In this episode of the CCL podcast, we get to know another one of the students on our CCL team—a young man named Jordan Cunningham who, as you’ll learn, has come from quite a long way to study at Moore College. Jordan’s story is quite different to Brooke Hazelgrove’s, who we met in an earlier episode, though there are similarities in some of the steps they both took on their path to theological education and ministry. Jordan was not raised in a Christian home, he did not attend a Christian school, and when he answered God’s call to ministry, it was because he first answered God’s call to faith.
It is our hope and prayer that as you hear Jordan’s story, you’ll come away encouraged and eager to pray for and support not just him and his future in ministry, but also the college as it carries out its vision of seeing God glorified by men and women living for and proclaiming Jesus Christ, growing healthy churches and reaching the lost.
Links referred to:
- Our 2022 live event program
- Our May event: Commanding the heart: Lust (Wednesday 4 May) with Marshall Ballantine-Jones and Dani Treweek
- Priscilla & Aquila evening seminar: Men and women and church discipline (Wednesday 1 June) with Phil Colgan and Kara Hartley
- The Moore College Student Support Fund
- Support the work of the Centre
Runtime: 1:01:19 min.
Please note: This transcript has been edited for readability.
Karen Beilharz: As I mentioned back in our January episode, the Centre for Christian Living works closely with a team of Moore Theological College students drawn from all different years of the student body. This student team helps us promote and run our live events and activities, and they also occasionally write for us as well.
In an earlier episode of our podcast, I introduced you to Brooke Hazelgrove, who has taken something of unconventional path to ministry. In this episode, I want to introduce you to another one of our students—a young man named Jordan Cunningham who, as you’ll learn, has come from quite a long way to study at Moore College.
Jordan’s story is quite different to Brooke’s, though there are similarities in some of the steps they both took on their path to theological education and ministry. Jordan was not raised in a Christian home, he did not attend a Christian school, and when he answered God’s call to ministry, it was because he first answered God’s call to faith.
Again, it is my hope and prayer that as you hear Jordan’s story, you’ll come away encouraged and eager to pray for and support not just him and his future in ministry, but also the college as it carries out its vision of seeing God glorified by men and women living for and proclaiming Jesus Christ, growing healthy churches and reaching the lost.
KB: Hello and welcome to the Centre for Christian Living podcast, where we seek to apply biblical ethics to every issues. My name is Karen Beilharz and I’m the Executive Assistant to CCL Director Chase Kuhn. And I’m coming to you from Sydney, Australia. I’m joined today by a member of our student team, Jordan Cunningham, who has just completed his second year at Moore Theological College.
Jordan, welcome to the podcast!
Jordan Cunningham: Yeah, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me, Karen!
KB: Now, Jordan, you weren’t always a Moore College student, were you.
JC: No. [Laughter]
KB: Let’s hear a little bit about your life before you came to Moore College. I know that you grew up in Northern Ireland. Who’s in your family? Were they Christian? And what was your upbringing like?
JC: Yes, I’m sure everyone has already been able to hear a bit of an accent. So I grew up in Northern Ireland, just in a regular family home. My parents aren’t Christians, but I had a great childhood—very, very stable, very comfortable. Normal kid. And, yes, it’s only been the last two years that I’ve ended up in Australia, and that’s not a destination or a journey I ever would have imagined until each stage sort of unfolded in front of me.
I’m an only child and I lived a good life growing up, I guess: Christmas was always a time of very many presents for the chosen one [Laughter] in the family. And other than that, I think my upbringing was good and thankfully quite unremarkable.
KB: But you eventually came to know Jesus and you said your family weren’t Christian. So how did that happen?
JC: Yeah, so I do have quite a few family members who are Christian, but my mum and dad aren’t among those. So we grew up in a home where I think everyone probably assumed that a God of some description is very possibly real. But I think all of us would have said, “Oh, you know, I don’t think I could ever really know—I don’t think I could ever have the personal relationship that Christians claim to have”. So I grew up finding God, I guess, a little bit irrelevant. I’d heard several of the classic Sunday school Old Testament stories. But they really meant nothing to me. It didn’t seem relevant to my life. I didn’t really see why I should care.
But things began to change a little bit for me in my early teens. I think I was about 14 or so. And while playing far too many video games [Laughter], I remember asking some quite big existential questions, thinking about morality, right and wrong—you know, things that we talk about all the time—things that we judge and condemn, other things that we say are good—and starting to struggle to really understand why, if there’s no God—if there’s no ultimate authority outside of ourselves—how can we really say things are right or wrong? How can we talk about things like purpose and meaning? I couldn’t have explained it in those words [Laughter]. But those are some of the thoughts and doubts, I think, that were starting to stir in my mind.
KB: That was because of video games?
JC: Actually, some. Some people underestimate video games as a storytelling medium, but actually, yeah: there are some profound things in there. Not all of them—I’m not going to pretend that my youth was not misspent—especially long summers [Laughter] up to 2 am [Laughter] every night, just shooting people. [Laughter]
But yeah. So I began to think through some serious questions, and that, I think, opened the door a little bit for a friend, who God providentially brought into my life and school when I was about 15-16. He, at the time, called himself a Christian. Church and youth group and all of these activities were part of his daily life, and so naturally he spoke about them.
I was always interested, because I liked him and respected him. And it led him eventually inviting me to a course for youth—kind of like the Life course that people would run in Australia, but for youth. You can come, you can ask questions, there’s a short talk each night. I came along, though it sounded great—this Jesus character—but, again, the biggest hesitation in my mind was “How could I know? How could I be sure?” I liked some of the things that are being said; it makes sense to me that if God is God, well, he has a right to tell us how we should live. I didn’t struggle with that. But, again, for me, it was this feeling of “How could I be sure?”
So I kept coming for a couple of months, I kept hearing about Jesus, I kept hearing the gospel. I started to get the concepts of sin and accountability for my behaviour to God—I started to get that into my mind. I started to see why I would need to be forgiven. But, again, I kept having this mental block: I’d find myself wanting to believe, but I just thought, “How can I be sure?”, and I was so convinced that I needed some kind of key piece of evidence or some kind of experience that would tell me.
