How did you come to faith in Jesus?
There has never been a time in my life when I “gave my life to Jesus”. For me, I have always “known” Jesus and he has always been in my life. As a six-year-old, I remember my mum driving off to work late at night and I would be left alone with my three-year-old brother and eight-year-old sister. God would be there with me in my room. I just knew He was. When I was nine I raced home from church to scrape up my pocket money to buy my first Bible. I was so excited. It was a Good News for Modern Man. I would read and explain the stories to my little brother, especially the evil spirit stories. I was 18 when I was standing by a pool watching a bunch of baptisms. The minister asked if there was anyone else that should be dunked. All of a sudden I felt like I was being carried into the pool. I reckon if I didn’t move the Spirit would have pushed me in. So I was baptised that day. After 10 years as a fitter and turner I was continuously aggravated by the sense that my life was to be more than it was. In 1990 I left my job, while still needing to fund my mortgage, to study youth work. I would have no income. It was a massive step of faith. Within three months I was employed by my church and was remunerated with the exact amount I was receiving in my trade. I have been in church ministry for 24 years now, served in three churches, two as a Senior Minister. I have received a theological degree (Bmin and MA) in leadership. Through the 1990s, I got married but then lost two children. In those dark days I discovered my God was a loving father of incredible mercy and grace, and I learnt to trust Him with my whole life. For me, faith in Jesus has always been a life of choosing to follow Him anywhere and at anytime. He is my Lord, my King, my deeply caring friend and my Saviour. I love Him deeply and will follow Him till the day I die. I cannot wait to finally see Him and be in the presence of God forever!
You started your working life as a fitter and turner – what prompted you to leave that and become a minister?
I don’t think I was ever prompted to be a minister. Being a “minister” was and still isn’t a goal of mine. What has always been my deepest commitment is to authentically follow the Spirit’s promptings for my life. It just so happened that using my spiritual gifts in a church has been what God has wanted from me and so I’ll do it until He changes His plans. I have simply walked through the doors that have opened and have always had the attitude of … “well, I’ll give it a go”. I honestly do not care about the title, role or the career of a minister. But I will give it all I’ve got while I’m entrusted with it. Now, having said that, I really do love my job and I am deeply humbled by the fact that God chose someone like me to be one of His leaders. I’m still staggered by His choice. I can sincerely say that I have nothing. If you had known me in 1990 you would have laughed if you were told I would be a pastor of a church. I was a beanie-wearing, flanno-donning, uggboot-sporting, blue singlet-bearing bogan who failed Year 11 and 12. I came from a deeply broken family, with huge insecurities. I could not fashion two sentences together to make sense. But I was always passionately involved in church, using my gifts however I could. My role today is simply an extension of that simple desire to serve Jesus.
What do you find energising about church leadership?
I love, love, love seeing the Spirit working in people’s lives. There is nothing more special than witnessing the lights turn on and seeing people grasp God’s incredible grace. Everything changes! I love seeing Christianity move from being a duty and into a dynamic relationship. I fully love being part of that joy. If the Spirit could use me to be a “minister of His Spirit”, as mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2-3, I would be the happiest and most empowered man. I am fully energised by leading leaders, especially my staff team. There is nothing more satisfying for me than seeing people reach their potential. To be part of that process of example, training, mentoring and accountability is brilliant. I love hanging around dynamic, energetic, Spirit empowered, funny, dedicated and happy people. They fully recharge my soul.
What aspects do you find most challenging?
Religion, and people trapped by it. One of the aspects of my role that I find just so difficult is people who have been hanging around church, not Jesus, but church for far too long. They’ve confused their relationship with Jesus with the institution. They have become indifferent, bound, boring, stale, cynical, sarcastic, entitled, fearful and cold. They’re the people who cross their arms in worship, resist the Spirit, reject the leadership and are unable to follow, bring life, and release joy. They won’t get involved, complain that church isn’t meeting their needs and are somehow able to justify it all.
I also find the lack of financial resources really depressing. I have faith in Jesus’ provision, but our financial lack continually gets me down because He provides for us through His people. Here’s the thing, we are God’s children. We have been charged with one thing and one thing only – to be bringers of the Kingdom of God until Jesus calls us home. That’s it. So, whether we like it or not, the release of our finances is a major and an extremely significant part of that kingdom-bringing process and responsibility. If there’s no money there’s no kingdom-bringing and that breaks my heart a bit … a lot. I would love to see this change!
In 2013 you took some leave from your role at church after being diagnosed with “nervous exhaustion”. What were you experiencing emotionally and physically in the lead up to and during that time?
