Welcome, I’m Ruth Amos, and today I am talking to Pete. Pete is the senior pastor of our church, and he and his wife Lisa and their two teenage boys who are probably …
16 and 14
16 and 14 woohoo are good friends of ours. Obviously really good friends because I know the boys’ ages. All I know about them actually is that they are really tall, well Stephen is.
So one of my favourite memories of Pete I thought I’d start with is when he first started at church and he was up the front of church and he was talking. I think you were possibly giving announcements but you may have even been preaching. And Stephen (who is the older child) came running up to the front of church and sort of grabbed hold of Pete’s leg. And Pete just put his hand on his head, and kept going.
It was Good Friday.
It was Good Friday was it?
Yeah Good Friday, I remember it really clearly, and he stayed with me for ten, fifteen minutes. And yeah, it’s special for me too.
And everyone who had a family in the church just went, ‘Ah that’s great, that’s so great.’
So there’s a question in my list, a question I’ve always wanted to ask you Pete, so I’m very excited about it. I’m really looking forward to this interview.
So, first question, back at the beginning, how did you become a Christian?
Well, for me there was a moment in time. So, for a lot of people there’s a long journey, and for me there was a long journey too. When I was a very young kid I wanted to know how I got to be here. And I asked my parents, I said, ‘What happens when you die?’ and I tried to imagine not being me. And that was really scary. I didn’t like that. But my parents weren’t really able to respond to those things and so I guess I just thought about it and so on.
But as any normal teenager, I kind of rebelled against most things I knew and so it was actually when I went to university that I first met with people that read the Bible and I read the Bible for myself for the first time at university.
So it’s kind of one of those weird things where the Bible or Christian faith was in the ether, in the air you breathe to some degree when I was growing up. But I’d never actually, in my memory at least, ever actually read the Bible for myself.
Where in the Bible did you start?
So pretty much that first year of uni was Mark’s gospel. So for me, I just read through Mark’s gospel with some friends, and we worked our way through it and for me I just found the person of Jesus compelling. I didn’t know at the end of that what his death on the cross meant, I couldn’t tell you the meaning of the resurrection, I didn’t actually know he was going to come back. So my theology was pretty … you know … According to the standards today I think well, I was probably pretty light on, but I knew Jesus was the person I needed to follow for the rest of my life and that’s where it all began.
And was that, when you say a group of friends, was that because of a Christian group or a Christian outreach?
Yeah there was a Christian group on campus and my sister was friends with some of them, and truth be told, there were some pretty girls there, and they may have had some influence on the situation. But God uses all those things, doesn’t he?
But I was a joker, so I made jokes when we were doing the study, but I was listening. So I really did want to know. And there was one guy in particular who, after every time we met, would take me to have a coffee together. And he just shared stuff in his life. I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve got to think a bit more about that.’ So he was pretty open with his life and was open about what God was doing in his life and teaching him. And that both freaked me out, and also really interested me, intrigued me, and I wanted to know more.
So did you have an altar call experience?
So I just found myself, I came from not believing, not following, to following almost overnight. And I can’t put it down to an exact date but just suddenly, everything just clicked. So I started reading the Bible, I read the Bible like ten chapters a day, and I wanted to know all these questions. So I wanted to know who are the twelve disciples? What are their names? How come their names are different in different gospels? What did they do? I mean, I don’t think anyone in the history of humanity has ever needed to know the answers to those questions, but for me, I did.
They were really weird questions. I just wanted to know. Because I wanted to make sure that what I was believing was actually based in fact and truth and history and all those things.
So you were doing a maths degree?
So I did a science degree and I went to university to do computer science. I thought computer science was it. Went and did first year, hated computer science. So I guess I just fell back on maths because I’d enjoyed maths going through school. So I did physics, maths, a bit of computer science (and I dropped computer science as soon as I could) and ended up doing honours in applied maths, meteorology, and astrophysics. It was just the sort of thing I enjoyed.
Anyone out there who thinks maths is boring, it basically is until third year uni. So you may have a long way to go but by that time it actually gets interesting.
OK, depending on who you are because my husband did maths until third year uni and then went. ‘Nope, done’. But then, he’s into computer science, so. Different brain, obviously.
Yeah for sure.
So how did you come from a science degree with a maths major and physics to being a pastor?
That’s the question, by the way, that’s the one I’ve always wanted to know. How do you come from science to pastor?
For me, I think I will always see myself, whether that’s legit or not, I will always see myself as a scientist, or a science background. It’s not so much I know this about the world, or I know that factor or that formula or whatever, but I think it’s a way of thinking. So I think that’s the best thing that I’ve learned that you don’t just accept things, you’ve got to think through, you’ve got to observe things, you’ve got to experiment, that scientific method I suppose. Test and approve and make sure.
So I think I carry that through, just in my life in general. And I actually think that’s helpful for Christian faith. It’s fair enough once you’ve become a Christian and you believe these things about God, it’s fine to believe those things, but when things really go wrong in your life, when the wheels fall off in your life, or in someone else’s then yes you want some deeper answers than simply, ‘well, I believe it’.