But after listening, after hearing the gospel faithfully preached, after having people pray for me, after trying very clumsily to pray myself, one night at youth group weekend away, there was a great talk—again, very faithful and very gospel-oriented: Jesus died for your sins. He invites you—in fact, he commands you—to turn to him and to live for him and be forgiven. And after the talk, there was a particular song—the chorus of which, very clearly spoke about what it meant to surrender your life to Jesus and to be forgiven. It was as I was singing those words that it was like a lightbulb going off in my mind. It’s that really unique experience, which—it’s impossible to compare or replicate. But what I realised was that all of the evidence that I was looking for—this key ingredient that I thought might convince me that God really was real and was who he said he is—I realised that that wasn’t the problem. It was like there was a veil over my eyes stopping me from seeing what was in front of me, and suddenly all of those questions that I had been wrestling with—the idea of purpose, of meaning, of morality, of all of these things that make us human—actually, these things all mean absolute sense in Jesus. It made absolute sense why I felt guilty about things, but that I could be forgiven—that I could live for him. And at that moment, as all of this came crashing together, and I stood there as a 16-year-old in a room of half-strangers in tears—just in joy—I understood that my life would not be the same again. I just want to desperately know more about who this Jesus is and I want to live for him.
KB: Wow! That’s amazing. And it’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it, that through your friend asking you to come along to this course, and then you continuing to come, that Jesus came into your life and into your heart.
You ended up joining this youth group and that experience of being part of that community had a big impact on you. Could you talk a bit more about that and why it was so significant?
JC: Yeah, so the youth group that I joined, one of the first and still most significant things about joining the youth group—and, again, this is a couple of months before I became a Christian—there was an atmosphere and a community there, which I had never experienced before. So like I said, I grew up in a great family. I had met lots of lovely people in my life. I was very fortunate that way. It’s not like I had ever been deprived of love or kindness. But there was something about that group of Christians—even young Christians my age, like 14 through to 18—but the vibe, the warmth, the welcome-ness, the way that people would laugh in a light-hearted way about one another’s flaws—but there was no sense of mockery; it just felt like a family: people knew one another—like really knew one another—and there was no shame in that. It was so welcoming. It was so warm.
I still remember to this day, how my first youth leader greeted me when he knew that my friend had brought me along. He was so happy to see me. He wanted to take my number so that he could text me and let me know about any events that were going on. It was just a love that couldn’t be faked or manufactured, or found anywhere else, really.
I think that was, I guess, in a way, one of the concrete pieces of evidence that I might have been looking for in terms of wondering, “How can I know God is real?” Well, I saw God’s love for them reflected in their love for one another and love for me as well, and that was tangible in the room: it was a real atmosphere when we came together. I think that, before I realised it, helped me to move from God as a very abstract, distant idea to a living, breathing person who’s intimately familiar with his people and works through them and lives in them. I think that’s what grounded me and kept me coming, because I wanted to know what these people had, which I definitely didn’t.
KB: Yeah, wow! That’s a real living out of 1 John, isn’t it—that this is how people will know that we are in Christ [Ed: I was actually thinking about John 13:34-35]. That’s a wonderful, wonderful thing. So how did your parents react to you becoming a Christian?
JC: Yeah, well, thankfully mum and dad were pleased for me. Like I say, on my mum’s side, there are quite a few Christians in the family, and that was a positive experience overall. They’re wonderful people and I’m very thankful to have them as family. But, again, from mum and dad, I guess, there was a bit of personal distance in that they’re saying, “Oh, that’s great for you and I’m glad that you seem to have what some other people we know and love have”, but not necessarily so much of a personal curiosity, because, again, they, I think, would have been like I was in that “I’m not sure I could ever know. I’m not sure I could ever be convinced. So I’m happy for you, but that is that.”
Over the years, they have been so supportive of my decisions that have come from a distinctly Christian worldview, such as ministry. We’ve had one or two tough conversations when obedience to Jesus—like, the rubber really hits the road whenever that worldview clashes with our culture. We’ve had a couple of tough conversations. But at no point ever have they treated me differently or has their love wavered for me in that respect. And so I have to say I’m so thankful for the non-Christian parents God had given me. I have no complaints whatsoever about my childhood, my upbringing or anything else, because they have been so helpful to me.
KB: Yeah, it’s a real blessing, isn’t it. That’s a wonderful thing. So you became a Christian around mid-teens. What did you plan on doing after finishing high school?
JC: So in high school, just as I was coming into my final couple of years, they introduced psychology into the curriculum, which was super exciting. That’s something I really began to see myself doing. So I studied that the final couple of years in school, and then my original degree was psychology as well: I went to Belfast’s biggest university—Queens—and that’s what I did for a few years.
But while I was studying, I was living in Presbyterian-run student halls with about 86-88 people—something like that. It’s like its own little community in the middle of Belfast. It was great. I studied and I really enjoyed my studies. But as I stayed involved in my church and as I got involved in the community where I was living, I slowly began to realise—especially around the middle of my degree—that as much as I loved psychology as an intellectual passion, that my actual passions, I think, were headed towards the church in some shape or form. I realised that in my own time when I didn’t have to be thinking about it, I was thinking, “Oh, I’d love to see us to take this ministry further. I’d love to see that improve. I’d love to be involved with this thing.” I started to think, “Oh, well, I’ve never thought about it before, but maybe I should be open to the idea that God could be nudging me in the direction of ministry in some form.” I remember at the time specifically thinking, “I don’t want to be a minister. I don’t want to be a pastor. That sounds awful!” [Laughter]
But, lo and behold, before I had told anyone I was considering ministry in some shape or form, again, God very clearly in his providence had, I think, five or six people over the course of a year—many of whom didn’t know one another, had no connection—but they came up to me at different times and said, “Have you ever thought about ministry? I think you should consider ministry. You know, have you ever—” And I started to get all these little promptings.