To be honest I didn’t know. I had never experienced anything like it before in my life and so I had absolutely no idea what was happening to me. Trying to help anyone understand was impossible at the time. Basically, I was living with a sense of dread and I didn’t know why. I woke up one Friday morning and I was convinced I was going to die that day. Weird I know. The best way I can describe is this: I had just endured around six years of “fighting” some very nasty lies and allegations and so I was extremely exhausted from that. I have never had my character attacked in such a sustained way ever in my life, and so I was becoming overwhelmed with it all. Our 2012 church financial crisis (CFC) had punched pretty deep and I was still recovering from the consequences. To pull days off Anne and reduce Luke’s salary was heart-breaking for me. By the middle of 2013 I had just finished preaching a series on our strategic anchors and the church name change, which formalised our change in culture. And then my head kind of snapped. My mind felt like there was 12 lanes of traffic merging into one. My heart rate wouldn’t settle below 110bpm, and blood pressure was around 160 over something pretty high. I couldn’t sleep, think, make decisions or have sex. Now that’s when there’s a problem I must say! I went to my doctor and simply said I needed help. He diagnosed me with nervous exhaustion and medicated me with drugs to replenish my serotonin, and with sleeping pills to help me sleep. It was the most terrorising journey I have ever experienced in my life.
How did this journey impact your relation¬ship with Jesus?
Well, as with every other time of suffering, I was driven closer to Him. That’s not because I am “spiritual” or a “minister” or I carry some kind of Christian strength. No way! See, for me, if I don’t have Jesus I have nothing. I am weaker. I’m more fearful and less able to cope. And so out of sheer vulnerability I drew close to God, because without Him I am honestly heaps more frightened and even more alone. He has been so good to me. I love Him.
How did you experience His presence and healing through this time? In what ways did you experience support through our church?
Well, God didn’t “feel” very close. There were times I would literally cry out: “Where are you? Why won’t you rescue me?” But after those moments of despair I would settle down into the knowledge that He was deeply caring for me and I was on a process to healing. This was definitely a faith process. I had to trust Him despite. I had to accept that I didn’t have the flu and wouldn’t be well in just five days. My healing was long term and would require a change of lifestyle. I can only see in hindsight the presence, provision and healing of God. The church has been incredible. I have experienced now for myself the love and grace that others talk about. Many have cared for me through prayer in my home, which enabled my first breakthrough of peace. I have shared cups of tea and chocolates in people’s homes and have heard very moving and similar experiences to my own. This has been a profound help to me. I was told that there would be a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel and that everything would be all right – and they were right. The church has generously given me space and time to heal. I have never felt judged, or made to feel different by our people. And I have to say that my own family has been incredible. Jo, Cody, Lachie and Abbie are just amazing people who are God’s gift to me continually. I couldn’t do my life without them.
We’ve just finished a sermon series on Freedom – in what areas of your own life are you still wrestling to get this truth from your head to your heart?
I think the big wrestle that I have is that the freedom I want to experience will not be something I can grasp in this world. Like, I know in my head and heart that I am totally free from the consequences of my selfishness before God. I have no struggle with my eternal freedom and though I have a lot to learn I am freely walking in my relationship with Jesus on a daily basis. But I am still desperately limited by my family of origin script, personality idiosyncrasies, self-centred actions and thinking, and the wounds that still cause me to respond in ways that aren’t loving. So my perspective is that while I am free to work on these things by the power of God’s grace, I will not ultimately be free from them until I am with Jesus face-to-face. I feel I live with a fairly free and honest perspective around these things, and I know that God loves me despite. Apart from that, I think my most hidden struggle is the same as most people’s, and that is, I want to hold onto both worlds. In other words, I’m not sure I can trust that the life God offers is better than what I have. That means I want to hold very tightly onto my free-for-all world where I am released to spend money without any real regard for anyone other than myself or my family, where I can use my time how I determine, make friends with only people who will benefit me in some way, and arrange my life to be as comfortable as I possibly can. This free-for-all life imprisons me to myself and I’m not sure I want to give that up. I am a servant to my own selfishness and it feels really good. My head wants to be free to be a servant of Christ, but my heart doesn’t. So, continually practising my disciplines around giving, generosity, hospitality, listening to others, doing things I don’t want to do and general serving is helping my heart catch up with my head. I think practising my disciplines is setting me free, but it’s tough. This I think is my biggest spiritual struggle.
In what ways are you praying our church grows in this amazing gift of freedom ?
I want us all at NewDay Church to grasp how high and wide and deep and long and unfathomable God’s love is for us. I don’t want us to just know it in our heads, I want us to experience it. I want us to be bowled over by it. I want us to be healed because of it. And I want us to be radically transformed as a result of it. Where the Spirit of God is, there is freedom. It’s then I think we will be free. Free to express our love back to God without giving a stuff about what others think. Free to passionately participate in His mission of salvation with our gifts, abilities and resources. Free to pray. Free to give. Free to build. Free to be joyful. Free to follow. Free to be authentic, others-focussed and willing.