well as learning how to reach out to homosexuals with the Gospel.

5. Without wishing to go “Miss World” on you esteemed gentlemen, what three things would you be particularly grateful to see happening in your particular sphere of operation and influence over the coming year?

TC: Let me address that by looking to three different spheres of operation:

As a father and husband I want to see my children profess faith, be baptized, and live as if their profession is legitimate. I want to continue to raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord and to build a real friendship with each one of them—a friendship that will last far longer than my role as dad. As a husband I want to more and more internalize the command to be toward my wife as Christ is toward his church, to understand what that means and how it ought to work itself out in the way I relate to her.

As a pastor I want to serve my church well and to lead them in holiness and godliness and prayerfulness and other godly character qualities. I won’t ever be the most dynamic preacher and won’t ever have the theological depth of so many men whose career path has taken them through seminary and post-graduate work, but I know I can lead them in those things that do not require a degree or formal training. I can, that is, if I set my heart and mind in that direction.

As a writer I want to be careful to avoid writing books for the sake of writing books. I want to be content to write only when I have the kind of idea that just won’t let me not write about it. And I want to continue to use my web site as a place to think publicly, to wrestle through the issues that are important to the church in this time and this place, to draw attention to good resources and to warn people away from the ones that are unbiblical. And as I do those things, I want to ensure that I am always speaking truth in love.

DM: (1) I’d love to see more racial diversity in our Reformed churches. I think that can only happen by majorities reaching out to minorities, rather than majorities expecting minorities to come to them. (2) I’d like to see more Christians re-discovering the joy of keeping the Lord’s Day holy. The main obstacle to that is sport-idolatry. (3) I’d like to see more evangelistic preaching; expository preaching that is regularly and specifically focussed on the conversion of unbelievers in our congregations.

6. You are both writers. What place does more developed writing with a view to formal publication have in your commitments of time and energy? Do you enjoy it or feel obliged to do it? Do you feel a sense of compulsion with regard to particular topics, or are you pushed into areas of expertise which, under God, you have developed?

TC: I feel no great compulsion to write books. As I have just said, I want to be content to be the guy who publishes a book every few years and not feel like I need to crank out a new title every six months or every year. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve got the time or energy or brain space to do much more than a book every few years.

I do not want to ever write a book under compulsion. Soon after I began writing formally a wise man who has seen many of his books be published warned me against two things: signing multi-book contracts and writing the book that someone else wants me to write. Both things, he warned, will produce low-quality works that you write even though they do not excite you. Looking back, that seems like sage advice.

DM: I’m trying to write something for publication every 18 months or so. When I started writing a few years ago, I hated it – I was more of a speaker. But now I love it and really look forward to writing time. Blogging has really helped me in that regard. It’s helped me find my “voice,” strive for clarity and brevity, and try to present truth in an engaging and enjoyable way.

I can’t imagine writing a book on something I wasn’t passionate about. I believe that’s part of God’s leading – He gives you a passion or a burden for a subject and you cannot but speak or write the things you have seen and heard!

7. Are there any particular books you wish you had read, but have never got round to?

TC: There are more than I could easily list, which is exactly why I began the Reading Classics Together effort at my web site. Reading Classics Together gives me the context and accountability to read some of those great works from days gone by.

I would also like to read more reference and academic works. The problem I face is that I may put weeks into reading a dense academic work, print a review, and see that only a very few people are interested in it. If I read and review The Shack, I will see hundreds of thousands of people be interested in it. In that way I find myself dedicating a lot of my reading efforts to lighter reading. However, even with that being true, I am trying to dedicate more of my time to reading good, dense, difficult, high-return books.

DM: I’d love to have read more of the huge biblical theologies that have been published in recent years. I’ve read one or two, but there are a number of others I’ve just not been able to find time for. I’d also like to read more of the Puritans. My favourite Puritan is John Flavel and it’s still my ambition to read through his works. I’ve also only dipped into Jonathan Edwards – I’d like to submerge myself in his thought over a period of time.

8. What are the best and the worst things about being a preacher, in your experience?

TC: My preaching experience is still rather limited compared to David’s or compared to most other preachers, so you may want to keep that in mind.

The best thing about being a preacher is being set aside and even paid to study and apply God’s Word. That may sound selfish, I suppose, but it is a great honor and privilege to be called to do what every Christian wants to do—study the Bible. While that study is often gruelling and more work than pleasure, it always bears fruit.

The worst thing is all that preaching takes out of you. Preaching is soul-baring and exposing and that brings about a kind of fatigue, a kind of post-performance weakening, that I haven’t ever experienced elsewhere. People who haven’t prepared and preached a sermon probably just do not understand how cutting even a small comment can be or how encouraging a small praise can be. Preaching must easily be one of the most difficult tasks in the world; but it’s also one of the most rewarding.

DM: Best: Getting to study God’s Word as my calling, the felt guidance of God in preparation, the joy of experiencing divine help in the pulpit, the potential of seeing souls saved, comforting God’s afflicted people.

Worst: Monday morning, sometimes having to prepare sermons with too little time to do it as I would like.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 3 July 2012 at 14:47

Twinterview: Reformed Baptist church planters

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Here we are with another twinterview. This time the objects of the exercise are two Reformed (or Particular, if you’re particular about it) Baptist church planters. The one is Lewis Allen, who is working in the recently-constituted Hope Church, Huddersfield, and who blogs at Reclaimed, and the other is Richard Barcellos, pastoring the newly-established Grace Reformed Baptist Church of Antelope Valley (blogging at the same site), which – as you might guess – is not in the UK, but on the planet of California.

As previously, perhaps most striking are those answers in which both interviewees give what one senses was an immediate, instinctive response which happens to be virtually identical to the other guy’s (see Q11). I also enjoy the responses which develop in different directions, which I hoped would be the case when dealing with two men attempting a very similar task in what are pretty much opposite sides of the globe.

Neither interviewee saw the other’s answers until both sets of responses were in, and there was no collaboration or collusion. The answers are as given, and I have not commented on them, either in terms of interest, agreement or disagreement. The responses are edited only lightly for form, and the content is the responder’s own. Please feel free to engage politely in the comments section. I am grateful to Lewis and Rich for their willingness to participate.

You can see previous twinterviews here.

1. How did you reach the conclusion that the Lord God was calling you to plant a church, and what were you doing beforehand? Why have you planted a church where you are now?

