From time to time, someone asks me why I haven’t written an autobiography but I have always given the same answer. My response is that I am not important or famous enough.
I have also thought that autobiographies are often products of an inflated ego. However, giving testimony is another thing altogether. All disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ have a story of his work and influence in and through them. I sometimes use personal illustrations in sermons and articles and I have also presented sections and aspects of my ‘testimony to Jesus’ at various times. But now I have become conscious that the time has come for me to produce something more comprehensive. So, what I am presenting here is a little bit like an autobiography, but it is limited and focused on matters of Christian witness and ministry. In the main, I will not be writing about my experiences as a child, and nor will I be covering my business or family life. So, no juicy gossip here folks.
Let’s Start at the Very Beginning
I was born in Cape Town in late December 1947 and I suppose it was because it was so close to Christmas that my parents named me Christopher. However, my mom and dad were Jesus-followers and I think that the Holy Spirit might have whispered into their ears. You see ‘Christopher’ means Christ-bearer and since the age of 30 I have tried to live up to my name as one who raises up and holds high the name of Jesus.
I gather that I was not a very healthy baby and kept my mother up a lot in the early months. Then, at 10 months of age, I went in the period of a few hours from not so well to critically ill. On the morning of Sunday 17th October 1948, I started to scream and just would not stop. My parents gave me gripe water and did all they could to help me but by that afternoon they were worried enough to call the doctor. He heard me screaming in the background and immediately instructed my parents to rush me up to Groote Schuur hospital where he would meet them. It was a teaching hospital with some of the best physicians in South Africa practicing there. Professor Janie Louw diagnosed that I had an interceseption, a form of bowel obstruction in which one segment of the intestine telescopes inside of another. He decided to operate immediately, but after surgery, he informed my parents that there was no hope of recovery because it was a most unusual form of blockage and gangrene had already become well established.
In the evening of Tuesday the 19th the hospital called my parents to tell them that I was sinking and at 4 am the next morning they phoned again to say that I was about to die at any minute. Mom and dad rushed up to the hospital where they met the surgeon and the house doctor who informed them that I would go at any minute. But that is obviously not what happened!
My grandfather was a Methodist Lay Preacher and several of his fellow church members told him (a few days later) that they had awoken in the early hours of Wednesday morning and felt constrained to pray for me. The surgeon told my parents that it was an absolute miracle, and our house doctor declared that although he believed in the stories of miracles in the bible, he had not expected to see one in his lifetime. It took another 10 days before I was declared off the danger list, but during that time the doctors and nurses were discussing my case and calling me their ‘miracle baby’. The surgeon told my family that the university was preserving evidence of the case as proof of an instance that disproved the teaching that such a condition was always fatal.
I have copies of two letters my grandfather wrote to his sisters in England explaining what had happened. He wrote, ‘So in the great goodness of God our dear little boy is given back to us – surely for some very good purpose and we must continue to pray that he will early come to know and to follow and serve the Lord Jesus’. To my regret and shame, that hope remained unfulfilled for another 29 years. Now, as a disciple of the Lord Jesus for the last 43 years, I have no doubt at all that God reached into that hospital room and saved my life. I realise that I am no more special and no more worthy than anyone else and that it is by divine grace and mercy alone that I am alive.
A Very Brief Account of my Life until the age of 30.
This is not a typical biography, so I will not cover my early years other than to give a very few details that will help you appreciate the Lord’s grace, mercy, and patience expressed towards me.
I was a very unremarkable scholar, both in junior and high school. I failed standard one (now known as grade 3) and had to repeat the year, and I suspect that this dampened my enthusiasm for learning in general and teachers in particular. I started school a year earlier than most and one of the early formative experiences was very negative for me. I remember almost nothing of those years, but I do recall when the teacher asked each pupil to spell his name. This is OK if your name is Abe or Bill but not so easy for a tiny chappie whose name is Christopher. I froze up and could not do it and the teacher turned to the class and said “See boys what a stupid person looks like. He can’t even spell his own name!”
I attended our local church Sunday School, but when the time came to ‘graduate’, an event called ‘Confirmation’, I decided that church was not for me. From then on, aged thirteen, I seldom went to church on Sundays except when my parents compelled me. I thought that Christianity was for sissies, the church was for old people, and the bible was a book of myths and stupid rules. The terrible irony, that I was oblivious to at the time, was that this was the same church that supported my parents through the ordeal of my near-death; the very people who prayed so earnestly for me at that time.
When I had finished standard 7 (grade 9) my father was promoted to a branch management job in Port Elizabeth and so we moved there. The school that my parents wanted me to attend could not take me, and my parents regarded the others in the city as sub-standard, so they sent me off to boarding school in Grahamstown. These were the two worst years of my school life that ended when I ran away and hitched a ride to Port Elizabeth. With a lot of sweet-talking their Christian friend and principal of Grey High School, my parents got me in to complete my schooling. I did this without attaining a university entrance grade. During those years, I met a fellow misfit (Gavin) who soon became my best friend. We played in the same rugby team, formed a rock band together, and hung out constantly.
My ambitions were as simple as they were pathetic, to drink as much as I could whenever I could, smoke as many cigarettes as I could, and mess around with as many girls as I could. I have to confess that I succeeded at the former two ambitions to a far greater extent than the latter.