Then I picked up a couple of books. There’s one particular one if anyone listening happens to be considering ministry themselves: Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp is a very good book, because, as you can hear from the name, it is designed in the best way to scare you off if you’re half-hearted about the idea. He’s very clear about the difficulties, the challenges of ministry—whether it’s being called at 3am with someone in your congregation telling you that their spouse has passed away and they don’t know what to do; whether it’s long, hard years where you’re not seeing growth—all kinds of real spiritual challenges. But as I read about this through this book, I remember thinking to myself, “These are the kind of problems that I think are worth having. This is the kind of stuff I can see myself losing sleep over. This is the kind of thing I think is so worth it.” And over a year or two, with people’s encouragement, with some reading and with some older, wiser Christians starting to encourage me in that direction, I began to seriously consider full-time pastoral ministry.
KB: Yeah, wow! I think that is a really good thing, isn’t it—reading a book like that and thinking through the implications of what a career in ministry would actually be like, even down to the practical 3am phone calls [Laughter]. That’s really, really helpful.
But while you were at university, you met Amy, who is now your wife. Can you tell us a bit about your relationship—how you met and how you came to marry?
JC: Yeah, so I met Amy at the student halls I was staying in. We, first of all, became friends through a joint friend group that we had and we still have to this day, very thankfully. So we became great friends over the course of my first year; she had been there a year before me, and we were very different, but we had a lot in common. She was clearly serious about Jesus; she was great fun—always keen to be involved; and it’s funny to look back on now, but at the time, she was very mischievous. If there were any pranks going on in the halls, she was always behind it or in the middle of it.[Laughter] She must have mellowed in her old age at 29. [Laughter] Yeah, so Amy was great fun but, like I said, clearly very serious about Jesus.
We had an entirely platonic relationship through three or four years. We both graduated in the same year, left Uni, maintained the same friend group, lived in different places in Belfast. But things began to come to a head: she left for a year to teach English in Spain, which probably sounds very exotic to Australian listeners, but Spain is our equivalent of Bali [Laughter] for a little cheap holiday. So she went to teach in Spain and whenever she came back halfway through her time, it was quite obvious that we had missed one another in a way that was more than just missing a friend.
At the time, I was seriously thinking about marriage and the future, and what a potential partner would look like. Obviously ministry was quite clearly at the forefront of my mind: I knew I needed someone who really loves Jesus, not someone who goes through the motions and turns up on Sunday and maybe mid-week, but other than that, you wouldn’t know. This needed to be someone who will challenge me—someone who is willing to come with me into the ministry life and make that their own as well. As it was as I started to think through those qualities—those criteria of what would make for an excellent wife and someone who I would be happy to spend my life in service of, I kept coming back to Amy in my mind. So for us, it was not a love-at-first-sight, immediately romantic kind of affair; it was we were very good friends for a few years. As I saw more of who she was and how she was growing in Jesus, and as I realised who I would need to accompany me if I were going to get married, she really ticked those boxes. And so, as she was leaving to go to back to Spain for the remainder of her year abroad, I asked if she would like us to see more of one another when she got home, and thankfully she was very amicable. [Laughter] So we did six months of online Skype dates. She came back home. A few months later, we were engaged and then shortly the next year—that was 2017—we got married. So we’ve been married now for 4.5 coming on 5 years.
KB: Wow. Isn’t that lovely! It’s really lovely as well that she knew what she was getting into, in a sense—that you had definitely decided on this path of going into ministry and you were very clear about that, and that she was willing to get on board with that too, because she loves Jesus. It’s a wonderful thing.
So after you finished university, you decided to undertake a ministry apprenticeship, which, I imagine was, in a way, a test run to see whether or not full-time ministry was going to be a thing for you. But also, were there other things you were thinking about about why you decided to do this—the apprenticeship?
JC: The apprenticeship came at an interesting time for me, simply because I’d finished Uni. At this stage, I was just working in hospitality while I figured out what my next steps would be. I was sort of in the middle of changing church, very sadly, simply because there were some doctrinal issues with my church at the time. As I was growing in my faith—as I was growing in my knowledge of the Bible and what God wants of his people—there were just a couple of things that I couldn’t reconcile any longer, and I felt I had to move on.
KB: You want to elaborate on those?
JC: Yeah, sure, of course. So essentially there were a couple of gentlemen who’d been coming to the church for some time. I didn’t know them. But they’d been coming along. They were serving, they were involved in our teams, which was wonderful. But then I saw one day on social media that they had come out as openly in a relationship together, and I saw—not from ministry staff in the church, but I saw a concerning degree of direct support for this—from well-intentioned people, I’m sure.
So after this went on for a couple of weeks, I wanted to meet with my senior minister, because I wanted to ask, “Look, I am not here to kick anyone’s door in. I am not angry. I am not outraged. I just want to know is this being addressed? Is there someone who’s going to speak to these guys? How are we going to care for them?” Essentially what transpired was a conversation that went on for an hour and a half, and my minister respected me, took me seriously, pushed back some things—points we had going back and forward.
My main issue was we look at passages like 1 Corinthians 6 and we see a whole list of sins, but the idea is that open, unrepentant sin before God cannot see us enter the kingdom of heaven. We cannot live openly in rebellion against God’s word and expect to call ourselves his people. So what I was wanting to say is “I’m not here because this is the same-sex issue—because this is the big hot button topic—because if we had someone in our congregation who was on drugs every week—if we had someone who was abusing their spouse—they wouldn’t just continue serving on our church teams as if nothing was happening. And so, I’m not asking for special treatment for these guys, as if they are worse sinners than the rest of us. I’m just asking for consistency.”
Essentially, what transpired—the church had not changed its stance on God’s view of marriage, but as a very central-in-the-community kind of church—as an outward-facing church—I think their genuine desire for grace probably pushed them a little bit too far into the fearful category of “What will people think if we’re seen to come down hard on this? We don’t want to chase these guys away. We don’t want to seem judgemental.” And as good as those intentions might be, I think they were trying to be more gracious than God tells us to be [Laughter] as a church family. There are points where we must hold one another accountable, and that simply was not being done in a way that I felt was faithful. So for me, the reason I moved was because I felt, if not by our words and our preaching, then by our actions, we’re telling people, “You can come here and you can live how you please, and we will still be happy to call you a Christian, to treat you as a member, and not to really do so much about that.” And unfortunately that was just irreconcilable, and very sadly I moved on.
