Tony is the Senior Pastor of Trinity Central Church in Lansdale PA, a Bible teaching, reformed non-denominational church, where he serves with four other pastors and a number of elders in the northern suburbs of Philadelphia. One of the TCC pastors, Jeff Pike a Canadian from Toronto, caught up for lunch with Tony to ask some big questions about ministry, our culture and the gospel.
I’m a Canadian, you’re a Brit, but we’re both in ministry in the US. How?
It’s called the sovereignty of God. And the mission of Christ. When he commissioned the disciples in Matthew 28, the reach of the gospel was to be global, and the nature of discipleship was to be international. It’s one of the most exciting aspects of the gospel this side of glory. You are a hockey loving Canadian. I am a rugby loving Brit. But though we are from different sides of the world we are brothers and partners united through union with Christ and his saving death. And because the gospel is good for the whole world, we are commissioned by the risen ascended Lord Jesus to preach it to the whole world. John Wesly understood this when he declared “the world is my parish”. There is no more urgent a mission than proclaiming Christ to a lost world.
How did you become a Christian?
- S. Lewis called himself the most reluctant convert in all English history. I think I might narrowly beat him! I was raised as a church going Anglican, at a traditional but fairly liberal church in the 70-80’s. By the age of 16 I had become a conviction atheist and was reading philosophy and aggressively arguing against Christians. When I got to university a small group of Christians prayed consistently for me and told me of Jesus saving death at the cross. I gradually became deeply convicted of my sin and that I deserved God’s eternal judgment. I turned to Christ in repentance and faith age 20. I vividly remember it. I was half-way through a land law essay (on D2 restrictive covenants), and I knelt at my bedside, and asked Christ into my life to save me as Lord. The walls of the room were yellow, and it was pouring with rain. But I instantly knew he had come into my heart, and that now, everything was different.
You were a lawyer. What cases do you remember? Do you regret leaving?
Yes, I started out as a barrister in London and loved it. In so many ways, it was what I always wanted to do, and I never really intended to leave. While my chambers’ our practice was mainly in the field of professional and medical negligence (horrible cases where babies were born brain damaged), and libel, we also practiced criminal law. One of my clients was one of the four defendants wanted for the Stephen Lawrence murder in South London 1993. That case was really our George Floyd moment, and a terrible and brutal murder which changed Britain. Various former friend of mine is now King’s Counsel, and some are becoming judges or went into Parliament. A part of me misses it, but the I left for ministry driven by the conviction of the urgency of the gospel. We have only one life to live and it’s soon gone. All that matters this side of death is the that the gospel is heard, and that sinners are saved. So no, I don’t regret leaving.
How do you understand ministry?
Phillip Jensen who led a large ministry in Sydney Australia summarizes the Biblical philosophy of ministry well when he said that we prayerfully teach those whom God has given us to love. The reason I love this mission statement is that it acknowledges the sovereignty of God in ministry (he has given us his people), and it highlights the relational aspect of ministry (we are called to a life of love and it acknowledges that the way the kingdom advances is through the prayerful proclamation of the word of the gospel. So, we are evangelicals because we are people of the evangel. The dynamic power of God is not located in us, but in the word of the gospel. Central to a healthy philosophy of ministry is the bringing God’s never changing word to bear on an ever-changing world, through clear expository preaching. But the preaching must be applied, because John Calvin made the point that “a sermon without application is not the word of God”.
What are the main challenges for pastors in today’s culture?
Chameleons are extraordinary reptiles. Beneath their skin are layers of cells filled with pigment—the substance that gives plants and animals (including you) color. To display a new color, their brain sends a message for these cells to get bigger or smaller. As this happens, pigments from different cells are released, and they mix with each other to create new skin tones. For instance, red and blue pigment may mix to make the chameleon look purple. But there are so many pastors like this. we live in an aggressive cancel culture, which will de-platform you if you say the wrong thing. So many pastors and churches are now seeking to blend in, so as to avoid persecution. This is done by virtue signalling and the temptation to self-preservation is immense. The famous vicar of Bray in the sixteenth century stands as the ultimate picture of compromise. He remained in post 1540 to 1588 during the reformation, and was a catholic under Henry the Eighth, a Protestant under Edward the Sixth, a Catholic again under Mary, before becoming a Protestant once more in the reign of Elizabeth in 1558. When he was challenged for having no principles and for being an inconstant turncoat he replied: ‘Not so neither; for if I changed my religion, I am sure I kept true to my principle, which is to live and die the Vicar of Bray.’ When the gospel is faithfully expounded, it brings with it the sharp division Jesus warned of in Matthew 10. But the crying need of our day is for pastors who will not flinch in loving God’s people, preaching the centrality of the cross, the sinfulness of sin, the imminence of judgment, the urgency of repentance, the cost of discipleship, and the glory of eternity.
How do you see the future of the church in America.
The church’s future is secure. Jesus has died to purchase his people and he will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail. But that’s not to say the visible church in America will succeed. The religion of today’s America is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The term was first introduced in the 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by the sociologist Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton. Since it was written, more and more twenty first century Americans have become followers of this new faith. They are deists because they assent to a savior who serves not lord who rules. And the shape of the salvation if therapeutic moralism. What modern day Americans want is to feel virtuous, and to feel happy. All this is a far cry from the Kingdom of Heaven, and the true gospel the shape of which is repentance and faith. In a culture when so many pastors seek to signal virtue, what we need are pastors to teach the holiness of God, the sinfulness of sin, the realities of heaven and hell. We need pastors not to stand with the culture to be accepted by it but to stand against the culture to save souls from it. In other words, when the Bible is faithfully taught, God’s voice is clearly heard.
I’ve seen how collaborative and patient you are pastorally, yet how clear you are in the pulpit. How do you combine this?
Martin Lloyd-Jones quoting John Vianney once said that “pastors should be a lion at the pulpit and a lamb in the confessional.” In other words, we should declare the word of God boldly and fearlessly but show great compassion, patience, gentleness and grace to the congregation in the pastoral struggles and pain. The reality is that we are all broken, and Jesus will not break the wounded reed or snuff out the smouldering wick. There is to be no place in the church for
You’ve been in ministry for 25 years, so what advice would you have for a younger pastor taking up ministry?
I don’t have any, but I outline what the Apostle Paul says which is preach the prayerfully word. I have learned the three ‘p’s’ of preaching, preparing and prayer and patience. We must preach the word, but we do so in prayerfully, patiently and in a way that prepares for suffering under the providential sovereignty of God. The great news is that in a world of gimmicks and spin, many people are hungry for truth for life and hope in darkness. So, preach the word! And prayerfully trust God as you patiently look to Him and prepare for suffering.