After leaving school, at my father’s suggestion, I enrolled with the Naval Gymnasium to complete my national military obligation. After that, I went looking for a job. I was interested in architecture but I was ineligible for university. I also fancied myself as a bit of a poet and writer, so I applied to advertising agencies but they turned me down flat. If someone had asked me then what I thought was the job I wanted least I would have said ‘a bank clerk’. It happened that another of my parent’s Christian friends was the manager of the Colonial Banking and Trust Company, which later became WesBank, and my dad set up an interview for me. The manager hired me and I found that I really liked working and earning a little money. The management strongly recommended the Institute of Bankers qualifications and so I enrolled and, to the great surprise of my fellow workers, I passed the exams in no time at all. This birthed a new ambition in me. I still drank too much, smoked too much, and reveled too much, but I now wanted to be a top executive.
During that time with the bank, I met Pat whom I was later to marry and the woman I am still with and love even more 53 years later.
We had only known each other for six months or so when Head Office transferred me to Krugersdorp, Transvaal. However, one week later I drove back down to Port Elizabeth, borrowed money for an engagement ring and asked her to marry me. I was one day short of twenty-one when we got married and she was three months younger. At around the same time, my best friend Gavin married a divorcee with two children and moved to Durban, Natal, to make a new life.
At the age of 23, the bank transferred me to the company head office and a short time later appointed me as the Assistant Company Secretary. Pat and I bought our first house and soon produced our first of two children, Lance. I decided that accounting and Administration were not for me and that I wanted to be a branch manager so I asked for and got the job of assistant to the General Manager in charge of the branch network. At his recommendation, I enrolled with Damelin Management School and completed their Business Management qualification. The programme, like the Bankers course, was part-time and involved night classes and weekend workgroups. Towards the end of this time, The General Manager appointed me as the Assistant Manager of the Pretoria branch of the bank and life became very stressful. I was driving from Roodepoort to Pretoria every morning at 6 am, leaving there at 7 pm, going from there to Damelin in central Johannesburg till 9 pm, and getting home at about 10. My work was challenging and Pat was all alone at home trying to manage a baby. This is not a blow-by-blow account of the good, bad, and ugly of my life, so I will compress the next few years into one short paragraph.
We moved back to Port Elizabeth and I recreated my career at the branch there. I rose from Investments Manager to Branch Manager and then accepted a transfer to East London as the Area Manager for the Border region. From there it was back to Port Elizabeth to pioneer the regionalisation of the bank’s administration and credit control. The Managing Director appointed me as Regional Controller and I built a great team of managers and staff.
On 2nd August 1977, I received a call from my friend Gavin. His words, “Gill and I have accepted Jesus Christ into our lives” shocked me. I knew Gavin so well and knew that he had as low regard for Christianity as I did and I knew the kind of language he usually used. Now here he was prattling on about being ‘led to’ phone me, feeling ‘moved’ to say something, and so on. What the hang had happened to him?!
That night I told Pat how worried I was that my friend had fallen into the hands of a cult or something like that and that I needed to go to Durban to ‘save’ him.
The next day I received a call from Head Office requesting my attendance there in Johannesburg for an important meeting. I made arrangements with Gavin that on my way back to Port Elizabeth I would detour to Durban and spend the night with him and Gill to hear their story.
When I arrived at Gavin’s we talked into the early hours of the morning and the more time we spent together the more I noticed two things:
- Gavin’s ideas and approach to life had changed radically and
- Gill’s sentiments had softened and become more loving.
I started to see that what they had was the truth and what I had was the lie. I knew that I needed to respond to what they were telling me about Jesus and his truth but I didn’t know how. Gill went into the kitchen to make more coffee and I suddenly felt constrained to pray, but I did not know what to do. I asked Gavin if he minded if I prayed aloud with them and he immediately called his wife to join us. Later on, I recorded what happened next. I started to pray:
“Dear God, please help me to pray. I do not know how to pray. Please help me.”
I couldn’t get any further because I got all choked up and started to cry. Gavin leaned forward and asked: “Do you repent of your sins?” and I answered “Yes.” “Do you accept Christ as your saviour?” and again I said, “yes”. I didn’t connect the dots at that time, but I realised much later that God had saved my physical life 29 years earlier in a hospital room and now he had entered into another room and saved my eternal spiritual life.
First Church Experiences
When I got back home I told Pat about everything that had happened. We didn’t really know what to do but we did resolve to go to a church, any church, and see where that led. On Saturday night, we took ourselves off to the movies only to find that their power was down. It was drizzling and cold so we decided to just go home. On the way back, we stopped at the Methodist church where we had been married to see what the service times were. The street-side board did not mention the times but as we were about to drive off a man walked up, tapped on the window, and asked if he could help us. He immediately told us the service times and then walked off through the rain. So we attended that church service and noted with surprise that the minister there was none other than the man who we encountered the previous night. We also recognised him as the man who had christened our daughter some four years before. Although we had not been believers at the time, my mother had pleaded with us to have Karen christened. I had phoned this particular minister and he had agreed to perform the ‘baptism’, but only after telling us that people like us made him sick; we expected to receive services from the church but didn’t belong to it or give anything back to it.
Nothing in the service we attended ‘spoke’ to us or particularly appealed to us so we left wondering if the Lord had lead us there after all. However, many months later we did start attending another Methodist church that played a very significant role in our lives.