But I really want to caveat that with the fact that this church now, there are people coming to faith there. They are preaching Jesus. There are people coming to faith. I do not want to tar this place that loved me so well as “They’ve gone off the rails. They’re down the pipes—worthless.” That’s so untrue. They have so many wonderful people there. And I don’t even know that they would make that same decision again. And so I want to be adamant: I have left with mostly positive [Laughter] experiences and I would not be devastated if I heard that someone were going there now. I think that’s very important to mention after such a disappointing story.
KB: Yeah, sure. At the same time, it must have been quite hard for you to leave this place where you had, essentially, grown up in the faith—for a very important issue, but I can understand that. But yes: so you ended up doing your ministry apprenticeship somewhere else. Is that right?
JC: Yes. So before any of this was happening, I was also going to a church in—so this church was outside of Belfast, where I was studying; this new church was in Belfast and I was there on Wednesday afternoons. They had a ministry called “Bible talks” where during the late afternoon, you could come after class, get some free dinner, and the pastor would run through usually a book of the Bible, but some quite contemporary issue—especially things that students might wrestling with at that point of their Christian walk. This was a weekly gathering, and what was very different about this, at my first church, people clearly loved Jesus. That was not up for dispute at all. But what was different at this church was the explicitly biblical nature of everything they did, right down to the fact that young people—students—were just very biblically grounded in their worldview. They would naturally bring Scripture to bear [Laughter] in their thought processes in a way that was clear, precise, thorough, and I wasn’t quite used to that in the same way. So I began to see these people as “They’re serious about Jesus. They’re serious about knowing his word”, and of course when that issue started to raise its head at my first church, I thought, “Well, maybe, it makes sense that this is the place to consider.”
So I came along on Sunday several times. It was Anglican—as opposed to my first church, which was charismatic Presbyterian—sort of [Laughter]. Very interesting mix! I had no idea what an Anglican was, but I came along. They preached faithfully, and as I began to get to know some of the people and thought seriously about settling there, the pastor approached me and suggested they do a yearly apprenticeship, and why don’t I consider doing that? And so that set me off on a two-year part-time apprenticeship, where I was involved in all kinds of Word ministry while also working in hospitality. So I would be up at 6am, go do my job for five-six hours, and then whatever energy was left, go and do some one-to-one Bible studies with people or help run some of our events.
It was a rough two years and it’s taught me, I think, the importance of conviction seeing you through ministry before feelings. What I mean by that is that they were not fun years, so I don’t look back at that time and think, “Gosh, I could just do that again in a heartbeat!” [Laughter] Like, no, that was rough. But here I am, I’ve not been discouraged, and, like I say, it was that reminder that if you really believe in something—if you have the conviction that these are God’s people, that they’re so worth loving and investing in, and that this is his work, that will see you all kinds of disappointments, all kinds of unfulfilling periods in life, and your feelings, if they follow the hard work in a positive way, that is a real bonus. I certainly found that God, in his graciousness, knows when to give you times of relief. He knows when to give you little glimpse of breakthroughs—in people lives or seeing people come to faith. He knows how to sustain us, and when we need that.
So they were a couple of very hard and formative years. But they were worth it. It’s just that oftentimes, the hardest and the most valuable lessons aren’t really the ones we want to learn at the time.
KB: Oh yeah, definitely. I think God often works that way, doesn’t he—that the things that we really need to learn, in a sense, are the hardest things to learn. It does sound very full-on, that you were working part-time and doing your apprenticeship part-time.
Do you think, perhaps, it might have been a bit different if you had been doing just the apprenticeship full-time? Would those lessons have come faster?
JC: Yeah, I think they would have come differently. There are certain things I would have learned that I didn’t—certain things I wouldn’t have learned that I did. That’s the wonderful thing about God’s sovereignty: no time is wasted. How relevant is that in our COVID era. God knows what he’s doing, even when he derails your plans.
I think one of the biggest challenges about working part-time, as well as doing ministry, is that everything felt quite unsatisfying in that I always felt like I was doing half a job everywhere, and I wasn’t fully committed anywhere. So the other apprentices that I was working with—and they were and are all wonderful people—it was just hard sometimes to see or to miss some of the things that they were seeing—that they got to experience. They were so warm and inclusive, but naturally, when you’re only there half the time, the dynamic is a little bit different.
KB: So they were full-time, then?
JC: Yes, sorry. They were all full-time. And so, that meant it was very hard to hit your stride or gain momentum, because, like I say, I was working a very early-hours job, I was often exhausted. But also just—and this would have been true, even if I were full-time—it’s just a very formative time in ministry: you will quickly learn how selfish you can be—how much you want to guard your own time; how much you want things to go at your own pace; you will have to get used to pouring yourself out and serving people when you don’t feel like it, which is, again, where that lesson about conviction comes in. This isn’t about what I want [Laughter]; I’m serving the creator of the universe, who’s got a purpose for me and for everyone, and I’m a tool his hands and it’s not about what I want. And that is a hard lesson to learn over time, especially while I was working a job that I hated. Like, I mean I really detested the job I was in. It was rough. But I had to keep it, because I couldn’t find anything else that would give me the kind of hours that would also work, because, as I say, I would work 6 am until the afternoon. So there were a lot of hard lessons in that way with what didn’t feel like much reward at the time. Like I say, I felt like I was missing a lot of the payoff that other people were experiencing.
But in all those frustrations and times of just feeling a bit down, having to, I guess, reckon with where my self-esteem was—what I was putting my pride and my faith in—seeing that stripped away as you continually are involved in ministries and programs that you’re not necessarily good at; you have to learn how to do them. You really learn what it means to trust in God and to stop thinking about your own performance and start thinking about what he is doing through you. Even if you feel useless, you can see him powerfully at work in the people who you’re serving. I think some of those things were exacerbated by doing it part-time. But as I say, there’s a lot of other lessons in perseverance and longsuffering that I learned in a special way because I was also working.