Lewis Allen: A précis of the story of the Lord’s guidance would go something like this: I never planned to be a planter, and was happily buried in pastoral ministry in West London. Nearly three years ago my wife and I asked each other and the Lord whether He had any different plans for us. A very intense six months followed of serious prayer, searching our hearts about our giftings and temperaments, the needs of our church and five children, as well as the need of the North of England, which has always been on our hearts. We took counsel from good friends, including experienced Pastors, and found our sights being focused on West Yorkshire. The needs and the opportunities in Huddersfield, and God’s particular providences, convinced us that we should be leaving twelve years in London in order to plant here. We arrived in Huddersfield in September 2010.

Richard Barcellos: (a) Matthew 28:19-20, my training and pastoral experience, my experience with church-planting, my personal desire, the support of my elders, and the support of other pastors. For me, all of the above were important in my decision. (b) I was an elder in a church in Kentucky and teaching at a church-based seminary. (c) I wanted to move back to California and knew some folks who wanted to start a new confessional Reformed Baptist church and call me as their pastor.

2. Why are you a Reformed Baptist? What impact have your distinctive convictions made in your approach to church planting?

LA: Without sounding either smug or simplistic, I believe that it’s the Christianity of the New Testament, and the faith which is the closest response to the Covenant of Grace discovered through the Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve come to a town which has been shaped by General Baptist and Pentecostal / Charismatic churches. As Hope Church we want to hold out the Gospel as the solid promise and amazing invitation of God in Christ. Being a Reformed Baptist Church should make us the kindest church around, as well as a community eager to explore the riches of the faith entrusted to us in the Word and expressed in our Confession.

RB: (a) Why are you a Reformed Baptist? Well, God decreed it. I take “Reformed Baptist” as one who subscribes to the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. I believe the 1689 is a faithful expression of the main teachings of the Bible. It is a Protestant document, falling within the family of Protestant Orthodoxy in terms of its view of the Bible, God, the trinity, man, sin, the covenants of works and grace, Christ’s person and work, the accomplishment and application of salvation, the law of God, the Sabbath, the Regulative Principle of Worship, the church, the sacraments (except possibly its credobaptism J), and the last day and eternal state. (b) Impact of distinctive convictions? The first thing I wanted to do was to make sure our core group understood what kind of church I was going to plant. This meant that I needed to do some teaching on specific subjects. This has also meant that I have begun to preach on key subjects to help our people understand key elements of our doctrinal convictions. I am planning on preaching a series of sermons entitled “Welcome to a Reformed Baptist Church” soon to further instruct our own people and anyone interested in our church.

3. What have been the greatest joys and pains, opportunities and challenges, of the church planting process to date?

LA: Life so far has been very happy. We’ve been able to form a membership and to agree on our distinctives, priorities and leadership in a very short space of time. Our great challenge is to work out patterns of effective evangelism. We’ve had several professions of faith so far. We long for many more. We’re currently working to develop a Christian witness in the middle of the town.

RB: (a) I have been very encouraged with the love of the saints exhibited by our people. I have had many opportunities to teach the old truths to folks who want to know what the Bible teaches and how a church should function. I have also been very encouraged by the various types of support we are receiving from other churches. (b) The most pain I have is self-inflicted. My own sins and lack of spiritual growth continue to astound me. But the Lord is faithful! Since we are still meeting in our home, it is sometimes painful to realize that it will be difficult to get visitors. Another difficulty in my own soul is the concern I have as a provider for my wife and children. Our church-plant is not able to fund our entire budget so we rely on the financial assistance of other churches.

4. Have there been any books, models, counsels or counsellors who have been a particular help to you in wrestling through the demands of planting a church? How have you gone about planting this church?

LA: The best preparation for planting has been pastoring. My best church planting lessons have come through the many mistakes and lessons found in trying to bring God’s Word to the lost as well as to the Lord’s people, through all of the different stages of my pastoral ministry. Regarding our move to Huddersfield, we went through the guidance experience I’ve outlined and we felt it was right to go, so I resigned from the Pastorate, raised some money, advertised that we were going so as to prompt interest in the project, put out feelers with potentially interested parties in the town, and then moved north. It was exhausting, stressful, and highly risky. But the Lord has clearly owned His work.

In terms of models, I’ve just kept an eye on a handful of plants in the UK. No one of them has had an enormous influence, but several have been valuable.

RB: (a) Books? I think I bought three books dealing with church-planting with the intent to read all of them. I could not get through two of them (I will leave them unnamed). They undervalued public worship, IMO, and other things I think are crucial. The one I really enjoyed was published by Reformation Heritage Books. It is entitled Planting, Watering, Growing. I read the whole thing and recommend it highly. (b) Models? Can I put in a plug for a blog post on this issue ( Thanks! The only models I try to follow are the ones we have in Holy Scripture and those I think follow that pattern (which are too numerous to list). I think it is dangerous to establish models (i.e., emphases of ministry) outside of God’s revealed will (i.e., the Bible). I have found that the models-of-ministry approaches are often a reflection of someone’s personal agenda or perceived personal strengths or personal burdens. I never want to impose my personal perceptions upon the people of God, though I am sure that has and will happen against my principial commitments. (c) How have I gone about planting this church? I think I have already answered that but can flesh it out some more. Once we arrived in CA, I began Friday night meetings twice per month for interested people with the goal of forming a core group committed to what we were attempting – to start a new confessional Reformed Baptist church. At that time, we had four couples committed to the new work. That included me and my wife. Because I had lived in this area in the past (for 17 years), I had friends who were interested in what we were doing. A couple of months after we started those meetings, a few more couples committed to the work. A friend in Dallas, TX, recommended (via Face Book) to some friends of his in our area that they check us out. Two couples came and committed as a result of that. We created a web-page, Face Book page, Twitter account, fliers, and “business” cards. Once the core group was established, a steering committee of three men was appointed to help hold me accountable and to plan for the future. I drafted a church constitution which the committee helped edit and modify. We took the constitution to the core group and studied through the whole thing so everyone knew what they were getting themselves into. We started meeting Lord’s Day mornings for singing, praying, and the ministry of the Word in October of 2011 with 25 total people. We met in the evenings to learn hymns. In February of 2012, we constituted as Grace Reformed Baptist Church with 17 members. We now meet Lord’s Day morning and evening for public worship. Our attendance runs from 35-40 on a typical Lord’s Day. The men come over our house on the first Friday night of each month to discuss theology. We have a meal together twice per month after morning worship. From the beginning, I have sought to create a culture of love for the saints and hospitality based on the truths of God’s written Word. I think this is important for at least two reasons: 1. it is a display of true Christianity and 2. it is a means of evangelistic leverage.

5. What are some of the myths and legends of church planting that your experience has, in your opinion, exploded? In this regard, does a church planter differ from a pastor, and – if so – in what ways?