Two weeks after our first church ‘experience’, we were invited to attend an Assemblies of God church (AOG). A lay minister preached the sermon and was terrible. At the end, he added on a brief altar call. I had been feeling that I needed to formalise what I had experienced at Gavin’s home, and so I rushed forward. I can imagine that dear man going home that night and saying to his wife: “Boy oh Boy, I must have preached up a storm tonight. No sooner had I called for a response than a man just ran up to the front!” Pat had attended a women’s group and it turned out that the leader of that group was the wife of the pastor of the AOG church we were now attending. She had heard the Gospel there and had started to find her way around the bible. It is only with hindsight that we can see the divine connections in what appear to be random events and how the Lord leads us and nurtures us.
After attending the Assemblies church for about two months, the pastor invited us to attend baptism classes and Sunday 23rd October 1977 was set for the baptism and the day before the event I started to prepare for the baptism. When we got married, my mother had given Pat the letters my Grandfather had written when I had almost died as a baby; she thought that one day we might need them. That afternoon, for some reason, I dug them out of our documents file and read them. They moved me to tears, but then I noticed the date of the first letter and was able to calculate back to the miracle of 1948.
God saved my life on Wednesday 20th October and here I was being baptised 29 years later almost to the day. I was overwhelmed and found myself flooded with the glory of God and speaking in tongues of praise to him.
We continued to attend that church for some time but were feeling that we should rather be part of a church in our neighbourhood. We had found a little Methodist church very close by, attended a service, donated some money towards their building fund, and filled in our details in their visitor’s book. The wife of the Lay leader of this church contacted Pat and asked if she would help with the Sunday School children, but Pat had declined because we were not regularly attending that church. A couple of weeks later there was a knock at our door and there stood a man who introduced himself as Colin. He was one of the leaders of the little Methodist church we had visited and he explained that he was looking for male Sunday School workers and that the Holy Spirit had directed him to me. This was the second approach to us and so I was starting to take it seriously. As Colin left, a robed, dog-collared man arrived at our door. He introduced himself as the minister of the Methodist church in another suburb that had oversight of the local congregation. Strike three! And no, the three of them had not spoken to each other about their plans to visit. So, we bid farewell to our friends in the AOG church and presented ourselves to our new church the very next Sunday.
The Call to Preach
In the first few months of my Christian journey, I experienced some radical inward changes. I used to blaspheme frequently and it had become a speech habit. Within days of being born again, I used the Lord’s name in vain. I was horrified and I felt like someone had smacked me over the head with a plank with the admonition, “Don’t do that again!”
Another radical change was a 180-degree shift in my life orientation. Before being born again, I was driven by ambition to rise to the very top of the bank, and I was on my way to doing just that. After the regeneration of my spirit, that ambition seemed shallow and worthless. I used to work at the office from six in the morning till after 7 at night but that changed. I went to my boss and told him that in future I would be coming in to work at 8 and leaving at 5 because I had a family and a church to serve. I assured him that my productivity and effectiveness would not diminish in the slightest. It didn’t and my climb up the corporate ladder continued although this was no longer my priority.
However, the biggest change by far was that I now had an insatiable hunger for Jesus and his Word. I read the entire bible more than once and took notes of passages that ‘spoke’ to me. Every time I encountered a Christian more mature than I, he or she had to endure a barrage of questions from me. What does this or that text mean? What should the church be like? What must it have been like for the original disciples? And so on and so forth.
After being at Lorraine Methodist church for a few months, I joined a men’s fellowship group led by the lay leader of the church. His name was Alwyn and he became very influential in my Christian life. On the first evening in January he asked the group what it was that they hoped for and wanted for the year ahead. He went around the circle of men one by one and each spoke out his dreams and aspirations. Some spoke of family matters, others about financial needs, and yet others about their careers. The more pious among us spoke of their personal quiet times or habits and things like that. When it got to me I found myself blurting out, “I want to preach the Word of God with power”. I felt quite sheepish because I was such a new believer, but Alwyn took me seriously and from then on started feeding me with books on preaching, as he was an accredited Methodist Local Preacher.
It was not long after this that, with his encouragement, that I decided to apply to be a Local Preacher. The process was that at first the candidate had to preach a few times under the strict supervision and evaluation of two accredited preachers. If they gave a good report then the regional leaders enrolled the candidate onto a two-year programme consisting of four subjects each year and about 15 or so monitored preaching assignments. My first opportunity to preach was at a close-by Methodist church under the watchful eye of Alwyn and one other. As I prepared the message, I became increasingly aware of the responsibility I was taking on. What if I got things wrong and led the congregation astray? My sermon was scheduled for Sunday 17th June 1979 and at the beginning of that week I set my preparation aside and cried out to God for his help. Immediately into my mind appeared the biblical reference, Numbers 21:16. I looked it up and it read: ”Gather the people together and I will give them water”. It was part of the account where Moses was leading the Israelites through the wilderness. They ran out of water and Moses had called out to God for help. Verse 16 records the answer he received. My context was quite similar, and I immediately took it to heart as the Lord saying to me,
“Just serve my people with my word and I will apply it into their minds and spirits.”
I was greatly comforted. On the 8th October 1981, I was presented with my certificate of accreditation as a Methodist Local Preacher and a lovely leather covered bible to mark the occasion.
