Moore College Overseas Alumni: An interview with Chris Townsend
Chris, thank you for taking some time out to chat to us. Can you tell us about the state of the church in your country?
I come from two countries, England and Indonesia. I grew up in Jakarta, then became a Christian in England during university. But since my wife and I plan to head to Indonesia for long term mission, I’ll explain the state of Christianity and the church there.
The church in Indonesia is growing by God’s grace, as he illuminates hearts through his Spirit and calls many Indonesians from a range of people groups to Jesus. Indonesia is an island made up of over 17,000 islands, with 785 people groups and 300 languages! Although Christianity is a ‘minority’ religion, 10% of 264 million souls amounts to more than the number of Aussies on this Earth!
Most recent church growth in Indonesia comes from the Pentecostal movement, who have done lots of work, especially in reaching many of the poorer regions of Indonesia. There is also a strong strand of Reformed churches, with roots in Dutch Presbyterianism – the Dutch colonised Indonesia for over 100 years.
The greatest need in Indonesian churches of all denominations is for clear, faithful biblical teaching – rich doctrine centred on the gospel of Christ Jesus, centred in biblical theological foundations. This, by the Spirit of God, along with a growth in evangelism (as opposed to institutional, ‘program based religion’), is the biggest need for Indonesian churches. Please join me in praying for this great nation, of over 200 million lost souls; that Christ Jesus would bring many people to himself as his gospel is proclaimed. Pray for many more gospel-hearted servants to enter this very ripe harvest field.
How did you hear about Moore College, and what made you decide to come to Moore?
Moore College was always on my radar from my time in the UK. We have been so greatly blessed by wonderful teaching from Moore, especially with its emphasis on biblical theology and how the whole Bible fits together and centres on Jesus and his glory.
When I became a Christian, a friend regularly read the Bible with me. When my church sent me on a short-term mission trip to Indonesia, I came to Sydney afterwards to visit this friend. Together, we sought the Lord in prayer, and God convicted me of the need for thorough theological reflection and training for the benefit of life-long missionary service. I was convinced that being a missionary in a cross-cultural context required deep theological reflection, and first-principles thinking. I didn’t want simply to replicate the things I’d experienced of church in Indonesia and England; rather I felt the need to be equipped to think about ministry from very firm theological foundations. I was convinced that there were few better places in the world than Moore College for this type of rigorous theological training and equipping.
What are some of the challenges in moving so far to study here – is it worth it?
My church in the UK were my family who loved, cared and mentored me in the faith. Leaving them and the networks of friendships and relationships I had there was even harder than I thought it would be. I found it a challenge to plug into new churches as a student minister, where I didn’t feel very known. I missed my family and I missed my mentors in the faith.
However, by God’s grace, the community at Moore became another family to me. The beauty of Moore is that we learn together, grapple together, live together, and worship together in community (I think I can safely say that this genuine emphasis on community is not really found in most theological colleges in the world). Moving from the other side of the world to Moore was hard, but very worth it. I have developed life-long friendships in Christ, for which I am so grateful.
What have you learned during your time at Moore?
I learned how very little I know of the depth and riches of my great God. Moore College broke down my pride. It helped me to un-learn lots of unhelpful thinking in my theology and it rebuilt me into a much deeper and more discerning thinker. College gave me a valuable theological framework and the tools to think about theological issues and ministry philosophy much more critically. Moore has blessed me with tools such as biblical languages, doctrine, church history, philosophy and biblical theology. I thought College would give me all the ‘answers’. Instead, it showed me how to be a lifelong and humble learner. Along the way, it showed me how to work towards those answers and showed me that the questions never stop coming!
Personally, I experienced much ill-health during my time at College. I learned the beauty of Christian community as I was cared for and encouraged. Sickness and loving community taught me of the need to depend on God’s supernatural work of ‘driving home’ the riches of doctrine from head to heart. It brought home the riches and truths of 2 Corinthians, especially of power in weakness (2 Cor 12:9), in a way that changed me forever. I am so grateful for my precious time at Moore.
How will this impact your ministry as you return?
My time at Moore has taught me to seek careful reflection, patience and humility and to think both charitably and critically about ministry in a different cultural context. My time at College has reminded me that the heart of all theology is Jesus Christ crucified and risen – I endeavour to always have this – the gospel – at the very centre of my own existence, as well as my service of the churches in Indonesia. I pray that God willing, this will bear much fruit in ministry to the people of Indonesia.
What would you say to those who might be tempted to take for granted what you’ve found here?
I will be forever grateful to God, that through the generosity of many saints and churches in the UK, I was blessed to receive some of the best theological training in the world at Moore. To think that – at the moment at least – the government supports people to study here is mind boggling and an absolute ‘dream’ in most of the rest of the world, including both England and Indonesia. The depth of theological reflection and training you get at Moore is amazing. Time at Moore will serve as theological ‘fuel’ for the rest of your life in ministry. Please don’t take it for granted!