Having attended a variety of primary schools, I had the privilege of going to Caterham School, an independent boys’ school in Surrey. I loved it and even ended up going back there as a teacher after university. I was a sportsman and there was no shortage of opportunity to play rugby, hockey and my personal favourite, cricket. We had an amazing batsman, Alistair Brown, who went on to play for Surrey and England in ODIs – so suffice it to say, we usually won. I studied Maths, Further Maths, Chemistry and Physics at ‘A’ Level and ended up, despite the careers teacher’s best advice, going to Exeter to read Maths. I spent more time in the Athletic Union office than the Maths lecture theatre, but did manage to end up with a degree … and I played lots of hockey and cricket … did I already hint at that? Exeter is a great place to study: a city (but not too big), beaches nearby, Dartmoor, green campus (it was back then, at least), and all the other factors that make student life enjoyable.
The Maths wasn’t thrilling, if I’m honest, but it did come in handy later as you’ll see. At the end of my final year at university I was all set to join the graduate training scheme of an insurance company based in Bristol. However, I was also signed up to go on a missions trip to Prague, with an Australian evangelist, my family had known for a few years, Steve Ryder. That week or so completely changed my life. I’d prayed some big prayers, walking round the rugby fields at Exeter, waiting anxiously for my finals results (if that doesn’t drive you to prayer, nothing will!), and said careless things like: “God, my life is in your hands. If there’s anything you want me to do … anywhere you’d like me to go, I’m your man!” And there in Prague, just after the Iron Curtain had come crashing down, with curious and open-hearted Czechs responding to the message of the gospel in droves, and seeing countless people miraculously healed of all sorts of sicknesses and injuries, I knew my life would never be the same again.
So, back to England – I never made it to Bristol – I spent a year or so volunteering in our home church and travelling more with Steve Ryder, mainly in the former Czechoslovakia, my parents insisted that I get myself a proper job, one that actually pays money, and so to make a long story short, I found myself teaching Maths and Sport at the prep school I’d attended as a boy. I’d always loved the school environment and took to teaching like a duck to water (whether my pupils thought the same is questionable, perhaps). I taught Year 7 and 8 Maths, some RE, coached sports teams, organised tours, stage-managed plays, lived in the boarding house for a while, became a housemaster, hung out with the other young sporty teachers and really enjoyed myself. From there, I moved to a school in Amersham as Head of Maths and then spent 7 years as a Deputy Head in Epsom.
After that, the opportunity finally came to follow my calling and I spent 6 years in Canada, pastoring in two churches in Ontario – great summers, bleak winters, everything’s big. I came back to England in 2009, by now with three children in tow, and ended up here in Warwickshire, leading a young, lively, growing church in Bidford.
I’m not sure I left school with a plan … If I’d had one, it wouldn’t have looked like the above. What I learnt early on was to seize every opportunity with both hands. It’s true: you really do get out what you put in. If you’re young and enthusiastic, willing to try anything and work hard, you can make a niche for yourself in whatever field you find yourself. For me, there was always the sense that God had a purpose and a plan for me, and that there was a unique contribution for me to make. Through my journey I have watched that purpose unfold as I have honed skills, learned lessons and made key friends along the way.
Description of your current position
My current job is Senior Pastor at theBarn, Bidford Baptist Church. I take mild exception to the word senior, but it really just means that I’m the lead pastor amongst the team we have. As such my responsibility is to oversee the overall operation of the church. Yes, I preach long sermons nearly every Sunday, and yes preparation for that does take a large proportion of my work week. A lot of reading, listening, thinking and prayer-walking goes into that. After all, if I’m expecting people to sit still and listen to me for 40 minutes every week, it ought to be well-prepared and thought-provoking stuff! I also spend a lot of time answering emails, meeting with people, particularly those on our team here, really a mentoring and leadership development role.
A major part of my responsibility would be what I would call ‘vision champion’ – keeping our mission in the forefront of everyone’s mind and making sure that we stay focussed and on task. And I move chairs around the hall a lot!
Church life is people focussed, so you need to be able to communicate well. We’re always working with volunteers, so it helps it be enthusiastic and positive. There is a clear and definite cause, so this is a vocation, not a job. It’s 24-7 not 9-5 and if you’re not passionate about it, it will squeeze the life out of you. But the upside is, that it is wonderful to see people’s lives being influenced, even changed … to see their quality of life and relationships improved, to see them making better choices and becoming whole and healthy. And, perhaps the best part of all, is to see people coming to faith for the first time and seeing the whole world through a very different lens.
Monday to Friday (or Saturday and Sunday) Diary
Loosely speaking I work 9-4 in the office, Monday to Friday. Obviously Sunday is ‘game day’ – the morning is pretty full on, from 8 till about 2, and there’s often something in the afternoon or evening. I do have evening meetings through the week, but I try to minimise those if I can, so I can spend as much time as possible with my family. Saturday is my day off and I guard that loyally.
The pace of my week hots up as Sunday draws closer and Friday is the key day, getting everything ready to go. Monday is a bit of a down day, because I’m always on zero, starting my message preparation from scratch again!
In church world, the home / work balance must be guarded, because to an extent you’re always at work, always preparing, always available should a crisis kick-off. In order for you to have something to give when people come to you for advice, you have to have something to give. So, I try to keep myself fresh, reading, praying, listening to other speaks, spending time with people that fuel me and so on. Actually that’s a good principle for everyone, not just pastors!
If you could give advice about work, life, attitude to your 16 year old self or the 16, 17 years olds of today who are entering a different world to the one you started in, what would it be?
There are so many possible different paths ahead of you and picking the right one might seem intimidating. I didn’t expect to become a teacher or a pastor. In fact, I haven’t had any formal training for either! You’ll have a long working life and you may well not end up in the same sphere you train for or start in. So, my advice would be first of all, to go for it. Even if it’s not plan A, not your ideal job, squeeze everything out of that opportunity you can … and then when you feel you’ve done so, move on.
The second piece of advice would be to do something you believe in. Get yourself a dream. Work at something you’re passionate about. Or rather get passionate about it and dream about making it better, whether it’s a classroom, a factory floor, an office, a hospital, ask how can I make a difference? To do that you may have to stop and ask yourself big questions from time to time. What am I here for? Why am I here right now? What’s the big lesson for me to learn in this place that will serve me well in the years to come? Take time to analyse and reflect and then build for the future with a big dream in the back of your mind and intentional small steps in the front.