KB: Yeah, it sounds like you learned a lot of very, very useful lessons for full-time ministry things, which will serve you in the long-term.
KB: As we take a break from our program, I want to draw your attention to a couple of upcoming events that are taking place at the college and via livestream.
The first is our May event—the second in our “Commanding the heart” series—and this one is on lust. Jesus raises the alarm when he warns us that adultery isn’t limited to sexual intercourse outside of marriage, but begins earlier in the lustful glance of the eye and in mental fantasies. Adultery isn’t just physical; it can be done in the heart. So great is the threat of a wandering eye or a straying hand that Jesus suggests losing a part of the body instead of facing the fire of hell. Kingdom righteousness demands more than physical abstinence from sex outside of marriage, but not less.
In view of such teaching, what kind of sexual conduct is becoming of a disciple of Jesus? Join us on Wednesday 4 May in person or via livestream as Dr Marshall Ballantine-Jones and Dani Treweek help us consider how to deal with lust in our hearts.
Marshall Ballantine-Jones is a researcher on the effects of sexualised media and social media behaviours, and has just completed his PhD on pornography, its impact on adolescents, and its connections to narcissism, social media and sexting.
Secondly, for those who heard Sydney Archdeacon for Women Kara Hartley speak at our March event on anger and are interested in hearing her again, she and Phil Colgan, who is the Senior Minister at St George North Anglican Church in Sydney, will be speaking on the thorny topic of “Men and women and church discipline” on Wednesday 1 June as part of the Priscilla & Aquila Centre evening seminar series.
Church discipline is a much-neglected topic in the modern church. However, the Scriptures suggest it is needed for the good of the church and because Christians are called to love people caught in sin. How do we apply the biblical principles of church discipline to the modern church? What can we do at earlier points to ensure that more drastic church discipline is not required? Furthermore, how does our understanding of the danger of abusing power imbalances change the process of discipline? Find out more about this event and register at the Priscilla & Aquila website.
The final thing I’d like to draw your attention to is the Moore College Student Support Fund, which helps to provide our students with additional support—particularly for living expenses during their time at college. Gifts $2 and over towards this purpose are tax deductible, and all funds raised are pooled and distributed to selected students based on budgeted needs in accordance with relevant guidelines determined by the college. To find out more and to make a donation towards the Student Support Fund, visit moore.edu.au/donate/.
Now let’s get back to our program.
KB: So when you finished the apprenticeship, what was the next step for you and Amy?
JC: So I did this part-time for two years and towards the end of those two years, of course, with my minister and with Amy, we had started to think seriously about what the next step would be. And since I still very much desired pastoral ministry, then I was going to have to study.
The problem or the roadblock with that is that, unfortunately, the Anglican college at home—and, sorry, I should include, over the course of these couple of years, I went from not knowing what an Anglican was to being “convictionally” Anglican [Laughter], simply because I will never be a champion for a particular denomination. I don’t have a national pride in that way. I don’t have a flag I want to fly. But I read The Thirty-Nine Articles. They are rock solid where the Bible is rock solid. I see them as leaving room where I feel the Bible leaves room, and ultimately I thought, “This is a document I can sign. If I’m going to conduct myself in ministry, this is an authority—biblically guided authority—that I am happy to sit under.”
So yes, as a convictional Anglican, I wanted to train in an Anglican college. But sadly down south in Dublin, the Anglican college is—well, it’s not Moore College; we’ll put it that way. I had heard many very spiritually difficult stories from people who’d studied there. You have multiple professors with a radically different worldview from what we’d call Christian, and for me, I had no interest in my time at college being something I had to survive, rather than enjoy—to get the most out of, to take the opportunities that were given me. And so, naturally, that led us to consider, well, we’re going to have to move somewhere else, then.
Our two options were to go to Oak Hill College in London, which is an excellent college. But the problem with that would be I would still have to come back to Ireland and I would still have to jump through some of the liberal church’s hoops [Laughter] in order to be ordained. Whereas, when we were presented with the idea of coming to Sydney—we have several people who’ve been out here and come back; our church has a strong relationship with several people out here—when we were presented with Sydney, I had never considered moving away. I’m a bit of a home bird; I’m just happy wherever I am. But the chance to study at a world-class college, the chance to see how God is working through his people in a totally different context at the other side of the world, and just all of the extra really helpful lessons and life experience that I knew God would provide for us through that led Amy and I to consider, “Well, why don’t we go?” It will be an adventure. It will have many of its own challenges, but here is a chance to take four years to really invest our lives in studying and growing and preparing for what, God-willing, will be a lifetime of serving him and his people.
So over a couple of years, all those details began to come together. God just flung open so many doors for us. It was a bit of a joke how easy it was, in hindsight, to go through the steps. Well, at this point, I should also mention my wife has a certain proclivity for admin, whereas I hate it. [Laughter] I absolutely detest everything to do with paperwork and forms and all of that stuff. Amy is very gifted in that way, and so I definitely married wisely. So with God’s providence and Amy’s admin-savvy attitude [Laughter], we got out here no problem, and I’m thoroughly glad we did at this halfway point in our time in Sydney.
KB: Yeah, wow, that’s a big thing, moving halfway across the world to a completely different country—English-speaking culture, but certainly a very different culture as well. So how did you manage to raise the support that you needed to come here?
JC: Yeah, well, naturally, there was a lot of support to be raised. But one thing Amy and I learned throughout this time [Laughter] is really that if you want something, it’s usually not that big a deal to work hard for it. From the time we were engaged, we knew that I was going to be studying, and so that would require money. So essentially from the second we got married, we started to budget hard. For our wedding, instead of having a gift list, we let everyone know, “These are our plans for the future, and if you’d like to help contribute towards that, please feel free to do so.” So instead of getting a ton of furniture [Laughter], people very generously contributed to our study fund. Like I say, we saved so hard: we barely ate or drank out ever. We would look for “reduced” stickers [Laughter] in the supermarket—anything that was on offer, anything that was on sale. We sold one our cars. We just cut a lot of costs.
