Church Planter - Barlanark, Scotland
After working as a mortgage broker for a couple years, Pete felt a strong call to full-time ministry. He served for six years as a youth minister in Barlanark, which is a scheme near Glasgow, and he is now planting a church in that same scheme, along with Pete Bell. Their church planting efforts are part of the ministry of 20Schemes, directed by Mez McConnel.
Testimony of Conversion
I was born in Newtownards, Northern Ireland, in 1986. My Mum was a Christian and so I was blessed to be taught the gospel from a young age as my mum and I attended an evangelical Presbyterian church. When I was 7 my Dad left and my Mum and him got divorced. In the subsequent years my mum met and married a Christian man called Derek who has been a massive influence on my life and faith. Looking back on my early childhood I can remember no time when I didn’t understand or believe the gospel but I can point to numerous different times when I felt a real need to repent of my sin and trust in Christ, particularly after the preaching of the word.
One instance that remains vivid in my mind was when I was young and was struggling to sleep at night for fear of facing eternity in hell. I was worried that I hadn’t ‘repented’ properly and was still unsaved. The Lord graciously caused me to be reading James 4:7 at this time and I read the words ‘Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.’ Through this verse God gave me assurance that I was his because of what Christ had done for me.
When I was 9 my Mum, stepdad and myself moved to Scotland and we started attending a local Brethren assembly. The Sunday afternoon ‘Sunday School’ played a big role in my life at that time. Here I was taught the the bible and the gospel was applied to my life. When I was a young teenager we then started attending a bigger Evangelical church in Strathaven and here I developed strong Christian friendships for the first time and saw the benefit of Christian fellowship with fellow young people and leaders in the ‘Youth Fellowship’.
For the majority of my teens, however, I led a ‘double life’. I acted like a Christian during the weekends but at school I struggled to put my faith into practice and acted like the rest of my non-Christian friends. I felt a strong conviction of this when I was 16 and wanted to be marked out as a Christian and so I got baptized in Strathaven Evangelical Church in order to publicly declare that Christ had saved me and was transforming me. Shortly after this I moved to a very small evangelical (ex-brethren) church in the village where I lived (Glassford Evangelical), and became heavily involved in the children’s and youth ministry.
After school I went to study Accounting and Finance at Strathclyde University whilst still living at home and attending Glassford church. During this time, I also became heavily involved with the work of Scripture Union Scotland and the Lord gave me a real passion to see disciples made of the young people I was given the privilege to work with. However, my previous tendency towards a double life also returned at university and I was starting to spend a lot of my time drinking, clubbing and being involved in activities I knew I shouldn’t be as a Christian. I felt a real tension in my life at this time and really struggled with the temptation of sin. Graciously the Lord brought me out of this season through the teaching at an SU camp that I was a leader at in the Summer of 2007. I had planned to go traveling for 6 weeks after camp and hoped this would be my last foray before I got right with the Lord again. But at this camp God clearly showed me that my justification and sanctification were (thankfully) in his hands as he spoke to me through the book of James and woke me up from my spiritual sleep. I then spent the 6 weeks traveling Europe being engrossed in my Bible, in prayer and in books that God used in an amazing way to continue his transformational work in me.
After that I worked as a Mortgage Broker for 2 years and during this time met my wonderful wife Lindsey. I had always felt that the Lord was leading me into ministry at some point, but 8 months before our wedding, in the midst of the financial crisis, we were crying out to God to lead us and he led us to a youth worker job in Barlanark Greyfriars Church. Being from an independent, evangelical and Baptist background I never thought I would end up working for the Church of Scotland, but the Lord has used this opportunity in amazing ways both for the progress of his Kingdom and in my (and my wife’s) own personal walk with him.
We have now been married for 6.5 years and have two awesome young boys, Joshua (2.5) and Micah (1). The Lord has been good to us and preserved us through many trials over the last 6 years. We would be nothing without the Lord Jesus. Even today we are acutely aware of our desperate need for him in every aspect of our lives. Left to ourselves we would be far from him and so we praise the one who has justified us, who is sanctifying us and who will glorify us with him forever.
Call to the Ministry
From a young age I remember having a real love for the gospel and a real burden to see others saved through it. My stepdad was (is) an excellent child evangelist and was also involved in street preaching and other outreach work for as long as I remember. Therefore, from a young age I felt a real desire to be involved in the mission of God in saving sinners from hell.
I was heavily involved in youth work as a young teenager and helped lead numerous children’s clubs and outreach events in my local church. As an older teenager I was given the opportunity to take a lead role in these and did much of the up front leading, speaking, and playing.
I am also a keen musician and during my teenage years I was heavily involved in a number of Christian bands mainly in a worship leading capacity. I remember being really keen to be singing songs with solid words and having a real love for both modern songs and older hymns. Through the band I was able to participate in many different church events in numerous different churches. I enjoyed playing guitar but from a young age I felt a real urge to speak at these events and proclaim the gospel.
