Please can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I was born in pretty poor circumstances Liverpool n 1953. My parents divorced when I was six. Life was hard. I have a twin sister, but my older brother died twelve years ago. I was converted in June 1967 at age 14, through the witness of zealous school friends and a visit to hear Billy Graham’s London crusade relayed and screened at the Methodist Central Hall on Lime Street, L’pool. I immediately joined a small Baptist Church with youth leaders who got us into the Bible and prayer, and taught us to boldly share our faith with others. I soon felt the call to become a pastor-preacher at age 16, when I attended the Keswick Convention for the first time and heard John Stott speak for four hours on 2 Timothy – ‘Guard the Gospel’. This material subsequently became a superb volume in the Bible Speaks Today series of commentaries (IVP). I’d never heard such clarity and authority in preaching the scriptures, and knew God was calling me to give my life to such work in the future.
I began serious reading that year, and later studied Theology and Church History at Durham University, having begun preaching in my Baptist church and among Independent Methodists when I was 17 yrs. old. I developed a love for theology, doctrine, philosophy, apologetics, great Christian writers etc., leading our youth group, conducting Bible studies and teaching children in Sunday School. I spent ten years doing everything I could to prepare my mind and life for full-time ministry when the right time came.
I married my truly amazing wife Ruth in 1975, became a High School teacher for two years, then left to study full-time again at the London Theological Seminary that Lloyd-Jones founded in 1977 (I was part of the second year of intake). I was called to Pastor an Evangelical Free Church in Winchester Hampshire in late 1980, and went there as a young pastor of 27 yrs. We had three sons, saw amazing spiritual renewal and growth in the church, changed its name to ‘Winchester Family Church’, then joined Newfrontiers in 1990 and became regional leader of the Wessex Region of NFI churches for some years. After 21 years in my first church at Winchester, I received a surprise call to follow Dr. RT Kendall as Minister of Westminster Chapel, London, in 2002. God confirmed this with scores of prophetic words from strangers and friends, and we’ve now been here for over six years.
What books are you currently reading?
I’m an avid reader of everything that will help me to become a better man and preacher of God’s word. I try to read 8 to 10 books a month and have done this for 36 years. I’m currently reading a new work on Paul *’Rediscovering Paul – An Introduction, Apollos), a biography of the late Derek Prince (one of my favourite Bible teachers) by Stephen Mansfield, a book on Creationism (‘The New Answers Book’ Edited by Ken Ham – one of my favourite areas of study), a series of sermons by A W Tozer on worship (a writer I admire greatly), a new commentary on Revelation by David Pawson, a novel called ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini,, and a new commentary on Leviticus and Numbers by Richard N. Boyce (Westminster Bible Companion).
What’s sermons/preachers are you listening to at the moment (the i-pod question)?
My time for listening to sermons is somewhat limited due to the heavy preaching load I carry at the Chapel and elsewhere. But I regularly try to hear sermons by A W Tozer (a true prophet for today, who died in 1963), Tim Keller (a church-planter in New York, and evangelistic pastor-teacher par excellence), Mark Driscoll (a modern-day Spurgeon!), Terry Virgo, David Pawson (prophetic teachers), past greats like Lloyd-Jones, Eric Alexander and John Stott (great expositors), as well as some people you may not have heard of like Rick Godwin and Ern Baxter.
Outside of scripture, who is your ‘preaching hero’ and why?
My greatest preaching hero is the 19th century Baptist, the ‘Prince of Preachers’ C. H. Spurgeon, who I discovered when I was 16 years old. He’s closely followed by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who I began to read only months later. They’ve been my close companions for nearly 40 years. Spurgeon is probably the one who has influenced me the most. His sermons are all available in print in 62 annual volumes of his regular pulpit ministry at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, along with many other works. They were preached weekly to congregations of 1000’s from 1855 – 1892, but they are full of life, Christ, a God-cantered Gospel, attractive Calvinism, humour, amazing insights into scripture, vivid illustration and prophetic clarity due to his overt dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit.
He was a spiritual giant who spoke from and to the heart, He displayed incredible eloquence, colourful speech, imagination, creativity, astonishing leadership, effective evangelism, scintillating writing skills and amazing faithfulness in challenging the foolishness, pomposity, cloudy religiosity, errors, liberalism and distorted ‘gospels’ of his day. He was a model of warm humanity, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, genuine love for people, crowd-pulling anointing, and effective apostolic mission and church planting.
In your excellent book ‘Preach the Word!’, you state in the introduction that “one of the greatest casualties of our troubled times, “….has been the decline of bold, authoritative and powerful popular preaching”. Can you briefly outline what you perceive to be the main causes of this decline?
