Interview with Bishop Glenn Lyons of South Africa

The history of fellowship between the Australian Church Record and REACH-SA (formerly the Church of England in South Africa) stretches a long way back.  When the ACR publicly supported the installation of Bishop Fred Morris as the first Presiding Bishop of REACH-SA, our South African brothers and sisters responded by writing: ‘We place on record sincere appreciation of the warm-hearted support that we have enjoyed from … the Australian Church Record.(Church News, November 1955).  In the context of that special bond of fellowship, Mark Earngey was pleased to recently interview Glenn Lyons, the current Presiding Bishop of REACH-SA.

Glenn, can you start by telling us a little about yourself?  How did you come to know the Lord, and how did you enter into Christian ministry?

I grew up in Cape Town, in a home of mixed religious backgrounds (Roman Catholic; Presbyterian; Jewish) but never clearly heard the gospel until my early 20’s while attending pre-marriage classes with my fiancé (Sandy) at St. James in Cape Town.  Under the preaching of Frank Retief and meetings with our marriage pastor, the Lord revealed Christ to us and we came to faith on Ascension Day in May 1993.  After marriage, we moved to a church plant and got involved in the evangelism ministry.  In those exciting early years my hunger to learn more of God’s Word led me to taking a study year at George Whitefield College.  During that time, after much prayer and a persuasive principal (David Seccombe) I stayed on for four years and then began my pastoral ministry.  Now, 17 years later, I’m still based at my first church with a ministry team of 10 people.  We have two children, Jesse (17) and Joseph (16).

Who have been some of the biggest influences upon your life and ministry?

My first seven years as a Christian were under the teaching ministry of Mark Dickson (the current principal of George Whitefield College) and much of my foundations came from his teaching.  In God’s plan, I didn’t end up being mentored under a particular Rector or Bishop as I went straight from Bible college to pastoring a church on my own in the small city of Port Elizabeth.  There was not much REACH-SA ministry in PE then and I spent a lot of my early ministry years reading books and listening to tapes from older wiser teachers and preachers.  All the great scholars were therefore my teachers.  I can also add I learned much about expository preaching from Dick Lucas, teaching the Old Testament from John Woodhouse and giving evangelistic sermons from John Chapman.

In our own denomination I think Bishop Frank Retief has been a great influence and model for many of us. His evangelism-centred ministry and his heart for the lost is a constant course setter for me. We are so grateful to God for his vision and passion for the gospel.


Why did CESA (Church of England in South Africa) decide to change its name to REACH-SA?

We are of course still the CESA but operate under the name REACH-SA.  The change came after a number of years of debate as to the relevance of the name in our post colonial South Africa.  Many argued that our name restricted us from reaching large parts of our population. We also noticed that many other “C of E” churches outside the UK had the name Anglican rather than Church of England. A number of clergy also felt we would gain better traction with people using REACH-SA rather than CESA.

I was personally enthusiastic about the new name but maintained that prayerful gospel preaching not name changing would fill our churches with converts.  In essence no matter what name we have some explanation will be necessary. Looking back its clear that REACH-SA has became a more popular logo and acronym than its predecessor, particularly with the new generation.  I look forward to seeing how we develop with our new ‘branding’.

What are some recent ways that REACH-SA has been striving to reach souls for Christ?

Within REACH-SA exists a group of local church Rectors who organize regular church growth seminars around the country.  This group (called Generate) seeks to help equip our workers with tools and resources to plant and grow churches.  Their yearly seminars have become popular even with ministers outside of our denomination.  This year Ray Galea will be speaking at the Generate seminars.  Last year’s speaker, Andrew Heard, pushed many of us out of our comfort zones and into being more intentional in reaching our communities for Christ.

In 2015 I was able to establish the New Projects Fund which is aimed at channelling finances into supporting new gospel works and church plants in our high population zones.  Our first supported church plant in Soweto kicks off this year.  A number of other projects are in the pipeline for the year ahead.

We have also channelled more resources into outreach to university students which is obviously a very strategic population sector. This year we have a team (City Gate Ministries) doing a major nationwide outreach on every campus in the country.

With 2017 being the  500th anniversary of the reformation we launched the #REACH500 challenge at Synod 2016.  I have called on every local church to plan a year of outreaches and events that will enable them to reach the goal of presenting the gospel to 500 new people over the anniversary year.  I can think of no better way for our churches to celebrate the return of the gospel to the people than to take the gospel to the people! The response to this campaign has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic and encouraging.  Some very creative ideas have been shared and executed. Of course, ongoing prayer is critical to all these evangelistic efforts and the size of the task keeps us on our knees.

What some of the major challenges for REACH-SA in the coming years

Growing our churches across the demographic of SA continues to be a concern for us.  We have historic strongholds in many Zulu and English communities but very little elsewhere.  I am intentionally encouraging church plants in the growing middle class black sectors of our cities and regularly reminding our people that English is only the 4th most spoken home language in South Africa. It is a particular desire of mine to have REACH-SA churches established and growing in each of the official 11 language communities of South Africa. There is much to be done.

Added to this are the ongoing threats of legislative changes that could hamstring our freedom to preach the gospel.  We are currently objecting to the proposed hate-speech bill which, in its current draft, could, for example, end up making it illegal to preach sexual immorality as a sin.

How important is George Whitefield College for South Africa and beyond?

It’s truly the marvellous providence of God that has allowed a denomination as small as ours to have its own college making such an impact on theological
training in Africa.  We are also so grateful to God for many partners in Australia (and other overseas countries) who have helped to establish and sustain GWC. Under God, our modern sprawling campus would not be there were it not for the support of friends around the world.

I believe the high academic standard of GWC makes the college particularly important as an institution equipping teachers to teach other teachers and preachers in their African countries and communities.  About 50% of the students are non REACH-SA students, many of whom are from other African countries. The college is clearly growing in its reputation as a benchmark Reformed, Evangelical, Anglican training institution in Africa.

There are obviously many challenges in keeping such a large college operating but the sacrifices are clearly worth it.  Currently the board of GWC is involved in strategy planning for the next phase of its growth.  Economic factors are massive but God’s provision is always timely and the need is great –  so we go forward.

What biblical truths of the Reformation would you like most to see treasured throughout REACH-SA in this 500th anniversary year?

It’s often the ones we take for granted that are the easiest to forget.  We have a legacy in REACH-SA of putting “God’s Word above all things”. This has been our motto for nearly 100 years and by God’s grace we have maintained this stand as a denomination.  The authority of Scripture (even over the church) is a Reformation treasure we must continue to fight for.  In our continent there are many church groups who gather round the authority of the chief pastor / apostle / priest / prophet rather than the Word of God.  We must continue to hold fast to the Authority of God’s Word and not be moved.

Above all else of course we must treasure the Gospel of grace to lost sinners. This is the greatest legacy of the Reformation. The rediscovery of the doctrine of Grace exposed the Medieval Roman church’s false gospel and brought hope of eternal life to millions of people.  In the spirit of the Reformation, the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is a treasure that we best guard by spreading it around to everyone.  So I say, as I often pray, ‘Lord give us Africa for Jesus’.  iAfrika mayibulele ku Jesu.  Amen.

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