During my late teens and early twenties I was also heavily involved in Scripture Union. I volunteered as a leader on more than 30 week and weekend camps over this period and loved spending time with a group of young people reading and explaining the Bible to them. As I matured I was given the opportunity to lead some of the evening sessions and again felt a real desire to press home the claims of the gospel at every opportunity.
As I was leaving school at 17 and needing to decide what to do in the future, I decided to go to university to study accounting and finance. Even at this stage I felt a real desire to serve God in some full time capacity, perhaps in youth work, but the time was not yet right for this. I continued my involvement in the worship bands, SU camps and children’s work of my local church. After graduating from university I applied for a number of high flying ‘Investment Management’ jobs, but kept falling just short. During this time I was convicted that the business world was not for me as I would be too tempted by the greed and extravagance of it. My stepdad employed me as a mortgage broker at this time under the proviso that I took one day a week to go to a local Bible college and take classes that would prepare me for future ministry.
A year after starting working for my stepdad, finances were really tight for the business due to the global financial crisis. This coincided with me meeting and later marrying my wife Lindsey. I had to find a job and once again did not know what to do. One night I was visiting Lindsey in Edinburgh and I happened to go on a Christian job search site and saw a job in the Church of Scotland in Barlanark, Glasgow. The job looked ideal, leading the youth project as they try and reach out with the good news of Jesus, but I had no idea where Barlanark was and had no experience of the Church of Scotland. The next morning, as I was praying on the motorway back from Edinburgh into work in Glasgow, I wasn’t paying attention and missed my turn off for the office. I had to take the next turn off and then double back on myself. When I took the next turn off I saw a sign for Barlanark pointing down the hill. This encouraged me to pray and apply for the job and I was offered the position which I started in January 2009.
The next 6 years were a roller-coaster of highs and lows. I was able to share the gospel with numerous children, young people and adults as well as get to know and work with some great people. I saw the Spirit draw people to Jesus. But I also struggled within a church with different convictions to myself on issues such as the gospel, the authority of the bible, discipleship and more. Yet despite these differences we really grew to love the people of the church.
Early on in my time working for the Church of Scotland I came to a real crossroads personally in my faith. I was interacting with nominal or liberal Christians at this point and started to really question parts of my faith that I had taken for granted from a young age. I was listening to both Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll at this stage and looking back I clearly could have gone down the Rob Bell emergent route. In fact, humanly speaking, this made the most natural sense because of the scene I was moving in. From a young age, however, God had given me a real desire to listen to and take his word seriously. Rob Bell clearly wasn’t reading the same Bible I was. Through listening to Driscoll I started listening to John Piper and John Piper blew my mind. Over the next months and years I read and listened to everything I could by Piper, Carson, Dever, Sproul (and many more). Through this the Lord gave me a real love and thankfulness for the ‘Doctrines of Grace’ and made me go much deeper in my search for what he was saying in his word. The Lord birthed in me a real love for theology during this period and I am indebted to him for it. He also gave me a real hunger for the Word and I started consuming the expositional preaching of John Piper and Alistair Begg in particular. Through this I was becoming convinced that the Lord was calling me into a preaching and teaching ministry amongst people who had never truly heard or understood the gospel. It is only by looking back from where I am now that I can see his providential purpose and care working through all that was happening in my life at this time.
The past 6 years in Barlanark have been good but tough and for a long time we were nearing spiritual breaking point. But again the Lord was gracious and provided our very close friends Pete and Cara to work alongside us in Barlanark. Particularly over the last 3 years (since meeting Mez and 20 Schemes) the Lord has again been waking us up and challenging us to be the type of whole-hearted and radical disciples we see in His Word. Verses like the great commission of Matthew 28 (‘Go and make disciples of all nations…’) and Jesus’s statement in Matthew 16 (‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’) continued to spur my desire for evangelism but grounded in the local church. For a long time this theological commitment to the local church kept us within the Church of Scotland. We were desperately hoping a good minister would come and move things forward or even that someone else would plant a church that we could be part of. Eventually we realized, however, that no one else was coming and that the Lord had placed us here with the desire to see his church built in our scheme. In many ways I am not a model church planter. I have no formal theological training. I have had no spiritual mentor for a long time. I have jumped about a few Brethren churches, none of which would have had any full-time staff or pastor. Yet through his grace the Lord continues to show that he will equip me for the task he has for me, so that he alone gets the glory.
And now we start out as church planters in Barlanark with excitement looking for the Lord to lead. Looking back on this story it brings home again the fact that if it were not for the grace of God, shown in the gospel and his constant leading I would be nowhere. I am so encouraged to know that it is the Lord who will build his church and yet he chooses to use messed up sinners like me to do it.