LA: I would love to see more Pastors becoming planters in needy places. If you’ve been in a settled ministry context, you love people, can preach to a church and lead it effectively, are shepherding a Word and one-another loving congregation, then keep under review whether it’s right for you to remain there. I applaud lengthy pastorates; but I think that men should always seek to train the congregation in order that they will one day thrive without them.  I rejoice that my London church goes on thriving since my departure (and has recently called my successor).

As for the pastor/planter distinction, well, I don’t know! There are planters whose burden is to plant and move on, and replicate that. That’s not me. I always wanted to be an evangelistic worker as part of my role as Pastor in London, and hope that I’m doing both here in Yorkshire.

RB: (a) Myths or legends? I am not sure anything I have experienced explodes any myths or legends. It is no myth that God uses weak men for His glory. I am just an average guy seeking to do what God’s Word calls me to do. I think the Scriptures indicate that doing what I am doing has its blessings and its challenges. I don’t think that will change until the consummation. I guess if anyone has romantic views of church-planting or pastoral ministry they should get rid of them fast. God calls pastors to be faithful to their charge. Find out what that is in the Bible and do it. That’s what I am trying to do. (b) Church-planter v. pastor? Good question. Here’s the process I went through. I transferred my church membership from a RB church in KY to a RB church in CA. This was done with the blessing of my elders in KY. The RB church in CA sent me to Palmdale to preach the Word and establish a church. Once we had enough folks to constitute a church and a constitution we did so. Two of the elders from my CA church came and ordained me at our request. Though I think churches can (and ought to) send men to preach the Word in other places, this does not mean that those men in every case will pastor the church that comes as a result of their labours, though I think that is normally the case. I think church-planters should, under normal circumstances, become the pastor of the church born of their labours. And I think church-planters, under normal circumstances, ought to be sent by another church.

6. Most preachers learn to preach, at least in degree, by reading sermons or hearing preaching. Can you give a couple of names from the past, and a couple from the present, of men whom you would commend as models for a young minister developing his preaching gift?

LA: Listen to all that you can, listen discerningly, and beware of models to follow! I’ve been blessed beyond words by preachers old and current. The humility of Calvin, the alertness of Spurgeon, Flavel’s directness and insight, Hugh Martin’s depth and logic – these have been great teachers. Today I’m moved and instructed as I listen to Iain D. Campbell, Paul Tripp, Tim Keller, Alistair Begg, Sinclair Ferguson. I’ve little time for preachers who can’t keep my attention as I exercise with my iPod in my local gym. Like John Flavel, I want my preachers ‘hissing hot’.

RB: I am not the right man to ask this question. I rarely read sermons and don’t listen to sermons very often these days. As far as the venerated dead, certainly John Owen and C. H. Spurgeon come to mind.

7. What particular pressures do you face to water down your faith and your life as a new local church?

LA: The Lord has been very gentle with us so far. We’re enjoying the relative romance of new church life. Come back to me in a couple of years.

RB: I suppose since we are very simple in terms of what we offer, there may be pressure to become things that people expect or to start doing things that “work” in our day and age. I do not think any of our people are struggling with that at the moment. I do know that some of the things we believe and practice are not very popular in our day (primacy and centrality of preaching in public worship, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs without accompanying instruments [though in principle we are not against them], Lord’s Supper as a means of grace, weekly Lord’s Supper, morning and evening public worship, the RPW, the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath, covenant theology, etc.). Though in our geographic area these types of beliefs and practices are not that prevalent, I am aware of a growing movement of younger people (and some older) who are coming to these convictions which, in my estimation, is a good thing.

8. How do you go about seeking to draw near to God when you feel discouraged or drained?

LA: I need to get away on my own on my motorbike. I take my Bible, i-pod, notebook and pen and a Puritan (usually John Flavel), and find somewhere for half a day or a day (a couple of days is a real treat). I read, repent, praise, make notes, and pray. Sometimes I still feel like lead – but far more often my heart soars and I feel like a new man. I need friends too, and it’s a joy to share with brothers in different parts of the UK, even if just in a short phone call. Oh yes, I fly-fish – worship comes easily when you’re waist-deep in a river…

RB: Since I view the written Word of God and prayer as means of grace, I try to read my Bible and pray daily. Also, I go to church every Lord’s Day, which is a great encouragement for my soul.

9. What do you think are some of the peculiar temptations and challenges that Christians face in the modern Western world?

LA: All the obvious ones – laziness, lukewarmness, worldliness, greed. The less obvious ones are a lack of love for and desire to serve the wider church, and a failure to live truly by faith. They’re my sins, anyway.

RB: The same things Christians have always faced – the world, the flesh, and the devil. As far as peculiar things, I suppose viewing the pastor as a facilitator of people (kind of like a CEO) instead of a servant of the written Word. Also, I think it is very tempting to want to be heard out there instead of settling for a faithful, plodding ministry with what God has given you. I think there is also a tug against an ordinary means of grace public ministry. I am concerned about an over-emphasis on the personal v. corporate as that relates to Christian discipleship and maturity. Finally, I think that modernism and post-modernism have prejudiced many against learning from the past as we ought. This has affected the way we read and interpret our Bibles. You can read my dissertation for details.

10. What are some of the particular dangers that you seek to watch against as a pastor? What are the particular measures that you take to guard your heart in these things?

LA: As Pastors we so often live between pride and despair. More often, our despair is actually the fruit of our not being able to achieve the targets our proud hearts set for our ministries. We listen to ourselves far too much, and we seek to serve our own lusts, however close they may on the surface appear to be to biblical priorities. We need to be far more captivated and controlled by Scripture. Meditate, memorise and preach are great guardians.

RB: (a) Dangers? 1. Treating myself as a pastor and forgetting that I am first an individual Christian with all the duties, privileges, and concerns of others. 2. Wasting time looking at books instead of reading them. 3. Wasting time on the internet. 4. That wretched thing called pride. (b) Measures? 1. Reading Bible, prayer, family worship, paying bills every Monday, exercising, public worship every Lord’s Day, etc. 2. I keep track of my weekly reading to push myself along. 3. I have yet to find a way not to waste time on the internet, sadly. 4. I read theologians like Owen, Turretin, and Bavinck to remind me that I am not one.

11. What do you find the hardest truths to preach, and why?

LA: Holiness. Do I really want to be as sanctified as a pardoned sinner can be? Or am I happy to make pacts with treasured sins (as long, of course, as I’m reasonably confident that no one else sees)?

