Back to the Beginning (2)

Following on from my previous post, I am still thinking of beginnings. This time it is in a different way.

I am in Wheaton, Illinois this week. I’m attending a Charles Simeon Trust workshop for people who teach the Bible. I am here as a participant as well as on behalf of Matthias Media. Vaughan Roberts, rector at St Ebbes in Oxford, is leading the workshop alongside Josh Moody, pastor of College Church.

To most, those are simple and basic facts of my whereabouts this week. To me, it is a wonderful confluence of circumstances that represent the genesis of Matthias Media in North America.

It was twelve years ago that I stepped foot into St Ebbes in Oxford on a Sunday morning. By the time I left that evening (I think I did leave for lunch) my life was turned upside down.

When I arrived that morning, I had never heard of expository preaching or of Matthias Media. That evening, I had in my bag an Interactive Bible Study on Titus and a set of expository sermons (on cassette!) that would launch a complete rethinking of the Bible, my life and ministry.

My new friend, Peter Sanlon was an undergraduate there at Wycliffe Hall and applying for a position on staff back at my home church in Ohio. So he was keen for me to get a glimpse of his world there in Oxford. A key part of his world was two young ministers, Vaughan Roberts and Tony Jones. Led by these men, this world was full of robust theological thinking, biblical theology, expository preaching and personal ministry.1

The remarkable part of the story is that I grew up in a solidly Christian home and church. I attended a conservative Christian college. I listened to well-known and faithful bible teachers on my commute to work. But, when I heard Vaughan and Tony give expositions on Revelation and Titus respectively, I knew that they were teaching and preaching the way it should be. No one told me this. I had yet to learn Dick Lucas’ text/framework instruction. I just knew. Call it intuition or, more accurately, the power of God’s Word preached in context and with vigor. Either way, it got my attention.

Now, that Bible study I came away with worked in almost exactly the same way. I had been through dozens of studies in church and at college. This one was different though. To me, it functioned as one of those new expository sermons I heard, only in print. It prompted me to work hard at observing the text, understand the context and respond in repentance and faith.

To keep it short and to the point, I will say that those two influences on my life—expository preaching and Matthias Media—grew over the next five years. So much so that when I was attending my first Simeon Trust Workshop in Wheaton in 2005, I sat at a restaurant over the dinner break and mused with some friends about getting Matthias Media into the United States. I knew that I couldn’t be the only person who needed a radical reorientation about life and ministry. Not everyone has access to top-notch expository preaching, but through the Matthias Media resources, every small group could. “We could think of it as expository ministry,” I told my friend.2 “Through the training up in it through the Matthias Media resources, perhaps there could be more expository preaching and ministry.”

This week, I get to listen again to Vaughan in person at the place where Matthias Media North America was first thought up. It is indeed humbling that the Lord has been kind in using those circumstances to be a blessing to thousands of churches and pastors around North America.

  1. It was no real surprise when Vaughan, years later, told me that he owes much of his thinking about preaching and ministry to Phillip Jensen. Further, Peter Sanlon was tremendously influenced by Phillip and many of the tapes he sent home with me from England were sermons by Phillip.
  2. I do realize that Phillip Jensen doesn’t like the term expository preaching. But I didn’t know that at the time. And, to be honest, his suggestion for its replacement term—explicatory preaching—hasn’t really caught on.

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