The main causes are complex and intertwined. They include a relentless loss of confidence in the Bible among church leaders and ordinands, due to sustained exposure to liberal theology and Higher Criticism of the Bible, as well as loss of confidence in the power of the spoken word to touch people’s lives. Then there’s poor models of preaching just about everywhere so that young men have nothing to admire or aspire to, in so many cases. Churches have opted for ‘Christianity Lite’, childish ‘Family Services’ and limp entertainments, so sermons last a few minutes, wouldn’t harm a fly, barely hold people’s attention, shake or offend no one, and regularly insure that God’s voice is never heard.
I would also observe that there’s been a serious decline in reading among Christians so that young believers have never been exposed to Christian writing that explodes off the page, sets us on fire, and cuts straight to the vitals with its penetrating power. Add to that, the almost universal very poor training of candidates for preaching ministry, so that we turn out very few people we could call ‘prophets’ who have the courage, directness, biblicism, clarity, simplicity and power in the Holy Spirit to arrest attention and changes lives. Loss of boldness and dependence on the Holy Spirit is a major factor therefore, that must urgently be remedied.
How would you define Biblical preaching?
It is to take such care in seeking to understand the original meaning and importance of what the Biblical writers meant to say on each selected text, that we in turn, let them speak to us today. For we have nothing else of much importance to deliver. True preaching is to let the lion loose, so that Christ may roar once again, in the hearing of His people. What scripture says, we say. Preaching is to open up the text of Holy Scripture in such a clear, accurate and prophetic way that God’s voice is heard, God’s power is experienced, and God’s people obey Him.
If you could fill Westminster Chapel with young emerging leaders, what lessons would you want to pass on to them about creating a lifestyle that is shaped to truly preach the word?
I would urge them to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that His passions became their passions. I would insist that they catch a vision for Christ’s Church and its centrality in His kingdom purposes, so that they would live and die for its welfare and seek its health no matter what it cost them to change it. I’d want them to rediscover the Gospel so that it pervaded all that they say, and to believe God will use them and His word to change lives every time they speak.
I’d want them to pray fervently and seek God for His anointing and prophetic unction, and to guide them clearly to the specific themes and messages they are to preach, as well as to ask God to attend His word with signs following – so that the presence and power of God becomes a regular accompaniment of all that they do in His name. Conversions, healings, repentance, new obedience, breakthroughs and inner transformation, all regularly occur.
I would want them to become avid readers and students of the whole of the Bible, not just their favourite bits but the whole counsel of God, and spend the rest of their lives discovering its contents and preaching its truth. This means developing a love for the best Bible commentaries and study books available, and reading the spiritual giants and theologians of the past and present. I would want them to become disciplined readers and students for the rest of their lives. Then, I’d want them to continually change radically for the better in their beliefs, conduct, relationships, friendships, love for people, work ethic, sex ethics, personal discipline, servanthood, service, willingness to be corrected and submission to godly authority – as a direct result of all that the Word and the Spirit are saying to them. Hearing alone is useless.
I would urge them to seek the gift of prophecy and let it colour all that they hear and say to others, especially in their preaching. I would insist that, sin apart, they would remain truly themselves rather than become a clone of somebody else, even though we can learn much from others, especially about preaching.
I’m guessing that there have been some tough periods in your preaching ministry; what has been the main thing that has kept you going through those seasons?
I’ve passed through many testing times and continue to do so. Times when my health has failed, I was totally burned out, I’ve wept uncontrollably publicly, I’ve been tempted to give up altogether, I’ve received lots of hate-mail and relentless demonic opposition, I’ve nearly lost my job through opposition to the truth I’ve spoken or the devil has tried to kill me, and I’ve wondered if God has left me, in much the same way that Jeremiah, Paul, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon and others did too!
What I’ve learned from all this is that it is vital we remain and prove to be faithful in this calling. Let God vindicate you. Totally forgive every one who harms you, that very day!
Resolve to speak everything God tells you to say. Evict fear from your heart in Christ’s name, and cultivate holy directness and boldness. Consciously depend on the Holy Spirit before you speak, while you speak and after you’ve spoken. Never grieve the Spirit or quench His activity, gifts or operations. If we are ashamed of Him, He may well be ashamed of us one day.
Stay close to Christ and discover all you can about Him and His past and present ministry to His people, particularly in regular reading and preaching of the Gospels. You will then see opposition and enemies differently. Enemies shrink in their power to deter you, and opposition becomes a badge of honour and evidence that Christ is pleased with you.