RB: I suppose those truths that deal with personal holiness because I struggle with it so much. The older I get, the harder it becomes to preach on personal holiness and the more I appreciate the grace of Christ. This does not mean I do not preach such things, it just means I find those things the hardest to preach because of who I am and am not. “…wretched man that I am…but thanks be to God…”

12. What is it about the Lord Jesus that draws your heart out to him, either in general or at this specific time? Why do you think that many Christians speak so little of the Lord Jesus?

LA: In the run-up to Easter I was preaching through the last days of Jesus in Jerusalem, prior to the Cross. I was so struck by the sheer courage of our Lord. His courage, of course, was the fruit of His zeal for His Father’s glory in the salvation of the elect. I hope that my life might show just a little more courage in Gospel ministry. The more I long to see the Father and the Son glorified, and the more I seek the Spirit’s help in this, the more my life will be transformed. What a prayer it would be for me and my church if God were to grip us with this ambition, so we could not stop speaking about our great God and Saviour!

RB: (a) What draws my heart out to Christ? That’s an interesting question. Let me answer on two levels – top-down, then bottom-up. By top-down I mean Christ draws my heart to Christ. He does this via the grace given me by the Spirit blessing the written Word of God, prayer, and the Lord’s Supper. It’s all of grace! By bottom-up, I mean my understanding of His person and work. I think understanding who He is in terms of the last Adam, the skull-crushing Seed of the woman, the One bringing glory to God by bringing many sons to glory draws my heart out to Him. (b) Why do some speak so little of the Lord Jesus? Because of the effects of the Enlightenment in producing a hermeneutical revolution in the West. Really! I am one of those who thinks that there is too much stock put in human authorial intent instead of asking the whole-Bible or canonical question of divine intent. The Bible means what God intended it to mean and we know what God intended crucial portions of it to mean by allowing God to tell us in His Word. I am simplifying a complex issue for sake of space. I think Christ and the Apostles got the Old Testament right. It is about Christ. Before the Enlightenment, the Bible was not interpreted like any other book (in the main). Due to the Enlightenment, many have sought to utilize the same hermeneutical principles on the Bible they use to interpret any literature. This, in my estimation, was a turn in the wrong direction. One of the practical effects is that we look to find ourselves in the Bible instead of looking to find Christ. We look to fit the Bible to our situations, instead of seeing the Bible as the drama of redemption, focusing upon Christ in bringing many sons to glory. We impose our categories of thought back on the Bible, instead of allowing it to produce thought categories for us. If we view the Bible as God’s written Word, revealing to us how He is getting glory for Himself through what He does through the skull-crushing Seed of the woman in bringing many sons to glory, I think we will speak more of what Christ has done, is doing, and will do for us than what we can or ought to do for Him.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 29 May 2012 at 07:28

Interview coming up

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For those with a spare few minutes, I am due to be interviewed on the Janet Mefferd show in a few minutes (7pm GMT, 2pm EST, not much of a clue about other Ts) about The Brokenhearted Evangelist and probably a few other threads. Follow the link and click “listen now” in the top bar to follow along.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 24 April 2012 at 17:51

Posted in Interviews

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Twinterview: Louisville pastors

with 4 comments

Welcome to another twinterview, sports fans!

Following the Thomas/Trueman face-off we travelled back to the UK to quiz the London Welsh. This time we head again to the US for a couple of pastors from Louisville. One is Brian Croft, pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church and author of several introductory volumes of pastoral theology, who blogs at Practical Shepherding. In the other corner is Jim Savastio, pastor of the Reformed Baptist Church of Louisville and long-term friend of the Walker family, a blogger at Main Things.

As usual, neither interviewee saw the other’s answers until both sets of responses were in, and there was no collaboration or collusion. The answers are as given, and I have not commented on them, either in terms of interest, agreement or disagreement. However, I do feel obliged to point out, in the context of Jim’s answer to question three, that I was never that short. The responses are edited only lightly for form, and the content is the responder’s own. Please feel free to engage politely in the comments section.

I am very grateful to Jim and to Brian for their willingness to participate, and I hope that they will not regret it. Please check back regularly for the next couple of twinterviews. Two are brewing in the pot, and a couple more are being slowly prepared.

1. Please tell us where you are serving the Lord in Louisville, Kentucky, and how you arrived there. Also, how did you get to know one another?

Brian Croft: I am currently in my ninth year as Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church on the south end of Louisville. I am born and raised near here and have spent all my 17 years of ministry in local churches either in Louisville, or in southern Indiana, just across the river. Jim and I found each other through some mutual pastor friends and had lunch together for our first meeting not far from his church.

Jim Savastio: I minister in East Louisville. I started my ministry here in 1990 to aid in a new church plant. At that time we met at a hotel in central Louisville (near the airport). Two years later we moved to a school in the East end and in 1995 purchased approximately six acres at our current location. I came to Louisville having just completed my ministerial training. It was originally intended to be a three month summer stint. Thankfully, the Lord had other plans!

I got to know Brian Croft five or six years ago. One of our families had their child in the same gymnastics program where one of Brian’s children were enrolled. This family thought that Brian and I would enjoy getting to know one another. I called Brian and invited him to lunch. We continued to meet sporadically over the next couple of years before solidifying our friendship in a deeper way over the past two years.

2. What are some of the particular blessings and challenges of being a pastor in Louisville?

BC: Jim and I agree that there is no city in the world like Louisville in this sense – it is flooded with solid, biblically, healthy churches, arguably more than any other city. The blessings of this dynamic are many, but one that I know Jim and I appreciate is the many like-minded pastors of which we are able to fellowship, serve along side, and lock arms for the sake of gospel witness in the city. One challenge is the sense of competition among some pastors and the temptation for church goers to church search like a consumer without them realizing it.

JS: When I first came to Louisville the city was deep in the shadows of two liberal seminaries (Southern Seminary at that time and the PCUSA school). Louisville is also home to a couple of mega-churches. There are churches on virtually every corner. The question we sought to answer at that time was, Why another church in Louisville? At that time that question was fairly easy to answer. Churches committed to historic and confessional Christianity were essentially unknown. Churches committed to expository and applicatory preaching, God-centered worship, and serious churchmanship were few and far between. There were only a couple of men within thirty miles who laid any claim to embracing the doctrines of grace.

Things began to change in the mid-1990s with the arrival of Al Mohler and the great change at Southern Seminary. It took some time for what began to be taught in the seminary to work its way down to the churches. Louisville now enjoys numerous places where the word of  God is faithfully preached, where men have a high view of God, the scriptures and the church. This is a blessing to be sure. The challenges that exist are in many ways the same. Louisville has not been won for Christ. The world, the flesh, and the devil are still in full force. The dangers of taking ease, of forsaking first principles, compromise, and weariness ever abound.

