On Tuesday evening I watched a video of Nicky Gumbel. If you haven’t heard his name before, he is the man behind the Alpha Course. After the Pope and Billy Graham, Nicky Gumbel is possibly the most famous full time Christian alive today.
The video was made in 1999 and was the first in a series on Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, one of the books near the back of the Bible. It was filmed in Holy Trinity Church at Brompton in London. The church was packed. I know that this wasn’t just for the video; members of my church have been there and have had to queue to get in half an hour before the service.
Nicky Gumbel has been a wonderful teacher of the faith and has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The trouble is that I find watching him depressing! There are always hordes of people sitting absolutely intent on listening to every word he says. They are filled with enthusiasm for studying the Bible and fired by a great love for Jesus. We watched Nicky Gumbel in our fellowship group Tuesday night. There were six of us, two clergy, an evangelist, a lay reader, a clergy spouse – and a solitary lady who wasn’t part of the business of parish leadership.
I watch the videos and wonder where I go wrong. I am in my twentieth year in parish ministry and it gets harder each year. When there are people with enthusiasm in the area, they tend to go off to the livelier, evangelical churches, leaving people like me to struggle.
I bet Nicky Gumbel has never had to help run a fete to raise the money to pay himself; I bet Nicky Gumbel has never been part of a work party clearing the church grounds; I bet Nicky Gumbel has never had to photocopy the parish magazine. His world is very different from the one inhabited by sloggers like myself.
Would I change places with him? No.
One of the things I believe is that Jesus has a place in his heart for ordinary blokes and women who are never going to be inside Holy Trinity, Brompton or any of the evangelical churches. They matter to him as well as the enthusiastic crowds who fill the videos. Staying in touch with them is a struggle. It means staying in a lukewarm world, it means taking knocks and setbacks, and failing at most things you try – not because of a lack of faith, but because people still turn Jesus away, just as they did 2,000 years ago.
I am glad Nicky Gumbel is out there and I am thankful to God for all the lives his ministry has touched, but his world is not the world I know.