The Aborted Call into Full-time Ministry
At about the same time as I had enrolled in the Local Preachers programme, the bank sent me to Johannesburg to attend the WITS Graduate School of Business Administration’s Executive Development Programme. I stayed at the Rosebank Hotel and the first Sunday I was there I decided to find a nearby church that I could attend. I heard church bells ringing quite close by and went to the window to see if I could spot a church steeple. As I was looking out I heard a voice. It was like no other I had ever heard before. I cannot tell you its tone or volume but it filled the entire room and every part of my being. This is what I heard:
“I want you here. I have much for you to do my son.”
It had such an impact on me that my strength left me and I had to sit down on the bed. I was in shock because I was sure that I had heard the voice of God.
I returned to Port Elizabeth and early in February 1980, about a year after my experience in that hotel room, the Personnel General Manager of the bank asked me to fly up to Head Office because he wanted to talk to me about a transfer to Johannesburg. I did so, and at the first meeting, he sounded me out and asked what my conditions would be to move my family to Johannesburg. I gave them a list of my expectations and returned home. However, before leaving, I sat with my bible and opened it randomly, I thought, to Isaiah chapter six.
A week later the Personnel Manager phoned me to say that they agreed with my conditions and thought them fully justified, but that they didn’t have a senior enough post available just then. So, the move to Johannesburg was off. Only then did it dawn on me that I had been disobedient and untrusting. The Lord had told me that he wanted me in Johannesburg and I had set conditions that prevented this from happening.
However, just weeks later, the Holy Spirit started to ‘speak’ to me in a way I had not yet experienced. Biblical texts came alive to me, people brought me prophetic words, and the Christian book I was reading seemed to be addressing my situation. They all had one common theme: God would guide me, he was calling me into full-time ministry and would provide for me, and I must be obedient. Our little church did not have its own ordained minister and was under the oversight of the minister of Walmer Methodist church, a much bigger church not too far from. The minister’s name was John and he drove a motorcycle. The Sunday after an intense week of receiving many and varied ‘calls’ to ministry, John was preaching at our church. After the service, I walked out of the building and there he was standing next to his bike. He called me over, and then looking down, and kicking at the tyres, he said: “I feel the Lord is prompting me to ask you to be my full-time pastoral assistant to oversee this church.” He had no idea of what I was going through and what he was asking was quite preposterous. He was asking a Regional Manager of a bank, with a good salary, company car, and so on, to work for him as a pastoral assistant, which was a very poorly paid job indeed.
Pat and I wrestled for days with what was happening. We had two small children and the congregation of our church was small and unlikely to be able to support even a Pastoral Assistant. I remember us lying on our bed crying together as we agonised over what it would mean for our family. However, the Holy Spirit convicted both of us that this was something I needed to do. In fairness, I was convicted, and Pat decided to support me fully in whatever lay ahead. She has always unconditionally supported me in ministry and I could not have asked for a better life partner than her.
We gathered up what faith we had and I approached the three key leaders of the church to lay out what was happening.
One of them was John the minister and the other two were my mentor Alwyn and a man I had come to know well, Jim. They were excited by the prospects and they agreed to take it to a full meeting of the leadership committee. They asked me what my living expense requirements were and they undertook to place this before the meeting. I had become convicted that only a 100% positive vote would suffice and waited nervously for the outcome. They agreed to think and pray on the matter for a week and then to meet again. During that time I realised that I had again set conditions where the Lord had set none, and so I contacted Alwyn and asked him to convey to the others that I had withdrawn all and any conditions. They met for the second time and the vote was 10 in favour and 2 against the proposal. The one no vote was by an elderly man by the name of Jack who simply said, “The Lord has not told me ‘yes’ so the answer is ‘no’.” The other man who cast a negative vote came to me many years later to apologise. He told me that he was afraid for the wellbeing of my family, as he didn’t believe that our little church could afford to pay me a liveable wage.
Pat was very relieved and I was confused and drained. Strangely though, I was at peace. I trusted God implicitly and thought that I must have misunderstood what I had taken as his guidance.
We continued on as active members of that church for the next couple of years. The leaders had been challenged by my offer to be their pastor, and they realised that the church did need a full-time worker. They applied to the Methodist Church Synod for a young probationer and within months Gavin and his wife Arlene arrived to take up the post. Gavin was about eight years younger than me but we became good friends and I acted as his mentor, or at least one of them.
The custom of the church was that two of the Society Stewards, key lay leaders, would meet with the preacher in the vestry before each Sunday service. I was now one of those leaders and one Sunday met with Gavin before the service. We prayed for a while and then I told him a joke I had heard and he thought it was hilarious. The time came for the service to start and the three of us solemnly entered the sanctuary. As we got to the front, Gavin slapped me on the arm and said, “Hey Chris, why don’t you start the service by telling the congregation the joke you just told me.” I didn’t know what to do. If I complied then I would look a fool, but if I refused then he would look like a fool. I told the joke and the congregation didn’t think it funny at all.
Several years later Gavin left the Methodist Ministry to start a brave faith venture in the little town of Dundee in Natal. He took over a ramshackle building standing on a huge neglected plot of land to start a mission to the lowest of the low and the poorest of the poor. Later on he asked me to be the chairman of the mission and we served together for many eventful years. Although Gavin and I live in different parts of South Africa and seldom see each other, I still regard him as one of my very few true friends.