You actually need to know why you believe it. And for me, I needed to know for sure various things. I need to have some way of reconciling my Christian faith with my understanding of how the world works.
Now I’m not a biologist, I’m not a chemist, so some of the more biological questions I’ve only thought about more recently, but in terms of cosmology, and the beginning of the universe, those things, they were the things I had to deal with in the first instance to be able to be a credible Christian.
So there was a lecturer at uni who was in the physics department, a Christian, and he did a lecture called ‘God and Space-time’ and for me that was a really cool lunch time lecture to hear and to start thinking through how those two things are connected.
I guess I hope that in my pastoring that for people who come in who have apologetic type questions like, is the Bible true? Can you trust it? Can we be sure the New Testament documents are similar if not the same as what we have now, any transmission errors all those sorts of things? As well as obviously the big things of evolution, the big bang, all those sorts of issues that come up. Miracles, does God answer prayer, how does that work? I want to be able to have some sort of response to those things.
And we’d all love those answers right now but this is not a long enough podcast.
No worries. I’ll just say this one thing. I think when Christians come from a scientific background it’s easy for them to become a little too dogmatic about things. I guess in the church that we’re part of there are people with quite a range of different views and I’m actually OK with that. So there’s only one truth of how God did his thing and how it works, but there’s actually a range of views which still honour God. Only one is right but I’m happy in that diversity.
So I try not to be really dogmatic on those sorts of things because over time I’ve adjusted some of my views. And I hope there’s room for people with that sort of diversity of views there.
And I’m thinking, we’re doing a sermon series on 1 John at the moment and the way you’re talking makes me think John must have been a scientist as well, because that’s how he attacks it too. What we’ve seen with our eyes, touched with our hands, and yeah.
So just in terms of time scale and things, you finished off your undergrad degree, did you go straight into theology?
So I had three years where I did a range of different things. I guess I was fortunate because my dad was a lecturer in maths, a professor in maths, so that meant I had an easy entrance to do stuff, so I did some stuff others might have struggled to do just because I knew people and so on, I’d worked there before. So I did a range of stuff including some engineering tutorials, so I went straight back into academia doing that. I did some bridging courses over summer for, the majority of them were middle aged ladies who needed some maths to get into a uni course. And I loved that, I loved doing that. I wrote a couple of stats computer packages just to help nurses in particular do analysis of variance. I did some computer modelling in the Tamar valley, I failed miserably but …
I did a range of tutoring, like lecturing I suppose and I did that for about three years. Really loved that. But I was involved in helping out a Christian group at the same time as well. It was a very very busy time in my life, a hugely busy time, I’d just got married so it was fairly crazy.
And then, because of your involvement in the Christian group you decided to –
Yeah so after three years I decided I didn’t know anything else, I’d taught everything I knew. and I thought I’d better know something else. So I went to college because I really wanted to grow and learn and I’d given God four years in a science degree and I thought I’m still young I may as well just do some study. And I didn’t really have any sense of what I would do at the end, other than I wouldn’t get ordained. That’s the only thing I was sure about.
But it was just an opportunity to learn more and so on. Just part of the college community, it was really great. I didn’t do any formal ministry with the youth or anything for one year. I just cut all my ties in terms of responsibilities which was probably really good because I’d done a science degree and now I had to write essays and I had very few ideas about how you write an essay. So that was a learning time for me and then second year and third year and so on I took on other responsibilities in terms of the youth and young adults and so on which was great.
So why did you take the plunge and become ordained?
Yeah, it’s the million dollar question. I think for me there is always a reality check when you get near the end of a degree. And so there’s this reality, actually, I’m loving what I’m learning, and I want to be able to be useful for God, what does that look like?
And I guess I’ve never said, ‘God I’m not willing to do this’. I’ve never said I don’t want to be an overseas missionary. I’ve always been happy to do whatever he calls me to do, within reason. But as I researched the various things, it seemed to me that being involved in a local church was primary in God’s economy and that para-church was secondary.
Now, I don’t want anyone to get me wrong here. It doesn’t mean that para-church is less important. I’m not saying that at all. But I think that it’s only when local churches are strong that para-church ministries are able to exist and thrive. And what I was observing more and more was that all the best people were going para-church. All the dynamic young creative flexible, like, they were all going para-church and the church was left with old fuddy-duddies who didn’t know what they were doing. And I was challenged, really challenged by that because I wanted both to thrive. And so I thought maybe I should be thinking of being a pastor.
So then I went through the various denominations and tried to see what I wanted to do. I guess my theology was more on the charismatic end so I looked at various charismatic and Pentecostal churches but I found that there was at least one thing on the doctrinal basis that I was not able to agree to. And even if they didn’t actually believe it it was on the doctrinal basis. And so I found myself more and more going down the Anglican path. And I became an Anglican the week before my ordination.