3. You have various friends in the UK, and I am glad to count myself among them. Apart from the inestimable privilege of seeing me, what do you especially look forward to when you come to the UK? What makes you want to go home again?

BC: I love church history, so as an American I must own the inferiority of U.S. History compared to UK history. As much as I love history, the fellowship of older godly pastors (oh, and younger too like you) exists for myself in the UK more so than in the U.S. I am challenged and ministered to by older pastors in the UK and it becomes a spiritually revitalizing exercise when I come and experience their example. So far, my wife and children have not been able to come to the UK with me. Until they accompany me, there are always strong motives for a short trip and speedy return.

JS: For the sake of  full disclosure…I first met Jeremy when he was an unconverted 13 year old (I’ll leave out the bit about his being short, chubby and having a ridiculous hair cut, because that would be cruel). My initial friendship was with his esteemed father and dear mother. I think I can lay claim to being the only man that you will interview who has wrestled you and held you over my head! I have long been an Anglophile, so coming to the UK is always a treat. I love the history of the nation, seeing the places where great men of God labored  and in some cases were martyred. I love the sense of secular history, the museums and the castles. As a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I really enjoy strolling down Baker Street too. Nothing makes me want to go home more than the food!

4. Have you ever considered leaving the ministry (if that’s a painful memory, feel free to give a “Yes” or “No” answer)? What kept you there, and what keeps you there now, especially when times are hard?

BC: What affirmed to me I was called in the midst of some hard early years of ministry in some very difficult places was, when I was most in the fire, I didn’t consider leaving. There was always this resolve this is what God has called me to and no one could ever overtake that desire – even when painfully attacked. The growing burden to “give an account for souls entrusted to me” keeps me pressing on in the work and the joy of that burden reminds me there is nothing else I would rather do. There is nothing like the honor to minister the Word of God both publically and privately and see God powerfully change people. Even in the hardest of times, that Word keeps my own soul steadfast and keeps the fire burning to preach it. To quote Spurgeon’s test, “There is nothing else I could be satisfied doing.”

JS: Yes! Several times! I can remember a certain time in my ministry where my counsel to young men who wanted to enter the ministry was, “Don’t!” The two great things that have caused me to want to leave the ministry can be broken down into “them” and “me”. I have at times been discouraged at what seems to be such little fruit among the Lord’s people, few conversions among the lost, people leaving the church without discussion or warning, of  being attacked for striving to be faithful. Sometimes I wrestle with my own sense of calling, my weariness, my inability to truly be a help to those in need.

Several things have kept me in the way. The first is the worthiness of my Master. I heard someone say years ago, “I stopped asking is it worth it and have started to ask, Is He worthy?” There is also something of the inestimable privilege of preaching the gospel. What a great thing to tell other people about the Savior! As a pastor I not only see the worst in people, but I see their best as well. There are testimonies of God’s grace that I get to witness, triumphs over sin and the past that I am privy to that many others do not see. I hope it is not wrong to mention that I have dear mentors in my life whom I never want to let down.

5. What advice would you give to a young man considering a possible call to the ministry of the Word of God?

BC: It is a great burden like nothing else that produces a greater joy than anything you have experienced. Paul says it is a good desire, but do not pursue it without a strong internal desire (calling) accompanied by an external calling, which is an affirmation of your gifts and calling by a local church. I believe this is the biblical model of God’s design to call out the called.

JS: I would begin by exhorting them to deepen their own walk with God and then to strive to be the kind of churchman that they want their own congregation to be one day. In regard to more practical issues I have encouraged men to read good biographies of useful saints of the past and to listen to as many modern useful preachers as they can. They need to integrate themselves among all the people of God and not just ‘hang with their own kind’. I want to see a young man develop a deep love for the Lord’s people and a heart to serve them rather than simply preach to them.

6. As you consider your development as a pastor and preacher, can you mention three of the books that been most helpful to you personally?

BC: Between Two Worlds by John Stott; The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter; and, The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges.

JS: Preaching and Preachers by Lloyd-Jones,  Knowing God by Packer, and Spiritual Disciplines For the Christian Life by Donald Whitney (this came into my life during a spiritual dry spell and breathed fresh hope and life into my soul).

7. Some sermons have an unforgettable impact on us (for example, as a means of conversion, a point of striking illumination, or a stirring of soul to some particular endeavour or attitude) and leave us different men. Have you had such an experience, and might you be able to identify the occasion and its particular effect?

BC: I grew up in man-centered, pragmatic churches and that was my understanding of God and the gospel. My world was shook when I was 24 years old and I heard John Piper preach Isaiah, “For my sake I will do it…I will not give my glory to another.” The shackles fell off my eyes to begin to have a God-centered understanding of God’s character and the gospel. Life-altering!

JS: There are several such instances in my life. I have been privileged to have two of my pastors be George McDearmon and Al Martin. Both men are powerful and incisive preachers. However, the ministry that most deeply affected me was a 12 part series on the life of Paul by Pastor Edward Donnelly of Northern Ireland. He taught these classes in a winter session while I was in seminary. Again, they came to me at a time when I was growing dull in my own heart (this has obviously happened more than once!). He conveyed truths about Paul’s love for and commitment to Jesus and the gospel that have never left me. I continue to meditate upon many of those truths nearly 25 years after hearing them.

8. We preach of the unsearchable riches of Christ and speak of his preciousness to the saints. What makes him particularly precious to you at this present time? What is it about the Lord Jesus that draws your heart out to him? How does your estimation of Christ show itself in your preaching?

BC: I have faced some great and sudden losses in the last few months because of death. I have found Christ so precious to me as I consider the sting of death, felt the pain of that separation and overwhelmed by it, and how He has ultimately rescued me from it. This has shown up in a real, emotional way in recent days when I preach and apply the gospel as our hope from the snare of sin that leads to death. Several times in study these last few weeks I have found myself overtaken by emotion and declared, “I’m so thankful I have Christ! What a despairing life this would be knowing what awaits us without Him.”

JS: John Newton said, “My memory is nearly gone; but these two things I remember; I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” I spent the first fifteen years of my life a complete stranger to grace. I did not go to church, read the bible, or pray. When I came to faith in Christ I was overwhelmed by a sense of God’s love for me. While that continues to be the wellspring of my life, I find myself meditating more and more upon His great faithfulness, mercy, and patience through the years. I have failed Him repeatedly. I am not what I ought to be for all the benefits which have been poured into me. That He has not abandoned me and that He deigns to use me in any capacity is a wonder to my soul.