Rosebank Union Church
Almost exactly two years after my aborted call to ministry I was transferred to the banks Johannesburg head office to head up the organisation’s training division. Once there, Pat and I agreed that we needed to find a house in the near vicinity of a good primary school for the children, and a church. We found a house that was just a ten minute walk from an excellent school, and pulled out a map to see if there was a church nearby. There was. In fact the map indicated that there were three churches all in the same location. We were very excited and put in an offer to purchase the house and it turned out that the church in question was an ecumenical merge of three denominations, Methodist, Anglican, and Congregational. I spoke to my mother in Cape Town about it and she said that she knew Stan the Methodist minister there, but not the other two. So as soon as we could, we drove to the church on a Sunday morning, but not knowing the service times we arrived between the two morning services. A tall man in a black gown and white dog collar was greeting people as they left the building, so we waited in the car until he was finished, and then I went over to him. “Hi”, I said, “are you pastor Stan?” He looked down his nose at me as if the cat had dragged me in and replied, “Good Lord No! Do I look Like him?” I told him that I had never met the Methodist minister in question and rather stiffly asked him when the next service was starting. I took an instant dislike to the man.
Nevertheless, we felt that the Lord had led us to the right house and the right school for the children, so surely this must be the church for us. We joined and both tried to be as involved as possible. The ministers asked me to lead a home group and the Sunday youth class. The young people had a small choir and asked me to lead them and play my guitar to accompany them. One Sunday night we were included as part of the service. The time came for us to sing our number and after we had finished I leaned my guitar on the altar rail. The minister in charge, not Stan nor the other toffee-nosed one, but a third as objectionable, nearly had an apoplectic fit, He instructed me in a booming and angry voice to remove my instrument as it was desecrating the holy place. Oh boy!
We spent 18 rather unhappy months at that church but eventually realised that this was not the place for us. The Managing Director of the bank told me that he attended the Rosebank Union Church (RUC) and that it was great, so we decided to try that out. As we arrived there the next Sunday, we could hear their bells tolling.
I immediately recognised the sound as what I had heard standing looking out of the window of the Rosebank Hotel five years before.
We loved the church and got involved at a number of levels and worshipped there for about three years.
Lonehill Village Church
RUC had planted a little church in the outlying area of Lonehill and employed a young seminary graduate to pastor it. A couple of years later, he decided that youth work was more his calling and left to join Youth for Christ. He left behind him a little group of about seventeen people meeting in a shed under the Lonehill Koppie on a piece of unused land. The leaders of RUC approached me and asked if Pat and I would consider joining three other couples to bolster the work in Lonehill. We had loved our time in the small congregation in Port Elizabeth and readily agreed. The next Sunday we presented ourselves at the shack; we were the only couple from RUC to do so. As we entered the building, Pat spotted a small pile of unfolded church bulletins lying on a table and immediately set about folding them and handing them to people as they entered. There were two Elders overseeing that church, both from Rosebank, and they made us feel at home straight away. As soon as they learned that I could play the guitar, they asked me to lead the worship, which I gladly agreed to. The one Elder’s wife played the rickety old piano, there was one other singer, and then there was me.
When the elders learned that I was also a qualified Methodist preacher they asked me to be the main preacher and I delivered my first sermon there on the 8th March 1987. I loved those early years there. We started to grow rapidly and soon had to renovate the adjacent abandoned Post Office collection depot in order to accommodate everyone. Soon the Elders asked if I would be the part-time pastor and I agreed despite still holding down a very demanding job at the bank. I had by then joined the General Management team as the executive responsive for the bank’s Information Technology Division.
The church numbers continued to increase and we saw the blessings of God abundantly in evidence. People were getting saved at almost every service. We held our first baptism service back at Rosebank Union during an evening service and I baptised seventeen new believers. What joy! What splashing!
The need for leaders become pressing. So, I started a 6 am Saturday prayer meeting at the home of one of the founding couples, Ger and Jane. Only one item was on the prayer agenda; “Lord, please send us leaders”. We shouldn’t have been surprised but we were when a number of experienced church leaders started attending our services and rapidly became involved. That prayer meeting continued for the next twelve years and was a great blessing to us. Pat became the church secretary, but that didn’t last as she resigned on the grounds that I was a lousy boss. As she put it, “Chris was high on expectations and low on affirmation”. Of course, she was right. I think that the Lord must have a good sense of humour to make a high-flying executive the pastor of a church.
The Second Call to Full-time Ministry
The church continued to grow and we were having more than one service a Sunday and I was running an exciting, thirty person strong, bible study in our home. Just as things were really humming, we received the news that the land on which our building stood had been sold to a developer and that everything on it was going to be bulldozed flat in a couple of months’ time. But God was with us and we were allowed to hold church in the school in an adjoining suburb.
The time we spend there was physically challenging but spiritually wonderful. We rapidly grew in numbers and the Holy Spirit started to work powerfully in the services. It was exhilarating and glorious, almost like a mini revival. Wonderful, supernatural but godly things were happening.