But as I say that, to look at our lives—to look at the little apartment we had—you would not have looked at us and thought, “Oh wow, they’re really missing out. They’re making a huge sacrifice.” We wanted for nothing, and we had such a fulfilling first couple of years of marriage, scrimping and saving and [Laughter] budgeting and all of these things.
But in addition to our own saving, and, like I say, our wedding gifts, we have, I think—they’re sort of on a board behind me—we have about 30 or 40 people who are financially supporting us to be out here—mostly from our church back home. So we went through about a year’s process of meeting up with some friends, just giving them our vision of where we want to go, why we want to study, why we’re taking these extra steps to prepare for ministry—and, again, God just opened people’s eyes instantly. It was really wonderful to see. No one looks forward to support-raising—no one looks forward to meeting up to have conversations about money—but the response we received, the faith that people were willing to put in us in that respect, and say, “Yes, we’d love to help you go and do that”—just to see them understand this isn’t about supporting two people, so much as it is investing in the gospel in the future—in Northern Ireland or the Republic, wherever we end up. But people got that: this is gospel ministry we’re helping to support and prepare people for. We had so many people jump at the chance—even young Christians—people who’d become Christians in the last year—so Amy and I had spent some time doing one-to-one ministry with them. They were delighted to help, and that was beautiful: to see people really young in the faith, just taking their first steps, learning about Jesus, and they were delighted that they could help in some way—send us off. That was wonderful. Again, it was what we were least looking forward to—that part of support-raising—but it ended up being one of our biggest blessings, because the fact that people pray for us regularly—the fact that we can pray for them back home and that we have that partnership—we’re not just off on an island somewhere; people are thinking of us back home and supporting us—it’s really shown us God’s wisdom in building his church the way he has and fulfilling that function of building up and supporting one another. It’s just been wonderful.
So yes, our support-raising has been a mix of very hard saving and a little help from a few friends, and a couple of trust funds as well, which, as I say, God has brought together in the fullness of time to help us make ends meet.
KB: Yeah, it’s wonderful seeing that it’s not just you guys, as you say; you’ve got this whole team behind you, supporting you, lifting you up, caring for you, and they are your fellow workers, in a lot of ways, to help you do this thing, or, really, to help you do God’s work. That’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.
So you’ve just finished your second year. How have you found studying at Moore so far, and what have you found useful about it—provided it has been useful? [Laughter]
JC: Yeah, well I think as goes for everyone else, the last couple of years have been weird. We [Laughter] arrived in Australia just as the bush fires were finishing. The first thing I saw was a blood-red sun through the clouds, just as the bush fires were finishing up. We were here for a couple of months and then we went into our first lockdown. And then, of course, we came out for a while, and then we had second lockdown, which meant that our church and college life has been stop/start, stop/start, on/off weird.
But, again, very similar to, as I mentioned, with doing an apprenticeship at the same time as I was working, and that teaching me different lessons, I firmly believe that the COVID-framed college experience that I’ve had so far has taught me and Amy a lot of lessons that we wouldn’t have under normal circumstances. I mean, college is great: we have had a wonderful time here. It is, after so long—at this stage, it’s been about, what, 7-8 years since I’ve known I wanted to do ministry. So this has been a long time coming. Sometimes I just sit back in class and think, “I’ve waited so long to be here! This is what I was dreaming of for the longest time” and to just take that moment to be, “I’m just sitting in a room of likeminded people who love Jesus, who want to know him more deeply, with faithful faculty in front of me, passionate about teaching us God’s word and how to think through ministry”, and that has been, in a more mature way, it’s been a little bit of a repeat of that youth group experience I had—just being surrounded by sincere Christians: they love the Lord and they want to care for one another. That has been wonderful, and it’s been such an important context in which to study hard.
Because the thing is, Moore College being—you know, on the whole, quite academically rigorous: they want to strive for excellence, they take God’s word seriously, and they want to push you, and that is good. That’s why I came here. But whenever you are going to work so hard on an academic level—whenever you do have assignments that will require you to look at the Bible in a semi-scholarly fashion, it is so important to have real Christian community around you, because the easiest thing in the world can start to be to see your work with the Bible as a job, as a task to get done, as something that is going to get you the grades that you covet.
There are so many distractions, and people probably from the outset imagine that college is surely the best place to be a Christian: you’re opening your Bible every day. You have to. And that’s true, but that doesn’t bring passion with it—at least, not inherently. You have to invest in your spiritual life, because passively being at college will not do that for you, and it has been wonderful to go through some of those tough processes of being knee-deep in the doctrine of the Trinity and the head-melding complexity that there can be in that. But over time, as you make the conscious effort to see this head knowledge and sometimes this confusing learning that you’re going through—to see that turn into just a deeper, quiet confidence in the God you’re learning about. But I really want to stress that what you learn at college needs to go through, I guess, a sanctification process, and it needs to turn from the head to the heart, and that doesn’t come by itself.
I think, again, in the COVID era of lockdowns, it has been harder to do that in some respects. But it has also given us the opportunity to see God clearly at work in ways that we wouldn’t have otherwise, because, against so many more odds—against so many impossible odds, from a human perspective—we’ve seen him do wonderful things, bring us through leaps and bounds. We’ve seen him work through people in college who’ve had very difficult circumstances for other reasons. And yet he’s brought them through and they’re still with us. So it’s been hard in its own way, but, like I said before, the wonderful thing about having a big God who has plans for your good in all circumstances is that, give him time, and you will absolutely see him care for you through those times.
KB: Yeah. I love that, in a way, even now, you’re spotting some of the dangers that can come about in the Christian walk—that whole thing of that it can just be head knowledge—that it can be just an academic thing, rather than an all-of-life, practical, this-is-the-way-I-live-as-one-of-God’s-people sort of thing. That’s fantastic.
So what are you hoping to gain from the rest of your time at Moore, because you still have two years left?
