It was a chilly and rainy Saturday evening in the middle of 1984. I was living in Geraldton, Western Australia, where I hosted the breakfast show on the local radio station 6GE. I’d recommitted my life to Jesus five years previously.
It was my habit in those days to read the entire Bible every year and I was up to the Book of Ezekiel. While sitting in my bedroom, I began reading Ezekiel chapter 34 which contrasts true and false shepherds.
At that time, I was part of a small Pentecostal church in town. The people were lovely, but the pastor was an evangelist. I’ve learned that evangelists make great evangelists but lousy pastors and that was indeed my experience in that church. Our “pastor” preached the Gospel and lots of people got saved, but when it came to caring for the flock, he was often harsh and legalistic. I’d been at the brunt of this on some occasions and so had my friends, many of whom had moved on to other churches. As I read this chapter in Ezekiel, the tears began to flow, and I entered into an astounding but gut-wrenching time of intercessory prayer asking God to raise up true shepherds in His church.
The prophecy in Ezekiel 34 outlines God’s desire to find a true shepherd for His people, but there was no one suitable so God decided that He would do the job Himself (which He accomplished in Jesus, the Good Shepherd, v. 23; cf. John 10:11, John 10:14-16). As a result of the finished work of Jesus, God now shepherds His people through the pastors and leaders He places in the local church. Those called to this ministry must take it very seriously. God describes His people as precious, valuable and priceless, so we must love them and lead them well.
In this prophecy Ezekiel outlines the qualities of a true shepherd – they take care of the flock, not just themselves, ministering for the benefit of God’s sheep. A true shepherd fulfils the responsibilities of the ministry (in concert with all God’s people): they strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays and lead the people gently.
Under this kind of leadership God’s people feel safe, “There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture” (Ezekiel 34:14). Phillip Keller, once a shepherd himself, in his book A shepherd looks at Psalm 23 relates that “the strange thing about sheep is that, because of their very makeup, it is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down unless they are free from fear.”
The false shepherd has the opposite effect on God’s people and eventually scatters the sheep which is what happened to the church in Geraldton the following year when almost the entire congregation left. The hurt and pain from this were immense.
So here I was, crying out to God with tears and prayer, not thinking for one minute that God would use me as part of the answer to my prayer.
At this time our pastor has taken a sabbatical and while he and his family were away, he left the church in the hands of a delightful 83-year-old Welsh pastor, Edwin Thomas, who had become a Christian as a young man in the flow on effect of the 1904-05 Welsh Revival. He was a godly, loving, caring man who expounded the Scriptures for an hour at a time and we were all sorry when he’d finished. I was one of the worship leaders in the church (no, I’m not kidding) and had gone to the church offices to prepare for the following Sunday (i.e., to pick out the overhead transparencies for the songs I would lead).
When Pastor Thomas saw me, he told me that he’d been praying for me and that God had shown him that I was called to be a pastor. He recommended a Bible College to me and with his encouragement, I applied straight away and was accepted. The rest is history. I studied ministry and theology fulltime for three years (1985-87) during which time I also helped to pioneer a church in the western suburbs of Sydney. This church was an outreach from a relatively new church called Hills Christian Life Centre. It’s now called Hillsong Church (maybe you’ve heard of it).
From there I came to Melbourne (30 years ago this year) to join the staff of a church as a part-time assistant pastor. I also went back into radio enjoying 15 fruitful years at 3MP followed by over a decade with Melbourne’s Christian radio station Light FM. In March 1992 I pioneered Bayside Church with a small group of people, and I’m still enjoying leading this marvellous community of believers 26 years later.
I don’t pretend to be perfect, and I’m not saying that I’ve always got it right. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but I continually strive to treat people with kindness and grace. I am so grateful to God for calling me to be a pastor and for the privilege and honour it is to serve Him and His people.