Two things stand out in my memory as typical of those times. One was during a Sunday morning service. The Holy Spirit was ministering powerfully to us and during the worship, I was walking up and down the central isle praying for whoever the Spirit led me to. I passed one woman who was standing next to her husband right on the aisle. I didn’t know her then but she later became our church secretary. She was streaming with flu and battling to sing so I reached out a hand towards her shoulder to pray for her. Suddenly her eyes widened, her hands flew into the air, and she buckled at the knees. In an instant, God had healed her completely and revealed himself to her in a way that quickly led to her salvation. Jenny later had an even greater part to play in God’s wonderful purposes, but I will write about this further on. The other instance was the woman who phoned my home one afternoon to say that her husband had left her and could I please come and visit her. I explained that my wife was out and that I couldn’t visit her home without Pat being present. She was in great distress, thought that I was just fobbing her off, and hung up. She had told me her name but I didn’t know who she was or where she lived. Pat came home just after that and I told her how distressed I was that I had not been able to help the lady. I tried to find her name in the telephone directory but her surname was very common and there were hundreds of entries. Her first name was Anne but that didn’t help because the phone was probably in her husband’s name. So I prayed, “Please Lord, help me locate her so that I can help her”. I ran my finger down the long list of names, stopped on one and dialed the number. She answered the phone, gave me her address and Pat and I set off to visit her.
The developer gave us a plot of land in Lonehill and we decided to build our own church complex there as soon as possible. It was now time for us to find a full-time pastor for the church. We drew up a job description and a man spec. and set about trying to find a suitable candidate. We found one but he turned us down. Then the Elders looked at me and observed that I was the perfect candidate and why didn’t I leave the bank and become their full-time pastor. Because we had gone through the whole experience back in Port Elizabeth, it was not hard for me to consider this as a real possibility. God had prepared Pat for it months before at a church family camp. She told the camp speaker, a pastor from another church, that she was scared that I might leave the bank for the ministry. He looked at her and said, “Would you stand in the way of God?”
In May 1988 I left the bank after a career of 22 years. We left behind my good salary, company car, medical aid, staff housing bond, and shares in the bank that were conditional on my continued service. On the 29th of that month I was ordained by the lead pastor of RUC in our brand new church building in Lonehill. We had raised all the money required to build from our members and one of them had contracted to build it. God is good!
A couple of weeks before my move from bank to church, I attended a Gideon’s breakfast and met the pastor of a church in the area whom I instantly liked. Sam and I have been friends since then, 33 years later. Sam and I ministered together several times and although he now lives in the United States, I still regard him as a true friend.
The Years of Growth and Blessing
I have so many wonderful recollections from those days. The Holy Spirit was still very active among us and continued to add new people to us every week. I sometimes felt that I was in the Lord’s school because I learned so much in such a short time. It seemed that the Holy Spirit was exposing me to one ministry experience after another and only moved on to the next when I had learned the main lesson, which was inevitably to trust and rely on him. I was called upon to deal with a number of demonic deliverances over the period of a few weeks, and then experienced several miraculous healings, and so on. During this time we also formalised a constitution for the church and set in place its vision, mission, values, principles and Priorities. By and large, the Village Church still continues to build on these foundations although I have no current involvement in leadership. We also planted several congregations in different adjacent areas, two of which went on to become a fully-fledged church under autonomous leadership.
Many things stand out in my memory from those days but here are two worthy of special mention.
- There was a small rural school not too far from us and we had become involved with it. We regularly provided food and clothing for the children there and one of our Elders started to go there once a week to give the children bible lessons and to speak about Jesus and his way of salvation. Some of the teachers and parents were antagonistic to this and Ger, the Elder in question, asked if we could do something to help. My response was to gather a number of church members and to go out there one Sunday afternoon to pray and see what would happen. We walked around the area playing the guitar and singing heartily and soon we drew a crowd. I hadn’t planned anything further, but when I saw the crowd of adults and their downtrodden and desperate demeanor I felt that I needed to tell them about Jesus. As I started to preach, a woman in the crowd fell to the ground writing and hissing like a large snake. Some of my team members wanted to go to her to help but I told them to back off and instead went over to the woman and in Jesus’ name commanded the demon controlling her to leave. She immediately got up and quietly stood there for the rest of the time. We learned later that she was a key influencer in that community and with her support, we decided to start a church service there every Sunday afternoon. She became a faithful member of that little church. Lonehill Village Church still has a strong influence in that school and conducts bible study there every week. The school has grown to several hundred learners but the sign we erected at the entrance remains. It reads ‘To the Glory of God’.
- Another memory I treasure concerns when that same Elder, Ger, fell very ill and was diagnosed with cancer. The surgeon operated but sent Ger home with a bad prognosis. A number of men from the church decided that we should go together and pray for him. We crowded into his room and he lay in bed looking very sick and sad. The curtains were drawn and it was dim in the room but strangely filled with a presence that seemed to make the air feel thick and somehow holy. I asked Ger what he would like us to pray for and he said, “Please ask God to give me just two more years to live.” A strong sense of God’s presence and approval filled my spirit and I laid my hand on Ger’s head and told him that God had granted his request and that he would live for two more years. Ger brightened up immediately and by the time we left he was chatting and smiling. In the 24th month from that day, after nearly two years of reasonable health and productive service, Ger’s Cancer came back and he soon passed from this world into Heaven.
ROADS and Studies
On the 4th April 1990 I received a direct command from the Lord:
”Restore truth to my church; the whole council of God: Truth in Doctrine, truth in relationship, and truth in structure”.
I never did think that this was an exclusive mandate and I appreciated that there were many others committed to restoring truth. Notwithstanding this, the ‘restore truth’ instruction became the bedrock of what I built from then on.