I believe that what makes a man’s preaching distinctively his own is not only his gifts but his experience of God’s grace. Paul says in Acts 20 that Christ sent him to ‘testify’ of the gospel of the grace of God. Not just to proclaim it, but to speak of his own experience of its truth. I believe that the wonder of His mercy to me permeates my ministry to give help and comfort to others who, like me, struggle and fail so often. I love the words of the hymn, “though for good we render ill, he accounts us brethren still!”

9. One of your flock comes to you and complains that his heart is dry and his soul is chilled. He wants to be more full of love to God and to his people, but he finds himself sadly otherwise. What advice would you give to such a person?

BC: We need to always be reminded that powerful truth can be comprehended in the mind, without touching our affections. I would encourage that person to cry out to God in prayer that God’s truth would stir his affections and love for Christ. If we earnestly pray that, I have confidence God would answer it. The other thing I would say is one that is unaffected by the hope of the gospel and the preciousness of Christ, usually has lost sight of why they should be. I would remind them of what they truly deserve as rebels against a holy, wrathful God and try to get them to remember the horrors of God’s wrath. I think this principle is a basic way to help foster gratefulness in general, especially for the gospel where it is lacking.

JS: The first thing that I would remind them is that gospel is not predicated on our love to God, but His for us. We will never love Him ‘enough’. Only Jesus did that! I would then seek to ascertain if there is anything in their own life at this time which has supplanted their love for the Savior. Have they been filling their belly with the things of the world? Is there unconfessed sin? Is it perhaps something as simple as a general fatigue? Are they attending to the means of grace despite them feeling arid and unfruitful? Jesus indicated to the Laodiceans that they could ‘remember, repent, and do the first works’ which would restore the fervency of first love. Their experience is not new. Others have sought God in the dry and weary land. They must continue to knock, and to seek, and to ask. They must not lose heart in doing good, knowing in due time they will reap, if they do not faint.

10. What would you say are some of the particular blessings your wives bring to you and your ministries?

BC: I was once told, “You can always have another ministry, you only get one wife.” I have had several different ministries, but she has always been there. As every year goes by, I grow more and more in appreciation of my wife and deep love for her as she continues to just faithfully be there. She also continues to amaze me with how she puts her own struggles aside to serve others and how God powerfully uses her in those moments of weakness is inspiring. So often, she is much wiser than I am, but graciously lets me take the credit as the one who shares the wisdom. The love she shows me that I feel and experience every day is unrivalled by anyone else in this world. She is the most fun, enjoyable person I could ever spend time with and I love to see her smile and laugh. Hard to stop…but I will.

JS: Having married the world’s finest woman, the answer to this question could go on for many pages! Several things though come quickly to mind. The first thing is that she herself is a fervent Christian woman who loves the Lord as much as anyone I know. She is an excellent mother to my four children. She has made my home a delightful place to return to and has helped to provide a happy place for other people to come to as well. My wife prays for me and supports me but is, in the right sense, ‘unimpressed’ by me. She will let me know when I’m off, and challenge me in my preaching and in my life.

11. What is the most painful and what the most pleasant thing about being a minister of God’s Word? Give me this moment’s snapshot, if that’s easier.

BC: The most pleasant is to see someone hear and receive God’s Word in faith and watch that seed fall on good soil and bear much fruit in their lives and becomes that anchor when a great storm comes. The most painful is when it is clear receptivity to that Word that is the answer to a weary soul, yet they choose to doubt it, forget it, and dismiss the bread it would be to their soul. This is especially true when you have just preached your heart out with that Word and it falls on deaf ears to those you know to be the most needy of it.

JS: Nothing is harder than feeling like I have failed to be what God has called me to be in someone’s life. I remember one time when a family had been through some deep waters and I was not as aware or as involved in being a help to them in their time of need. There is no greater joy than seeing someone come to faith in Jesus and then grow in that faith and grace.

12. How do you decide what to preach next (whether the next sermon or the next series)?

BC: I expositionally preach through books of the Bible 90% of the time. I will alternate Old Testament and New Testament on Sunday mornings. Regardless the size of the book I choose, I try to complete the book in less than a year. Hebrews took 35 weeks, 1 Samuel 33 weeks, Titus 12 weeks. This allows me to spend time in the details, and yet still move through the Bible at a steady pace. I will do a short 3-4 week series on something often between these book series. What book I choose revolves around what I haven’t preached, or done recently and what are the particular needs in the congregation that a certain book would address well.

JS: I normally preach verse by verse or passage by passage through a book. There will be breaks as I seek to discern from the people and in prayer what the needs of God’s people may be at a particular time. Sometimes there is a need for corporate encouragement and sometimes a need for corporate rebuke or challenge. I seek to listen hard to the people of God and interact with my fellow elders to determine what the needs of the hour might be.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 24 April 2012 at 14:59

Twinterview: the London Welsh

with 4 comments

Well, this twinterview thing is building a head of steam, and I am pleased to announce that I have a lovely set of twinterviews that I hope to be developing over the coming months, but I won’t spill all the beans because (a) it’s more fun not too and (b) I don’t want to promise what I may not be able to deliver. Hopefully the others will come about once a month.

However, after the international extravaganza that was Messrs Thomas and Trueman, we turn to something marginally more parochial with a couple of gentlemen who have made their way from Wales to England – specifically, to London. Please would you welcome Gary Brady, maintainer of countless blogs, but perhaps most generically Heavenly Worldliness, where you will find all manner of links to more specific sites, and Paul Levy, blogger at Reformation21, where he plays Curly to Derek’s Moe and Carl’s Larry, blogging with a bracing lack of forethought and disregard for consequence, giving us the added bonus of watching a man twirl a nonchalant moustache and pirouette away with cavalier insouciance whenever accosted by the forces of grammar, spelling and punctuation. Indeed, Paul reveals that it was Derek Thomas who unleashed him as a blogging force, no doubt about to bring an unprecedented wave of hate mail down upon that good man.

Again, I should point out that neither responder had an opportunity to see the answers of the other until both sets of responses were in, and there was no collaboration or collusion. The answers are as given, and I have not commented on them, either in terms of interest, agreement or disagreement, except where at one point I have made a subtle nudge to protect the guilty. Otherwise, the answers are edited only lightly for form, and the content is the responder’s own. Please feel free to engage politely in the comments section.

I am very grateful to Gary and Paul for their willingness to participate, and I hope that they will not regret it. Please check back regularly for the next couple of twinterviews, which are brewing nicely.

1. Would you briefly trace your route from the Principality to the English capital?

GB: I grew up just inside the Welsh border. We spoke English after our own fashion and pronounced Welsh as best we could. One of my early ambitions was to be able to pronounce the name of the place I came from. It took me the first 20 years of my life to get to know and love Wales and when I finally had it seemed to me that two years theological education in London would be an ideal preparation for a life-time’s ministry back home. It was while at LTS that, rather to my surprise, I was called to my present church. I got to love London as much as Wales, but it took a while.

