Stephen, you led the RPMT to Scotland this year – what was it like?
I led the RPMT to Airdrie back in 2009, but this team was totally different. This year we had the opportunity to serve in all five of the churches in the Scottish Presbytery instead of just in Airdrie. Although it was different not being in Airdrie, I was really pleased to meet people in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stornoway, and Stranraer that I had never met before. The team got to see how God is building His church in Scotland, which for me was the high point.
The team took part in various things. One of the most eye-opening was the presentations in Craigroyston School in Edinburgh. On asking the children from Pilton and Muirhouse if they had ever met a Christian before, most said no. To think that Edinburgh used to be the city of John Knox is fairly sad. On the other hand, it is good to get to know where people in Scotland are at so that we can communicate with them more effectively.
Some of the best aspects of the team’s work are the times spent in Bible study, prayer, and praise. In fact this becomes part of daily team life. The team that we had this year made these sessions all the more enjoyable.
You grew up in the Irish RP Church. How did you come to be studying for the ministry at the RP Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh?
First of all, God gave me the desire to study for the ministry. This came about through a number of different circumstances, such as Scripture passages, my upbringing, books I had read, and mission teams, but all culminated in my time spent in Airdrie. I came across from Northern Ireland to study Chemistry at the University of Glasgow. I had already decided before I moved that I would attend Airdrie RPC. God blessed the three years that I spent in Airdrie. Whilst those were not the easiest of years for the church, God taught me several very key lessons, particularly how essential it is that there are preachers to take forth the Gospel.
Another important part of the church in Airdrie is praying for the wider church. Every week for my three years here we prayed for a part of every RP Church in the world, including the American RP Church. I got to hear a lot about it and meet a lot of people from there. For these reasons I chose to go on some RP Mission Teams in America in 2010, and actually ended up going back the following year. It was on one such team that I was encouraged to go to the RP Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh. Some kind people from America made it financially possible for me to study there, and the church I now belong to in Beaver Falls gave me free accommodation. All these doors opened up to me as the doors were closing for teaching Chemistry, for which I am now very glad.
As a student for the ministry what do you see as being the key elements of the calling?
Without a doubt, the two key elements of the minister’s calling are preaching and prayer. In the early church a problem quickly arose that threatened the apostles ability to continue full time in the ministry of preaching and prayer. This problem, found in Acts 6, may seem like it was a small one, but I believe that it had the potential to destroy the church. With the creation of the office of deacon the apostles would not be hindered in the work to which they had been called: preaching and prayer.
Since most churches nowadays have deacons, the problem of Acts 6 may no longer seem an issue. Nevertheless, in the modern church we see time and time again that the minister faces the temptation to spend less time in preaching and prayer. The reason why this is such a temptation is because these elements are key for the growth of the church. Perhaps the temptation is in the form of spending less time in the study preparing for the sermon, perhaps it’s a lukewarmness or a lack of prayer for conversions, or perhaps it is the loss of confidence that God uses His Word, particularly as it is preached by His men.
Since I am studying for the ministry, I believe that these are the two elements that I should focus on, that I might become one who labours in the work of preaching and prayer.