An initial condition of my ordination by the Baptist Union of South Africa, the lead minister of Rosebank Union Church, was that I complete an undergraduate programme of studies with the Baptist Theological Seminary of Southern Africa. So, from 1988 I had been a part-time student and graduated in February 1993. In addition to this, I had noted that most of my local church leaders were theologically weak and had gathered them together once a week for Systematic Theology lectures and discussions. Later on, I typed out all the lectures I had produced and arranged them as a learner-friendly Systematic Theology book of some 360 pages. This became the document that I used extensively for pursuing the mandate of restoring truth. By then I had come to see with great clarity that Jesus Christ was the personification of truth and the basis for all Christian doctrine.
In 1991 I received another instruction. This time it was to “Go between the Jordan and the Jabbok, I speak metaphorically, and set up your tent and start to teach restoration truth”. Years later, I stood on that exact spot at the conjunction of these two rivers during one of my three trips to Israel.
For me, the immediate significance was that in ancient times there was a town called Succoth situated between the Jordan and Jabbok rivers, close to the spot where Jacob wrestled with the Angel of God. Succoth means ‘booth’ or ‘tent’ and the word from the Lord had spoken of setting up a teaching tent. The Restoration Truth I was to teach had already been defined as doctrine, relationship, and structure and I had become convinced that the restoration needed in these areas was the centrality of Jesus.
I figured that a good way of pursuing this mandate would be to provide distance learning courses on theology, church life, and the like, all of them majoring on the centrality of Jesus. I started thinking this through and produced a pilot course or two but soon realised that the material needed a level of credibility and some form of accreditation that I could not then provide. I found a small seminary in Bradenton Florida, USA that seemed to be suitable as a partner and started corresponding with the principal. In America, at that time, there were many degree mills and bogus colleges and so I decided to fly out and spend a week with them to check them out. I raised the money and off I went. The seminary was registered to issue degrees by the state of Florida in terms of which it had to meet several criteria and in addition, it was accredited by one of the Christian colleges’ accreditation agencies. Ken, the principal, agreed that they would accept the courses I produced to count for credits towards a bachelor’s degree if they moderated the material and the assessment instruments and results. So, now I had something to offer potential students. Ken also told me that the USA degree system allowed generous credits to be awarded in recognition of prior learning, particularly for postgraduate degrees. I provided transcripts of my Baptist Theology degree, my Institute of Bankers, Damelin, and WITS Graduate School of Business qualifications together with details of my on-the-job experiences. He evaluated these and told me that I was eligible to enter their doctoral programme. I enrolled and they approved a thesis ‘A systematic Theology from a Charismatic and Local Church Perspective’, which led to the degree of Doctor of Bible Theology.
The South African Theological Seminary
On the 26th March 1996, I launched SATS with a breakfast presentation for pastors and other interested people. We recruited the first 60 students from the Village Church but we then started working on getting the message out to others. I say ‘we’ because by then our ex-church secretary, the Jenny I mentioned earlier on, had felt strongly convicted to leave her job in the commercial world and join me in starting SATS. In addition to her, there was one other person who joined us. His name was Quinton. His parents were members of the Village Church and had told him that I was starting a Seminary. This inflamed his imagination and he prayed about what role he could possibly play. A week or so later he came to see me to tell me that the Holy Spirit had convicted him and that he would come and help me full-time for no pay at all. Quinton produced several of our first courses and went on to get a bachelor of Bible theology degree from our USA partner, and then both a Masters and a Doctorate from an accredited state university here in South Africa. He later joined the Vineyard international education team and still works with them to this day.
SATS started to grow and demand more and more of my time. It was a huge job to set it up as a reputable institution with a proper constitution, registration, board of directors, policies and so on. Not to mention, curriculum development and marketing. The Village Church sponsored the seminary financially for its founding years and part of that sponsorship was to release me to spend 50% of my time to SATS without cost to the seminary. This meant that we needed to employ another full-time pastor to help with the local church work. At that time, God started to call my old friend from Port Elizabeth days, Colin, into ministry. One day he flew up from Durban to discuss this with me. I think he was very surprised when I told him that we were looking for someone like him. I asked him if he would like to join me in the Village Church. After prayer and deliberation, he and my Elders agreed and Colin spent the next thirteen years as our pastor. I marvel at the way God draws the strings of our lives together at just the right time.
On the SATS side, we were poised for growth but we needed a full-time principal. Sometime before, I had produced a promotional audiotape that we had posted to churches throughout South Africa. God had assured us that we were to expect to grow exponentially. A scripture that kept coming to us from various sources was Isaiah 54:2-3
“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left”.
Unexpectedly, I got a call from a man in Pretoria. He had recently resigned from the National department of education as head of their religious education department and had been praying about what to do to serve the Lord and earn a living. Someone from his local church had passed on to him my promotional audio and he felt the Lord drawing him to SATS. He informed me that the Spirit had highlighted a passage to him and it was Isaiah 54:2-3. I interviewed him and within a month, I employed Reuben as our Vice-Principal. He later became the Principal and I remained as Chairman of the Board. He stayed with SATS until he retired at the age of 65 and the seminary expanded its tent greatly during his tenure.
Meanwhile, I had become dissatisfied with our derived accreditation through the American Seminary, especially at post-graduate level, and so explored options through an adult education company owned by my Cousin. He was in relationship with a private university in the United States, which he had researched and found to be reputable and respected. I was interested in establishing a similar partnership with them, but I felt that I needed to test the quality of their post-graduate offerings. I enrolled in their PhD programme through their Religion faculty and embarked on a structured ten subject plus mini-thesis study plan. They appointed the past principal of the Baptist College, where I had completed my undergraduate studies, to supervise my work. I graduated two years later, and during that time developed a good relationship with Dr Rex. He became a member of the SATS Academic Advisory Board and was a keen supporter of SATS until he died a few years later.