JC: Yeah, well I think after the two years, I think you begin to really hit your stride. You’ve seen not just the college year, but the church that you will be involved in as a student minister. You’ve seen just a little bit of what the Sydney church scene is like, and I think I’ve been able to just get my head around that—feel comfortable—not have to think so hard about all the moving parts. I’m used to the rhythm of the year.
What I want to do now is really just keep refining a lot of the skills that I’ve learned so far. First year, there is a lot of information—a lot of new things to take on. Second year is kind of like developing the skillset to begin to use those things, because you begin to do your language exegeticals and begin to work with the knowledge you’ve built up. And then, from what I hear from students further on, third and fourth years are kind of like a refining process for those things that you’ve been learning. And so, now I feel like I’ve been given a lot of new tools to play with as I open the Bible, as I love God’s word, as I encounter him there, and I want to keep just chipping away at that in a way that teaches me to be precise, to be clear, to be careful, and to treat the Bible as those life-giving words of God that they are, and to grow in my faith—that this is no merely the instruction manual that is going to shape my life and shape my ministry, but there is truly fullness of joy in what God has for us. It’s that passion that I pray that I will be able to bring to whichever people I end up ministering to, God-willing, and that will keep sustaining me through it. So keep just getting better, keep putting off the old self, keep learning how to not be selfish—how to try and put other people first—and just all-around grow in godliness. If I’m able to do that over the next couple of years—preferably in person—that would be wonderful.
KB: Yes, definitely in person would be a lot better than doing classes on Microsoft Teams, I’m sure! Students and lecturers really appreciate that.
So what is the plan for when you finish college and what you hope to do, ministry-wise?
JC: Like I said, I still very much want to be involved in full-time pastoral ministry. We will be somewhere on the island of Ireland, because, like I say, we have a couple of trust funds supporting us on the basis that we come back and invest in the Anglican church in Ireland. So we’ll be somewhere back in the Emerald Isle. But after that, we’ll see what doors God opens for us. We are speaking with our minister. He is talking to various people who might be ready to take an assistant minister by the time that we would be finishing up. So we’ve got some things in the works.
KB: So will you have a choice of where you can go, or will that just be assigned to you?
JC: I think there should be a little bit of a choice. There’s certain logistics that I don’t even fully understand, but there could be a little bit of flexibility. Of course, if I wanted to do something like church planting, then you can be even more flexible. But because, back home, there is a very strong GAFCON presence, which—for those who don’t happen to know, GAFCON is Global Anglican Future Conference—of Anglicans coming together to remain rock-solid on God’s word in the face of increasing liberalism in various corners of the world. There’s a strong GAFCON presence and there is a strong liberal presence. So [Laughter] without saying too much, there could be some flexibility. We’ll see how things go.
But in five to ten years, I hope to be firmly rooted in a church somewhere, preaching God’s word, serving his people and continuing to grow. As for all the particulars, God has been really good at working those out so far, so I think I will continue to leave that to him [Laughter] and see where he leads us.
KB: Yeah, he knows best anyway, doesn’t he. So you did mention the liberal aspect of the church in Ireland. What do you anticipate will be other challenges for you in ministry?
JC: Other challenges? We’re very much like Australia, just perhaps not as far along. We are becoming increasingly secular in Ireland. In a lot of ways, that’s not a bad thing, because sometimes what is more dangerous from people who are disinterested or want nothing to do with God are people who think they’re in a good relationship with God, and they’re absolutely not. We have countless churches filled with pew-fillers, people who have just grown up going to church. I don’t know what they do for the sermon—probably blank out [Laughter] or something for half an hour every week—but we have plenty of people who are churched or culturally Christian, if you put it that way. Depending on whether you end up, you could have a lot of folks that way, and one challenge could be trying to lovingly rattle some cages to try and wake people up.
In other contexts, you may just find a very secular culture—people who think they know what the church is—think they know what we’re about—and are quite ambivalent towards us. So depending on where I end up, I am a city guy: I’ve got city sensibilities. I don’t think I am likely to end up in the middle of nowhere, out in the country, necessarily. So if it’s a big town—if it’s a big city—you will come with a lot trendy cultural views—whatever’s woke at the current time—whatever’s fashionable to believe, that is what people will say. But my hope in that, going forward, is that just as before I was a Christian, and I saw what it looked like to love one another as God’s people and to extend that love to people who are not yet in God’s family, my hope would be that whatever church I’m at, that we as God’s people can show that love to them and that whatever preconceptions, whatever issues they might have with God’s word and some of his commands for our lives, my hope will be that we can speak into that by our living as well as our preaching and our evangelism, and that that will be able to do some faithful work in whichever community we find ourselves.
KB: Yeah. Are there things that are personal challenges that you think you may have to contend with in the future, just in terms of the way that you undergo ministry or things that you find particularly hard about doing ministry?
JC: That’s a great question and I’m glad you’ve asked it. Though I spoke truthfully when I said that I had generally a happy childhood, I was a very shy, nervous kid—was very anxious. When I look back, I definitely had social anxiety of some description, though nothing was diagnosed. But there are a lot of situations—social situations—where, if I were put on the spot for one reason or another, that would be cripplingly painful, even if, externally, I could hold it together.
What I find going through ministry—I have no problem preaching or service leading or standing up in front of people and speaking; that’s not the issue. But what I do find in ministry is you are vulnerable very often: you’re putting yourself out there. You have to be exposed. We’re not super stars who come up in a puff of smoke on stage, do your routine and then disappear again. People know you and you will stuff up, you will fail a lot of times. I have found that hard, and that has been a constant ongoing process of learning to see the vision of what God’s word in the lives of people and how you can best work towards serving them. As you grow in that passion—as you see the bigger picture beyond yourself—you start caring a whole lot less about your performance. You stop caring about how you look or appear to people, and you stop asking, “How did I look in other people’s eyes?” and you start asking, “Have I been faithful to what God has asked me to do?”
Again, that’s been a wonderful, but hard lesson to learn, because most of what ministry involves, it’s not things that I would choose to do in my spare time, theoretically [Laughter]. If you’ve ever encountered those people who can stand at the front of church and say, “I just love public evangelism. I could just run out and talk to people about Jesus all the time”, I can thoroughly say that I have not and never will identify with those people [Laughter]. Not even remotely! The people who could just live at church, who want to be at every single Christian event, who—they’re just so keen for everything all the time.