PL: I came to London in 1999 to do the Cornhill Training Course, was placed at Grove Chapel and stayed on to work there for three years and do some training. In 2003 I moved to Ealing IPC where I’ve been ever since.

2. Are you simply/gratefully/proudly/defiantly Welsh? Is there anything in your inheritance as a Welshman that you think influences or particularly enhances or damages your approach to preaching and pastoring?

GB: I am proud to be Welsh. It was a decision I took when I was around 9 or 10 chiefly under the influence of a school friend called Gwilym. I love England, the English language and the English people but for various reasons, many of them hopelessly romantic, a Welshman I am by birth, by choice, by marriage, by temperament and by here and by there. In the early days that may have made my approach to preaching a little emotionalised but I learned not to suppose that emotion in preaching is necessarily a matter of race or temperament.

PL: I’m gratefully Welsh. During the Six Nations [a European international rugby tournament] my Welshness comes to the fore. I’m not really sure how it influences my preaching and pastoring. I’d like to think it makes me warmer and friendlier but I’m not sure that’s really the case. I suppose the models I look to are Welsh ministers who have faithfully kept on going; the Geoff Thomases of this world who put in 45 years in one congregation are heroes.

My father is English and I don’t speak Welsh, my wife is Northern Irish so I think I have a Welsh inferiority complex.

3. What are some of the particular blessings and challenges of being a pastor in London (or, at least, your part of it)?

GB: The first great thing about London is that it has people – lots of them. The second great thing is the diversity – all races, all classes, all types. The third great thing is that they all live near each other. The downside is that sometimes it is hard to understand what they say, why they say it and how to help them. Further, they are often not around long and if they do stay they seem to develop a second skin that insulates them to some extent not only against the constant hubbub all around but also against the gospel. London I have learned is always changing but always staying pretty much the same.

PL: I love it. I love the transience of it; the fact that on any given Sunday visitors come. It’s a great thing to try and be a solid presence as a church in a community when everything is changing so often. The multinational nature of ministry is a challenge but also a great encouragement. I have a theory that people are less materialistic in London (a ridiculous generalisation I know). My reason would be that basically folk have to pay so much to survive with rent and mortgages that actually their homes and flats are not palaces. Lots of my congregation haven’t got cars because they can’t afford them or don’t need them. Because it’s transient people don’t seek to make heaven on earth here. You just can’t afford to.

The strengths of London church life are also its weaknesses. You’re always saying goodbye to people. Deep friendships that last decades are hard to keep going because people move away.

4. How do you go about trying to develop the theological ‘nous’ and convictions of the congregations you serve?

GB: I have long been convinced of the usefulness of expository preaching. We also read through Scripture in public and I often use catechisms or confessions. In the early days I used to “preach against” certain things with lots of ad hominem stuff. There’s too much bad stuff out there to do that really so I do a lot less of that.

PL: We have an adult Sunday school where we study the Westminster Confession and we’ve got a large group of men learning the Shorter Catechism. I’m a fan of a written confession of sin and faith and light liturgy, this teaches people good theology without them knowing it. We recommend lots of books.

5. What do you consider to be the strengths and weaknesses of Reformed and evangelical Christianity in London?

GB: There is lots of it. With the LTS/John Owen, Evangelical Library and Westminster Fellowship nearby and big churches like the Met Tab and St Helen’s going strong elsewhere there is plenty of strength. Meanwhile, surrounded by large churches pumping out the health and wealth gospel, having locals swan off to All Souls or some other big church and finding it difficult to genuinely link up with other Reformed ministers and churches there are weaknesses.

PL: It’s a difficult question really to answer. In 12 years living in London I’ve only ever been to the East End once so I couldn’t tell you what is going on there. There is lots of church planting which is encouraging. There are lots of good preachers that I’d like to hear if I got the chance but there aren’t any preaching ‘lions.’ When you think back to the sixties you had Lloyd Jones, John Stott, and Dick Lucas beginning his ministry. We have no one of their stature today. We don’t trust in princes but I think we have to give some thought as to how great preachers arise. The obsession with training, although good in lots of ways, means that even our best preachers don’t preach often enough. In some of the big London churches the senior minister preaches six or seven times a term.

I could rant about music and how important that becomes to people living in London churches which is infuriating. There are lots of good things happening but we are barely scratching the surface.

6. As you consider your development as a pastor and preacher, can you mention three of the books that been most helpful to you personally?

GB: Apart from the Bible itself, which is easily number one, I’m not sure. I am such a slow and forgetful reader I rarely read any book more than once (sometimes not that). Have you read the biographies of John Murray or Gresham Machen? My, they were men of God.

PL: Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years by Iain Murray. I’m on my second copy, it’s so inspiring. Admittedly it’s a bit romantic but it shows what preaching can do in a church. The Westminster Confession and Catechisms – I have found them and continue to find them indispensable. Wise Counsel (the letters from John Newton to John Ryland): I remember them being an enormous encouragement to me.

7. Can you identify a couple of people who have had a particular influence on you as a Christian, and tell us what their impact on you was?

GB: Obviously my father-in-law Geoff Thomas is a huge influence – his theology, his preaching. His perseverance, his undaunted enthusiasm and his ability to relax and to enjoy life are such an example. I also have a good lifelong friend who is a deacon in North Wales and an older man in the congregation who are both great examples to me.

PL: David Davies was a Welsh missionary in the Congo during the revival and the uprising of the fifties. My eldest brother David would take me to a WEC prayer battery on a Monday night and David Davies would lead the prayer meeting. I’ve never been in a meeting like it; it was electric. The prayers were short, praying for people all over the world. It was a remarkable meeting. He was so kind to me as a little boy, he was the most human man I ever met. He and his wife Ann would go to speak at meetings around the country and unknown to him Ann would bring his books along from his library and sell them giving the proceeds to WEC missionaries. Very simply he was a man who knew God. My brother Steve preached at his funeral. Someone should write his biography.

My parents have been an enormous influence on me, they are the most hospitable people I know. I grew up in a home which loved the local church. There was a horrific split in the congregation where we were. My dad was an elder and the whole thing had been boiling up for over two years. I was around 10 years old but I knew nothing about it until the Sunday before when one of my mates from church told me what was going to happen. My parents never criticised anyone from the church in front of me. I look back and think it incredible that our home was so happy during that time and I had not the faintest inkling the church was ripping itself apart.

8. Why do you blog? What do you consider the strengths and weaknesses of the medium? How does it help you and serve others?