The South African government had recognised the need to regulate higher education institutions and had established a National Quality Assurance body. One of their requirements for accreditation was that all private colleges needed to collaborate with national universities until they had the capacity of achieving international standards. Rex recommended the Zululand University because they had possibly the best evangelical faculty of all the universities at that time, and he had worked with them. They were prepared to become our degree issuing body, but they wanted to appoint me as one of their professors and to sit on their faculty and the university senate. To be able to do this I had to hold a doctorate from a national state university. So I enrolled with them and on the 26th May 2001 I graduated with their Doctor of Theology degree.
Many years before these events, a lady from our church has brought me a scripture that she said the Holy Spirit had told her was going to apply to me. I didn’t give it much credence at the time because the text was Isaiah 49:7 “Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you”. However, years later the USA University that SATS had been involved with before the University of Zululand had appointed me as a Professor. Their South African Chancellor, the late King Goodwill Zwelithini, conferred the title on me at a graduation ceremony. I remember that as part of the ceremony he rose from his chair to hand the certificate of appointment to me. Several years later, Prince Buthelezi, as Chancellor of the University of Zululand conferred the doctoral degree on me. I had to kneel on a little stool in front of him and so he had to bow forward to ‘cap’ me. The prophecy had come true in specific detail. How great is our God and unfathomable his ways!
The Theology Faculty of the university was subsequently absorbed into the humanities department as a part of their rationalisation programme and I felt it was time to earn our own national accreditation. What a process! It took a long time and a lot of money and Reuben and I joined the national team of Higher education evaluators in order to become familiar with the processes, laws and regulations involved. Eventually, SATS received full accreditation, not only for its bachelor programme but also for honours, Masters, and Doctoral degrees.
When I started the journey of establishing SATS I did not imagine the difficulties, effort and time it would demand of me. God is so wise for perhaps if I had realised this I might have resisted him just as I had in entering the church ministry all those years ago.
About five years after receiving the ‘Restore truth to my church’ instruction, the Lord spoke to me again. He reminded me of the three elements of Doctrine, Relationship, and structure, and then said, “now I am adding two more; Outreach and Anointing”. The acronym ROADS was born and this became a sort of map and measure for the Village Church. It also informed and focused my preaching and writing from then on. ROADS stands for Relationship is with God and each other through the person of Jesus Christ and the cruciform basis of personal and church life. Outreach consisted of both evangelism and social works and is focused on an outward orientation rather than a set of actions. Anointing features the essential empowerment of the Holy Spirit in all aspects of the Christian walk. Doctrine means Jesus-centred bible-derived didactic truth. And Structure deals with the form of the church in the world and its biblical model.
I embarked on producing several books covering the areas specified in ROADS. In 2001, I experimented with a blog hosted by the Blogger site and in 2006 I commissioned the design of a dedicated site called TruthisTheWord. Since then I have produced two articles and two podcast every month as well as many videos, sermons, academic articles and my published books. In 2019 I updated and edited all of my books, arranged for them to be published by SATS Press, and presented in print and Kindle form on Amazon.
As I have written this recollection and witness to Jesus, I have become impressed once again at how God works everything for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. With the benefit of hindsight, I look back through the years and recognise the hand of God joining up dots into a golden path of purpose.
- Previous commercial work experience equipped me for the work of structuring and managing a growing church.
- Studies and qualifications from the world of business and early years of ministry enabled me to progress through the highest levels of academic life although I left school without a university entrance grade.
- People from my past came back into my life at just the right time.
- Prophecies and words from God came true at their appointed time, which was sometimes long into the future.
So what have I learned of God and his ways during the decades of ministry I have been summarising? Well, I have learned much and experienced much, but the nine things that come immediately to mind are the following:
- God The Father is good and kind.
- He has created us to be sons and daughters who serve and not as slaves to be used.
- We are created in the triune image of God but we are spiritually dead to him until we are born again by the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
- Jesus was and is the embodiment of God, his exact image, and the radiance of his glory. God is Jesus and is the centre and focus of all things.
- Our general purpose in life is to come to know Jesus, to become like him, and to help others to do likewise.
- The bible is trustworthy but is fully understood only through the lens of Jesus Christ.
- The empowerment of the Holy Spirit is essential for effective Christian life and ministry.
- He is pleased to guide, equip, and assist us in our mission of lifting up Jesus before all people.
- The church is the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and his representation of his presence on Earth.
I have also learned the value of genuine friendships. I have mentioned the two Gavins’, Sam, and my dear wife Pat, but there is another whom I consider a true friend. Carlos joined the Village Church about 30 years ago and he and his wife Paula soon became faithful and loving members. He served for many years on our Eldership and when I retired he stepped into my role as Lead Elder. These five people have become deeply woven into my life and have all played some meaningful part in my testimony to Jesus.
Will this testimony of life continue and will I learn to know Jesus more in this world? Yes, but I do not know for how much longer for only he can tell. What I do know is that the Holy Spirit has given me glimpses of further productive work that I could engage in. I am determined to continue to live out my name as a Christ-bearer for as long as I have breath. I only hope that I will not miss the mark as much as I have in the past.
This record of my ministry to date is not a testimony to me as much as it is a testimony to what God has done in, with, and through me. To God be the glory.