Over the last 10 years, it’s been an enormous privilege to serve the church here in the UK as the general director of the Evangelical Alliance (EA). When I arrived on 1 April (yes that really was my start date) in 2009, I did so with some trepidation, but also a deep conviction that it was God who had called me to this role.
As I look back on the last 10 years, I am deeply thankful to have had the opportunity to see first hand what God is doing through His church here in the UK. Despite rumours that the church in the UK is finished, I’ve discovered God’s people at work and doing some amazing things. I thank God for the food banks, the night shelters, the debt counselling, the Street Pastors and the work among the young, the old and pretty much everyone in between. I thank God that in 2019, people from all backgrounds are coming to a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The last 10 years carry so many highlights, but there is one that stands out and indeed was to have a profound impact on my life and ministry. The September 2010 EA council meeting was made up of around 80 senior leaders from across the spectrum of the evangelical world; women and men who were leaders of churches, heads of agencies and key influencers in the areas of business, politics, education and media. The EA council meets twice a year to discuss, feedback on and shape the work of the Evangelical Alliance, as well as to explore key issues influencing the Christian and indeed the wider world.
The focus of the 2010 council meeting was unity, but I was not prepared for what I now believe was a historic moment for the EA and perhaps the wider church in the UK. Early in the afternoon, the council was addressed by Bishop Wilton Powell of the Church of God of Prophecy and Pastor Agu Irukwu, Senior Pastor of Jesus House and leader of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in the UK (Pastor Agu is now also CTE’s Pentecostal President).
Their challenge to us was simple but profound; if we were serious about unity, it had to be a unity that crossed all ethnic expressions of the church and refused to accept any divides. Here was a call for unity in the midst of diversity, a unity as expressed in the great John 17 prayer of Jesus. As Bishop Wilton and Pastor Agu took their seats, the room fell silent in what could only be described as a God moment. The council responded to the challenge, kneeling together in prayer and calling out to God. There was a recognition that so much of our unity to this point, whether nationally or indeed in the context of local congregations, had overlooked the vibrant diversity of the UK church.
That moment proved to be the first step in a personal journey, but also one which had a significant impact on the Evangelical Alliance. Way back in 1846 when the EA came into existence, it was John 17 which motivated evangelical Christians to travel from across the UK and many different parts of the world to explore the formation of an Alliance. For the last 10 years, as the general director, I feel as if I have been ambushed by this prayer. Just hours before he will hang on the cross, Jesus is with his close friends. The crowds have gone, and he is praying for them. The prayer is simple yet enormously challenging. (John 17:23) “I in them and you in me that they might be brought to complete unity, then the world will know that you have sent me and love them even as you have loved me”.
Put simply, unity amongst God’s people is important because it’s on God’s agenda – it is vital to Him. It seems that this unity (oneness) He has called us to carries a missional imperative “Then the world will know”. This kind of unity is beyond doctrinal remit or mutual appreciation and love. It seems as we read the prayer of Jesus, we are called in some mysterious way to participate in the unity of the Godhead, out of which we discover our true identity and unity in love, in truth, in mission. It’s a unity that is impossible independent of God. We pursue this unity, not because of political correctness, demographic trends, church growth or missional success – we do so because it’s right. It’s in God’s word and it reflects God’s heart.
The last 10 years have seen me embarking upon an amazing journey of discovery, as I’ve developed some wonderful friendships with ethnic minority leaders across many traditions of the church. Rev Yemi Adedeji, a Nigerian leader, has become my friend and my guide on this journey. I’ve been blessed, encouraged and challenged as I have explored the church beyond my safe majority-white expression. I’ve had painful conversations where my own blind spots and insensitivities have been graciously exposed, and I have had to say sorry. As an Alliance, the formation of the One People Commission (OPC), with Rev Yemi as its director, was one of our early steps. The OPC has profoundly impacted virtually every area of the Alliance’s work.
As I step down from the general director’s role at the end of 2019, I’m so thankful for the privilege of exploring the unity which is on God’s heart, and particularly as expressed across all ethnic parts of the UK church.
Steve Clifford has been General Director of the Evangelical Alliance UK since April 2009, and steps down from the role this December 2019. He also previously chaired the Hope 08 campaign, the international youth festival Soul Survivor, and March for Jesus International.