My story and what God has done through me, and I hope this will be an encouragement to people, is that you do not need to be like them. Do not sit back and wait for God to give you this undying enthusiasm for everything involving people and every kind of social situation and circumstance you might find yourself in, because that is not reality for most of us. Like I say, for ministry—for me—it has been hard. But I find myself identifying, and I can’t remember the exact passage, but I find myself identifying with Jeremiah when he says, “I don’t necessarily want to preach, I don’t necessarily want to speak, but I can’t hold the words in” (Jer 20:7-9). I can’t not pursue ministry.
Before we came to Australia and I had changed to jobs to work as a head barista in a really trendy coffee shop, I was also our photographer and social media person. That was my dream job. [Laughter] I was like a full-time hipster [Laughter] for a year and a half. It was so fun. It was so good. These were a couple of my biggest hobbies. I loved the people I worked with. But I knew instinctively I could not do this forever. I couldn’t face myself in the mirror if I said, “You know what? I’m going to give up on ministry and pursue this career.” I just couldn’t do it. And it’s not because I think that ministry is the only sort of career path that Christians should be considering. But I knew for me, God had equipped me in my weakness to do other things and I couldn’t live with myself if I denied that.
Really, for me, that has been the constant defining factor in a lot of my growth: it’s not that I’ve wanted instinctively to do a lot of the things that ministry has had me do. It’s that I can’t do anything else. I couldn’t live with it. God’s call is there, and just that constant reminding me of his love for me—his love for his people—the need that exists—and it’s not a case of me asking myself, “Who am I that I can begin to step into that and give my life?” It’s more a question of “How can I not?” Who am I to say, “No” when I am of able body, mind, and my life is in reasonable order such that I can contribute?
I hope that is an encouragement for anyone considering ministry. If you’ve lots of hesitations, if you have a lot of things that you find hard that might give you anxiety, which would cause you to want to step back, I know the feeling [Laughter] and live in it regularly. But it’s been the most wonderful process to see God pull me through so much of that and things that I once considered, like I say, really anxiety-inducing, I now don’t think about any more. He will equip you.
There’s that old adage: I don’t necessarily agree with it a hundred per cent, but it’s something like “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called”. It’s a very broad-brush statement, but there’s some truth there: God will prepare you and grow you, and he will shape you into the individual he needs. We don’t need to look at what we assume are superstar pastors or all the qualities that we think you need in ministry, wherever you might be, and have to meet those standards, because God uses individuals and he made us all unique, and he will, in his wonderful ways, find a place and a way to use you if, indeed, ministry is something that he’s calling you do in your life.
KB: Yeah, that’s wonderful. Well, I feel like you’ve already answered this last question to a certain extent, but I might ask it anyway if you want to add anything. So what advice would you give to anyone considering ministry as a long-term career and theological study, particularly those who would have to move a great distance in order to undertake study?
JC: Yeah, well, for those who are considering moving far away, this roots out the first group of people I have in my mind—which is to say: do not be that guy or that girl who thinks, “Well, I’ve finished school or I’ve finished Uni. I don’t really know what I want to do, so maybe I’ll just do an apprenticeship for a year, or maybe I’ll just be a youth worker for a year.” I don’t know how prevalent that is here, but back home, I have known so many people who’ve gone into youth work for a time, and it’s basically like “I can put off being an adult for another year or so”. That is firstly a very low view of what it means to serve our youth. But secondly, it’s motivated by desires that say, well, the church is comfortable and I would kind of like to hang around here while I work out what I should really be doing [Laughter]. I would want to say, “Think very carefully about your motivations”. We have to answer to God for all of our decisions, and when it comes to ministry of any kind—whether it’s formal/informal, paid/unpaid—we can’t take that lightly. I would strongly encourage anyone to think carefully before you just fall into the ministry track, whatever that looks like.
But as for those who maybe are a little bit further along, who have been encouraged by older, wiser Christians that this is something they should seriously think about, I think back to, again, one of the famous Proverbs—like “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Prov 16:9). If you have prayed hard, if you’ve been encouraged by others and you think that even going long-distance—even making a huge lifestyle change—is worth it to pursue faithful ministry, pray about it and just go about your business. Start to make your plans. God will open doors for you if that is the right path.
And even on a less practical level—on an internal, emotional, spiritual level—expect doubts and hesitations. Don’t expect affirmation at every step of the way. Don’t expect yourself to feel like you’re always doing the right thing—that only because we know as Christians our sinfulness and the devil is a reality, we will be given those doubts. But also because it’s often those times that God will use to most thoroughly confirm you are where you should be and you’re on the right path. If we were never given these trials and challenges, the first thing we would do, much like Israel did throughout their history, is to become complacent and start to rely on our own strength. We don’t need God if everything is just laid out for us on a red carpet. We don’t give thanks to him naturally. We start to forget him. [Laughter] And so those trials and challenges, setbacks and internal questionings, if you persevere through those, often you will come out the other side with an even clearer conviction that, yes, this is the right work, this is the right path, and God has been faithful to me, and that gives you the encouragement to keep going.
So long-distance, whatever it is, it’s worth it. Yeah, it’s a bit of a hassle to make the transition. But once you’re there, you suddenly find yourself in the midst of family at the other side of the world, because all God’s people are his family, and it’s wonderful. “Home is where your family is” is certainly what we’ve found, and while we love our friends and family back home and we’re looking forward to hopefully seeing them soon, we’re not homesick constantly. We’re very thankful to be here. I thoroughly believe that God will meet all your needs in Christ Jesus, wherever you find yourself serving him.
KB: Thanks, Jordan! That’s really, really helpful. Thanks so much for joining us on the CCL podcast, and for sharing your story and your journey towards ministry, and all the different struggles and up and downs and things that God has been teaching you. I really, really appreciated it.
JC: No problem. It’s great to be here.
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