My mentor of 25 years went home yesterday…
I stood on a balcony at a coffee shop in Atlanta crying like a baby after receiving the news from Wales.
When I was 19 years old, I ventured to Wales, the land of my Fathers with a backpack and a mountain bike. I deep dove into that country for 6 weeks, before cell phones, traveled hundreds of miles by bike, train, and truck. As I traveled the length and breadth of that great nation, I hosteled, slept outside, and stayed with families. Most importantly, I learned about revival.
I returned home, and drove to the girl I had a major crush on, now my wife, Andrea. While at her house, her brother told me that a speaker from Wales “who took over for Lloyd-Jones” would be at his Men’s study in Aliso Viejo on Saturday morning. As he said it he was laughing. There was a catch. The Men’s study met at 6am. Having wicked jet lag from a transcontinental flight, knowing I’d need an hour, and assuming this was a practical joke, I decided to chance it and go anyway.
It’s funny how our lives are often hinged upon a minute decision.
That morning I heard something that changed the trajectory of my life forever.
I heard spirit-empowered preaching.
Perhaps I’d heard it before, but the sheer amount of power that was coming off of this short, older gentleman was out of proportion. He expounded Romans 5 and it became a living thing. His word had force, and power, and like Jesus “he taught as one who had authority, not as the scribes and pharisees.”His name was Peter Jeffery, and he would become a mentor, friend, and the greatest champion of my ministry.
I was 20 years old, and had been preaching since I was 15 in my youth group, but that morning I hung my head and confessed to God, “I don’t know what I’ve been saying from the pulpit until now, but it isn’t preaching…God help me.”
The next Sunday morning he preached, and instead of preaching the same sermon three times, he preached three separate sermons. Then, Sunday night, he preached a sermon so powerful that instead of people getting up buzzing like bees after the final post-sermon worship song, people sat in their chairs stunned, as if smacked upside the head by some invisible force. God was in the house, and everyone could feel it. He preached expositionally, and he preached 30 minutes.
I approached him and asked him about Wales. “Wales is dead, mun. Deader than a doornail.” He was blunt, but kind and approachable. Over the next few years, I’d develop a friendship with Peter through writing letters. I still remember the shock of receiving a response from him. It has forever shaped the way that I respond to anyone who needs help, advice, or counsel. Peter never got so big that he forgot who he was. He would quickly become the person I could turn to for counsel. Unfortunately it was always right, and I would rarely listen. Years later, after moving to Wales, I would remark to my wife “From now on, if Pete tells me something, and I insist I know better, please smack me and remind me of this moment.” Pete loved me, and saw himself in me, therefore he was never afraid to rebuke me. And I needed it…often. But I also never had such a great encourager. Every single Monday morning when I began preaching regularly in Wales, I would receive a phone call from him asking “How did it go yesterday?” This would continue for 12 years, for as long as I remained in Wales.
During our correspondence from the age of 20 to 25, he helped me navigate being an assistant pastor, interim pastor of a megachurch, and preparing to minister in Wales. When Andrea and I arrived in Wales, he’d already approached Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s legendary church, Sandfields, and asked them to induct me as their evangelist. He stuck his neck out for me as a preacher, phoning churches and telling them they should let this young American preach for them. He even sent me in his place when he was too ill to make it somewhere. Sometimes I wondered if he’d simply bowed out, to make opportunity for me. Imagine showing up in the place of one of the greatest living preachers. That was nothing compared to when he was sitting in the audience. Although he was cheering me on, I felt an enormous weight when he was listening. I learned to imagine that Jesus was sitting right next to him listening, and that made me forget what Pete thought. Despite that, he always encouraged me, gave me pointers, and taught me valuable lessons about preaching. He would repeatedly tell me that he felt I should be in a big church somewhere, using my gift, but understood my passion to reach lost people and work in smaller circles.
Lost people were also his passion. He was a gospel preacher extraordinaire. He experienced a local revival in Rugby, England for a period of 2 years, where someone professed faith every single Sunday. Pete had returned from a minister’s conference impressed and convicted about the church’s lack of evangelism. He approached his congregation and told them that they needed to stop doing nothing, and just do something. They engaged in evangelism, and although nobody came to faith through their efforts, the Spirit began to move, resulting in the church exploding through a chain of miraculous convergence. I wrote about it in my latest book, Reaching The Unreached: Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art.
The huge amount of conversions that Pete saw there became an excuse for him to write books for new believers. He was shocked to find so few had actually been written for people new to the faith. He wrote such masterpieces as Christian, Start Here, The Christian Handbook, Bite-Size Theology, and The Young Spurgeon. The first writing I ever tried my hand at was in 2000 whenPete invited me to write about figures in church history. The publishers refused my writing, maintaining that our writing style was too different. It wouldn’t be the last time that I would hear something like that regarding my writing. Nevertheless, he slipped a few chapters I’d written on into a book on preaching with he and John MacArthur in 2016 called Gospel Preaching. It remains one of my greatest personal honors.
Peter bemoaned the thought that so few young men could preach. They could lecture, as they mimicked their seminary professors. Many of them, he felt were talking, but not truly preaching. Preaching was to Peter, a spiritual gift that was very different from public speaking. There was power in preaching. A man became utterly out of his depth when preaching, and was wholly reliant upon God to move in the hearts of men. Therefore, although a man prepared in the study, anything might happen in the pulpit. When preaching at Rugby, one of the elders told me that Peter used to run from the prayer room up the steps to the pulpit because he was bursting with the excitement of what might happen that morning. Who wouldn’t after two years straight of conversions?
Peter’s journey to Christ started as a young man, when he went on a gathering with a group of young people. Lorna, his wife had caught his eye, and during a conversation about Christ, he emphatically claimed, “I will NEVER become a Christian!” Before the sun had set, Peter had professed faith. Before entering the ministry, he worked as a prison guard, and understood people at their lowest points. He and Lorna went through the heartbreak of losing a baby at a young age, and he learned what it was to be broken. During this time, Peter felt a call to give his life to serving God. He had the fortune of being personally discipled by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, with a score of other men, and was considered his protege before taking Sandfields as the Pastor. In addition, Peter was an avid John Wayne fan, an admirer of Spurgeon, and a connoisseur of fine British cookies, particularly Jaffa Cakes.
I will remain grateful for Peter’s life and legacy, and in particular, his emphasis upon my own. It is hard to measure the impact that one man can have on another, but nothing that has happened to me in the past twenty years would have come to be apart from him. I consider him a Paul to my Timothy. Much of who God has shaped me to be has come through his influence and mentorship.
I was honored by his mentorship, and humbled by his friendship.
Hwyl Fawr are aptly the words that come to mind, for they are the words that one Welshman says to another to say “see you soon”. The literal translation is “May a great portion of Spirit be upon you”
…for there was.
You can listen to an interview that I gave Peter in 2010. I consider it the greatest interview I’ve ever given. It was given with love, awe, and a deep respect for the workings of God. It is a rare interview of a man who saw incredible things, and yet remained humble, unsure that he completely understood the mysterious workings of God.