GB: I blog because I am a keen writer and like to “show off” a little. The strength of the medium is that it gives people immediate access to information. The weakness is that when blogging you can forget exactly who is reading and it is easy to say something stupid or unhelpful. It serves others by alerting them to things that they should know about or at least would like to know about and helps me as it is somewhere to put things and get some order in my life. People think it is a time waster, which it can be. I would think that the time is more likely to be wasted on reading them than writing them.

PL: I blog because I was asked by Derek Thomas and it’s fun. I’m not sure there are many strengths to it. It allows me to follow what’s going on in the world a bit, keep up with friends and link to good articles.  I hoped naively it might bring some money into the church building project but that hasn’t happened.

The weakness is that people take it so seriously. It helps me to read people who write well and are thought provoking. I’m not sure the stuff I write serves others really. I trust some find it vaguely amusing.

9. What are some of the particular dangers that you seek to watch against as a pastor? What are the particular measures that you take to guard your heart in these things?

GB: It seems to me that pastors face various dangers that can be grouped under two headings – being out of the ministry and being in it but ineffective. One can be out of it by means of ill health, moral failure or doctrinal failure. I’m not sure of any particular measures I can recommend against these except constant vigilance, lots of prayer and heaps of repentance. One can be in it and ineffective (my nightmare) and again vigilance, prayer and repentance seem to me to be the only antidotes. You also need to know yourself – strengths and weaknesses, moods, ways. Keep coming back to the Bible and never forget God’s grace. Perhaps the other thing is keeping streamlined. There are a billion calls on one’s time and it is important to do not only the right thing but the best.

PL: I am absolutely full of myself. I have found this the biggest battle of being in the ministry. Did I preach well? What do people think of me? How am I feeling? The ‘me’ monster is always there; I just cannot get rid of him. One of the things that has helped me is the doctrine of union with Christ; I am in him, my identity is bound up with him. What people think of me doesn’t really matter. I went to see an old Welsh minister about a year in to being at Ealing and asked him, “How do you cope on a Sunday night and Monday morning when you feel you’ve preached badly?” His reply was, “Who cares how you feel?” I’ve found that wonderfully liberating. I’ve got to remember how incredible it is that God would choose someone like me and call me to be a preacher. It’s laughable. Ministers take themselves far too seriously.

10. Please offer two or three nuggets of advice you wish someone had given you before you entered into pastoral ministry.

GB: Some nuggets of advice I wish someone had given me before I entered into pastoral ministry? Thing is I wouldn’t have listened if I’d been given them. I suppose it would be something practical like “people often don’t mean what they say” or “some members need a lot of visits, some members don’t” or “nobody understands what it is like to be a minister” coupled with “don’t get cynical”. How about “Be patient but don’t fall asleep”?

PL: (1) Don’t believe the kind of fortune cookie wisdom people give in answer to questions like these. (2) I’m not really sure I’ve much to share but I remember finding the step from being an Assistant to Minister much more difficult than I expected. I’m sure people told me that would be the case but I was too arrogant to listen. (3) Never make a big decision on Sunday night or Monday morning.

11. Most preachers learn to preach, at least in degree, by reading sermons or hearing preaching. Can you give a couple of names from the past, and a couple from the present, of men whom you would commend as models for a young minister developing his preaching gift?

GB: As for models for preachers, I think Stuart Olyott is the best model (best model not necessarily best preacher). He does it well, you can see how he does it (more or less) and he’s written about the subject. I always hear Ted Donnelly with profit. From the past? Probably Calvin. It is important to have more than one model. Otherwise you’ll suffer assistant pastor syndrome (you know, where the assistant sounds just like the minister). The trouble is you have to be yourself in the pulpit. Without being facetious I wonder if a study of comedians might be more worthwhile. Their remit is to be funny but they all do it in a different way usually by exaggerating some feature in their own make up. I think it’s something like that we need to do. Having said that all self-consciousness is a menace. I began preaching when I was 15 even though I had no experience of speaking in public. People couldn’t understand everything I was saying and even what they could understand didn’t always make sense. I learned to preach by trying to be understood.

PL: I don’t know who I’d go for from the past really . I’m a big fan of Thomas Watson. The Doctor on the Sermon on the Mount is quite simply magnificent. I can’t preach like either though.

In the land of the living I love listening to Dick Lucas. He’s always fresh, still preparing new material at 87. I like preachers with an edge as in, they are different but good and tight on the text. In my opinion Gerard Hemmings and Jonathan Fletcher are the best preachers in London and I enjoy listening to them. Both are local pastors grounded in a local congregation.

I cannot stand itinerant preachers who have about five staple sermons and they tour the US and the UK telling us all what to do. I can think of one [man] who I’ve heard only five times, on three occasions it was the same sermon. It’s difficult to imagine being more lazy. I find if someone isn’t actively involved in local church leadership and preaching they are probably not worth listening to.

12. Is the capital (or, indeed, the country or the Christian community) conferenced and fraternaled out? How do you decide how and where to invest your time, as a pastor-preacher, in fellowship, teaching, and mutual encouragement and instruction?

GB: There is a good conference in the UK nearly every month (Carey, Eccentrics, Affinity, Word Alive, Banner, Grace, Bala, EMA, Met Tab, Aber, LTS, R&R, Westminster, etc). Efforts to combine them have never worked. They are all different and have their own genius (though Sinclair Ferguson will inevitably speak at most of them, no doubt). Obviously no-one can or should go to them all. Most men aim to go to one a year. If you are a Londoner with Welsh connections, an understanding wife and deep pockets or generous deacons you can do more than one. Fraternals (possibly more useful) are in short supply in my experience and in an almost constant state of flux. I would recommend going to more conferences and fraternals rather than less (within reason). I hate the whole meeting up with people thing as much as the next man but you always learn something new, meet someone new or old and get challenged one way or another. You can also be a blessing to others.

PL: I think it probably is. I am in a denomination and I strongly feel if you belong to a body of churches you have to do your time on the committees and courts of the church. It seems to me to be wrong to criticise your denomination whilst playing no part in trying to reform it.

After that I go to what I want and try not to feel any guilt whatsoever at not being at things. I have a number of good friends who I try and keep up with and I speak to David Gibson up in Aberdeen most days. To be honest it’s mainly banter and moaning but it invariably does me good. My brother Steve is always good value and cheers me up no end.

It’s incredible what lunch with a good minister friend can do for your spirit. I am fortunate that I have an Assistant Minister and a Church Worker who I get on with and enjoy spending time with.

I wish I was able to go to more conferences than I do but it’s time and money!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 26 March 2012 at 14:01

Posted in Interviews

Tagged with , , ,

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