I love that. I’ve told people that before – he wasn’t even an Anglican until just before he was ordained. It’s amazing. Well, I have to say I’m very grateful that you’ve become an Anglican and pastor our church.
What does Christianity look like in your daily life?
Look, it’s a great question. I think for me being a Christian is about that daily walk. So it means that whatever I do, and this is whether I was pastoring, or doing anything, that it’s got to be about Jesus. So at the end of Colossians, Colossians 3:17 it says, ‘whatever you do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the father through him.’ And I reckon for me that’s kind of like a summary of what I’m trying to do.
It doesn’t really matter if I’m on holidays or pastoring, whatever it is, that’s what I’m trying to do. Life’s about Jesus and about honouring Jesus and serving Jesus. I guess looking for opportunities to serve him with whatever you’re doing.
And I think ultimately if I do that well and every member of our church does that well, that changes the world.
I’ve never been particularly flash on programs or methods or 1, 2, 3 steps, because it seems a little artificial for me. It’s just that daily walk with Jesus and trying to encourage people to do that.
And I think some people need a kick up the backside. I do. But most people need encouragement, really. So I just try to be an encourager to people to work out what’s stopping them from progressing and moving them forward.
How important (this is not a question I had in my list) I often ask people, ‘are you a get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and spend an hour reading the word and meditating and praying?’ and I haven’t had many positive responses.
Yeah right, I could say 2.30 but I would be lying. Look, I do like praying with others. I find that, I love praying just with the Lord, but it is good to pray with others. Traditionally once our 5am prayer meeting started I used to go twice a week. More recently, it’s been once a week. But I do love going along because I get the time to just pray by myself and then pray with others and it’s just an encouragement.
That’s true, every week day at 5am isn’t it?
Monday, Wednesday, Friday 5am at church.
We have prayer here at the church. You can tell how often I’ve been to that.
Well I do find that it changes my day, it really does, and it’s a discipline because you can’t just say, ‘OK it’s coffee time’. Because there are other people, and they are praying, and you’ve got to engage. So I do find that really helpful.
I probably prefer walking, I don’t really like just sitting in a couch praying because I find that’s more difficult. But I can read, read the Bible, but when I’m praying I do like to walk. I find my mind works a lot better when I’m active.
So when do you feel closest to God?
I think probably two times. Two sorts of times. One is when I’ve just had a really, really massive time of prayer, prayer and fasting, whatever, and I always think to myself, ‘why didn’t you do that yesterday?’. You know? It’s just stupid.
When Francis Chan was asked, ‘Why don’t you fast more?’ he says, ‘Because I love sushi’. In other words, there’s no good reason. There’s zero good reason. I had the privilege of praying with a couple of people a few weeks ago for quite a number of hours together and it was such a brilliant time. It was full-on but it was so good. And I think that close connection with God, that’s where it’s up to.
Secondly, I think I feel really close to God when I see him at work in other people and I just go, ‘God you’ve got your footprints, your fingerprints all over that’.
Depending on whether he’s touching them for healing, or booting them up the backside.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, either way.
God’s timing is, I mean, not all of the miracles of the Bible are miracles of timing, but as I’ve gone on I’ve realised that an awful lot are. And it doesn’t make it any less miraculous but God’s timing is always perfect, isn’t it?
And it’s taken me a long time to realise it’s my time that’s wrong, not his, but we’re working on that one.
And as you go through life with your eyes open you just see him at work and realise that he’s got his hand on everything.
Absolutely. When I was with the group in India two weeks ago, we met this young woman who was not sure about whether she was supposed to do the training or not. Because there was some conflict, her father had said no, and she wanted to honour him. And so she entered into a forty day fast.
That’s hard for me to grasp, you know? And yeah I know that there are people in this church that have done that. So I get great inspiration when I hear testimony stories like that and I think, ‘Well, that’s … yes, more of that’.
What’s one thing about God or Christianity that you wish everyone knew?
Look at the risk of repeating what others may have said in this podcast before, it has to be grace. I just wish that people realised that it wasn’t, Christianity was not about this set of rules that you had to obey to get the tick from God. And I think that’s how most of us think. It’s just part of our nature.
I was coming home in a plane a couple of weeks ago and there was a young guy next to me, an Aussie, and an Italian girl from Milan. She had good fashion sense as you might imagine. And we got talking, they asked me about myself, I talked about what I did. And they asked me how to become a Christian and so on and it was just a great conversation. I just tried to communicate to them this grace because I’m not sure that growing up in Italy, or even growing up here in Australia that people really get that. It’s so alien.
We always work for everything, don’t we? You know, if you want money you’ve got to work, you’ve got to write a book, you’ve got to do something don’t you? Nothing comes for free.
And I just wish that people realised that God just loves us so much that he wants us to know him and so he gives us this free gift. Because we can’t earn it, we can’t buy it. But he just so wants us to receive it. We’ve got to receive it.
Thank you very much for talking.
You’re welcome, thank you.